My Story: Patrick Foley

Today, guest contributor Patrick M. Foley shares the story of how he built his family, and what being a dad means to him. Amazing story, and amazing photo!

I was recruited by DC’s Child and Family Services Agency to house gay teens about 10 years ago. At the time I really didn’t have any thoughts of actually starting a family, I just figured I’d be a foster parent and see what developed.

My oldest son is now 26 years old, and has been with me from the start. After about 2 years I asked him if he’d like to become an older brother. I figured, I had the space, the resources, and the patience to work with teenagers, so why not add another? My son agreed, so we brought Eric in to join the family. Eric is now 24, and still living with me (my oldest son got his own apartment about a year ago, but is still very much part of the family.).

About a year later I asked Eric if he’d like to become an older brother, and then we added Emmanuel. Isaiah and West were added a few years later. I became the legal Guardian of all of the boys because their families didn’t want to terminate their legal rights. I let the boys know I didn’t care whether I was a Guardian or Adoptive Parent to them. To me, they were my family, and they’ll never age-out of my family.

Last Friday I welcomed another 13 year old boy (my 6th) to the family, and will bring in a second 13 year old in a few weeks.

It’s certainly a full house, and there’s never a dull moment. I love them all, and would take 10 more if I had a bigger house. My only regret is that I didn’t start this earlier.

I’m a single parent, and was working full time when I started this journey. Teenagers made sense to me because they’re old enough to let themselves into the house after school, and fix a snack and start their homework while I’m still at work. This is without a doubt, the hardest job I’ve ever loved.

Family Building, Week 2

We continue our January theme of family building, with posts that focus on questions like:

  • What made you decide to have kids?
  • Did you have any criteria for what kind of kid you wanted, and why?
  • How did you decide on your process (adoption, surrogacy, etc.)?
  • What memorable moments occurred during your process, good or bad?

This week’s excerpt from Magic Lessons looks at my experience in that necessary evil of the fost-adopt process, training:

In training, one of the first things you learn is the definition of a special needs child. This includes, believe it or not, a child with a diagnosed special need such as a physical, emotional, or developmental disability. However, again at least in California, it also includes the following:

  • Any child over two
  • Any child who is not white
  • Any siblings

So, yeah: You could fost-adopt a future president of the United States, and if he or she is three, or Latino, or has a sister who’s also in foster care, that child is special needs. I actually hit the trifecta: My kids were both over two and not white and part of a sibling set. Yahtzee! The good news is, the county gives you a (meager, but every penny counts) monthly stipend for these “special” kids, up to age eighteen. The bad news is . . . really?

Anyway, other things you learn in training include the following:

  • How to discipline
  • How not to discipline
  • All the attachment disorders you can expect to see
  • How there’s a good chance you won’t see these disorders until your kid hits puberty
  • The honeymoon
  • How not to be fooled by the honeymoon
  • What to do when the honeymoon ends—probably much sooner and more abruptly than seems reasonable

Now it’s your turn! Share your family-building story by leaving a comment, or contact me at joe@jmswordsmith.com to have your story featured as a post in a future week!

Share your story!

As a companion to Magic Lessons, Magic Life is an interactive online community for (alt-)parents to share stories, ask questions, and support one another.
Parents of all types—LGBTQ+, adoptive, or “alt” in any other way—are invited to share their experiences on a variety of topics. You can share either informally, by commenting on a post, or formally, by having your own featured post. For details, see How It Works.

Family Building, Week 1

For the new year, we start at the beginning. This month’s posts focus on questions like:

  • What made you decide to have kids?
  • Did you have any criteria for what kind of kid you wanted, and why?
  • How did you decide on your process (adoption, surrogacy, etc.)?
  • What memorable moments occurred during your process, good or bad?

To get things started, here’s an excerpt from Magic Lessons describing my experience in choosing my fost-adopt agency:

Unless you’re doing what’s called a family adoption—taking your niece, nephew, or other relative, or possibly a friend’s kid—adopting older means taking kids who are already in the foster system. To do this, you have two options: working directly with your county Social Services agency, or going through a private agency that specializes in “special needs” adoptions (more on that lovely term later).

I avoided going directly through the county, because I heard horror stories of how overworked the social workers are and how slowly the process moves—people waiting two, three years just to get to the point of looking at potential kids. The joke was on me when another couple I know, who started their process about the same time as I and did go through the county, finalized the adoption with their first son a good six months earlier than mine. So much for conventional wisdom.

In my county-avoiding way, I began attending information sessions for different private adoption agencies in the area. The good news: Pretty much every agency holds such a session, where you can learn the ins and outs of how they operate. The bad: Being me, I felt obligated to attend all of them, which meant hearing pretty much the same thing over and over to the usually large crowd. (Shout out to the good-hearted folks of the East Bay!) Each time, I patiently sat through the spiel: “We love you! We need you! You’re great! We’re great!”

And then I asked my two big questions:

Me: Do you work with single parents?

Me Again: Do you work with LGBTQ parents? (Full disclosure: I probably said “gay and lesbian.” I haven’t always been Mr. Informed and Evolved.)

The responses I got went something like this:

Agency: Uhhhhhhhhhhhh . . . sure we do.

Other Agency: Ummmmmmmm . . . yes . . . we do that. Still Other Agency: Single . . . gay . . . lesbian . . . ummm . . . yeah.

Call me crazy, but that’s a lot of “ummm.”

Finally, at orientation number five? six? I asked the same questions. This time, I got: “Oh, of course! Our director is a lesbian! We love working with LGBT families!”

Sold. And we were on our way.

Now it’s your turn! Share your family-building story by leaving a comment, or contact me at joe@jmswordsmith.com to have your story featured as a post in a future week!

New Year’s News

What’s new in the world of magic?

  1. The book is out! Magic Lessons: Celebratory and Cautionary Tales about Life as a (Single, Gay, Transracially Adoptive) Dad is now available in paperback and e-book formats at all major online outlets. Based on material that originally appeared in this blog, Magic Lessons shares stories and reflections about family life for me, Joe—a single, gay, white man—and my adopted black sons, Daveon and Mark. For more details and ordering information …
  2. Check out my website! My author site, jmswordsmith.com, has been updated and expanded, with more info to come regarding current and new writing projects, readings, and more. And as a companion to the book and site …
  3. The blog is back! Starting next week, Magic Life is relaunching as an interactive online community where prospective and current (alt-)parents can share stories, ask questions, and support one another in the never-dull, sometimes-harrowing world of raising our kids. For details, see How It Works.