My name is Jesse Wilson. I am 22 years old and spent 10 years in the Florida foster care system before being adopted as a teenager. Recently I learned that I am a dad-to-be.
When my girlfriend shared the news, my mind turned to dreams of the future, but the dreams were quickly clouded over by nightmares from the past. When I slept, an old recurring nightmare came back—the one where I am just like my father: a cruel, clueless individual. Am I destined to be like him?
Eighteen years seems like a long time to take care of someone other than me. Add the fear of turning out like my parents, and being a father seems just about impossible.
My birth parents weren’t great people. I believe they loved my three younger brothers and me, but they never put us children first or did what it took to keep us safe and together as a family. I lived with my birth family until age six when the police found me in my grandmother’s closet with a sock stuffed in my mouth to keep me quiet. My brothers were already in care by then.
While we were in foster care, our birth parents rarely showed up for visits and I remember being confused. Foster care itself was horrible. Moving from family to family, I could never be a regular kid—a kid who goes out to movies with his friends or attends his friends’ birthday parties. Kids don’t know how cruel they are when they ask you questions about your life and tease you for not being able to do what they take for granted.
Missing a normal childhood still affects me now. It’s tough running into old classmates who don’t remember me at all, or just remember me as the odd kid who couldn’t participate in any extracurricular activities.
Being forced to test out different adoptive placements was difficult too. My brothers and I were absolutely certain that we wanted to be placed together with the foster family we knew the best. Workers would try to separate us, and we didn’t much like that. I even recall jumping out of a car on an interstate exit ramp because I didn’t like the family who wanted to adopt me.
In time, when I was 13, three of us ended up just where we wanted to be—with the Wilson family. Unfortunately, my youngest brother was placed in another family and has faced more challenges growing up. In my life, however, the combination of bad and good experiences has helped mold me into the stronger and smarter person I am today.
In school earlier this year my class completed a risk-taking survey. I ranked near the top of the chart. From the results I concluded that I have been through so much in life that nothing really scares me. This lack of fear has probably helped me to achieve at a much higher level than many other youth in my position.
From where I stand, I see nothing ahead that I cannot accomplish. So far I have survived a hard start in life and 10 years of foster care, joined a caring and supportive adoptive family, published a book of poetry (The Storm Rolling In), and started college. I am also a member of Florida Youth SHINE, a program of Florida’s Children First that brings together former foster youth to help advocate for improvements in the state’s child welfare system.
In spite of nightmares and misgivings, I am truly confident that I can be a good father. My girlfriend is an awesome person and in a much better place than my birth mom was when I was born. She is both strong and loving—two very important characteristics—and will be a wonderful mother.
I also have a lot of support. About 10 people in my life claim me as their son—from my adoptive parents, to my best friend’s parents, to people who have been there for me and with whom I have celebrated my successes. I do not intend to disappoint them, and know that they will be there to guide me.
They have 11 sons, the last three of whom were my brothers and me. Their first eight sons have mostly provided grandsons; so a little girl will be a most welcome addition. Mom and Dad have always enjoyed being parents, but they are ecstatic about being Grandma and Grandpa again, and have already vowed to help in any way they can.
With our baby on the way, everyone keeps telling me what I should do or what it is going to be like to have a child. That’s all great and nice of them, but I want to be unique. My approach shall be different. I intend to accomplish my dreams and help my child, my blood, realize her dreams as well.
Below is an excerpt from a book about my life that I am composing:
Yes, it was a horrible thing for a four-year-old to experience, and something I would never wish on any other child. I am resolved that my daughter will have a very different experience than my brothers and I had. I dream that when my daughter writes her story, it will start something like this:
Parenthood. Here I come.
North American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC)
970 Raymond Avenue, Suite 106
St. Paul, MN 55114