Accidental father takes care of nephew, niece
By HELEN O'NEILL
The Associated Press
TROTWOOD, Ohio — Growing up, Adrian McLemore was a troubled little soul who spent much of his time exploding in confusion and rage.
At 6, he nearly set the house on fire.
At 7, his mother — raising him and his two sisters alone in Georgia — told social workers to place him in a foster home.
McLemore would spend a total of 11 years in foster care and he would learn many things — how to control his anger, how to channel it into programs that helped children like himself, how to survive in homes where families had completely different rules and expectations.
He learned that foster kids are largely invisible to the lawmakers who craft the rules that govern their lives. And he became determined to change that, joining youth organizations, becoming a dynamic young leader who lobbied fiercely for the rights of foster children to a better childhood — and a better preparation for adulthood.
And then, at 22, McLemore — who had devoted so much time to thinking, speaking and writing about the lessons of his own childhood — would be given a chance to put those lessons into practice.
Overnight, he became a "father."
The call came shortly after midnight on Dec. 20, 2009. There had been a bad situation at his sister's house, the sheriff told him on the phone (McLemore won't discuss the details). Her children — 3-year-old A'Rayiah and 1-year-old Tyiaun — had been taken into custody.
Driving to the police station, McLemore knew exactly how things would unfold. The children would be separated and placed in different foster homes. There would be tense weekly visits with their mother in a small room at the Montgomery County Department of Job and Family Services. His sister would vent at the case workers. A'Rayiah would cry.
It would be like watching his own wounded childhood, repeating itself.
McLemore was a full-time student at Wright State University studying political science. His days were packed with classes and studies, as well as a grueling schedule of speeches, presentations, committee meetings. And he had a job at a video store.
But he didn't hesitate.
"I will take care of my niece and nephew," he told the authorities. "I will feed them and take them to day care. I will give them a stable home. I know them. And I love them like no one else can."
And so he bundled up the children and drove them to his two-bedroom apartment on Culzean Drive.
McLemore is well known as one of the success stories of the Ohio Foster care community. Some of the people closest to him are social workers who have seen him blossom over the years.
Word spread quickly. Friends threw a baby shower — collecting clothes and toys.
They helped with baby-sitting. They coached him on diaper-changing and offered advice on nighttime crying.
But for all the outpouring of support and goodwill, there were some who felt he had made a huge mistake. You don't know what you are getting into, they warned. Your studies will suffer. How are you going to provide for two small children who need everything?
McLemore had just one response.
"I refuse to allow another generation of McLemores to be raised in foster care."
One of McLemore's prized possessions is a large painting in his living room. It depicts McLemore shoulder to shoulder with a thin, serious looking man in military uniform.
McLemore worships the memory of his father, who died of cancer in 2004. The two years he lived with his Dad, he says, were the happiest of his life.
He was 9 at the time, and his beloved grandmother Essie — his father's mother — had decided to take him out of foster care and raise him herself. And then, the unimaginable happened. She was killed in a car accident on her way to pick him up.
McLemore was so bereft he tried to drown himself in the bathtub.
His father, Air Force Staff Sgt. Ernest McLemore, had long been divorced from McLemore's mother and had been stationed overseas. He returned for the funeral and told McLemore and his two sisters that he was taking them to Las Vegas to begin a new life.
McLemore's face glows as he talks of those years, of being with his sisters, of having his own room, of having a father who took them to soccer and karate and theme parks.
Adrian McLemore says a prayer before dinner at their apartment in Dayton, Ohio.
But that blissful time ended as abruptly as it had begun. His father was being shipped overseas. The children were going back to their mother, who had moved to Ohio.
There, McLemore said, things spiraled out of control. Their mother drank. She went missing. There was often no food or clean clothes. He would run away.
Social worker Carla Merritt remembers an intense, unruly young teen seething with anger and bitterness. But she also saw a determination and focus rare for such a child.
"Adrian," she told him, "you have such great potential. You could do anything, be anything. But you have to learn to close your mouth and listen."
But nothing could contain McLemore's anger the day he went to middle school in clothes that smelled like fish.
He stormed home, took out his Sunday suit and wore it to school the next morning. From that day, Adrian McLemore would always be the best dressed person in the room.
"The biggest thing children need, in addition to unconditional love, is a comfortable, safe environment, a sense of stability and permanence," McLemore says, with all the clarity of someone who did not have these things. "Children need to know their siblings and spend time with them, not just in weekly visits with a case worker, but at picnics and in parks and with family members like aunts and uncles and grandparents."
McLemore is sitting in his living room, but he speaks with the same conviction and intensity he has brought to speeches before countless state and congressional committees and study groups. Determined to run for political office someday, he addresses lawmakers as "my future colleagues" as he urges them to increase, not reduce, funding for foster care programs.
Impeccably dressed, with a deep voice and imposing presence, McLemore makes a striking impression. And he gets things done.
He successfully advocated to have Medicaid coverage extended to age 21 for former foster children. He was a founding member and first president of the Ohio Youth Advisory Board, which has become a powerful advocacy group for foster youth. He worked with the administration at Wright to allow former foster students live in dorms during school breaks, so they wouldn't end up homeless.
McLemore isn't sure what prompted him to get so involved. Perhaps he wanted to escape the loneliness of an uncertain home life by becoming part of a larger community, creating a "family" of his own.
For although McLemore has nothing but respect and admiration for the families who cared for him, their homes never felt like the loving,
"You simply never know when you might be told to pack your things and leave," he says. "In foster care, families can always say, 'Take him back.' Real parents don't have that option."
He calls them "my precious cargo"
A'Rayiah, 4, has eyes that turn from pale green to gray, and a mop of pink-beaded braids. Sweet and soft-spoken, she dreams of playing basketball, of living with her mom, of having her uncle buy a van big enough to hold their entire extended family of cousins and aunts and grandparents.
Her 2-year-old brother, Tyiaun, is a cherubic-faced tornado of energy, tottering and tumbling, smiling when he is not pouting, asking never ending questions in a language all his own.
McLemore posts notes about them on Facebook, proudly describing the daily joys and tribulations of parenting.
"I just submitted the last form for A'Rayiah's 'big girl' school. This is a proud moment for this young African American 'father'!"
"My boy and I are headed to the barber shop. I savor these moments of fatherhood; I mean unclehood!"
As a parent (though he prefers the term "protector"), McLemore describes himself as a "gentle dictator." There are strict rules at home: no juice in the living room, toys must be put back in their place, time-outs for whining.
But he also loves having fun when the chores are done — pillow fights, letting the kids jump on his bed, and, their favorite, throwing a rollicking rock concert in the living room. They grab their toy guitars and mics, put on a concert tape of Elton John or Bon Jovi on the big-screen television and belt out the songs with all their might.
McLemore is filled with awe watching them develop, conscious of how much his influence is shaping them.
"Uncle, I love you," A'Rayiah calls out as she sits in her pajamas, munching frosted flakes and watching "The Lion King."
"I love you too, sweetie," McLemore replies. "Now finish up and get dressed."
She trots to her room. He starts changing Tyiaun's diaper, a job he hates.
"I can't WAIT for this stage to be over," he says, so vehemently it startles Tyiaun, who gives him a puzzled look.
They pile into the car, turn Michael Jackson's "Beat It" up full blast, and happily sing along all the way to the day care center.
McLemore kisses them goodbye and heads off to a full day of classes at Wright, a few hours of after-school tutoring at a local high school, and then back to the day care center to pick them up at 6.
Parenthood has changed everything about McLemore's life, except his long-term goals. Gone are the days of living on chili cheese fries and root beer. Now his shopping list includes Lunchables, fruit cups and diapers.
His social life is practically nonexistent, except during football season when he spends every possible moment watching the Denver Broncos. Weekends, when the children visit their mother, are devoted to sleeping, cleaning and catching up on studies.
McLemore believes fatherhood has humbled him, made him feel less self-important.
"I come home at the end of the day, and it's all about them," he says.
And yet, there are times it seems overwhelming.
He talks to his father all the time, writes anguished letters about how much he misses him, how he wishes he was there to guide him.
"Daddy, I get up every day and put on so many hats that sometimes I forget which one I'm wearing," McLemore wrote in one letter. "I am a father, student, a worker, a friend, a protector, a leader, a brother and whatever anyone asks me to be. But most of all, when I step out of the hallway where our painting hangs, I am a grieving son."
In the absence of his father, McLemore says, he believes that foster care turned him into the leader he is today, nurturing his ambition and drive. Social workers boast he is their star: There is a McLemore "wall of fame" in the Montgomery County Youth and Family Services center, with pictures of him and the children.
But McLemore knows that most children raised in foster care don't make it onto a wall of fame. Many don't make it to college. And the loneliness and instability he felt growing up makes him determined that A'Rayiah and Tyiaun will not experience the same.
The children will likely go back to their mother later this summer, though McLemore expects to see them every weekend. He doesn't know how he will feel when they go — relieved and happy to resume a social life, or sad.
He believes they should be with their mother. But, he says, they will always have a place with him.
"I will always be their uncle, their protector," he says. "And whenever they need me to be, I will step into the role of father."
But since the couple attended a parenting course — to save their relationship, which had become overwhelmed by arguments about rearing their children — Ms. Calapini has had a change of heart. Now she encourages the father-daughter car talk.
“Daddy’s bonding time with his girls is working on cars,” said Ms. Calapini, of Olivehurst, Calif. “He has his own way of communicating with them, and that’s O.K.”
As much as mothers want their partners to be involved with their children, experts say they often unintentionally discourage men from doing so. Because mothering is their realm, some women micromanage fathers and expect them to do things their way, said Marsha Kline Pruett, a professor at the Smith College School for Social Work at Smith College and a co-author of the new book “Partnership Parenting,” with her husband, the child psychiatrist Dr. Kyle Pruett (Da Capo Press).
Yet a mother’s support of the father turns out to be a critical factor in his involvement with their children, experts say — even when a couple is divorced.
“In the last 20 years, everyone’s been talking about how important it is for fathers to be involved,” said Sara S. McLanahan, a professor of sociology and public affairs at Princeton. “But now the idea is that the better the couple gets along, the better it is for the child.”
Her research, part of a project based at Princeton and called the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, found that when couples scored high on positive relationship traits like willingness to compromise, expressing affection or love for their partner, encouraging or helping partners to do things that were important to them, and having an absence of insults and criticism, the father was significantly more likely to be engaged with his children.
Uninvolved fathers have long been accused of lacking motivation. But research shows that many societal obstacles conspire against them. Even as more fathers are changing diapers, dropping the children off at school and coaching soccer, they are often pushed aside in ways large and small.
“The walls in family resource centers are pink, there are women’s magazines in the waiting room, the mother’s name is on the files, and the home visitor asks for the mother if the father answers the door,” said Philip A. Cowan, an emeritus professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, who along with his wife, Carolyn Pape Cowan, has conducted decades of research on families. “It’s like fathers are not there.”
In recent years, several fathers’ rights organizations have offered father-only parenting programs and groups, and studies have shown that these help men become more responsive and engaged with their children.
But a new randomized, controlled study conducted by the Pruetts and the Cowans found that the families did even better if mothers were brought into the picture.
In the study, low-income couples were randomly placed into a father-mother group, a father-only group and a control group of couples. The controls were given one information session; the other two groups met for 16 weeks at family resource centers in California, discussing various parental issues.
In both of those groups, the researchers found, the fathers not only spent more time with their children than the controls did but were also more active in the daily tasks of child-rearing. They became more emotionally involved with their children, and the children were much less aggressive, hyperactive, depressed or socially withdrawn than children of fathers in the control group.
But notably, the families in the couples group did best. They had less parental stress and more marital happiness than the other parents studied, suggesting that the critical difference was not greater involvement by the fathers in child-rearing but greater emotional support between couples.
“The study emphasizes the importance of couples’ figuring parenting out together and accepting the different ways of parenting,” Dr. Kline Pruett said.
Fathers tend to do things differently, Dr. Kyle Pruett said, but not in ways that are worse for the children. Fathers do not mother, they father.
Dr. Kyle Pruett added: “Dads tend to discipline differently, use humor more and use play differently. Fathers want to show kids what’s going on outside their mother’s arms, to get their kids ready for the outside world.” To that end, he said, they tend to encourage risk-taking and problem-solving.
The study was financed by the California Office of Child Abuse Prevention, which is looking for ways to involve fathers more at the state’s many family resource centers. Experts say improving the way fathers are treated in many settings, public and private, is an important public health goal.
For example, they say, pictures of families on the walls of clinics and public agencies should have fathers in them. All correspondence should be addressed to both mother and father. Staff members should be welcoming to men. Steps like these promote early and lasting involvement by fathers.
“We want people to think about how positive father engagement in this co-parenting model would work in their foster care agency, local health clinic, pediatric office, adoption agency or school,”
Dr. Kyle Pruett said. “That’s where an awful lot of the barriers are.”At home, the experts recommend that couples keep talking about parenting issues and do their best to appreciate each other’s strengths. A recurring argument among couples is that each partner thinks he or she knows what is right; a mother may accuse the father of allowing too much television, while a father may tell a mother she isn’t strict enough with discipline.
“Instead, they should be saying, ‘How can each of us be the kind of parent that we are?’ ” Dr. Philip Cowan said. “I don’t think it’s abuse for a dad to sit with that little kid watching TV.”
These experts agree that parents should not focus solely on the children.
“Parents work all day, and feel as if they need to give every other minute to the kids,” Dr. Cowan said, “but if they don’t take care of the relationship between them, they’re not taking care of the whole story.”By: Laurie Tarkan
Much is known about postpartum depression in women, but now researchers are calling attention
to the plight of depressed fathers.
Depressed fathers are three times as likely to spank their 1-year-old children as fathers who aren’t depressed and far less likely to spend time reading to their children, according to new research published in the medical journal Pediatrics.
Researchers from the University of Michigan collected data from 1,746 new fathers in 20 cities, finding that over all, about 7 percent showed signs of depression. More than 40 percent of depressed fathers spanked their children, compared with 13 percent of fathers who weren’t depressed.
Depressed fathers were more likely to be unemployed and more likely to report substance abuse. Depressed fathers were just as likely to play games and sing songs with their children but less likely to read stories to them. In the study, 58 percent of fathers who weren’t depressed read to their children three times a week, compared with only 41 percent of depressed fathers.
Although postpartum depression in new mothers is often linked to hormonal fluctuations, increasingly the medical community is focusing on the emotional effect of new parenthood on both men and women. Last year The Journal of the American Medical Association reported that about 10 percent of new fathers were depressed, based on an analysis of 43 studies encompassing 28,000 fathers. By comparison, about 5 percent of men in the general population are depressed.
The rate of depression was highest among fathers with infants 3 months to 6 months old, the study showed. Among fathers with children in that age group, one in four were depressed. A child with a depressed mother was also more likely to have a depressed father, the data showed. Fathers with depression may have sleep problems, low energy and general sadness or may seem irritable or withdrawn from family life.
Notably, 82 percent of the fathers in the Pediatrics study had visited with the child’s pediatrician in the past year, including three out of four depressed fathers. The findings suggest that pediatricians can play an important role in screening new fathers for depression, according to an accompanying editorial written by Dr. Craig F. Garfield of Northwestern University and Richard Fletcher, leader of the Fathers and Families Research Program at the University of Newcastle in South Wales, Australia.
“Fathers’ active roles in families and their mental health clearly influence child development and well-being,’’ they noted in the editorial. “The field of pediatrics is now faced with finding ways to support fathers in their parenting role much in the same way we support mothers.”
By TARA PARKER-POPE http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/03/17/time-to-focus-on-sad-dads/?scp=1&sq=postpardum%20depression&st=cse
The Growing Epidemic of Fatherlessness
Today, 1 out of every 3 children in America is living in a home without his or her natural father. Think of that. One out of every 3 children in America will go to bed tonight without a father to read them a story, bring them a glass of water, kiss them good night, or comfort them if they have a bad dream.
And the problem of fatherlessness is getting worse, not better. By some estimates 60 percent of American children born in the 1990s will live a significant portion of their childhoods in a home without their natural father present. Indeed, for the first time in America’s history, the average expected experience of childhood now includes a significant amount of time living absent one’s natural father.
There are two major pathways to fatherlessness. The first is divorce. In America today, 40 percent of first marriages end in divorce, compared to just 16 percent in 1960. And, since 3 out of 5 divorces involve children, each year approximately one million children enter a fatherless home due to divorce.
The second major pathway to fatherlessness is men fathering children out of wedlock. Today in America, one third of all children – over one million each year -- are fathered by men out of wedlock. That's up from 5 percent in 1960 – a more than 600 percent increase over the past 40 years.
There are, of course, those who say these trends do not mean much of anything – that it doesn't really matter whether there is a father in the home or not. Some even go so far as to say that children in the modern world don't really need fathers at all.
Research, however, suggests otherwise. Studies have shown that children in America living in homes without fathers are 5 times more likely to live in poverty than children who live with both their mother and their father. Fatherless children are also 2 to 3 times more likely to develop an emotional or behavioral problem requiring psychiatric treatment. Studies have shown that children who grow up without fathers also are more likely to commit crime, and do poorer in school. Perhaps most tragically of all, children who grow up fatherless also are more likely to commit suicide than those who grow up in a home with both their mother and father.
What seems clear is that children growing up without their father in the home face an increased risk of developing significant problems. This does not mean that all children who grow up in fatherless homes will encounter problems. Indeed, many of them will do just fine. But research indicates that fatherless children face more obstacles than those who grow up with both a mom and a dad, and are at greater risk for a host of developmental problems.
Much has been done in recent years to ensure teenage mothers get the right support, and when discussing teenage pregnancy in Britain, the traditional focus is on young women.
Society often regards teenage fathers as irresponsible individuals who get their girlfriends pregnant and then abandon them. Yet all the evidence shows that when young fathers are offered reliable and sympathetic support, the impact upon them, their children and their families can be profound.
Compared to their female counterparts, school-aged fathers are almost invisible as a group. How many there are in the country is not known. But three teenage fathers from Sunderland emerge from the shadows to reveal who they really are, in this video that has relevance for secondary PSHE.
C.R.A.F. Group Session Picture Slideshow
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