Saturday, August 30, 2014

[US] "The Barcus Bunch: Single gay dad on unconditional parenting" by Ross Forman

Dan Barcus is a single, gay dad living in the far northwest suburbs of Chicago who has said is a lackluster housekeeper and a terrible cook.

Still, the parenting experience has been overwhelmingly positive, he said.

And quite memorable—times five—and why, along with Little City Foundation and the Allendale Association, he is encouraging more people to think about becoming foster and adoptive parents.

Barcus is the foster/adoptive dad to five special-needs kids, ranging in age from 6 to 22.

"I get a lot more surprise reactions from people about being a single dad than I do [about] being a gay one," Barcus said. "I think folks are very accepting up here in Lake County. There's an absence of the 'Oh, you're here to make a statement' vibe, if that makes any sense. Folks in [suburban] Antioch just go about their lives and have as much fun along the way as we all can. No one really seems to worry about who is with whom or where or what is 'appropriate.' Those are the advantages to village life, I think.

"Also, people here seem to grasp without any effort that kids have needs and development stages that don't match up and progress in pretty little prearranged packages. One of the kids on Jason's baseball team is clearly Asperger's, for example, but even in the four or five hours of shooting the breeze with his dad before I got to know the kid, it never occurred to his dad to mention it. It's not a problem for any of the kids, no one is teasing or avoiding him. It's like the kids and parents here just meet each child where they are at."

Barcus came bursting out at 18 with his mentor, Mary Celia Roemer. From that point on, he didn't let being gay stop him in any pursuit, "any more than I let being diabetic keep me from roller skating," he said. For example, Barcus was the first openly gay pledge to Delta Sigma Pi in recorded history, he said. "I also was the first openly gay resident assistant at Ball State [and] the first openly gay 'Big Brother' in Indiana."

Barcus went on to work at AT&T after graduating from college and was among the first openly gay business services managers, he said.

In addition, Barcus co-founded and ran a group called "Out at Work ( or not )," which did advocacy and training for area businesses and professionals.

"I always thought I would become a dad with a partner, a great job, lots of money, a big house, a nanny, a housekeeper, a dog-walker, dry-cleaner pick-up and grocery delivery service," he said. "In 2005 none of those things were really true for me, but that's when I woke up one day and got struck in the head with the notion that I was ready.

"So, I found Allendale and Little City Foundation to be great partners, and started getting training and learned that there was a whole category of special kids who were extra tough to parent. Crazy as it sounds, I knew that those kids who needed extra zing were the ones for me."

Andrew came on March 10, 2006—he was Barcus' first.

"With each of my kids, and two that I parented for shorter periods of time, I have had some really rough times, and I tell each of them, often, that my worst day with them is amazingly better than my best day selling technology for meaningless beaucoup bucks," Barcus said. "Don't get me wrong, I miss having an Alfa Romeo, trips abroad and tuxedo-event benefits to attend. But those elements of my former life only entertained me, [whereas] my kids love me.

"Nothing I do as a dad ends up feeling like a sacrifice to me; it's all pay dirt good, even if I grumble along the way. I demonstrate love and kindness every day, no matter what. Consequences are for behavior, love is for who we are. Usually within a year, my kids have started to figure out that I will actually be there for them, unconditionally."

Barcus endured some rather odd moments during his foster parent licensing journey, he said. There was, for instance, the time when a worker at a now-defunct agency asked how he intended to explain to his children all the comings and goings of strange men from his bedroom … since he's gay. More recently, an attorney chastised him for including his sexual orientation in a written introduction to a judge. The attorney told Barcus, "This isn't Lake County, [circa] 1980. Dan, no one cares [about your sexual orientation], so take it out."

Barcus said that when people hear about his family, they sometimes have unrealistically positive impressions about him. After all, he admittedly is short-tempered, hedonistic, lazy, prone to jury-rigged solutions, and has frat-house home décor.

But the Barcus bunch seems to be doing just fine.

"Every kid on the planet who has been separated from a biological parent has trauma," Barcus said, "and the sooner parents acknowledge and get comfortable with their kids' traumas, the better."

Barcus said there are two main categories for special-needs kids. First, there are "kids with organic developmental disabilities like autism or severe medical issues like cerebral palsy, who require more active care, patience and nurturing than the average kid," he said. The second large group are "kids with emotional and behavioral issues that make them particularly challenging, usually due to trauma."

His kids fall into the second classification, thus, they "tend to be exceedingly bright, if a bit feral, and need calm, firm support and structure," he said. "Jason and Jared, for instance, have an early bedtime, augmented by a snack, reading stories, making up stories, teeth brushing, glasses of water brought to the beside, back scratching and then me pretending to sleep—all in that exact order. The safety of that routine is tremendously important to them. Safety, that's the ticket with traumatized kids. All kids need that, they just need it more.

So what's ahead?

"Within a year, Mat will be enthralled with college life, I think, [while] Jason and Jared will be [involved with] Cub Scouts, baseball, and maybe, if they tackle some of their issues, less therapy. We should have a more clear sense by then if we are headed toward adoption, or if that isn't in their best interest yet," Barcus said. "With Mat in college, it might make sense for me to expand our family again with a teenager, but I'm so fully occupied at the moment that I've told Allendale and Little City that 'maybe' is the best I can do.

"[In] five years, I see myself in the active role of grandpa with at least one of my older kids, so earnestly do they pursue romantic relationships already. And by then, I'll be at peace with the idea. The judge will have figured out the proper legal disposition for Jason and Jared, which I frankly hope means that I am able to adopt them. Mat will be approaching [college] graduation and deciding all that big-kid stuff.

"By that point, I'm certain our family will include more foster/adoptive kids, though I'd have to be an even bigger idiot to predict anything beyond that, from race to age to issues."

Barcus has been active with the Little City Foundation for his adoptions, and said the organization "is fantastic." He also praised the work and effort from the Allendale Association, which often handles kids with a range of emotional/behavioral and developmental delays associated with trauma, he said. Two of his kids were placed through Allendale, and Barcus is licensed through Allendale.

"Both of these agencies really understand how to support their families, are creative and flexible, and just incredibly powerful advocates," Barcus said. "For kids with trauma, therapists are hugely important. Little City has them on staff, and Allendale uses therapists with the affiliated Bradley Counseling Center. There is one team of therapists who have made a huge impact on our lives: House Calls Counseling in Wilmette. Billy Kaplan is the clinical director, has particular strengths in the field of attachment and is a protégé of author Dan Hughes ( Building the Bonds of Attachment: Awakening Love in Deeply Troubled Children ). I'm not mentioning his role and impact as a plug; I just couldn't do what I do, or do it nearly as well, without having had the benefit of his coaching and patience and insight."

Barcus certainly supports, endorses and encourages adoption for others from the gay community.

"You can save a life, and change your own in ways you cannot yet imagine," he said. "Most people I know who are not parents seem to think, on some level, that being a parent requires some special secret magic that they obviously lack. People doubt their abilities; they doubt their life circumstances; they doubt they are, I don't know … good enough. It's all hogwash!

"LGBT folks make as good or better parents than people who don't have such challenging backgrounds or the impetus for self-discovery that we do.

Barcus is called Dan by his kids because "all have important biological [family] relationships," he said. "With their pals, it is often easier to just describe me as their dad, or pops. I couldn't care less what they call me. We all know what we are to each other."

The Barcus Bunch

Dan, 48, gay and single

—Is a freelance career coach and certified professional resume writer, which he has been doing for more than 10 years. Previously worked in the high tech industry with data and telecommunications research and development organizations.

—Earned an MBA in organizational design, marketing and entrepreneurship from the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago and a BS in marketing ( with honors ) from the Miller College of Business at Ball State University.

—Grew up in South Bend, Indiana

Andrew, 21, Dan's first son

—Had been in and out of 17 homes and 21 schools over the previous 10 years

—"Our one-year anniversary marked the first time as a foster child Andrew had ever been part of a family for longer than 8 months," Barcus said.

—Was adopted through guardianship: "permanent, binding, legal and financial responsibility for a minor that does not require termination of birth parents' rights," Barcus said.

—"Andrew is a bright, thoughtful, dreamy-eyed and intensely loyal young man," Barcus said. "He was the first member of his biological family to ever walk across the graduation stage in high school."

—Works at Walgreens

—Has long been gifted with animals and pets

Joel, 22

—Barcus became his legal guardian at age 17.

—"Has a calm, mellow personality with an electric undercurrent that may make him a rap star yet," Barcus said. "He is just a cool dude, life of the party without ever really saying a word. Tries not to show off how smart he is, but isn't shy about [being a] smart-aleck. As a parent, what I admire most about Joel is that he was most respectful when others weren't, like he has this finely-tuned instinct that makes living with him effortless."

—Puerto Rican roots, and also the first one from his family to graduate from high school

—Lives with his long-time fiancée in Chicago and works full-time

Mat, 18

—Is an honors student at Antioch High School

—Is still a ward of the state, "namely because his attorney, or Guardian ad Litem, appointed by Cook County, would not act on guardianship in the very small window of opportunity we had," Barcus said. "That's because while I had been occasionally weekending with Mat, and even less often mentoring him for a few years, I didn't become his parent until just after his 17th birthday. So, in the brief year and a half he has been part of our family, he and I have gone through a lot together."

—Is a sculptor and an athlete

—"More than any other of my kids, Mat and I lead a collaborative existence," Barcus said. "I think that is partly due to the fact that I mentored Mat before I parented him, so I kind of slipped through the adolescent radar."

—Has been awarded a nearly-full scholarship to Lake Forest College

Jason, 8; and Jared, 6

—Both names have been changed to protect their identities.

—"Our family is their fourth placement in 12 months, and Jared was still pre-verbal when they were placed in foster care," Barcus said. "Their case and relations with their biological family are particularly complex, so it isn't clear if I will have the opportunity to adopt Jason and Jared, but I sure will, if I can."

—Jason is a leader who Barcus said is creative and kind.

—"Jared has no fewer than three girlfriends right now, and gets their dads to call me up so the girls can go on dates with Jared. Not playdates, dates," Barcus said. "This kid is so cheerfully insolent that it takes me off guard, because I think he will be agreeing to go put the laundry in the dryer when in fact he just got permission to go build a fort in the woods. I get so flustered by him sometimes I end up drooling on myself. I'm pretty sure I was a lot like that at six, so I probably deserve it."

Read More at Windy City Times

No comments: