Recently, a good friend invited me to speak at a fundraising event. The plan was that Daphne would welcome everyone and give an overview of what she and her team at CASRE are doing in response to the severe connection between human trafficking and foster care…Then Jim Harbaugh, the coach of the Niners would speak to the importance of fatherhood for a few minutes…then…I got to share the stuff I’ve been praying for an opportunity to share for a long time.
Needless to say, I accepted the invitation.
Then I thought about what I should say for three weeks and couldn’t find a single word…
And then I did…
Below is a transcript of my talk from the event as well as a link to the actual news story that was on the ten oclock news that night and Rebecca was interviewed.
PS. It’s very personal to Rebecca and I and our hope is that it would compel you to share it in your world and moreover, that you yourself would consider what your roll might be.
PPS. The event was hosted by my good friend Daphne Phung. Daphne founded and runs the non profit known as CASRE (California Against Slavery Research & Education). Her and her friends are the ones that authored and got proposition 35 on the ballot.
Jim and his Wife Sarah were exceptionally nice. At the end of the event, Sarah walked right up to Rebecca and gave her a big teary eyed hug and told her that we need to be sharing our story with as many people as possible because it absolutely needed to be heard.
At one point Jim came up behind me and jokingly said, “So, you made Sarah cry…thanks a lot.” We chatted a bit and I apologized for Da Bears remark and explained that he was basically my childhood quarterback because I was a kid when he was on the Bears. He said I was forgiven for the remark as long as the Niners were my number two.
Hi everyone, like Daphne mentioned, I’m John Pack and that’s my beautiful wife Rebecca sitting over there as a result of us having great parents that were willing to watch our boys so we could sneak away to be with you tonight.
This is really the 1st time I’ve spoken publicly to what this all means to us so thank you in advance for your grace. The process of finding the words has sort of lent some clarity to the idea that helping to give voice to the foster care crisis is by far the most effective way for Rebecca and I to help these kids that our hearts are broken for. Even still, we’re tempted to just take more kids, heck, to take all the kids and fix this thing for good. We know better though, we know that it really does take a village to rescue and raise these kids into the beautiful people they were created to be…we can’t rescue them all, in fact, it wouldn’t even be best and that’s evidenced by how seemingly ineffective we are at raising three up to be anything other than nose picking fart joking pranksters (insert roaring laughter).
In all seriousness, there are a few ideas I’d like to share with you, in the hope that you walk away from tonight giving thought to foster care in a new, more personal way.
First, to be clear…
Rebecca and I didn’t have an epiphany, or a supernatural experience where it was made clear that we were supposed to go down this road in the beginning. In fact, it happened in an opposite, more normal, less superhero kind of way. We started down the road, taking small practical steps towards it, and it became clear as we stayed on the road.
The 1st step we took was sort of by accident, we like you, found ourselves in an environment one evening, hearing from a guy as he talked from his guts about the foster care crisis and what it might look like for us to get involved. Surprisingly, his story moved Rebecca and I, and it was less scary and more inspiring than we had anticipated, so when the list came around to sign up to attend a 101 where we could hear from other foster families and ask questions, with wet eyes we put our names on the list. We went to the 101, and heard from other folks as they shared from their experience and we asked questions that we had.
One thing that occurred to us right out of the gate was that the people sharing and answering our questions were motivated by things very different than the things we had thought foster families were motivated by. In our minds, foster homes were “ran” by people hoping to subsidize their income in exchange for providing shelter and clothing to kids that had been removed from their birth parents. That image was quickly laid to rest as we listened to people share about how this had become their lifes work, the thing that keeps them living on the edge, the thing that brings purpose to their lives. Again, less scary, and more inspiring than we’d anticipated. At the end of the 101, there was another clip board passed around, this time to sign up for the actual foster family orientation with the county and again, we looked at each other with this kind of “why not” sort of look and put our names on the list.
There were a couple weeks between signing up and the actual orientation. The time allowed us to talk and read and imagine, and really engage with what was happening. The anticipation was again, less scary, more inspiring, more exciting, more confirming that while we may be on the road less traveled, that we may be on the right road all the same.
At orientation we were able to put to rest all the images we had in our heads about county social workers. I for one, tended to see grumpy little dmv cashier type people with scowls on their faces in my head when I thought about cps workers but the reality we were introduced to that night couldn’t have been further from that. We heard from a county that is desperately hoping to care for the least of these in our community. We got a strong sense that these people cared about foster kids for the same reasons we were beginning to, because they matter.
At the end of the orientation, yep, another clipboard, another “why not” look exchanged between Rebecca and I, and we signed up for foster family training.
The training was held on 4 consecutive Saturdays and during that time we learned lots of stuff that would prove incredibly relevant for us down the road. Also during that time we were asked to consider two things. Why were we doing this and who were we doing it for?
The why question had to do with what type of foster family we wanted to be. We could choose to be a foster only family where we would bring kids into our home temporarily but not be willing to adopt them if ever they became wards of the state. Another route was to become whats called an adoption only family which would mean we would only take kids that were already wards of the state and needed to be adopted. This would be the route for people that were primarily hoping to grow their permanent family through foster care. Also we are presented with the idea of becoming whats called a concurrent planning family. This is a family that decides to take in foster kids and either facilitate reunification with their birth families, or adopt them if ever that child becomes a ward of the state, like if the birth parents parental rights are terminated. After much contemplation, we decided that concurrent planning was the route most in line with our motivations.
The other thing was the who question. Who were we open to caring for? We were essentially asked to fill out a questionnaire that once completed, set the guidelines for the types of placement calls we were open to. In the end we decided we were open to kids of any race and all ages up to six years old. The age cap for us was largely in light of the fact that we had a three year old son and wanted to make sure we were doing right by him from a safety standpoint.
So, from a timing standpoint things happened pretty quickly for us. We went to the 101 in early feb then orientation a couple weeks later then 4 weeks of classes through March while we completed background checks and home study paperwork concurrently. We got our license in early may and the phone rang with a placement just a couple days later.
Rebecca took the call and the worker told her everything she new. She had a 3 year old seemingly mixed race boy named James at the center who had been taken into care because his parents had been arrested on drug charges. We learned that he seemed to the somewhat deaf or at least hard of hearing, and that he had a grandmother in San Diego that was eager to bring him into her care but that it would take some time to do her background check and make sure she was a suitable custodian.
We said yes, and then Rebecca and I and our son Eli got in the car and went and picked him up. James was part of our family for a few weeks as Grandma got checked out and cleared by the county.
In the past three years we’ve taken dozens of these calls and fostered eight different children for various durations of time, depending on their situation.
The parents all have different stories surrounding the why behind the reasons that landed their children in foster care. Drugs, crime, prostitution, neglect, abuse and the list goes on.
The thing about the kids though, is that they are just kids and they didn’t do anything wrong, and they deserve to be fathered and mothered just like every other kid. They deserve to be raised and loved and reminded that they matter.
Often when it comes up that I’m a foster parent, people say a few things pretty consistently.
- How does it effect your “real” kids.
For us, the answer to this question is one I love sharing. As it has turned out, Eli our now 6 year old is as much a part of this work as we are, sharing his room, his toys, his parents with whoever walks through the door. He has taught us so much about what it looks like to be generous and graceful and kind in the way he has adopted the brothers and sisters that have crossed his path. Also, the fact that Eli is doing this with us, it gives us a daily practical way to live out rather than just talk about the things we hope define the way he approaches the world around him when he grows up. Through this work we do together as a family, we don’t have to talk about digging in and being part of the solution in this world because it goes without saying, it’s just the way we roll.
“Oh wow, do you really, that’s awesome. Bill and I have talked about fostering or adopting or something. I always thought we would have a couple of our own and then adopt a couple.”
Contemplating foster care or adoption is something many of us do at some point in our lives. We meet an adoptive couple that inspires us, we meet a kid from a tough home that saddens us, we lay in bed thinking about alternatives as the “getting pregnant” thing isn’t going as smoothly as planned. There are a million things that cause the notion to occur to us. The thing about noble notions though, is that without action, they remain forever as only a notion. Here’s what I think… I think if more folks simply took the next practical step towards becoming a foster or adoptive parent, they would be compelled to take the next step, and then the next until one day they found themselves with their sleeves rolled all the way up, helping to change the world, right from their own kitchen table as they listen to little boys talk about mine craft until they are blue in the face. I believe this is true with such conviction because I’m proof. When I contemplated being a foster dad in broad general terms, I was scared and intimidated but when I began taking a series of simple practical steps down the path and found that it was exactly the path I was supposed to be on and it’s been rich, rewarding work, the sort of stuff I’ll be proud to have talked about at my funeral when people talk about the footprints I left on the world.
“I could never do that, I just wouldn’t be able to handle saying goodbye to a child after they had become part of our family.”
To which I’d like to respond saying… “ yea, I understand what you mean, if my heart was anywhere near as large as yours I wouldn’t be able to do it either.”
Seriously though, among the hardest things about this work is the goodbye. The great news about grief, is that it strengthens us and readies us for the next round. Through it we’re able to stay brokenhearted for these kids that desperately need our hearts to break for them.
So, I’ve tried to paint a picture of the road that lead Rebecca and I to become foster parents and a little bit about what it means to us, and I know this part of the story isn’t very exciting, but that’s kind of why I took the time to share it and some of the details…because it’s normal everyday human stuff. It doesn’t take superhero’s to change the world in this way, it just takes a couple ready to take a series of practical next steps, trusting that in the end the destination will be made clear.
Decker our ten year old came with Eli and I to sign up for little league last year as he insisted he wasn’t interested in playing…he was just coming along for the ride. When we got to the fields there were kids and coaches everywhere, the grass was freshly cut and the sound of baseballs smacking the inside of gloves was echoing as kids were warming up for the season. Decker instantly got quiet and curious as he’s never seen the game being played in real life before. Never owned a glove, never had a catch, never hit a ball. He saw several kids he knew from school and a few coaches approached him to say hello and welcome him to Marshall field. I took Eli out on the field to meet the tee ball coaches and get him squared away then I walked over to Decker and said, you should just do it bud, I think you’d be a natural.” He didn’t have any words but I could tell that pride was the only thing holding him back. He and I walked up to the snack shack to sign Eli up and pay and then I said, “how about you give it a shot bud?” He said ok. In the end, word got out that I had coached some high school ball and I was asked to manage Deckers team. I said yes and the rest is history. We’ve had a great time doing baseball together for the past couple seasons and Deck made the all star team this year, confirming for him that he was on the road to getting paid to play.
A few weeks ago, I was laying with our 3 year old that’s been with us since he was ten months old just chatting and goofing around and somehow we got to a place where I said something like “yep, I’d love you even if you made bad choices.”
And then he said, “what if I hit Eli?”
And I said, “well you’d be in big trouble but I’d love you even if you hit Eli.”
I could tell he was enjoying the idea of my unconditional love so I rattled off a bunch of stuff like…”even if you broke something fragile, or wrote on the walls or even if you pooped in your pants right now, I will love you, because you are my son, and I’ll always love you.”
He was coming out of his skin with giddiness as he considered this. Now, this is no joke…Yesterday Rebecca sends me a text around 5:00 in the afternoon that says “YOUR son just pooped his pants on purpose to see if we would still love him.”
I came home about six thirty and was greeted at the door by a crazy little person wearing nothing but a pull up and he jumped in my arms and said, “I pooped in my pants, but you still love me!”
I don’t foster kids, I father them. The same way you father you’re kids, by going to work every day and coming home for dinner, by always saying “who’s there?” when they say knock knock, by coaching them, by singing songs to them, by talking to them like they are miniature versions of the men I hope they become, by praising generosity, by referring to Rebecca as my beauty so they know who I love the most, by making muscles so they can dream about having there own like mine one day, by showing up every time, by showing them that worms don’t bite and warning that some dogs do, by giving lots of hugs, by talking about the birds and bees and reading them books about birds…and bees and trucks, and space ships and snakes and whatever else thier curious minds hunger for, by seeing something great in them and letting them know how proud it makes me, by asking them how they’d like it if someone did that to them, by listening closely when they tell stories of their life before joining us, by reciting my favorites until they aren’t my favorites anymore like my favorite car, my favorite color, favorite food, favorite lego movie, favorite baseball player, favorite football team “BEARS” (insert scowl on the face of Jim Harbaugh), favorite favorite favorite until the cows come home favorites. Actually when I put it all on paper, what a father does, it’s actually really interesting how this father /child relationship is so profound. On paper it looks like, well, a series of really simple human moves made on behalf of kids that just want to be loved and fathered. It’s not super hero stuff, but to them it is because I’m saving them from the alternative.
These days, CAS does most of it’s work in light of a single horrific statistic. One half on one percent of kids in CA are foster kids….and that little group of people makes up over 60% of human trafficking victims.
So when I’m in the back yard, tellin him to keep his butt down on the grounders so they don’t get by, I really am changing the world.
END OF TRANSCRIPT…
Link to the news story… http://shar.es/NAw0L
Link to CASRE website… www.casre.org
Link to the video Rebecca and I did last year with CASRE that was made to help give voice to foster care…. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BIMIE88TvHI