Tag Archives: father

A Life Extra … Ordinary

Guest post by Jesse Wilson, child formerly in Florida’s foster care system, advocate, TV host, nationally recognized author and emerging politician. This post is reprinted with permission from www.jessewilson.org. 

jesse1Strange. Strange but … beautiful. A life extraordinary is what I have been mandated, 25 years now. I was dealt a tough hand early on and have been trying to bluff my way through since. I want to tell you about the wild card that was dealt my way this morning but realize many of you do not know my back story. So I’ll start somewhere near the beginning.

 I come from a broken, messy, disastrous family that is cursed. Perhaps due to all the horrible things they have done to themselves and others over the years. The family includes members of the KKK, sexual predators, felons and so much more.

I burst forward into this glorious family and the world on September 22, 1988. My mother was 15 and my father was 28. They would proceed to give me three younger brothers over the next four years. A situation that undoubtedly should have been cancelled from the start was given permission by my grandparents on my mother’s side.

I have sitting on the table beside me two discs compiled from a box of records. Records that detail the first few years of my life. They include all the abuse reports, medical records, and baker act documentation for my family. Around 5,000 pages of information to be shared at another time. I have blacked out much over the years and am slowly allowing it to trickle back. It all basically says how horrible my parents were. My father was the purveyor of pain and mother was the enabler who sat idly by in fear.

My three younger brothers were eventually removed from my parents and placed into foster care and I went on to live with my grandmother, grandfather and aunt. Things here were not too bad. My aunt and I developed a strong relationship. I remember going to school together, looking up to her, coming home and eating sliced cheese together. She became my very best friend.

My grandmother would attempt to be sophisticated, but she would always fail. She was helpless; she had the same abhorrent blood of the family coursing through her body. Moments of unprovoked or irrationally provoked rage were ordinary.

Eventually it led to me too being brought into foster care.

When the police and child protective investigator came to remove me from my grandmother, I was locked in a closet. Sock in mouth and vowed to silence, I sat lifeless, afraid to move. Footsteps all around. Voices of thunder.

I spent the rest of my childhood in foster care and was eventually adopted into a wonderful family. I was given a new life, though not perfect, calmer.

The first times my biological family began to come back into my life was shortly before my 18th birthday when I was contacted by my biological mother. Being a child of wonder, I wanted to know so many things and spent hours on the telephone with her and had a few meetings. I quickly realized she was not the type of person I wanted a relationship with. I have a mom and dad who adopted me and raised me, yet she insisted on calling me son and me calling her mother. The “I love yous” rang furiously and rattled bitterly in my head. The relationship became one sided. She was the only pursuer.

My father came back into my life a couple years later. I was curious and searched his name online. His picture came across the Florida Sexual Offenders database. The charge read “Lewd assault/sexual battery on a victim under the age of 16.”

What do I do with that? Like my mother, I had many questions for him but now had a daughter in my life and couldn’t imagine spending any time with a man/coward/waste like this.

I gave in and rode out to meet him at his trailer. A large confederate flag donned the window, and trucks were parked in the yard. The house was filled with pictures of family, some in KKK outfits, and art that he had drawn. The art was really good. He was talented and wasted it. The meeting was therapeutic and strange. He provided dozens of photographs from my early childhood. I had never seen one of my baby pictures until this moment. He showed me photographs of us at visitation, though I was always told he never showed. I saw myself in him physically. The way he would talk and the way he would laugh. It was electrifying.

Shortly after I met my father, one of my brothers was murdered. August 20, 2011. Six months out of a three-year prison sentence, he was on the way to restoring his life. He was still young though and spent a lot of time having fun. A long story short, he was stabbed 26 times at a party by two guys with strange stories of their own. The trial for the second one finally concluded in May. This was perhaps the toughest point of my life. I planned and signed off on a funeral for my 21-year-old brother. I kept strong for my family, both sides, and tried to keep tensions between my biological and adopted family non-existent.

Last June, my aunt was involved in a freak, still not fully explained, accident. The story is blurred, but reads something like, she was headed home with her boyfriend and their car broke down in the mountains of North Carolina. They were drunk and something happened where she ended up in the middle of the road and was hit and dismantled by a semi. When I received a call that she was gone, I wasn’t sure what to feel, or do. She was family but I hadn’t seen her much apart from the occasional Facebook post. At the same time, she was a major part of my story.

My grandmother died in July and again I find myself not knowing how to feel. Forgiveness is something I believed I had given but I could never bring myself to have a relationship with her, or any member of my biological family apart from my brothers. She would often reach out to me, comment on pictures, shares messages on my Facebook timeline. I was always quick to delete and erase any trace of her. I now sit confused. She was no longer my family but at the same time … she is. Where is the line between compassion and forgiveness drawn?

jesse3Because of her, I am here. Because of them, I am here. My story is them. The numerous additional stories I have are because of them.

My extraordinary life is because of them.

I share this not for pity but to possibly encourage someone else. Look where I was and look where I’m at.

The Heart of a Dad

Guest post by Eckerd’s Pinellas County Foster Parent Martin Carpenter. 

I grew up in a broken home. I want that for nobody. My dad was married three times and yes, I may be a spitting image of him, but I am nothing like him.

My wife of 20 years and I began fostering after I was fixing a friend’s shower and met the two boys she was fostering. I instantly fell in love with them. I felt there were kids in the Tampa Bay area that could benefit from the stability and love my wife and I could provide.  We can’t take away the bad that has happened to them, but we can help them learn to heal.

fathersdayWe have two biological children who have also learned a great deal from the process. Maybe our kids have been a little spoiled over the years not really understanding how much mom and dad do around and inside the house. But they too have given up much and shown their foster siblings hope. My kids argue over who is going to put our youngest foster child in their car seat or who is going to push the stroller. I feel like together we are making someone else’s family whole.

I tell my kids all the time that you can have all the money in the world, but if you don’t have family you have nothing. For the kids that come into our home we give them family.

To learn more about how to become a foster parent in the Tampa Bay area visit FosteringTampaBay.org 

Changing Course

Guest post by Brandon Clayton. A Leon County teacher for 11 years, currently teaching at Bond Elementary School. Mr. Clayton was the 2013-2014 Leon County Glenn-Howell Distinguished Educator of the Year. He is also the vice president of the Tallahassee Area Foster and Adoptive Parent Association.

brandon2 - 2

Eight years ago, one of my third grade students went into foster care. I wanted to do everything in my power to help him through this tough time. As an educator, I believe I can change the course of a child’s life through helping him/her identify strengths that can be used to achieve success. I am sensitive to the needs of all children especially those who are involved with the child welfare system.

Based on my experiences, here are some ways educators can help children in their classrooms who are in foster care:

 

BE PATIENT. Understand that the child has been through a lot, but this does not give them an excuse to get out of work or misbehave. I had a new student once who had severe issues going on in his home and he was having trouble with his school work, specifically reading. When it was his turn to read aloud in class, he refused, threw the book across the room and slammed his chair back. I immediately realized this outburst was not to cause trouble – this kid was very embarrassed and he needed my support. For the next few weeks I alternated working with him individually and pairing him with a student in my class who was a strong reader. I made it very clear to him that this was not an on-going arrangement – very soon he would be reading aloud by himself just like the other students. This process gave him the self confidence he needed and over a period of time, his reading skills greatly improved.

BE MINDFUL OF THE HOLIDAYS. Holidays can be a strong reminder for some kids that they are not with their biological families. While some children may want to be with their families during the holidays, for some children the holidays may be an emotional trigger bringing them back to a time of severe abuse or neglect. Be especially sensitive during these times.

brandon1 - 2BUILD RELATIONSHIPS. Create moments that allow you to connect with the child. You have to develop relationships with the kids so they know they can trust you and open up to you. Pull them aside to talk during lunch time, before or after school, or in between classes. Let them know you are there for them. Often times, your time and just acknowledging that you know they are going through something is the comfort they need. Even if the child does open up to you they may not ever be at a point where they want to share their story with you, but just knowing you are there for them makes a big difference in their lives. Sometimes all they need is a hug.

brandon9 - 3The third grade student in my class eight years ago inspired me to become a foster parent. I knew I could make a difference outside of the classroom just like I was doing at school. I met my wife Natalie, a managing attorney for the Department of Children and Families Children’s Legal Services, because she was a fellow foster parent. Fostering Florida’s youth has continued into our marriage as we have learned that much can be accomplished for children by a single parent, but having a partner in this work is a true blessing!  We plan to continue expanding our family through fostering, as every child who comes into our home becomes ‘family’ despite where they end up going. Eventually we plan to adopt in order to give youth the forever family they need and deserve.

Here’s a video of the fostering story I shared when I won the 2014 Leon County Teacher of the Year:

18 and Alone

Guest post by Denise Beeman Sasiain, foster mother to Summer, 17, who will stay with her foster family as she enters adulthood; Isabella Hope, 3, who they’ve had since birth and adopted last year; Xavier (aka X-man), 2, who they are in the process of adopting; and Daniella Joy, 1, who they’ve also had from birth and recently adopted.

Denise and Summer

Denise and Summer

Summer, our 17-year-old daughter, had an independent Living planning meeting a month ago. At 17 1/2 years old, we are nearing the six-month mark until she ages out of foster care. So we met with her Independent Living Coordinator to discuss what her plans and options are when she turns 18.

The meeting started out well. Summer is a smart young lady. She will end the school year with mostly A’s and a few B’s. She loves to write and draw, and is majoring in creative writing at the charter arts school that she attends. She is artsy, laid back and fun, with a little bit of quirky thrown in to make her all the more interesting!

During the meeting, we discussed Summer’s strengths and the qualities that she has to be successful. We also discussed her weaknesses and where she was in relation to improving. We discussed her short and long term goals, which are to graduate from high school and then from college. I think both Summer and I felt the meeting was positive, and it was so encouraging for me to hear her discuss and plan for her future.

But then her independent living counselor asked what her plans were in regards to living arrangements after she turns 18. The first answer went off without a hitch, “I am going to stay with Denise and Pierre,” but the coordinator wanted her to come up with a plan B, and even a plan C, “just in case things change.” Both Summer and I insisted that she would continue to live with us. I reiterated the fact that Summer wasn’t going to graduate from high school until she was 19 1/2 and that my husband and I wanted her to stay with us until then, and even through her first years of college. But the IL worker remained adamant that she should come up with some other options.

What made this part of the conversation so difficult was not that the case manager was out of line. She remained positive and encouraging while she stayed resolute that we discuss other living arrangements. Summer answered that she could find an apartment. I answered back that with the money she was going to receive, it was more realistic that she could rent an efficiency. But Summer and I both had difficulty in coming up with an option C. The independent living coordinator informed us of a house in which former foster children each had their own room, but shared bathrooms, kitchens, etc. So that became our option C.

As we discussed these other options, I felt my heart fall down to my feet. It was just sobering and scary for me to think of her going anywhere right after she turns 18 in November. We’ve only had two years to model healthy living, encourage expression of emotions and teaching life lessons. As a mom, I feel that we’ve only had two years to encourage, love and care for her. When Summer and I discussed it afterwards, she said that she felt the same fear.

Summer's beautiful smile!

Summer’s beautiful smile!

Summer came to live with us a little over two years ago. Being the oldest of five siblings, in many ways Summer is mature beyond her years. Before coming into foster care, she had too much responsibility piled on her shoulders in caring for her siblings. She is a loving, caring, respectful and compassionate young lady, whose trials in life have fine tuned her into a sensitive soul. She has integrity, a clear sense of right and wrong, and a desire to help others.

But in other areas, she is behind in regards to developing the work ethic and emotional maturity to ensure her success. She has made tremendous strides in learning new coping skills when under stress. But she still has times when she falls back into old habits and needs someone to help her see it and transition out.

In regards to her consistency in her schoolwork, she’ll do well for several weeks, only to suddenly misstep . She has needed someone to help her regroup and get back at it. We now receive a weekly progress report from her school, informing us of her grades, whether or not there are any missed assignments, and comments from her teachers. This tool has helped us to work on both her consistency of work effort and also her attention to detail in regards to her school work.

Summer has made tremendous strides. I admire the way she has embraced this new phase of her life. She is relentless in wanting to leave behind all the dysfunction that was her prior life, and is resolute in her dreams for her future. She amazes me. But we are all works in progress. She just needs more time to ensure her success. She still needs us in her life.

It is unnerving and literally earth shattering for us to think of her leaving our home when she turns 18. From our standpoint, it is just not a viable option in regards to ensuring not only a successful future, but also a healed and whole heart. In regards to Summer, we are resolute in our commitment to her for the rest of our lives. I dream of her future, and can’t imagine my future without her in it!

But what about so many foster children that don’t have a family to stay with when they age out at 18? On Jan. 1, 2014, Florida foster youth will have the choice to stay in foster care until they are 21.  It will also provide a safety net for the youth, a place to go back to when they need it as they enter adulthood. For those children who are still in high school or those with plans to go off to college, it will raise the likelihood of their success. I am so thankful to Gov. Scott for recently signing the bill into law. I am also thankful Summer will be able to participate in the program. It was the right thing to do.

Every Life converges to some center, expressed or still, and exists in every human nature a goal.

Life is indeed insipid for those who have no great goal in hand.

I don’t claim that I have already arrived or that I am as yet fully mature, but I keep struggling.

                     (Based on the words of Emily Dickinson and Horace Bushnell)

Being Present in Fatherhood

Guest post by Brian Durr, Coach at Boot Camp for New Dads class in Seminole County.

Durr Family

The Durr Family

My name is Brian Durr. My wife Karena and I have an 11-month-old little boy, Riley. To me, being a responsible father does not mean I have to be perfect. It comes down to three things: protecting, providing and being present.

I would do anything to protect my boy from what the world will try to teach him. As a dad, if I don’t own up and instill the values that I believe are important for him, then he will get them from what he sees others do and say. I will take my chances with what I teach him. He will come to know that I will bend over backwards to provide for him.

To me providing is way more than just bringing home a paycheck. It means providing time out of my busy schedule to be there for him and to listen to him. It also means showing him how to love and respect a woman both in the home and out in public. There will be times he needs a male role model for guidance, and I will be there for him whether he wants to talk or just hang out.

Out of these three (protecting, providing and being present), the one that jumps out the most is being present. It is vital for a dad to be present in a child’s life. I work in an elementary school that has very low-income students. A good majority of our students grow up with no father and it is very evident. They tend to act out and lack the life skills vital to a successful life.

Since I began teaching the Boot Camp for New Dads class in Seminole County I always start the class with a question: What do you remember about your dad growing up? I always end the class with this question: What do you want your middle school kid to say about you as a dad when they get to your age? The reason I ask these two questions is because the answer almost always boils down to the fact that the men remember their dad being present or not present both physically and emotionally. They almost never mention all of the stuff they got as gifts.

For me, my dad was coaching or watching my games cheering me on. He was not perfect, but he modeled the life skills of integrity, honesty and staying true to my word that have stuck with me to this day. He cheered me on in whatever I chose for myself. If I made a mistake, he disciplined me instead of trying to be my best friend. That is what a good dad does for a child they love. For me as a father, I plan on instilling in my son the values and beliefs that he will carry with him for the rest of his life.

“Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.”