At 11, his adoptive parents abandoned him at a hospital, never to return.
"Mr. Peter, can I call you my Dad?"
I began to cry uncontrollably.
Anthony entered foster care at the young age of two and was adopted when he was four years old. He was the younger of two boys adopted by a family in Oklahoma. Six years after Anthony’s adoption was finalized and for reasons that still remain unclear, Anthony’s family drove him to a local hospital where he was admitted. His mother and father left to return to the family home and that was the last time he ever saw them. They never returned to collect the son who called them Mom and Dad for so many years. All the promises of a forever family were thrown out the window and this young boy was left alone, abandoned, frightened, and crushed emotionally. The worst part of all, he didn’t know when or if they were ever coming back for him because he was not in on the plan they orchestrated to abandon their child. Most people could not conceive that a parent could do this to a child, yet this was not their first time. You see, they did the exact same thing to their other adopted son a couple of years before, sadly enough.
When I began my journey in foster care, I had expected I would be caring for the children of parents who were not able to care for them. Never in my wildest dreams did I anticipate I would be parenting the child of two parents who had led lives that passed the extensive background check standards involved with parenting foster children, only just to abandon not one, but two of their children. The utter heartbreak Anthony and his brother must have endured after being failed twice by those who are supposed to love and support us the most, is overwhelming just to think about.
Before Anthony came into my heart and home, I had been fostering two brothers. They were four and ten years old. They had changed my life as well as well my understanding of how much a person could love another human being. They truly held my heart. I supported the boys and their parents to the best of my abilities throughout the 7 months they were placed with me, and until the Family Court determined that reunification with the birth parents was appropriate. All of this was decided within an hour of arriving at court. I had been through many hours of training to become licensed as a foster parent, but none of the instruction taught me how to say goodbye to these boys who possessed such a large chunk of my heart. The subsequent one-hour drive home was mixed with emotions. The idea that I would never again see boys that were part of my life for so many months brought me to tears for most of the drive. But when I thought about how wonderful it was that they were able to once again be home with their parents, it filled me with joy for the entire family.
Four days later, I received a call from my social worker asking, ‘Can you take in an 11-year-old boy, just for the weekend?’ I told her my heart was deeply saddened by the loss of the two boys that had just been reunified with their birth parents and I did not have an ounce of energy left to care for another child at that moment in time. I further explained I needed more time to grieve and the back-and-forth continued until she convinced me to take in the child, reminding me that it was only for the weekend. She had a way of always convincing me that it was the right child at the right time and boy was she right, especially in this situation.
I refused to ask why he was in foster care because I couldn’t handle any more tugging at the heartstrings and did not want to get attached, still reeling in my grief. I made up my mind that if the placement exceeded the two nights agreed upon, I would simply refuse to allow him to stay any longer out of fear I would become attached, once again, only to return to the loss and grief. Not to mention, I had not had a break in 7 months, fostering three children during that time. I needed at least 1 or 2 months to recharge.
The social worker arrived at my home with him at 3:00 a.m., after driving two hours from another county within the state. There is a huge shortage of foster families in Oklahoma so when a child enters the foster care system, social workers are often forced to place the children outside of the county of origin, often removing the child from the only place he or she has ever known. Add in the fact that older children are much more difficult to place and the social worker was left with no other options.
I stood strong in my decision not to ask why he was in foster care. I was determined not to attach emotionally to any more children until I was ready. I told him he could call me ‘Mr. Peter’ and 20 minutes after his arrival, he asked if he could call me ‘Dad.’ What? I didn’t even know his last name, yet he was asking to call me ‘Dad.’ This was not typical, as most children in foster care initially want to remind you that you are not their father and ‘never will be.’ This child I had just met was not even presenting that argument. I was completely caught off guard and my immediate response was, ‘NO! NO! NO!’ I reminded him he was only staying with me for two days and it was not necessary to call me ‘Dad.’
Monday morning arrived. The social worker arrived at 10:00 a.m., a time we had agreed upon as I had lied to her and told her I was traveling to Texas at 11:00 a.m. and that I would be very displeased if she did not show up on time to pick him up. Knowing he was leaving, I decided to finally get up the nerve to ask why he was in foster care. The social worker then explained he had been abandoned by his biological mother at the age of two. He was placed with a family that served as elders in their church. They adopted him at age four and almost ten years later, the family that raised him, abandoned him at the hospital, never once returning to even visit. They signed an agreement relinquishing their parental rights and never looked back. I was completely shocked! I could not believe what I was hearing. I began to cry out of anger for what these people had done to this 11-year-old child.
I had no idea that such a thing even existed. I learned later that it is called a ‘failed adoption.’ After almost a decade, the parents were able to return the child they adopted to the custody of the state like some type of disposable object. This broke my heart into a million pieces. How could a human being, much less a child, be dropped off like that? How could they just walk away after all of these years without the longing to see him or hear his voice again? As I sat there crying helplessly, I asked, ‘Where will they be taking him?’ I was told there were no family members to reach out to and there were no foster homes available at the time, so he would be leaving my home and going straight to a group home. There was no way I was going to let that happen.
I refused to allow him to be cast aside again. Besides, he was already calling me ‘Dad.’ I asked the social worker to provide me with a placement letter so I could enroll him in school the following day. She asked me about 100 times if I was serious and we both cried tears of joy. I reassured her that she didn’t have to worry about where his food, shelter, or love was going to come from ever again. I was ready for him to call me ‘Dad’ as long as he wanted to call me that.
On the 12th of November, 2020, I finally got to share my last name with the young man who is now officially my son. This is the blessing I am most thankful for in my life. It has been an amazing journey. I have fostered eleven children in the past three years and Anthony has been right beside me through it all. He has read more than 500 books in the last 19 months and has quickly made a number of amazing friends at church, school, and in the foster community. I’m amazed at how resilient and positive he is, despite all that he has had to endure.
I finally settled down in Oklahoma to start real estate business after having a job that required me to travel 80% of time. My house had two empty bedrooms, and my mind could never settle knowing there were kids in the neighborhood that needed a place to call home. But as a single man, I had no idea if they would allow me to foster.
It has not been a bed of roses through this journey, but above all, it has been a tremendous blessing. I have learned how to love him and see the best in him. He has taught me to dream big, to care more, to laugh more, and to not hold back. He has taught me to never say no and to listen to my dreams, and that time and time again, the best things come from the most unexpected people and places. Just like that night when I was wallowing in my grief for the boys I had lost, the social worker led me dragging and screaming to the most amazing young man who I am proud to call my son. It may come as a surprise when I say I needed my son more than he needed me.
This one act of kindness has brought families and friends into our lives that we never even dreamt possible. To think I was ready to throw in the towel after fostering four children, but opening up my heart and mind to making a split-second decision to foster a child who seemingly no one wanted, opened my heart to sticking with it and caring for five more along the way. As my son and I prepare our home for other potential placements, we are filled with excitement and cannot wait to see what we think is possible, made possible through faith and love.