Dear Foster Dads,
I can’t tell you how many women I talk to who tell me some variation of “I would love to take a foster child into our home, but my husband. . . he’s just not behind the idea.” I know men have legitimate reasons for not feeling like foster care is right for their family. I respect that. But the frequency with which I hear that expressed makes me all the more thankful for YOU.
You said “yes” when so many men say “no.” You have chosen compassion for the weak and defenseless instead of deciding those kids aren’t your responsibility. You have shared your home, your wife, your time, your resources with little people who through no fault of their own have a desperate need. You have taken that protective boundary you set up around your family and you’ve cracked open a door to let in another little person (or two, or three, or MORE) who needs your protection. You have taken the value system of the world and turned it on its head.
Foster Dads, you bring a unique perspective to the table. I have sat at that table and in my experience, it is often a table surrounded by women– female caseworkers, lady lawyers, biological moms, foster moms, female visitation workers. You may have been a part of meetings where you were the only man in the room advocating for the needs of that child. Your voice was needed. A father’s voice was needed. You tend to see things in more black and white terms, which can be good for everybody involved. This doesn’t mean you always see biological family as bad and your family as good. In fact, I think you are often able to see the progress the biological family is making and affirm the goodness of that while others of us (me!) on the team are struggling with the implications for our own lives. You want to see justice prevail and you are often able to be less biased about what “justice” actually means.
And you do the behind-the-scenes things that no one will ever praise you for. The midnight feeding so your wife can sleep. Taking time off work to show up at school performances. Risking life and your beloved vehicle to teach your foster son to drive. You’ve made breakfast and learned to improvise a hairstyle when she pulls her pigtails out, helped with homework, and given dating advice. On top of that, you’ve filled out countless forms, gotten fingerprinted and background checked and answered a thousand questions about your own upbringing through the home study process, however painful that may have been for you. And you’ve done it all because you believe kids need families. YOU are changing the reputation of foster dads by doing what you know is right– loving these kids as your own.
When other guys say things to you like, “I don’t know how you do it. I don’t think I could.” You say awesomely casual stuff like, “If we don’t do it, who will?” or “It’s hard, but it’s just the right thing to do.” You make it sound simple. You make your friends think and you challenge their ideas about justice and compassion and family. You help them see that maybe this is something they could do, too. You are an advocate for the kids who enter your family and for the many others you’ll never be able to take into your own home. You make an impact because you aren’t afraid to speak up about the need for quality dads in the foster care system, even when that makes your friends a little uncomfortable.
Society tells you you are what you own. Your job defines you. Your beautiful wife and adorable, well behaved kids define you. Your income and status define you. But you’ve chosen a different value system. You’ve chosen to love what you cannot own. To spend your resources on an “investment” that may never be yours. You’ve chosen to love someone who may shame you with unexpected public meltdowns or teen pregnancy or fights at school or by being picked up for drug possession. You do this because you understand this child has experienced trauma and needs the healing help of a family even if they choose not to accept that help and in spite of the cost to you. It’s selfless. It’s beautiful. It’s why I admire you so much.
When your wife says she’s had it and she’s ready to quit, you listen. You hear her talk about the frustration of coordinating schedules for visitation, not being respected or heard by caseworkers, the demeaning thing that was said about her by a biological family member, and how angry she got when a friend said something negative about this child’s family. You are where she feels safe to vent and you gently remind her of why you’re doing this. You ask if she can do just one more day or week or month and see if things get better. You tell her to take an evening out and you’ll handle things at home. You tell her that if she can’t do it anymore, you understand. These are the conversations no one else will ever know about because you both love these kids and value their privacy too much to tell people how hard it can be.
We know you aren’t perfect. You have your own frustrations with a system that seems to work too slowly for these children. You get angry when the court’s idea of the “best interests of the child” seems so out of synch with what this child actually needs. You lose your patience with kids who seem out of control. You get irritated when the state seems to be unnecessarily involved in your life. You feel hopeless and say things you regret when biological family members keep breaking promises to their kids. You weep when a child leaves your home and imagine how much easier life might be for them if you could protect them forever. You aren’t perfect, but you stay committed to this child, to their family, to the process. For many kids, you may be the first time they have lived in a home with a loving father. You are creating their concept of “dad” and establishing what normalcy could look like for them.
So this Father’s Day, have an extra donut, Foster Dads. Put your feet up and watch a movie (I recommend “Star Wars”– a classic tale of a child learning the truth about his biological family and making peace with them after being raised in a kinship home. You know, normal foster care stuff. . . ) surrounded by the kids who love you. Know you are appreciated, respected and honored by so many– the wives who see the sacrifices you make, the team (caseworkers, lawyers, judges) who know how much these kids need fathers in their lives, your biological and adopted kids who watch you put your beliefs into practice, the community (friends, family, coworkers, church, etc.) of people around you who know how hard you’re working to make a difference, the biological families who see your love for their children, and the foster kids themselves who are blessed by your involvement in their lives.
Foster Dads, you are our heroes.
One of Your Biggest Fans
For more information on becoming a foster dad, contact Christian Heritage.
*All men pictured above are current or former foster dads. This is not stock photography. This is family.