By Mark Gauert
City & Shore Magazine
I’m listening to Joe Rogers as a father who just watched his youngest child graduate from college.
I’m listening as a father who still feels sleep deprived from 2 a.m. changings almost 25 years ago. A father who for years nervously watched the clock in the newsroom at the Sun Sentinel so I could get to the day-care before it closed at 6 p.m. A father who often had to bring the kids back to the newsroom after 6 to finish editing or writing a story.
A father who felt pride and happiness – mixed with lingering, possibly clinically significant sleep deprivation – when one son and then the other finally graduated from college, and started work lives of their own.
I’m listening to Joe Rogers, and thinking that I am done with all of that now.
That I am free.
I hear Joe say that he was free once, too.
“I was [working] at Jackson Memorial Hospital,” he says. “Busy executive, I had four grown children myself, and was looking at cruising out now. The kids are grown, they’re about to leave the house. I got a great job, I’m real busy.”
But then, “I had the opportunity to hear a young woman give a presentation on her time in foster care, and it touched me,” he says. “She talked about her time in the foster system, and the challenges she had, and how difficult it was, and the lack of loving foster homes and how much of a difference that would have made in her life.”
We may think about fathers this month, if only for the length of a barbecue on Father’s Day. But we rarely stop to appreciate the difference a foster father makes in the life of a child, or a community.
In Joe’s words, that difference means, “I’m going to take care of you. I’ll make you safe. I’ll give you a place to stay.”
And most of all, he says, it means love.
“If kids know you love them,” he says, “they know they’re safe.’’
“I decided to do some volunteer work,” he says. “I remember the first time I visited a group home – beautiful place, it was clean, it was safe, the people who worked in there were loving.
“But I was surrounded by 15 children, the minute I walked in, and they were saying, ‘Can we call you Daddy?’”
The crowd in the Panorama Ballroom at Pier 66 for ChildNet’s Annual Care for Kids Luncheon had been quiet up to then, listening to Joe and others. About how the community needs foster parents more than ever. How ChildNet, the agency chosen by the state Department of Children and Families to protect abused, abandoned and neglected children in Broward and Palm Beach counties, has not had an increase in funding since its founding in 2003. How the foster system took in 1,000 more children last year than it expected to take in.
But now, listening to Joe Rogers talk about becoming Daddy again, they all say the same thing.
“It was during that time I ended up a foster parent,” he says. “[And] there’s not a day that goes by that I regret what I did.”
I hear Joe say he’d been looking to cruise out, once his kids were grown and out of the house. That he was free once, too.
But he could not stand still. Not with so many kids who needed to feel safe.
To feel loved.
So this Father’s Day, 9-year-old Sarah, 10-year-old Deana and 12-year-old James will call 53-year-old Joe Rogers – the man who was free – Daddy again.
Photo: Joe Rogers, Sarah, James and Deana.
For information about ChildNet, or becoming a foster parent, visit childnet.us, or call 954-414- 6001. You might even get to speak with Joe, who serves on the Board of Directors.