When my father-in-law was little, he loved Superman. He read the comic books. He had a cape. Not only did he look up to Superman. He wanted to be Superman.
One day he decided to give it a shot. He put on the cape and poised himself at the edge of a window in their old farmhouse. He bravely made the jump and gravity quickly became his kryptonite.
The idea of being a superhero always sounds awesome . . . until the day you discover you don’t actually have the superpowers necessary to be one.
The foster care and adoption world has an interesting relationship with the word “hero”. Sometimes foster parents, adoptive parents or foster care advocates are referred to as heros which strikes them as odd and uncomfortable because they know what my father-in-law discovered on the ground outside of that farmhouse that day: none of us actually have superpowers.
In fact, we almost always feel extraordinarily human and vulnerable. We mess up everyday and feel like we are just hanging on. The truth is, foster parents and foster care advocates are simply people who saw something happening around them that they couldn’t walk away from. They stepped in, not because they were heroic but because they are human.
Kevin Bueker is a man who never spent one day in foster care, but should have. He lived in a middle-upper class family in a nice home with nice cars in the driveway. Behind the pristine doors of this ideal world, he was suffering unimaginable physical and emotional abuse. He still remembers sitting on the stairs when someone came to the house to investigate. He felt a great sense of hope that he was about to get help. But they never entered the house. After visiting with his mom for a few minutes, the investigator left and Kevin felt utterly alone.
By the time he was in the eighth grade, Kevin found himself kicked out of his home and on the streets wandering his neighborhood. He would sleep at night in the tube slide at the neighborhood park. He had a friend named Omar that he played basketball with. Omar would invite Kevin over to hang out. Kevin spent a lot of time at Omar’s house and eventually began to stay there. Omar’s mom started to ask Kevin a lot of questions.
Kevin shares, “I still remember at one point I told her like, ‘My parents just don’t want me.’ She just couldn’t believe that, like she had no comprehension of that being possible, and so she called my dad. I sat there and eavesdropped from the stairs as my dad told her, ‘I don’t want him.’ You know, ‘He’s caused all of these problems. He’s the reason why my marriage fell apart, and if you want him, you can have him.’ I had to sit there and listen to my dad talk on the couch with this woman and give up on me. I think at that moment she realized, ‘I can’t just turn my back on the situation.’”
And she didn’t. She stepped in and this single mom became Kevin’s family. She never set out to be a foster parent. She never set out to be a hero. She saw a need and she simply chose to do what humans do when they are at their best.
Kevin would, of course, grow into a man and get married. His friend, Omar, had become a pastor and performed the ceremony. Omar’s mom stepped in for the mother-son dance.
Stepping into the lives of hurting children and doing something doesn’t require superpowers. It just requires people to see and then respond . . .
-It’s the child welfare administrator I know who saw policies that weren’t good for kids and did what it took to get them changed.
-It’s the soccer mom who sees the family at church that just became foster parents and decided life would be a whole lot easier for them if she could drop a meal by their place a couple times a month.
-It’s the teacher who sees a short video on social media on the impact of childhood trauma on learning and decides to make a concerted effort to do the work necessary to understand what this means for her classroom.
The foster care system doesn’t need heroes. Superpowers are not required . . . just a capacity to see brokenness and then a willingness to do something about it.
An extended version of Kevin Bueker’s story is featured in episode 6 of the new Foster Movement Podcast, featuring former foster youth and national foster care advocates. It’s available for download from iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher and Overcast.
This article first appeared in CAFO’s regular Foster Movement column of the Fostering Families Today magazine (November/December 2017 issue).