‘Where’s their mom?’ She assumed I was kidnapping my son. She didn’t believe me when I said, ‘I’m Dad.’ The suffering of kids in foster care knows no color.’: Single foster, adoptive dad says ‘matching hearts make a family’

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“When I decided fostering and adoption would be my path, I never considered what color my children would be. My mission was to wrap my arms around children who needed a safe, healthy home and to show them they are loved and wanted in this world. I went into my parenting journey with an open heart and mind, never assuming others have the same perspective.

Any child in foster care will have pain. When my kids are in a state of trauma, I go back to how I felt as a child in order to know how to love them through it. My kids’ struggles remind me to be tender, to love unconditionally, and to listen and truly hear how they’re feeling. I don’t pretend to know everything. My children teach me how to love even in the most difficult times, to be patient, and to remember to say ‘I love you’ even when I may not feel like it. I never forget they’re coming from hard places and I am now their soft place to fall.

Once I began my life as a foster dad, I began to notice complete strangers considered my family structure important. They were less concerned with matters of the heart and seemed to prefer my skin match my children’s. As a dad who loves his kids unconditionally, I was shocked that other people approached color differences this way. It was joyful for me to be able to provide my children with a loving home. To me, this was the only goal. Yet in the eyes of strangers, just because of our appearance, something was off.

I started to notice during simple outings to places like the grocery store or doctor’s office, I would need to field questions or otherwise prove myself to the people who looked at my family sideways. There were strange looks and double takes. I was questioned about the whereabouts of my children’s mother, to which I would say politely, ‘I am both their mother and their father.’

My kids have always called me dad. This occasionally helps people to identify and understand the situation, but it also creates uninvited questions. Some cannot fathom that I’m a black man parenting white kids. They look at me with doubt or sometimes don’t see me at all. There are times when people look right past me while my children are asked where their parents are. My kids say, ‘He’s right here!’ and point to me standing next to them.

People are suspicious about whether my kids belong with me. On one occasion, one of my sons was having a meltdown at Chuck E Cheese. As I was trying to calm him and ensure that he was safe, a woman asked me, ‘Where’s their mom?’ The only possibility she could see was that I must be kidnapping this child. I told her I was his dad, but she did not want to listen. I chose to let go of her behavior and focus on my son. If she needed to call the police, I would answer them, but this woman’s perspective was not mine to change. My job was to make sure my kid was safe and OK.

On another occasion, when I went to pick up my kids from daycare, one of the caregivers was hesitant about me and went to speak with her manager. Because I did not have the same skin color as my children, she needed confirmation I was in fact their dad.

This kind of thing also happens at airports. I will scan all of our boarding passes and passports and begin to board with my kids, but people will still question why white children are getting on a plane with me. My kids are forced to speak up and confirm that I’m their parent.

At times, people will talk about my kids in my presence not knowing that their dad is right there listening. At other times, we are followed in stores. I get strange looks at the grocery store for being a black dad with a blonde kid. Facing these kinds of situations every day can make you feel devalued. I wonder whether it’s the same way for white families with black kids. What bothers me the most is people assuming I’m not my kids’ dad when they are truly my entire world.

Courtesy of Peter M.

At first, my kids didn’t notice the assumptions of others. As they get older, we have discussions about race, color, and the perceptions and judgments of those around us. I educate them as best I can and tell them not to be angry, but to treat people with kindness.

I’ve learned to carry documents with me everywhere I go in case I’m questioned about my relationship to my children. I’m always prepared with copies of passports and guardianship papers. It makes me sad to have to do this, but it ensures I can protect myself and my kids by always being able to prove I’m their dad.

Along the path of my mission to make kids feel seen, heard, and known, I am often overlooked and made invisible by those who simply can’t make our puzzle pieces fit into the picture they have labeled ‘family’ in their minds.

When your family is different, people may see it as their right and responsibility to figure out what’s going on. People seem to have three immediate thoughts about my family. First, what is this black man doing with these white kids? Secondly, is this man fit to be a parent all on his own? And third, where are the ‘real’ parents? How long will this man have them before they’re sent back to where they belong? It saddens me that people measure me as though I have no right to be my kids’ dad. I find it heart wrenching that while I give my kids a world of love and accept them in any shape or form, I can be judged as unfit with a single glance.

I’ve learned to accept that people need to ask questions to make sense of things. I answer patiently with the knowledge and hope that with every conversation, I’m helping to change the narrative about black men, multiracial families, and single dads.

I’m asked often why I’m a single dad. I don’t fit into the stereotype people carry of the absent or minimally involved single father. I am not a weekend dad. I’m here for my kids always, and I am the only one they have to rely on day in and day out. I provide them with all the love and attention of two parents. It’s a big job—but my heart is equipped for this. As I see my kids healing, it deepens my own healing and I gain even more capacity to love.

Courtesy of Peter M.

Here is what I have learned: I cannot change how people think. What I can do is change my feelings about how they think. Any change to a person’s belief system has to come from a deep shift inside of them. My words cannot erase years of cognitive and cultural conditioning. I cannot be angry. If I allowed myself to feel angry with others’ perceptions of me, I would never feel at peace. I’ve learned to let go of the opinions of others and understand it is not up to me to rebuild the puzzle pieces for them.

My advice to adoptive parents whose skin color differs from their children’s: fear should not stop us. We all have the potential to care for anyone, not just those who look like us. When you are judged, don’t be angry. If we become upset or allow ourselves to lose peace because of our differences, nothing will ever change. Becoming angry when someone misjudges you based on a stereotype only enforces their errant belief and validates a lie. It does not open their eyes or their heart.

Be the best parent you can be. Know you can’t be the world’s teacher, but you can be an example of integrity and kindness. Focus on your love for the kids. Love should never be hindered by fear of what others will think. Multiracial families will face challenges and difficult questions. Learn to embrace the questions as part of life.

Those who want to learn will begin to open their eyes. It is our job to remind people not to judge a book by its cover, check their assumptions, and consider that their first guess at something may not always be correct. Teach people to respect that though they may not often see families like ours, we do exist, and we are beautiful.

My mission is to be a great dad. That’s it. I’ve learned to be prepared for judgments. I go into every day and every place prepared to meet someone who will question me with their eyes or words. It is far better for people to ask than to assume, and I will gladly explain. The best I can do is to embrace and expect it while focusing on being the best parent I can be. My adoption journey has been amazing so far, but I have also had to face scrutiny. I choose not to let that get in the way. I am determined.

It’s a joy to know I’m changing the narrative about families and fathers. We all have a different story to tell. The adoption narrative is not just what we see on social media. It’s not just white celebrities adopting black kids. There are many other families like mine. I teach my children that we are not one race helping the other, but all races helping each other.

The suffering of kids in foster care knows no color. I will open my door for any child and love them as my own. It is the matching of our hearts that makes us a family.”

Courtesy of Peter M.
Courtesy of Peter M.

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Peter Mutabazi of Foster Dad Flipper. Submit your own story here.

Read more from Peter here:

‘At 11, his adoptive parents abandoned him at a hospital, never to return. ‘Mr. Peter, can I call you my Dad?’ I began to cry uncontrollably.’: Single dad adopts 11-year-old boy from foster care after biological, adoptive family abandon him

‘My father sent me out for cigarettes. I decided to run away. I needed to find a place he’d never find me.’: Man rescued from abusive family, returns favor by fostering children in need

‘Would you be willing to take in a 7-year-old boy during quarantine?’ I knew it was a risk, but I also knew all he needed was love.’: Single adoptibe, foster dad says ‘my house is not a blessing unless it’s shared’

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