For Father’s Day, II: MSNBC On The Accidental Dad

Earlier today I put up a post about a NYT story that may or may not have been timed to coincide with Father’s Day.   This story clearly is clearly posted with the day in mind.  

Adrien McLemore is described in the headline as ‘an accidental dad,”  but really, his parental role is anything but an accident.  He spent a lot of time in foster care as a child and so knew what was at stake when he was 22 and his sister got in trouble.   Her kids–then 3 and one–were taken into state custody.  They were headed for foster care.   Except that he stepped up and said he’d take them.   They’ve lived with him since then–about a year and a half.    

Like the man in the earlier post, he doesn’t call himself a father.    Of course, we do have a word for what he is–“uncle”–and he has a legal status, too–foster parent.   But from my point of view, he looks an awful lot like a parent.   Or like a father.  Perhaps most importantly, he’s clearly in it for the long haul.  

“The biggest thing children need, in addition to unconditional love, is a comfortable, safe environment, a sense of stability and permanence,” McLemore says, with all the clarity of someone who did not have these things. “Children need to know their siblings and spend time with them, not just in weekly visits with a case worker, but at picnics and in parks and with family members like aunts and uncles and grandparents.”

He seems like a fine man to profile on Father’s Day.

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11 responses to “For Father’s Day, II: MSNBC On The Accidental Dad

  1. Looks a lot like an uncle to me, doing what kin should do when there is trouble in the family.
    This is part and parcel of what being an uncle, aunt, or grandparent means. Means you are there, second in line, when parent is not there. God forbid if anything would happen to my brother or his wife, I would be there in one second to take care of their kids. That does not make me their mother. That is what an aunt does.
    Their are hundreds of kids in the care of their extended family, I don’t know why this guy is any more special. Perhaps his young age.

    • He is indeed an uncle. Could he also be a father? What if the sister never gets her act together and he raises those kids for the next twenty years? He will still be an uncle, of course, but would he also be a parent by then? Is the critical question whether he has also gone through the legal process of adoption or is it whether he has put in the time?

      I do think what makes him noteworthy is that he has made an apparently unlimited commitment to these children and that’s not a common thing for a single young man to do.

      • exactly Julie, it is not a common thing for a young man who is NOT THEIR father to do. The whole reason is that this story is in the newspaper is because we all, including you, implicitly acknowledge that he isn’t their father, the person on whom the primary obligations of parenthood fall.
        There are plenty of young fathers out their doing what they should, who even with our terribly low expectations of males, still don’t get written up in the news.

  2. or more likely his gender, or a combination of the two

  3. i’m all pissed off as well because if he was an aunt instead of an uncle he wouldn’t either rate a story. Although I suppose that is a separate issue.

    • I’d say it slightly differently, but I think we basically agree. It is an unusual thing for a young man who is not the direct genetic antecedent of young children to take over as sole caretaker. I suppose that unusualness is what makes him news. But from my point of view, despite his lack of genetic relationship, he’s a worthy subject of a Father’s Day essay, for he is playing that role for these kids.

      This doesn’t mean that there aren’t countless other men who are also taking responsibility for young children–and as the Danny Westneat column recounts, a significant number of them are doing it solo. Bravo to them as well. And to the mothers out there, while we’re at it. I have no quarrel with recognizing their contributions as well.

      I’d say what I might implicitly acknowledge is something more complicated: Many people buy the genetic story–that what makes a person a parent can be determined via lab tests. This is a counter-story–a father who we all know would fail the DNA test, but is a father nonetheless.

      Oh–and on gender–you’re quite right. An aunt would be much less noteworthy. And this, too, tells us something: Gender does matter in how we think of people in parenting roles. I don’t think it has to be that way—in other words, I don’t think this is biologically fixed. But we live in a social world and in our social world the behavior of men and women with regard to children is quite different. This is one place you can see that.

  4. marilynn huff

    Kisarita – you wrote the best stuff tonight!

    “God forbid if anything would happen to my brother or his wife, I would be there in one second to take care of their kids. That does not make me their mother. ”

    First of all that is the kind of thing that is missing from what the world likes to call “better families” each kid goes off to form their own isolated little empire and does not feel they should have to deal with problems happening in their relatives homes. And your more than right – raising your nieces and nephews does not make you their mother. How disrespectful would it be of you to refer to your self as their mother even if you adopted them, what you are getting is authority over your nieces and nephews equal in force to that of an actual parent. You would be an adoptive parent and a real aunt.

    • I’d like to make this purely hypothetical so it doesn’t feel too grim. Suppose parents of a one year old child (people who have every basis for claim of parentage so we all agree they are parents) are killed in a car accident. The child is then raised by the sister of one of the original parents.

      I would never deny the existence of the original people. But I would want the sibling who was raising the child to have the legal status of a parent. Who else is going to make all the decisions, assume all the obligations? These cannot continue to be assigned to the deceased. Perhaps some would prefer to call that person a legal guardian, and that might be possible. But I assume we will all agree that the new person ought to have all of the legal niceties a parent has?

      Should the child call the person “mother” or “my parent”? I do not presume to say. Maybe most people wouldn’t want to arrange it that way, but I’m not sure I see why I get to tell people what to do here.

      Does it depend how old the child is? A teenager will have a clear memory of the original parents, a one year old will not. So a teenager might feel like no one else can be called “parent” where a one-year old might want to have a mother (or a father or whatever.)

  5. But Julie its my understanding that the State gives people who adopt the option of having a new birth certificate issued. Its not really necessary since all legal forms always say “signature of parent or guardian” . The child would be receiving the death benefits of the two deceased parents. I’m assuming you think that an adoption would be necessary in order for the child to be the recipient of the aunts benefits but the way the law is written for tax purposes her sisters children would qualify as defendants and would also qualify for social security death benefits without her claiming the title of mother. The children would not need to change their last name to the Aunts.

    • Would that it were the case that all legal forms say “parent or guardian.” I can assue you I have seen dozens of forms that do not say this. What they do say varies immensely–like sometimes it says “natural parent” when it surely doesn’t mean that. I think the problem here is that form writers do not understand the categories all that well.

      But I do not take this to dispose of your point. It may well be true that the aunt could choose guardianship if she wished and manage all the legal details. I’m not actually sure, but let’s assume so. I’m not sure about social security benefits either–my recollection (I cannot check this right now) is that you need to be a child to get the death benefits, not merely a dependant. But let’s assume you could get it either way. Certainly the children do not need to change their name to that of the aunt. But I’d give them the right to do the adoption if the judgment is that it is better.

      I understand that in many instances the judgment would be exercised by the aunt (because the chlidren would be too young to participate). But that’s okay with me. I don’t see that the adoption needs to erase the existnence of the original parents and it might make the family’s life overall easier, which is a good enough reason in my book.

  6. I had tons of friends in school that were raised by their grandmothers or aunts or other family members.

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