Two Dads, one very opinionated son.

Our Foster story, the journey from strangers to family.


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Future, Fears and Finding your feet

We always thought it was supposed to get easier when they turned eighteen. There was never an assumption that was when the job was done. Raising children is something we all know we’re committed to for life, so we always knew it would be a long journey. This milestone was just supposed to see things become a little easier, in some ways it is, in many ways it’s not. 

Nine years is along time by any stretch of the imagination. Many things can happen in that time. For him he’s gone from an energetic nine year old to a sullen teenager, lost in the void of technology and quite often seeming so lost from us. Disconnected from the rest of the world we stress and we wonder if he’ll be ok. Is he prepared for the real world? Is the real world prepared for him? Other days it’s like that nine year old never left and he bounces through the house full of unstoppable energy, blasting his music and singing, badly.

For a child in care it’s often a terrifying age, many children in care are simply asked to move on at 18 allowing for new children to take their place. It’s a sad reality, but one we’ve been shocked to see for the last two years. Regularly the foster agency and the department have gone to great lengths to engage him in “transition from care” programs that are designed to address that many of these young people will essentially be left to fend for themselves at this age. This includes information sessions on housing, Centrelink, basic living skills and access to post care government support, it’s great that these services are there, but terrible that these young people are left in that position so often. We’ve shielded him from these making sure he knew he will always be our family, ensuring he knew everything would be ok and we will support him and provide him with what he needs to know. But more than that there is the angst that bubbles beneath the surface, the fears of the future, what does real independence look like? Will he find the answers he seeks?

With the removal of departmental barriers access to family becomes his responsibility and with that comes a fear or rejection that seems to stifle him. In turn, coming of age means access to his departmental file, something he desperately hopes will give him more details of his history, to fill the gaps in his memory and help answer where he came from. While we try to prepare him for the disappointment, we know it will hit heavy when that document can’t provide what he needs. Collectively we hold our breath and wait.

Life is still a battle, but the battleground is changing. 

However it is not without its successes, there have been many milestones to celebrate that many never expected him to see. Driving his own car is a freedom he loves, only taking 3 attempts, he passed his test and has access to his own car. Looking on filled with hope and terror the first time he drove out of the driveway on his own we could only think back to the fear that must have gripped our own parents years ago. That question again, will he be ok?

Life’s biggest achievements for him have come with education, reaching milestones that put him in the smallest of minorities. As we discussed with a recent community visitor shortly before he came of age, the rates of children in care who graduate high school are incredibly low. Such a rarity is it, that an event like a graduation for a child in care warrants its own celebration, to go on and study at university as well is almost unheard of. Again, he is breaking the mould.

Thanks to a remarkable high school he reached graduation in one piece. Graduating with a Diploma in Business and achieving an OP exit equivalent of 8 (That’s 5 higher than me). You couldn’t wipe the smile off his face that graduation day, nor ours. Clouds parted and everything looked more hopeful once again. It was early one morning a month or so later he walked into the living room and just looked at us blankly. 

“I just got a text, I got in.”

First round offers for university had been distributed, he’d received an offer for his first preference. Shock, awe, fear and happiness washed over him in equal measure, the future suddenly looked different again, but brighter. 

Will he ever be prepared for what the future brings? Probably not. 

Are any of us ever prepared properly? Probably not.

Now it’s time for us to be proud, let him take the reigns and watch him shine.


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Pride

Sometimes you can choose to take a hiatus from the hustle and bustle of life, but sometimes life can also choose to put you on a hiatus and you’re left looking at your life from a distance, evaluating everything you thought you knew.

It’s a struggle to get perspective, looking back on how far you’ve come and feeling like the end game is further away than it’s ever been whilst contemplating if there is ever to be an end game is the hardest thing.

Life changes and throws you curve balls again and again, but it is tenacity and love that gets you through and our little family has that in abundance.

He stands at 6 feet, 2 inches, eyes dark and brooding, his unruly curly hair poking out from underneath his backwards turned cap, he smiles shyly at compliments as his eyes light up with pride like clouds parting from across the sun. It’s been a few weeks, I remind him he needs to shave again, he scowls.

Although he’s only an inch taller than us both, it begins to feel like he towers over us now. He’s tall and goofy, still a bubbling bundle of energy that seems to have an endless power source as he powers ahead through life. Despite his energy he grunts and drags himself around the house at the best of times, sometimes forcing a “good morning” or a “hello” out of him is more of a struggle than it used to be to get him to take a shower of a morning. But underneath this sullen facade is a tenacious young man who’s proven his resilience against life is stronger than that of anyone three or four times his age. He is truly unstoppable.

Teenage years are hard, that’s generally a given but for him it seems as though they have been compounded, forced him to grow up quicker than his brain may have been ready for and made him learn life lessons about fearlessness, forgiveness and perseverance that take grown adults years to conquer.

We’ve survived four years of high school so far, with two left to go. Four years and five schools is not an easy road to travel, it’s creates more baggage than someone his age should have to shoulder but perhaps it was a journey he needed to take to help him discover a sense of self, independence and identity. He’s discovered the cruelty of other children that struggle to understand the new kid who’s wired a little differently but also the struggle of an education system bursting at the seems with kids needing assistance and finding their time for a kid who just doesn’t quite get it isn’t as high as it should be. Ducking and weaving through schools and the nightmares of social stigma and academic struggle has been hard, but he’s continually overcome and through it all he’s discovered so much of the good in this world. The friendships that last beyond schools, the teachers who truly do care and inject a sense of self belief and the love of a family so large and unconditional it takes my breath away.

After four years, he may have finally settled, just a little.

School resumes soon, but with a different twist. This year, he’ll enter this senior years as a school leader, a mentor to the year seven students. It’s the tiniest journey that he’s pushed himself through so ferociously, fighting his own demons of self doubt, learning self control, empathy and understanding. To be recognised, trusted and given the opportunity to prove himself like this at school is a first and although he’s buried his pride about it as deeply as possible, for fear of letting out his real emotions, he’s proud, so damn proud of himself and he should be. Not only does he start the year afresh, he enters senior school having finally passed every single subject and having no suspensions for an entire term. An achievement we all quietly cheer for, he shares the pride of those around him, but would prefer to play minecraft than talk about it. He’s been tutored by some amazing, caring and talented people who he sadly left behind before moving schools, they set him up with not only the foundations of the skills he needed, but the confidence to try, to have achieved without them was even more rewarding.

Friendships have grown and in turn has his confidence. Spending his 16th birthday at dreamworld with four very different friends was an exceptional validation for his self esteem and an amazing testament to his growth as a young man. The experience of friendship as a permanency and not a fleeting idea or moment has shattered a wall of isolation he built around himself for so long and has seen him realise his worth as a person to other people is far more than he imagined.

Independence is his latest badge of honour for the new year, over the holidays securing not one, but two jobs at local restaurants waiting tables and washing dishes. Despite his protestations at the thought of working in a kitchen again the pay cheque at the end of the week turned his objections around. He has independence and money to finance his new addiction, his phone. A shiny 2nd hand IPhone 5c has become his latest toy, over taking his life as he discovers the relentless joy of having music plugged into his brain on a constant cycle. Whilst it’s a draining addiction it also gives him his own little ways of communicating since he seems incapable of words.

From the depths of the dungeon that is his bedroom there is silence, except for the faint screech of his headphones as they blare at full volume, from the verandah where I sit drinking my coffee in my own solitude my phone buzzes.

“I love you dad”

He may not be perfect, he may not be “there” (wherever “there” is) but for the first time, in maybe a long time, he is happy and safe again.


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A Point Of Difference

A week ago he walked out of his room, his wide brimmed school hat perched on his head with his curly untameable fringe sticking out over his eyes. His socks were pulled up to his knees awkwardly and his shirt was roughly tucked into his pants, his belt on too tight and his pants pulled too high, I gazed at him and smiled.
“What?” He laughed as he looked down.
“I just can’t believe it” I said
“What? Dad?”
“I can’t believe you’re actually in year 8, already!” I began to tear up a little.
“Daaaad” he sighed, do you HAVE to keep saying it?
“Do you HAVE to keep getting so big?
“Daddy! Can you make him stop, please. He’s embarrassing!”
It’s a good thing I didn’t get to take him to school, although it was the same school as last year and the same uniform I would have made him stop for several hundred photographs before he got to the classroom. It was just under 4 years ago when we first got to drop him to a year 4 classroom, but watching him prepare for his first full year as a high school student was over whelming.

Only a year ago he began at his new school, a huge change that we had instigated in an effort to get him ready for the challenges of high school. His new school was offering a middle school transition year to help students moving from primary into high school, we had bravely taken the plunge and were terrified. Where we felt terror he felt anxious, a lifetime at the one school whilst fraught with good and many bad experiences had created a sense of comfort, short of moving in with us this was to be the biggest change of his life. In a way it was a severance of the final ties that bound him to his old life, a chance to really start fresh and create a new beginning, which was a thought that played on his mind.

A few days before his first day we were making dinner in the kitchen as he entertained himself in the living room. He was rattling off a million questions about what to expect and we were answering what we could until something we said threw him.
“We can’t wait to take you in for your first day tomorrow, we’re so excited and proud of you!”
He went silent.
A moment later his face appeared around the doorway into the kitchen, he looked at us quizzically.
“Are you BOTH taking me to school tomorrow?” he queried cautiously.
“Well, yes. Of course we are, why wouldn’t we be?”
“Oh… well, I thought it would just be one of you…” he cast his eyes downwards.
“Is that going to be a problem” I queried?
His eyes remained on the floor.
“Well… no…. I guess…” He walked away slowly into the living room again and was quiet.

We turned and looked at each other. It was one of those moments where we didn’t really need words, we’d both reached the same conclusion.

He didn’t want to be the kid who turned up to school with two dads.

Somewhere in our minds we’d prepared for this day.
We knew that at some point there would come a day he may become embarrassed by us or be worried about what people may think of us but we were not prepared for it now. He had never been shameful about us before, we’d watched him meet new kids before and do the explanation;
“That’s my dad and that’s my other dad” never with an air of shame, always with pride or simple nonchalance.

Perhaps that was the sting, the turn around in attitude from what was to what is in a heartbeat, it made my head spin and my heart ache.

We sat down over dinner a while later, he picked at his food with his eyes downcast, not saying much.
“Mate, do you want to tell us why you don’t want us both there tomorrow?”
He sighed without looking up
“No….”
“Mate, you need to be honest, you won’t be in trouble but we need to talk about it”
He sighed, again, but his fork down and looked up with tears in his eyes and gave the most unexpected answer.
“It’s just… if I turn up to school and everyone sees me with two dads… well… they’re going to know I’m adopted… and they’ll think I’m weird.”
A wave of relief washed over me and I almost had to stop from smiling.
He had definitely been worried about being seen to be different but not for fear of the judgement about having two dads, but for fear of being identified as a child of the foster care system.

His innocence was astounding, where we thought him to be so quick to fear judgement about our lives he had not seen it as a point of difference for judgement but merely an indicator that would give away his own past.

We hugged him tight that night to reassure him that everything would be alright, we could sense the relief that he had got his worries off his chest. A big new chapter lay ahead, with no idea how to navigate it and us as his only guides, it was definitely going to be bumpy ride.


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Words on a page, moving to the stage.

Life is hurtling forwards for us, as per usual, we’re reaching the end of another year and we’re just racing to keep up.
It’s been eventful, dramatic, moving, exhausting and fabulous, I’ve simply lost the time to write about it at all of late.

I have however been offered the opportunity with the Brisbane Powerhouse and the MELT festival in 2015 to present our story, live on stage. It’s an interesting opportunity, I’m not a comedian, but when I saw the opportunity I simply thought that there is so much to our story to tell, only so much can be brought to life using words on a page, what better medium than to speak them?

So on February 12th at 6pm I will take to the stage on my own, Flash isn’t allowed to join us and my darling husband is more terrified of microphones than he is of snakes and spiders. So it will be just me presenting our story, warts and all, in a room full (hopefully) of people to give just that bit more of an insight into what it’s like in the world of Two Dads & Me.

To make it all happen of course we need the love and support of our Brisbane audience, tickets are available for purchase online and are now starting to sell, I would really love to see a full house and really kick this show off with a bang!

Tickets can be purchased here
http://brisbanepowerhouse.org/events/2015/02/12/two-dads-and-me/

You can also spread the word, spread the love and register your attendance via the Facebook event here.
Even better you can use the event to invite your friends and spread the word.
We are just a little show, with a little budget, tickets are going to sell on word of mouth more than anything (They’re only $25 too!)
https://www.facebook.com/events/1575423732691546/
Copies of our book will also be available on the night too (finally!).

We look forward to seeing you all there and thank you again for your continued support

MJ, Ant & Flash
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