It started shortly after I found myself once again joining the ranks of the unemployed.
Unlike previous gaps in my work schedule, this time I found that I couldn't really distract myself, nor pass the time embarking on another mid-priced vodkas of the world tour, and along with that went my, see what kinds of pills I can order off the Internet without seeing an actual doctor, research project. Were I a decade younger, I suppose I could have filled up my downtime with random acts of unsafe sex, but we all know how well that worked out for me now don't we?
So it was that my mind turned towards, if not outright charitable endeavors, at least a desire to make good use of my time. One of the cornerstones of recovery in Gay-A is an encouragement to do service, and most people take that to mean in service to fellow alcoholics. That's all well and good, and I did volunteer to decorate one of the anniversary meetings and I cooked for one of the Holiday meetings, I also spoke at a detox ward in a hospital. But I saw this time as an opportunity to expand my reach in to other areas that have always held my attention. And I have been finding myself with an overwhelming desire to "make more" out of the recovery I've found. From The Ashes, indeed ...
That's pretty much how I ended up getting on the Community Advisory Board at the LGBT Health Center. I was in the building for some appointment and happened to spy a flier in the rack asking for volunteers. Obviously my own health is an ongoing concern for me, but so is health care for gay men and women in general. In a broader sense, available health care and increasing access to it is something I have always been very concerned about, way before I ever needed it. Getting on the CAB was a perfect match for me.
I also reached out with some emails to a group providing outreach and shelter to homeless LGBT youth. They are woefully underfunded and can use any attention be it volunteers or supplies or even money. I haven't had the chance to follow up with them as much as I intended, but I absolutely plan on making space for them as a volunteer at some point this year.
It was around this time when I received a mailing from the LGBT Community Center which is part newsletter and part monthly calendar of events. One of the events completely jumped out at me. It was an informational gathering and outreach meeting for groups that were trying to interest gay and lesbian adults to become foster parents. They didn't need to interest me. This was something I have been thinking about for over 20 years.
I was excited to attend the meeting, not knowing what exactly would transpire. Basically, 8 or so various agencies, working under contract with Children's Services sent recruiters and representatives to try to get you talking and thinking about becoming a foster parent. A panel of foster parents and kids were there to tell you about their experiences and answer questions. I would say maybe 30 people showed up for the presentation. The whole thing took about two hours, and I left with an armload of fliers and brochures as well as pens, magnets, mouse pads, stickers and anything you could stick a smiling kid's face on it would seem. And my mind was reeling at the possibilities.
By the next month I found myself attending an orientation meeting for one of the groups. Mostly because they also offered the 10 week certification classes you need to take before becoming a foster parent.
And by the end of this month, I will be finished with the 10 week course and I will be certified and eligible to be a foster parent in the state of New York. And as soon as I am gainfully employed again (a stipulation of the process) that is exactly what I plan to do. And hopefully, sometime by late spring, I will have a young person, possibly a gay young person, most definitely not a baby person, and in all likelihood a teen-aged 12-17 year old young person, placed in my home.
This placement might be temporary, but the organization I am working with advocates long term placement, in many cases leading to adoption. I haven't committed to adoption in any way, and even if I decide to go that route, it is at least a couple of years away. But the reality of foster care in New York City (as well as the rest of the country) is that teenagers in foster care rarely are reunited with their birth families. So if I'm any good at it, the kid I end up with could be, for all intents and purposes, mine until he/she turns 21. Forever if I decide to adopt.
Now I've sort of given you the condensed version of how I've arrived at this point. But you should know this is not something I've jumped in to, nor is it something I am taking lightly. I have no illusion that I'm going to end up with a precocious street urchin, that calls me Dad after the end of the two hour pilot. I am not Bill Cosby(except for the cool sweater thing) and I am certainly not Mike Brady (except for the gay thing). This is a life-changing decision that as I said, has actually been 20 years in the making. I know it will be hard. But I have always wanted to create my own family. I have always wanted to make a difference in the life of at least one young person who just needs help and safety. I have always wanted a houseful of people that needed me. As it turns out, none of that was in the bottom of a highball glass. Believe me, I looked.
Four years ago, I knew I was in desperate trouble when I could no longer even imagine a future for myself or my life. When I tried to picture the possibilities I always used to believe were limitless, all I saw was a black empty void. Two years ago, I finally found the courage and the hope borne out of sheer desperation to believe that maybe I could get that limitless future back. And in the next few months, it looks like that will come true.
I will go back when possible, to explain the process and what it entails. I will try to re-create my motivations. I will try to slip in some facts and stats, so you can see how vital it is that more people that are able to, take on the role of foster parent and adoptive parent to disenfranchised youth, unless you want these tragic stories to repeat, again and again. And I will take you with me every step of this new journey in my life on a road that will hopefully make me a mentor, and then a parent, and if I'm extremely lucky, will someday make me a Dad.