A foster Dad is just about the best thing a foster kid could ever hope to have. Most of the kids in our life have had at least one or more loving women in their lives--teachers, social workers, mothers of friends. But sadly, few kids in care have had a good “Dad” experience.
When I met my husband, Larry, I was already a foster mom to two kids. He jumped right into foster parenting with an open heart and a very different take on parenting than mine. I tended to do A LOT of things for my kids. At the time, both of my boys worked at McDonald’s which was a five minute bike ride from our house, but I drove them to and from work for every shift, regardless of the time their shifts started or ended. Larry suggested that the kids get bicycles and get themselves to work. Well, maybe suggested isn’t exactly the right word. Papa dog declared that the new way of getting to and from work would be via bicycle. I thought he was being too harsh. “My goodness,” I said, “it was dark when they would be riding home!” “That’s what bicycle headlights are for,” he replied. “But what about the cars on the road? What if they get hit by a car?” I asked. “What if they don’t?” was his only response. So, we got the kids fixed up with bikes, helmets, reflectors and headlights, and then set them free. It was the best thing ever! I was released from two to four trips to McDonald’s each day, and the kids were totally empowered to be in charge of their own transportation which they used to get all over town. What a concept! It took that “Dad” perspective to set us all free.
If I had to sum up my husband’s style of parenting, I would say it is blunt. He is a man of few words, and the ones he uses are sometimes harsh but always truthful, and comes from a place of caring and concern. One time one of our girls came out of her room ready to go out with her friends. She had on a skimpy top, too short shorts, high heels and enough makeup on her face to cover at least three more girls. When she asked Larry how she looked, he calmly said, “Your outfit begs people to treat you like trash--and you, girl, are not trash.” Then he said, “You are my daughter and I want you to have more respect for yourself than this”. As my heart was beating out of my chest fearing her response, she went back in her room and came out later wearing a perfectly appropriate outfit and she gave Larry and big hug thanking him for caring so much about her. Dads have a way of being blunt and loving at the same time. For the girls, it has been a gift of self-esteem. When Dad is protective of you, it makes you start to believe that you deserve to be protected.
We had a teen boy with us for a couple of years and when summer arrived along with his 16th birthday, my husband said, “You need to get a job.” Can you imagine how many Dads across this planet have said those words? Our boy was not having any of it. He wanted to have a break from all that hard schoolwork that had just ended. But Papa Dog did not take kindly to that attitude, so one by one he took away all of the boy’s fun. First, it was the cell phone (“NOOOOOOOOO!”), then the video games, then phone calls (from friends) on the landline, and then regular TV. Finally, all the kid had was his room and books to read. He was so stubborn and acted like he didn’t care one bit that he had lost all of his privileges. One day though, he broke. He started yelling at Larry and blaming him for all of his misery. Then he started crying. Larry just held onto him, hugging him and looked him in the eye and said, “Go out that door and don’t come home until you have a job”. My heart sank! I was afraid he wouldn’t be able to do it and worse, I was afraid he would not come home at all. When 5PM rolled around, in the door he came with a big smile on his face. He had been hired at the local Rite Aid as an ice cream scooper! He got all his privileges back but much more than that, he learned that he could do ANYTHING! Years later, this boy is still in our lives. He spent four years as a Marine, worked as a security contractor overseas and now lives near Washington DC where he works and is a great Dad to his seven year old son. He has the most incredible work ethic of any kid we have ever known and he gives all the credit to Dad! He had it in him, but Dad helped him find it.
Not every parenting move resulted in such pronounced success, but every child in our home was treated to a Dad who not only cared, but acted like he did--with humor, honesty and involvement that many of the kids who passed through our door had never experienced before. It was a role I couldn’t replicate, and one that they and I both needed.