June 3rd, 2016

Movember dad Tony shares his journey to fatherhood through being a foster parent

Fostering Fatherhood
A few years ago, I became a father for the first time with about three hours notice. It’s not that I wasn’t expecting it to happen, I just didn’t think it would happen quite like that. Three hours for my wife and I to pick up a 4-year-old boy who would quickly become the center of our universe.  

Six days later, I became a father for the second time, when we again had about three hours notice to pick up a baby, a brother to our first. And suddenly my universe revolved around two sons.  

Fourteen months later, we were waving goodbye to both boys for the last time. And my heart was breaking.  

My wife Adrienne and I are unable to have children, so we resolved to be the greatest aunt and uncle ever. We never considered becoming foster parents until circumstances with close family friends encouraged us rethinking everything. While we’ve never gone through a traditional pregnancy, we’ve had our share of labor pains.  

Becoming a foster parent is a difficult, time consuming process. We regularly joke that if every parent had to go through the foster licensing process before having children, the human population would be a lot smaller. In 2013, after nearly a year of classes, screenings, inspections and interviews, we were finally ready to open our hearts and home to the unknown.  

In the years since, we have had six children join our family. The shortest was for eight days, the longest was for 14 months. There is one constant in all of that – my love for them.  

Parenting foster children is an adventure. Every foster child has undergone some sort of trauma. It can be from the simple fact that they are removed from their families and placed in the home of strangers, but all too often, their traumas are much deeper. Their behaviors can be overwhelming. They aren’t bad kids, but they have not yet developed with skills to cope with their emotional and physical pains.

Some of our kids will call me Dad, but for others that title holds no happiness. To them, “Daddy” represents fear and pain. Everything a father should never be. One little boy has repeatedly told me, “Daddies aren’t safe.” My challenge is to show them what a Dad should do - hold and cuddle, play and roughhouse, comfort their fears and dry their tears, cheer their successes and reassure them in their failures. For others, “Daddy” is a loving term and the source of happy memories. My challenge becomes honoring those memories and reinforcing their father’s love and support through my own.  

People often tell me they could never be a foster parent because they could never let go and say goodbye after getting so attached. This is probably the hardest part of being a dad for me. Every goodbye is hard. To this day I shed tears for every child that has moved on and there is a hole in my heart that their absence leaves. But our children deserve nothing less - they need to know that people love them unconditionally and unreservedly.  

Every father experiences the full gamut of emotions when raising their children. Joy, anger, sadness, feel, love, hope and fear are our constant companions. As a foster dad, I think that I experience the pure distilled versions of those emotions. I don’t know what today will bring, much less tomorrow. All too often, I will never get to see who they grow to become. So every day is a treasure – even the hard days. I never let an opportunity pass to remind my kids that I love them, because we never know when that will be the last chance.  

While only two of our children are in our home today, all six are in my heart and will always be my sons and daughters. At the end of the day, I hope and pray that I impacted their lives during the time I was Dad, Daddy, Mister Tony, (or that nameless sound the baby uses when she sees me). I hope I showed them what love can be, what they can become, and that they are wanted and valuable.  

To all of my children on this Father’s Day – K, C, R, E, C, and T – thank you for being my kids. Thank you for making me a better man and for helping me be more than I ever thought I could be. Thank you for teaching me to be a parent. Thank you for teaching me about unconditional love. Thank you for the joy. And, yes, thank you for the pain, without it I wouldn’t have had the honor of being your Dad.