Monday, December 2, 2013

'You are going to be Dads'

At a recent BLOOM event I met a new dad, Rob Foslett. Rob's face lit up when he told me that he and his partner had recently adopted a young boy with autism. Of course I wanted to see pictures, so the next day Rob e-mailed me some. "It's been a great 39 days since Owen came to live with us and he has made our lives so much better!" he wrote. Of course I wanted to know the WHOLE story, so Rob wrote it and here it is! Louise

By Rob Foslett

I have a great life.

But three years ago, at age 46, this nagging feeling that something was missing in my life and relationship took hold.

My husband David, my best friend and soul mate, and I had a plan: We’d retire early, move back to Nova Scotia where I grew up, travel and get involved in community life.
But still, I felt alone and empty. I quit my well-paying job and spent a couple of months trying to figure out why.

I made a list of 20 things I wanted to achieve in my life. Number 20 turned out to be adoption. I realized the emptiness I’d been feeling was a sense of incompleteness that we weren’t a family.

David and I had been a gay married couple since 2004. I knew David was happy with our relationship and liked our life plan, but I was about to totally turn his world upside down by contemplating parenthood.

I love a challenge and I love change, but was David the same? This would be a true test of our relationship.

The first time I mentioned parenthood David stared at me like I was on some illegal drug. “No, I am serious,” I said. “We would make great parents and help out a kid who really needs us.”
I think he thought we were too old to do this, but I felt we had a lot of love and support to give.

David and I started the process by reaching out to Toronto’s Children’s Aid Society. We went through the phone screen and the in-home visit without a hitch. Then David went to the Adopt Ontario website and showed me a boy with a smile that left me speechless (more to come on that later).
The adoption process is long, soul-searching and intrusive. It includes being assigned a worker, education classes, police checks and interviews. We learned so much in the classes we took. We had three great presenters and they made us think about why we were adopting and how to parent—especially how to respond to a child who had experienced neglect and how to parent the child through the loss of their birth family and foster family. I started our adoption binder.

Were David and I ready for this leap? We decided we were. And we decided to adopt a child with special needs. My nephew, who is now 17, has a disability and I couldn’t ask for a better nephew, one who’s more loving and caring and focused on retrieving a pamphlet wherever he goes. My nephew has won awards at science fairs and his big thing is collecting brochures on everything. Last count he had over 5,000, all in order and on his computer.  

David works as a civil servant so his resources were vast and he had some experience with special-needs kids, so his comfort level was high. David knew lots of people who understood children with special needs and could talk to us about parenting and how to find resources. And answer every little question we had, like "Do they need round-the-clock care?"

I couldn’t get that little boy’s smile out my head.

As we progressed towards completing our homestudy with our social worker Susan, I sent for information on that little boy with that smile that made me smile.

It turned out that Owen had autism. You would think it would scare me. It didn’t, nor David. We had been reading up on applied behaviour analysis and the familiar traits of children with autism. The more I looked at Owen’s picture the more I felt this bond developing and I needed to know more.

February 9th this year was a date I’ll never forget. We were invited by our worker to go to a presentation that was being held by the various Children’s Aid Societies in our region. In the first part we heard real families who'd adopted and were living day to day now with their new child. They gave a very insightful look at adoption from the perspective of the adopting parents and the foster parents. After the presentation we had lunch and were told we could go through some rooms to see profiles of the various children up for adoption.

David and I walked around and found Owen’s profile. My heart stopped. And I mean that. It felt like we were so close to hugging him, but it was just a picture. It was nerve-wracking. The non-adopting world needs to understand that this experience for adoptive parents is just as much of an emotional rollercoaster as the traditional route of trying to have kids.

Would we be accepted to the next step? Who else was interested in this child? What would the interview process be like?
All these thoughts flooded our minds.

But I didn’t care about any of that. I saw him and knew he was the one. I turned to David.

“He’s the one,” I said.
David is the most supportive guy I know. But this time I could tell he was a little scared. And so was I. We had questioned becoming parents at our age, and being two guys, many times, but Owen took hold of our lives through that one picture.

Blondish brown hair, big smile, bowler haircut and red t-shirt. I still have the picture.

We filled out 12 more pages of paperwork and gave it to Owen’s worker. This paperwork was supposed to determine our true interest in Owen, and to demonstrate that we would be fit parents who could support him now and all his life.
Our worker e-mailed to say we’d been chosen to come in for an interview by Owen’s resource team, along with another couple. My heart sank at hearing there were other prospective parents. I felt alone, but I didn’t want to tell David as we were supporting each other. We didn’t talk about the other couple but instead we prepared for the presentation. It was on May 16th at 10:30 a.m.

I bought a pair of lucky runners—Adidas Retro High Tops—and we felt good. We walked in and Owen’s resource team was waiting for us. We learned that the other couple had decided not to go forward with their application for Owen. I was still nervous yet happy.

I gave everything I had and the meeting lasted about an hour-and-a-half. We were told we would know the team’s decision within 24 hours.

We decided to go to the nearest Canadian Tire and pick up a few things. I remember standing with the cart as David shopped, getting tears in my eyes, just thinking and fearing that maybe Owen wasn’t going to join our family. We drove home and got up to the steps of the house and heard the phone ringing.

“It’s probably a telemarketer,” David said. I picked up the phone and Owen’s worker was on the other end.

“Are you sitting down?” she said.

“Yes,” I said.

“Well, you are going to be Dads.”

I cannot put into words what I felt at that moment: a thousand emotions all at once. David and I hugged each other and cried.

And now the rest is history. We met Owen and now have more videos and pictures then we can count.

Owen is in school and has been accepted at the Geneva Centre for Autism for further therapy. I am actually right now sitting with him on the sofa as he watches his favourite thing on his iPad—subways. Owen is totally fascinated with subways and we have a Saturday ritual where we go each Saturday on the TTC and ride them. He can tell when a new subway car is coming, and when it’s an old one. He can tell the difference in ring chimes and knows what stops are most important: like David’s work, the Eaton Centre and our stop for home.

We have been challenged by him at home. One of Owen’s autistic “focuses,” as I call them, is doors. His outlet for overload of stimuli is opening and closing the front and back doors. We have tried to redirect him, as we say in the autism realm, by allowing him three specific kitchen cabinets that he’s allowed to open. We weren’t worried about him bolting out of the house as much as we were worried that he would catch pneumonia. You see, Owen would stand on the porch with just his pull-ups on and watch the door open and close if he could.

I guess it’s a good sign that he challenges us. A child with special needs I believe needs to be understood for who he is—for his strengths, but most of all for the love he can give. And Owen gives a lot.

I love my son. I cannot explain in measurement or precise words, but when I look at him I have the biggest smile and feel true happiness. David takes Owen on Jeep rides. After riding the subway, Owen’s favourite thing is to ride in the jeep to the park and go on the swing.

My most cherished memory of the three of us happened at our local splash pad. We’re laying on our blanket, the sun is warm and shining and the trees are gently swaying. Owen’s cuddling with us and looking at pictures of us on our iPhones.

“Is that me and Dave and Rob?” he asks quietly. 

“Yes, Owen,” Dave says. “That’s us. Are you happy, Owen?”

Owen replies with the hugest smile.

“Where’s Toopy and Binoo?” he asks. Toopy and Binoo are characters on a cartoon from Montreal and he loves them to death.
I guess that’s as good as we’ll get from him, I think. 

Then, out of the blue, he says: “I’m safe.”


The love that Robert & David have for their son Owen shines through in this article. Congratulations to all three of them for becoming a family!

I'm never overcome, and I am by this story. There's something about the simplicity of it -- and great risk -- and the love just pours out and through. Thank you for sharing this story with us, Louise. And thank you for making this world a beautiful place, Rob and David!

That last line made me cry. You are a beautiful family!

I love your story! What a beautiful family! Thanks for sharing with us.

What wonderful parents congratulations

Known David since he was a young boy. So happy for the three of them. Owen will be so loved and cared for. What a beautiful family

Indeed what a wonderful story about a loving family. All the best to all three of you! If I may, I would like to offer some of my thoughts about raising a wonderful child like your son. Our son is now in his 20s and throughout his early years we learned some lessons that I'd like to pass on. First and most of all, please always have high realistic expectations for your son. Don't let others convince you that he "can't do" just because he has autism. Please don't let others limit his opportunities in school or elsewhere. Please aim high and your son will soar. Second, please remember that your child is a child first and foremost. Owen happens to have a diagnosis of autism but it does not define him. Please remember when you attend school meetings to discuss his special needs that he also has great strengths, amazing abilities and he will try his best when he is properly supported. Third, please keep in mind that the research shows that inclusion is best for all children. Whether you are considering to sign him up for school, soccer, hockey, dance or whatever, he deserves to be with other children who may not have so-called disabilities but who can be a good friend to him and he to them. And lastly, I humbly share with you that there will be some very good days and some not-so-good days involving professionals and others involved in your and your son's life. Please keep in mind that these people will come in and out of your lives. For you it will be 24/7 365 days a year and every moment will form a memory bank you will cherish forever. Please don't let the attitudinal and the systemic barriers in our society hold you back from getting for Owen what he requires and deserves in order to be happy, healthy and safe. You have the power to deal with the barriers even if it means finding another door to get your foot in the door where it needs to be. The love of our children goes a long way but you'll find that sometimes it doesn't seem like enough when you run into situations that seem insurmountable. As parents of Owen, you have much to learn and so much to teach others. Your energy, commitment, passion and love for your son shines through every printed word you write :)
P.S. Our son loved doors too, especially automatic doors at banks. Like many things, he outgrew it and became the fabulous young adult that he is now. We are so proud of him.

I find this story amazing. I can totally relate to the feeling that you're missing out on being a family. I'm only 27 and childless sort of by choice, because I'm myself autistic with too complex needs to be come a parent. It's so fantatistc that the two of you, Rob and David, got to adopt Owen. I also had to smile at your intervention fo rht edoor focus.

I've known Dave and Robert for many years...Owen, you are one lucky guy!

David and Robert, Congratulations and you are both true angels. Your story made me ball my eyes out with joy for all 3 of you. Thank you for sharing and also may I please highly recommend a few websites for you to browse:
Please feel free to contact me via Louise if you ever have questions about the links or why I recommend them!

I love reading about these happy stories. Congratulations to this wonderful family!

No one has ever said - or ever will - that raising a child with special needs is easy. But there are rewards, though they may sometimes not be totally clear at first. I think in my case the greatest gift my son has given me is to shatter my complacency and open my eyes to the things that really matter in life: love, compassion and family. Congratulations Dave, Rob and Owen.

What a beautiful story. <3
-K. Benjamin