Guest Columnist Garry White: A Child To Call My Own

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Garry White, a tenured professor at a public university in central Texas, authors and publishes research articles about information technology for academic journals. At the age of 21, he realized his mission in life was not to create life, but to save a life. That is when he decided adoption of a homeless boy would be his mission. At age 28, he started his quest to be a single dad to a homeless boy. Today he is the author of “My Quest To Be a Single Dad: Thirty-Plus Years Trying To Adopt” (

http://myquestdad.tatepublishing.net/). In the book, he fights against the double standard claiming that single men are unfit to be parents.

To my waiting sons,

     Well, it looks like we have something in common: waiting for a family.

     Yes, waiting is hard. Patience is a sign of strength. Waiting has its rewards.

     Are you scared of where and how you will live? The more scared you are today, the happier you will be tomorrow. My job is to free you of your fears.

     What will be your name? When being adopted, your first name can be changed by the court. While many adoptive parents believe they should change the first name (the belief that it helps with a new life), I believe in doing what ever makes you feel comfortable. If you wish to keep your first name, that is OK. If you wish to change your first name, that is OK, too. After all, it will be something you will have to live with the rest of your life.

     I’m sure you are wondering what the future holds for you in my home with a single dad. It will be very active. Although I am in my early 60’s, I hike a lot, snow ski, explore wild caves and take road trips to see National Parks; camping included.

     If you are interested in the Boy Scouts, you will have a dad that has a lot of experience in that organization. Several years ago, I took a Boy Scout Troop on a hike across the Grand Canyon. The opportunity will be there for scouting if you want. If your interests are elsewhere, like baseball, you will have my support and involvement, too.

     Of course, you may wonder about the chores. It will be a share-the-work agreement. I will cook the meals and you will clean the dishes. You will be expected to keep your room as clean and neat as my room. The first time you walk into my home, I’ll show you my room and ask, “Is the bed made? Are there clothes on the floor? Are clothes hanging on hangers? Then I will show you your room and ask the same questions.

     Even though I am a single man, never been married, and have no children, there are nurturing behaviors within me.  Mine are tucking you into bed, telling you a bedtime story or reading to you, and leaving a hall light on. Throughout the night, I have a strong desire to make sure you are sleeping peacefully and are covered with a blanket. Nightmares are excuses to have cookies and milk in the middle of the night.

     You may wonder about how I will parent, discipline. First off, many bad behaviors are really a lack of awareness, especially of dangers. For example, on a camp out two boys, ages 10 and 12, were horse playing around the campfire. I had to tell them to move away from the campfire. If they fell, they could get burned badly. They lacked awareness of the dangers of playing around a campfire. The real problem was that I had to tell them twice, had to get their attention. So I yelled loudly the second time and reprimanded them for failing to act the first time. When you are in danger, there is no time for discussion.

     While some parents believe in “spare the rod, spoil the child”, I take the attitude of President Teddy Roosevelt, “walk softly and carry a big stick.” If you never give me a reason to use the stick, I will never use it. My dad, your deceased grandfather, once said that he never really disciplined me because I never gave him a reason to. As long as you listen to me, I will never have to discipline you. At the same time, I will listen to you and consider what you say. By working as a team, we will be a happy family.

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Into The Suburban Wild We Went

Dear Michael and Caroline,

In our walk to Thomas Jefferson Junior High School every school day morning, we could have taken a route through the streets, same as all the other kids. Gone down this block, then up that block, sticking to the sidewalk, playing it safe.

But no. Instead, we took a shortcut, preferring the woods – or, more like it, the swamp. We would enter a parking lot behind the Grange Hall and head toward the tall reeds, a stream running through it all. We had to tiptoe across the rocks to keep our shoes dry. A rain would leave the ground muddy and the leaves on the trees dripping wet. The reeds stood so thick and tall that we could barely see 10 feet ahead.

Still, we trod on through the thickets. We were boys, traveling in a pack, a tribe unto ourselves, me and Don and Paul and Carl and Steve and Andy and maybe Larry and Mike, and we were doing what boys often do, roughing it, proving ourselves, thrusting ourselves into the wild.

And so it went in Fair Lawn in the mid-1960s. Even though the town was established by the 1920s, and pretty well populated by the 1950s, during my boyhood it still had traces of the wild, little pockets here and there. Only now that I’ve lived so long in a city do I clearly see that at last.

It took my friends and I a while to outgrow this tendency to venture into the wild. We pulled the same stunt in high school. Rather than take the streets to Fair Lawn High School, we cut across a baseball field off Saddle River Road and then, more daring still, crossed the railroad tracks that ran through town.

Crossing railroad tracks, back in those naïve, ignorant days, had yet to be stamped taboo. So cross the tracks we would, we suburban swashbucklers, doing our derring-do.
To approach those tracks lent our days a thrill. For starters, you had to beware no train was coming from either direction. You listened for the chugging, chuffing sound, the screeching rattle of metal grating against metal, the whistle wailing its warning.
We would play games to see how close we could cut it, either darting across the tracks just seconds before the train passed or simply standing close to the train as it went by.

Once we came across a dead raccoon laying on the tracks, obviously run over by the train. Its eyes bulged out, as if from shock, and its teeth were askew, as if bared one last time. We marveled at that raccoon, the first we had ever seen outside of a zoo.

But that’s how it went if you traveled in a pack. We would each somehow try to outdo the other, prove ourselves braver or more skilled, or both. One of us might fling a rock at the passing train, or lay a branch in its path.

Life then felt like an experiment. Everything was trial and error and improvisation, each moment impossible to predict. Fair Lawn then still retained a touch of the rural.

On the next block over from ours, surrounded by nothing but dirt and trees, stood a large, wooden barn, for decades unoccupied except by mice and bats. One night the fire department burned it down. All the neighborhood, especially the kids, came out to watch the barn go down in flames, the night sky all aglow with brilliant orange and red flickering.

Houses would now be built there, just as townhouses now occupy the swamp that served as our shortcut to junior high school. The swamp, the train tracks — it all formed the map for our boyhoods. The town was still young then, and so were we. We and the town also still had a touch of the wild.

Little Boy, A Thief In The Night: Part 2

Dear Michael and Caroline,

I was a repeat offender, returning to the scene of the crime – hard to quantify here – maybe five times, or ten, or 15.

My father never said anything about the missing money, neither to me, nor, so far as I knew, to my mother. Whether he ever even noticed the money missing I had no idea.
I liked to believe that he knew about my midnight mischief all along, and decided to let it go, sure I would lose interest in committing larceny and stop. It’s better than believing I had simply put one over on him.

Eventually I stopped of course, and that was that. It was never about the money anyway. I had an allowance, maybe $5 a week, quite generous and upper-middle-class an allocation for a 10-year-old in 1962. My grandfather Sheft might slip me some money now and then, and besides, I never wanted for anything. I could get a soda at the soda fountain and bubble gum and a comic book if I wanted. I could afford pretty much anything.
But in stealing money, I must have wanted something from my father.

Anything.

A piece of him.

Day after day, night after night, he would be here and gone, here and gone, always out working and, even when home, remote and all but incommunicado. I needed to connect with him somehow, maybe to draw his attention, maybe to hurt him, maybe to fool him.

So I stole his money.

Years later, still living at home, I felt bad about my sin. However out to lunch my father might be – and make no mistake: out to lunch he most certainly was – my thefts were altogether unjustifiable.

I considered setting the record straight with him. I had probably taken all of $200 from him during my crime spree. For a while I contemplated gradually giving it all back. But then I realized my conscience needed no easing. Doing what I had done, I was well within my rights. My father owed me something, and I took it. He had cheated me – of his presence, of his participation – and so I cheated him right back.

Little Boy, A Thief In The Night

Dear Michael and Caroline,

It would be in the middle of the night, maybe 2 or 3 or 4 o’clock, in the house where we all lived, and I alone would be awake. I would slide out of my bed and tread slowly down the carpeted hall toward my parent’s bedroom.

My father would be snoring thunderously, my mother sleeping silently beside him. I would enter the room, alert to any snorts or shifts that might signal my parents were going to awaken any moment and discover me there.

I was a boy on a mission, maybe eight or nine or ten years old, hard to know for sure. It gave me a thrill to be there like that, a secret intruder within my own family, a sense of danger. I was doing something no one knew about, much less suspected.

It would be difficult to see much in there with all the lights out, and it might take a few minutes to let my eyes adjust to the darkness. Soon the room would come clearly into view, the bed, the night tables and lamps.

Of course I had little cause to fear being found out. My mother is profoundly deaf, and my father was hard-of-hearing. Neither was going to hear me tiptoeing in on the carpet, or a creaking of the floorboards beneath.

Yet any sleeping creature senses vibrations, and probably aromas, and maybe even changes in the molecules in the air. So I still ran the risk of being caught in mid-adventure.

Still, I pressed on, headed toward my destination. Just past the closet stood a bureau, and next to that a coat rack where my father hung the pants he wore that day. I reached into the pockets and felt the dollar bills there.

On any given night, my father might pack a billfold of about $200 – he required cash on hand for his job managing residential and office properties – mostly twenties with a few tens, fives and singles. Sliding my hand into the pocket, I would then pull out a few bills. I would examine the billfold in its entirety and calculate how much I could take without tipping my hand – maybe a twenty and a five, say. Triumphantly, I would return to my bedroom with my ill-gotten gains, the cash I had stolen straight from my father’s pockets, a suburban pickpocket.

P.S. – See part 2 tomorrow.