Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Hanging on to ignorance

I keep reminding myself that I don't know Gary's dad.

This afternoon I expect a planning committee will decide to place this fifteen-year-old boy with me. My husband and I will make a commitment to him to be his family for as long as he needs it, and for the first time in my eight-year career as a foster parent, I will face the possibility that the family of a child I am parenting will reclaim him. I know, old news for the rest of you, but a brand new experience for me.

So I have all these emotions, wishing I could protect my heart and knowing that I really can't. I can prepare myself so that the grief won't hit as hard as it might otherwise, but that is all. I will get "too attached" and I will cry if he goes.

But what I am noticing is that I am trying to paint this picture of Gary's dad. It is impossible for me to resist the urge to do so, but I have such opposing pictures fighting in my mind. And of course they fall right into stereotypes of good parent/bad parent.

Good Parent Version:
Gary's dad is a flawed person who had to deal with something deeply upsetting. He believes that all of his children are not safe living together. None of us who have not been in that situation cannot say what we would have done. In making that decision he rang bells that are not easily unrung. Perhaps he even wishes he had behaved differently, but he cannot undo what he did. Though Gary does not live with him, he never abandoned him. He has put in more effort to stay in touch, to visit regularly than most non-custodial fathers do after a divorce.

He was himself in foster care and does not want that experience for his son. So far Gary has managed to live with relatives or in group homes, but now he is about to live with a foster family. This good father is prepared to make enormous sacrifices to save Gary from that fate. He will leave his job, his younger children, and his wife. It is another judgement call, another extreme move, potentially sacrificing needs of several younger children to meet the needs of the oldest. It is not a decision I can judge, even if I think I would make another.

Bad Parent Version:
His is an abuser and a controller. The ways in which he abuses those around him has never been quite bad enough to get protective services involved, but it exists nonetheless. When faced with behavior from his son which can only be understood as a response to his own environment instead of responding with compassion, he insisted that his twelve-year-old son be removed by the police, tried and sentenced. Though he will not allow his son to live with him and his other children, he has nevertheless refused to give up control over Gary's life. At every opportunity he he has interfered. He has tried to control the process. He has disrupted court rooms, and lost his temper with judges. Now that Gary has an opportunity to bond with a family he is determined to interfere with that. Just before Gary moves in with the new family he makes promises he cannot and will not keep. The promises are designed to stop the placement, or if not that, at least prevent Gary from forming attachments to us.

This version of Gary's dad I can judge. This version is a bad parent. In this story I am a heroine, saving Gary. I can even be magnanimous and agree that it is in Gary's best interests to have some relationship with his dad. This relationship should be carefully monitored however. Visits should be supervised. He should not be allowed on our property. Restraining orders will not be ruled out. This father I can be angry with.

But the truth is that I do not know Gary's dad. I have snippets of information. Nothing is complete. There are huge pieces of the puzzle that are missing for me, and more that are missing for you, dear reader. Though I know that both versions are built more on stereotypes than facts, I still want one of them to be true. In fact, I want the first one to be true. It is better for Gary, and it has the potential to be better for me.

See in my prefered version of the story, Gary's dad is a good but imperfect man. His desire to save his son from foster care is laudable. However, once he knows who wonderful (though imperfect) we are, he will decide that the best, imperfect, solution is for him to remain close to his younger children and let me love his oldest. We will all be his family. He will visit and eat dinner with us. If he does move to the area and Gary moves in with him I still get to visit.

Either way, we all live happily ever after.

Later today I go to the planning meeting.


  1. He was himself in foster care and does not want that experience for his son.

    Wonder who he is trying to save? Gary or himself at younger age? Sounds like he might be overcontrolling becuase he is trying to save his son and a younger version of himself.

    Good luck.

  2. Well, though this is unchartered waters for you- you have thought it through as much as we do- all the possible scenerios of who his dad could be and how he could fit into your world. The saddest part is it is impossible to know- even when you meet him and get to know him better- they system will make decisions, he will, Gary will you will never know what is going on. Just ride the waves and trust someone bigger than yourself. It is the hardest part of what we do. The real answer is- none of us trully know what is best for Gary- NONE of us. I wish we did. It would make it easier on all of you!! Hang in there. Your doing great!

  3. I hope things went well.


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