Steven Effinger went from single guy to father of two teenage boys. Everyone’s lives changed for the better.
In May 2013, I received a mass email from the Governor bringing to my attention that he was kicking off a Virginia Adopts campaign and that more than 12,000 foster care teenagers in Virginia needed families. This was news to me. I had always heard about animals needing homes, but these were children. Why is no one adopting these children?
And, Virginia was lowest of all 50 states in teenage adoption rates. It was a sobering statistic.
Why didn’t I hit delete and move on?
Why was I suddenly considering adopting a teenager?
What was I thinking?
This is what I was thinking: I had always wanted to be a parent. I wanted to make a difference so I followed my heart. Maybe this was my chance. I heard drums beating in the distance.
I began by calling the Children’s Home Society of Virginia, who set me up in an orientation session, which led me to take a six-week training class for potential parents. How could I as a single 58 year old man possibly do this? The more I asked the question the more the answer kept coming back to me–how could I not?
I’m not just old enough to be a father; I’m old enough to be a grandfather! But that didn’t matter to me. If there was any chance I could be matched up with a child that was compatible, I knew I could do this. I pressed on.
Next would be a “home study”–a process of getting approved to be matched up with a real child. I took a deep breath and said a little prayer to the Creator–if this is meant to be, let it happen. And every step of the way I got green lights, but it wasn’t always easy. Patience was my companion, and you have to have plenty of it if you want to adopt.
I had decided early on that I wanted to adopt a boy. I mentor teenage boys through the Boys to Men Mentoring Network of Virginia, which is all about creating a safe place for boys to find their voice. During this adoption process I kept hearing those drums beating in the distance. There’s a boy out there somewhere who needs me. I was on a path. The farther along the path I went the louder those drums would beat.
As the time neared to complete my home study the CHSVA contacted me and asked if I would be interested in a sibling pair of boys that were available for adoption. Would I watch a video and tell them what I thought?
I watched that video and didn’t bat an eye. Then I watched it again. I called back to say yes, I would like to meet these brothers. It’s hard to find placements for more than one sibling, they said, and the boys didn’t want to be split up.
The drums were beating more loudly now. It’s hard to place two siblings together? I kept thinking “No, it’s not too hard. I want them! I see potential in them! I had only considered adopting one boy, but two? I hit the jackpot!” I was grinning from ear to ear! Yes! Green light!
Three days later I met the boys, and we began a process of seeing each other every other day, slowly mingling our lives. I looked forward to my visits with them–we would go out to eat, go to a baseball game, talk, laugh. At first, I thought it might be awkward, but it never was.
Eventually I was able to bring them home for short visits and eventually for an overnight here and there. I started taking them to Boys to Men Mentoring events–circles, community service, meetings, and they fit right in. This was important to me because I knew that BTMVA would be a huge resource in our journey.
About two months later, they officially moved in with me to begin a probationary period, and our lives as a family began. My own biological family–my parents and two sisters–were supportive of my decision to adopt from the very beginning and easily fell in love with my boys. Another green light.
Throughout the next several months, we had appointment after appointment, and never-ending meetings with social workers, doctors, and teachers. Always there was a form to fill out, phone calls to make, and doing every day what a parent does for or with their children–advocate.
I felt like I was taking better care of these boys than anyone had in a very long time. Learning the ropes of the system and getting through the hoops was the hardest part–as far as getting along goes, that was no problem. The boys and I bonded easily, and I discovered there is no secret to being a parent. Just being authentic, consistent, and genuine with lots of love and patience is all I needed to make it happen.
The boys soon thrived in school and activities. It was a new life for us all, and it felt really good, like we had known each other forever. Not every minute is easy, of course, and they do test me, but don’t biological kids do the same thing?
After 10 months of waiting, the adoption was finalized without much fanfare and our family became official. I now have two sons and they have a father. Yet, I don’t feel like I have done anything special, I only feel like it was the right thing to do. If I can do this–you can too. If you have love, patience, and common sense, you’ve got it.
My boys are a joy and a blessing. I love them dearly each and every day. To be a parent, I followed my heart. And those drums keep on beating.
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November is National Adoption Awareness Month, and we feel many things about this. For more information on adopting a child (or a teenager) in Virginia, check out Children’s Home Society of Virginia.