It's Father's Day, so I am travelling around encouraging men to think about stepping up to the challenge of becoming a foster carer. But frequently I meet men who say they could never become foster carers – not because they don't have the space in their house, the stickability or the patience and compassion, but because, in their words: "I couldn't give them up – I don't know how you do it. I would love them too much."
Their statement stings – it implies that I am a bad foster father, not loving the children in my care enough, not fighting for them enough, not hurting with them enough. Obviously I have to keep smiling while inside I am fighting the Hulk within to remain controlled and composed, simultaneously working out which of three lines of argument to take.
Option 1: The robot defence
Are you really saying that I am some kind of unfeeling subhuman robot; an Iron Man drone who doesn't form meaningful attachments? Do you really think when I welcome a 'looked after child' into my home I don't bond with them? Do you think I am on autopilot when I am reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar for the 20th time in a row? Do you think I can't love the way a toddler begs me to dance with him as soon as I walk in the door? Do you think I don't burst with pride when my foster son wins "most improved player" at the end of season awards ceremony? Do you think that when a child moves out I paint over the handprints on the walls without tears in my eyes? Do you think I delete him from my affections and shut down until my services are required again? Am I inhuman because I care enough about vulnerable children to share my home and heart and life with them?
Option 2: The love-struck defence
Are you really saying that you would love a child too much to let them go? That the pain it would cause you trumps the pain they are feeling? Are you so concerned about your own emotional well being you would rather avoid getting involved in the lives of vulnerable children? Are you saying the love that you have for children in need of a home is so great that you won't share yours with them at all? That the amazing skills of bonding and attachment you have learned from growing up in a loving and secure family background could be unsettled if you dare to try and pass them on? That it is better to reject children already rejected because of the tears you would shed for them? Are you saying that the occupational hazard of foster parents that is heartache and grief is a path you have the luxury to avoid, even if that causes greater heartache and grief for children who have no place to call home? If your own fear of being hurt is worth protecting, why not extend that to protect others already experiencing fear and hurt?
Option 3: The Superhero Challenge
Are you saying you haven't got what it takes to be a foster carer? Do you think you haven't got the right type of tenacity or tenderness needed? Do you think that foster carers are a special breed of people, perhaps superheroes with super powers? Would it surprise you to find out that foster carers are not unemotional robots? That they don't get a kick out of the heartache, or feed on the pain of others? That they are just like you – faulty, fragile, feeling? Or maybe you are actually right – not everyone can be a foster carer. Yes compassion is needed, but maybe you are saying you don't have the commitment to put the needs of that child first? Or have you underestimated yourself? Maybe if you think about it you could be that everyday superhero dad that a child really needs? Are you up for it?