by Addison Cooper, MSW, LCSW
Sitting in case conferences is a pretty quick way to learn what social workers really think. When advocating for the best outcome for a child, social workers draw from their own (sometimes unrealized) beliefs and assumptions. I wonder if the unrealized beliefs and assumptions make up some of what we call our “gut instinct.” The conclusions reached aren’t necessarily wrong. A social worker might advocate against a certain candidate for adoption, or advocate for a certain case plan. But are there certain categories of candidates that are always advocated against?
In my experience, single prospective adoptive fathers are viewed with much more suspicion than prospective adoptive couples or single prospective adoptive mothers. Maybe this resonates with you—but why? Maybe this surprises you, but again—why?
It’s possible that the suspicion my colleagues feel toward single prospective adoptive fathers (as a category) might draw from societal expectations that men will be less nurturing and less emotionally-in-tune than women, and therefore less fit to be adoptive parents. If that’s the case—and if those societal expectations are actually in the public consciousness—then it could be quite challenging for single men to pursue adoption, even if they want to. I can imagine one thinking, “I feel like I have a heart to parent, but maybe I couldn’t be nurturing enough.” I can imagine another pursuing adoption but being met with resistance from peers and professionals. The path to adoption is an uphill climb for many applicants, and it might be even steeper for single adoptive fathers. But I recently stumbled across something that might help!
I recently wrote an article for Foster Focus Magazine. To celebrate National Adoption Month, I reviewed several of the year’s best adoption-relevant films. As I was writing the first draft, I commended one movie for including a positive portrayal of a single adoptive father, “a rare feat for a movie,” I noted. And then the next movie also included a positive portrayal of a single adoptive father. In fact, I’ve come across three films released in the past year with positive, single adoptive fathers. On quick reflection, two more come to mind.
Here are five examples to challenge preconceptions of prospective single adoptive fathers, and to encourage prospective single adoptive dads to view the healthy adoption they want to pursue as something attainable.
1. Gru (Despicable Me 2). Gru has left behind his life of super-villainy in exchange for a life of fighting crime. Although he wasn’t a perfect parent in the past, he now dotes on and protects his daughters. He even dresses up in a tutu to make sure one of his daughters has a perfect princess party. Gru shows that dads can change and develop a sensitive side.
2. John (Admission). John has adopted Nelson from Uganda. John has helped Nelson develop a sense of understanding and acceptance of his adoption story. John is very mission-driven, but is able to put his drive to serve on hold in order to provide Nelson with a geographically stable home. John demonstrates that dads can listen to their kids and be not just empathic, but effective.
3. Jean Valjean (Les Miserables). Valjean rescues Cosette from an abusive foster home. He is completely devoted to her safety, and remembers her mother with love and kindness. Valjean demonstrates that dads can be protective, kind, and selfless.
4. Mr. Ping (Kung Fu Panda). Mr. Ping, a goose, adopted Po, a panda. Po came to Mr. Ping in a time of great need, and Mr. Ping met his needs. Later, Mr. Ping was able to share Po’s adoption story with Po, and was able to help Po be both a full panda and part of Mr. Ping’s heritage. Mr. Ping shows that dads can handle the difficult, nuanced identity issues in adoption.
5. David Gordon (Martian Child). Gordon, a widowed author, takes placement of a child some workers would call “difficult to place.” Dennis has difficulty attaching, and his behaviors range from quirky to theft. Although some placements might have given up on Dennis, David draws support from his friends and family and persistently loves Dennis. David shows that adoptive dads can overcome adversity in their own lives and in their children’s lives and still create a permanent, loving home.
With so many kids in foster care waiting for adoptive homes, it seems like a good idea to give full consideration to every category of people with love to spare.
Addison Cooper, MSW, LCSW, is the creator of Adoption at the Movies adoption movie review website (www.adoptionlcsw.com). He is a foster care and adoption supervisor and therapist in Southern California. Find him on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/AdoptionAtTheMovies and follow him on Twitter @AddisonCooper.