"At first our decision was practical," said Rich Buley-Neumar about his decision to adopt older children. Neither he nor his husband Ken could afford to stay home with a baby, so they began investigating other options. "We came to the understanding that the age of the of the child didn't matter," said Rich, "it was their need for parents that mattered." So the dads set their sights on older children whose chances were running out and became fathers to four teenage boys.
With over 400,000 children in the United States foster care system, almost a third cannot be returned to their families and are waiting to be adopted. There are more males than females, and African American children are disproportionately represented.* Of the children waiting to be adopted on the AdoptUSKids website, 65% are between 13 and 19 years of age. Many will never be adopted and will age out of the system.
19 years ago, Ken answered Rich's personal ad and the two met at a diner in Farmingdale, New York. Skipping ahead, they were married June 4, 2004. "We were one of the first New York couples who squeezed into Massachusetts before then-Governor Romney shut the door," explained Ken. They were also one of the first couples in the Suffolk County (at least) to change their names at the Social Security and DMV with the reason of "marriage" for a same-sex couple. Trailblazors? We think so.
Although they had originally thought they'd adopt an infant, Rich and Ken soon discovered that older children were a better fit for their family. Almost 13 years ago, they became dads for the first time through adoption, welcoming their eldest and first son, Gary, into their home; he was 16 when they first met him. Since 2006, they have finalized the adoptions of four teenage boys - Gary, John, Emil and Alex - ranging in age from 15 to 20 years old.
After the finalization of their first adoption, their agency, Family Focus Adoption Services, hired Rich and he's now the Associate Director, and one of the foremost experts in the NY State on adoption. "I consider it my mission in life to adopt," said Rich, "and to help others adopt." It was through his position at the agency that the paperwork of their other three sons crossed his desk. "As I like to say, I am the kind of person who brings his work home with him." Literally and figuratively, in the most wonderful way. Ken has also recently joined the team as a Transition / Future Worker. "Now we live and breathe adoption."
But it hasn't all be sunshine and rainbows, as no families are. "I have learned that some hurts run so deep that my kids don't even know where they came from, but that I am the one who is meant to get them through it," said Rich. "I've learned that sitting in the principal's office, or the psychiatric emergency room, or the waiting room at the local jail, are not the worst things a parent can experience - far worse is not knowing where my kid is. And I have learned that I have reserves of patience, understanding, resilience, and love that I never dreamed of."
At one point, when they were first beginning their family, Rich and Ken shared with a friend that they were planning on adopting a teenager, and she asked them why they would do that to their family. "It threw us into extreme doubt," said Ken, "until we realized that we weren't doing it TO anyone, we were doing it FOR someone, and that was the children. We came back with a vengeance, and haven't stopped since." And they have no plans to stop.
This family's life will continue to revolve around adoption until they "can't physically do it any more!" The dads are aware that although some kids will confidently move on to independence, some might live with them longer. "I have learned that crunchy spaghetti with cold sauce is delicious because it's the first thing my son every cooked by himself," said Rich. The dads shared that having a sense of humor, picking their battles and being bigger than the hurt that their children have makes everything possible.
"If you are lonely, get a puppy. If you have a fantasy about having kids, adopt a baby. If you want to test out what parenting is like, foster or be a big brother," said Rich. "But if you really want to help kids who need parents, adoption of teenagers might be for you."