It is much easier to become a father than to be one. Raising a child to adulthood is a great responsibility. Three fathers have chosen to open up their home to children who are not their own, to provide them with the love and stability they truly deserve. They speak to Therese Bonnici about the experience.
“Sarah* brought me a Father’s Day card from school today,” Peter* says with a smile, as he walks into the room.
Peter* and his wife have four children of their own, but they have opened their home to foster children, an idea they had from the beginning of their marriage. When one of their own was still young, they were asked to care for a newborn, Sarah, who needed a home urgently for a short time. Years down the line, they still care for the child.
“We treat Sarah as one of our own, yet at the same time keeping in mind that she is not, because there is the possibility of her being taken back. We ensure that there is no distinction in anything, be it health, education or anything else,” he says.
“I strongly believe that every citizen must give something back to society – and fostering is one way of doing it. You do not do it for yourself, but for the child. The satisfaction is tremendous, particularly when you get home from work and all your children come rushing to greet you, and she’s there with them, beaming, telling you she loves you. You start dreaming for this child, wishing her the very best in life,” he says.
Peter and his wife are still in contact with Sarah’s biological mother. Apart from the scheduled visits, they make sure they send her photos and greeting cards when due, and o keep her updated with her daughter’s progress.
Peter admits that there are times when he thinks about the possibility of Sarah being taken away from him; however he stresses that his daughter’s interests will always come first. “At the end of the day we are adults, so somehow we would have to accept it, but a child would perceive the change differently, and psychological support at that point is crucial.”
“He did not smile. He did not know what a hug or a goodnight kiss was”
Johann was not brought up in a united family. “I did not have the perfect example of a united family, but somehow I managed to turn that experience into something positive. I wanted to give these children what I had lacked myself. These children give you so much love, simply because that is what you’re giving them. They do not even expect you to love them, for them it’s overwhelming.”
Johann and his wife had discussed adoption, but later discovered that fostering was more suitable for them. Today, they foster two children who are siblings.
Johann explains that they had no time to prepare themselves before Anna* came along. “We were not sure how old or what gender the child would be, so the day she came home we went out to buy the necessities,”
Anna suffered terrible abuse at home, and psychological sessions are now helping her deal with past experiences. The experiences she went through made her lose her trust in adults – but gradually she has started to realised that Johann and his family only have love to give her.
Shortly after they started fostering the girl, they discovered that her brother Paul*was in a children’s home, and started taking the girl to visit her brother. Eventually, they fostered him too.
“You have got to be fully prepared before you go into this. You have to know what it means to interact with a child that has experienced trauma. Others might think it is something physical, but sometimes it is merely the need to be loved. I distinctly remember Paul shouting ‘Papa’ when we used to pick him up from the home; it was the only word this toddler knew.
“Paul did not know how to smile. He did not know what a hug was, what a goodnight kiss is. He wouldn’t let you because he did not know better. The satisfaction goes way beyond what you expect it to be.”
Johann and his wife have a son of their own, and he too attended the fostering course, to be fully prepared for his new ‘sibling’. “We told our son that we wanted to help these children, and asked whether he wanted to help them with us. You can’t force it, it has to be mutual.”
The father explains the importance of stability and pattern in the child’s life. In the first few weeks in her new home, Anna* used to take her school lunch back home. After a while they discovered that she was doing so to save it for later, out of fear of having nothing to eat when she got home. She started hiding her things, for fear of them being taken away from her.
“This is no calculated love, you have to love unconditionally. You do not love children because they are yours, but because they deserve to be loved,” he says.
“You give them the best you can, but when the time comes, you have to be ready to let go. It is the same thing as letting your children move abroad to study or work – if it is in their best interest, you have to accept it. If they are going to a safe environment, who am I to deny them their right to be with their biological parents? People make mistakes, but some of them manage to reform themselves.”
Providing a safe net, a second chance
John* and his wife encountered difficulties having children of their own and even attempted In Vitro Fertilisation several times, but with no success. “I remember my wife telling me that perhaps God’s will is that we bring up children of others, and not our own,” he tells me.
He admits that deciding to foster is no straightforward decision, but after he started doing voluntary work with children together with his wife, they realised they held the skills to be parents. For the past seven years, they have been fostering two children, as well some other young ones for a short time, what is termed as respite care.
The one-to-one attention provided in a foster home can’t be provided in an institution. “The stability and love provided is crucial, particularly during the first few years, when the child’s personality is still being moulded. It is not about showering them with gifts; it is love that they truly want. The child has to come first, at all costs. You do this for them, not for anything else,” he says.
John recalls offering respite care to a newborn for a few weeks. “The child had withdrawal symptoms – it cried for 28 hours straight and doctors could find nothing wrong with it, except for that.”
The fostered children are fully aware of their biological parents, and even have their photographs in their room. The biological parents are satisfied with the care and love their children are getting from John. “Of course we never deny their right to see their parents, but the reality is not as straightforward as one thinks. Sometimes the biological parents do not show up, at other times they start making promises they don’t keep and the child becomes confused.
Inevitably, the young ones do ask about their roots. “Just last week my fostered daughter asked my wife if she had ever been in her tummy. I’ve had instances where my fostered son was bullied by schoolmates, who told him we were not his parents. We always tell these children the truth. It might hurt, but you’ve got to make up for it with love. Each individual needs to know about their roots, irrelevant of the love and care being given by the foster parent.”
“You have to be ready to open your heart and offer a second chance to these children. Even if they are taken back after one year, you would have offered one year of love and care. “We do not want to take anyone’s children away; it hurts when people think that.
*Names and other details have been changed to protect privacy.