I went to a very interesting Blue Sky training session a while back.
It was about the role of the dad in fostering.
When you show up at the average training session or support group meeting, the ratio is usually about three quarters women, but for this one they specifically invited the men in the fostering house (assuming there is one, it's no way mandatory to have a partner).
We fixed a baby-sitter and turned up as a couple, there were a few others did the same.
The men were an interesting mix, from a biker to a quite suave looking chap who drove a Jag, and some interesting stuff came about being a foster dad.
The first thing that came across is how seriously they take the job, which they want to do well. But they find themselves sidelined to a certain extent because their partner is usually the designated 'Primary Carer', the men are mostly out all day and busy at weekends, and don't get to attend the meetings much or even be around very often when the social workers call.
Blue Sky held this meeting at 7.30pm rather than the usual 10.00am.
Yes there were a few moans; what's the point of a meeting if you can't have a gripe? It was small stuff, inconveniences mostly. For example they agreed they like their bathroom time and had to remember to put the dressing gown on to go across the landing for a 1.30am tinkle, and whatever you do lock the door. Blue Sky covered the safety issues too, which they all seemed up to speed on.
The meeting got more interesting as it went on, the dads relaxed about opening up.
One by one they started sharing about the terrible times the children in their care had endured. It became clear how moved and touched these blokes all were, how much they'd learned about how bad life can be for some children. They talked about the children's behaviour and the strategies they did to help.
One dad said;
"He's fourteen, doesn't talk much, doesn't open up. But we got him a bike. Nothing fancy, what they used to call a bone-shaker. Then we realised he'd have to have someone with him to make sure he didn't drive it under a bus.
Now, I've got a bike in the garage, but I've not been on it for years, our own kids went through the bike stage ten years ago. So one afternoon I come home, tea nearly cooked and he's waiting togged out in his helmet saying;
'Can we go for a ride? Can we?'
"Well, continues the dad, "I can't disappoint can I, so next thing we're off towards the fields. He's in the lead, in the lowest of the three gears, pedalling like it's the Tour de France. On and on. Under the dual carriageway, down the bridle path, little legs fizzing away. In the end I have to stop and call him back. The look on his sweaty face! We were gone nearly an hour and had to eat our tea alone just the two of us at the table."
Then the dad said;
"Funny thing was, I loved every minute of it; forgotten what fun a bike is, and it was great exercise. I slept that night"
I said to my other half on the way home it's funny how men try not to connect with their soft side. He and I agreed the dad had been exhilarated by the feeling he'd been a super-dad. He half-hoped someone would say so, and it fell to the session leader who re-enforced the importance of having a solid loving father-figure to all children in care.
And what was that look on the boys sweaty face?
I bet it was a look that said; "So this is what it's like to have a dad".
The partner in fostering is often an unsung hero. Our SW always asks how we both are and it reminds me to praise him and ask how he's doing.