He raged inside his cell, ready to explode. Cursing the officers and social workers alike, he spewed spittle and body fluids over every available surface to show how deep his anger ran. He was not going to sign Continuing Care Order (CCO) documents—he was not going to let his little girl go.
In the Canadian foster care system, birth parents can permanently lose custody of their children if there is no progress to reunite them due to addiction issues, abuse, and lack of progress with lifestyle problems. In these cases, a CCO is sought. It can be time-consuming and drag on through the court system while the child slowly gets older, often continuing to move from foster home to foster home. Other times, a foster home is ready and willing to adopt the child, but the legalities of the CCO—and then looking for appropriate birth family or cultural connections first—can make the journey a long one. Every once in a while, a CCO is obtained rather quickly when the birth parents acknowledge they cannot parent the child, and they haven’t made any adoption plans prior to the birth. If they agree to a CCO, the Canadian government becomes the guardian, and the plan becomes matching the child with a family for adoption. Both birth parents don’t always agree with what to do.
The man was outraged that his girlfriend had decided to place his baby for adoption. He was furious that she had signed CCO documents with the Canadian government, and that his child was living in foster care. He felt the child had been abandoned. Despite the addiction issues, he was determined to not sign anything that would allow his child to be adopted.
It was kind of assumed the man was a “monster.” His criminal record was long and violent. Some understanding came when his own file was viewed from his time as a foster child in another province. Family violence, multiple removals—foster care, back home, foster care. That cycle only ended when he left home for good as a teen. It is easy for some to see him as a “monster,” a selfish person too caught up in his own rights to relinquish custody of his child to a better life. However, no one knew his full story or what he’d been through as well.
He became human again, though, after a visit. The foster mom dutifully packed up the baby for a half-hour visit in which the father attempted to bottle feed his child. He remained stoic, but for those watching, his thin façade of being in control broke the moment the visit was over, and he left the building. He whipped around the side of the building, leaned against the brick wall, and wept. Huge, wracking sobs rocked his thin body. He seemed to gather himself, wiped his face with his sleeve, and walked back into life as he knew it.
Things caught up with him. Old charges and new, and here he sat in a cell, being asked if he would consider signing a CCO and let his daughter go into the permanency of an adoptive home. By the reaction the workers saw, that was a definite no.
In court the next day, his no was firmly expressed. When human beings are desperate, they act in ways we don’t always understand. The scene that unfolded wasn’t pleasant for anyone. He was removed in contempt of court, but he had made his stance clear. NO. He would not relinquish his daughter.
However, everything can change in an instant. That night, in his cell, this young birth father had what he would later go on to explain as an encounter with God, despite the fact that he is not religious. In the morning, he asked to speak with his lawyer. He was ready. He wanted to sign and allow his daughter to be adopted. He said God told him to let her go. He had complete peace.
Can you imagine the pain, the heartache? Can you imagine the deep, inner turmoil he went through? His aggressive and violent outbursts show his intense struggle. So often, we do not hear from the other side, from the birth father side. Is it because we have shut men down? Have we wrongly assumed they don’t have the deep connections that birth mothers do? Or is it because dads are seen now as absentee and distant from the situation? Why ARE some dads distant from the situation? How can we engage them in the process? In our journey, we have met birth fathers from all walks of life. Some are losing temporary custody, some face losing guardianship of their child forever. In my experience, men express their frustration and fears with the process very differently than women. The vast majority of social workers these men deal with are female. Could it be that we don’t have the supports in place to allow men to come forward and be a part of the journey?
On our own path, our youngest adopted daughter has a large amount of contact with her birth father. Phone calls, messages, lunch dates, McDonald’s, and time spent at the pool swimming. It is beautiful. He has affirmed that he loves what he sees—the homeschooling, the horseback riding, the hunting and fishing—and that is a salve to my soul, too. He has no regrets about placing his daughter, and we are honored to be able to create these special times.
I have thought about many birth fathers over the years. I have thought about all of the birth fathers who have walked the hard path of placing a child for adoption. While we don’t hear their stories as often as I would like, I have learned to tune in, to listen, to acknowledge. Sometimes, there is a story there just waiting to be unraveled like a thread if the listener is trustworthy, if the listener can understand, if the listener can love without judgment. I have learned to hold space for the men we encounter on our journey until they are willing to share the deep parts inside of them and let their stories come out.