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An extraordinary commitment to helping children

John R. Bowker is passionate about helping children. He has worked in many areas to improve the lives of children, including being the driving force behind 2007 being proclaimed as the "Year of the Child" in Michigan.

However, his commitment to helping children goes beyond even that.

If anyone asks John if he has any kids of his own, they will get this answer: "Yes, I have one of each: fostered, biological and adopted."

John and his wife, Diana, a junior high English teacher, started their still growing family back in 1972. Living in Royal Oak at the time, John said he and his wife saw an advertisement in their church newspaper by Catholic Social Services for adolescent foster care. John said despite their concerns at the time of fostering a teenage child, they felt qualified to take care of a foster son.

"Well, we can raise a teenager first, and then we’ll know what to expect," John said to his wife.

Patrick, their foster son, joined the family at age 15. Not long after, Diana gave birth to their biological son, Marc, in 1973.

After graduating high school, Patrick was old enough and eager to go out on his own to pursue his career. John said although they offered to adopt him, Patrick wanted to keep his biological father's last name.

"He wanted to keep his birth name, but for all practical purposes he was blood," said John.

Patrick and his biological father have a lot in common, including their love of cooking. Patrick is currently an executive chef for the Oakwood Healthcare System in the Detroit area.

After Marc was born, John and Diana kept trying to have more children, but they could not get pregnant. John discovered later that a prescription drug he had been taking affected their ability to conceive. At the time, they thought Marc should have a brother, so they decided to adopt an infant.

Through their earlier foster experience, John explained, they were able to quickly move through the adoption approval process. They had a family-wide conference and decided they should move forward.

"It should be a family discussion and a family decision," John said.

In 1978, they adopted son Paul when he was six-weeks-old. John said Paul knew he was adopted from an early age. There were seldom any problems with the adoption, John said, and Marc and Paul got along great growing up. Despite their previous experience gained from raising a teenager, John joked that Paul, a former Marine, was still definitely a unique child.

"God sent him to us to keep us either young for a really, really long time or to put us in our graves early," John said.

There is much advice John could give from experience to people considering foster care and adoption. John said that everyone in the family needs to be involved in the decision and take "ownership" of it, including the potential grandparents. He also said it was very important to have the medical history for the child's biological family.

"Having a medical history for the child as well as the biological parents is extremely important," John said. "I can't stress that enough."

John, a licensed mental health professional, adds that prospective parents should insist on having a mental and physical health screening. This is an area, he believes, where the system needs to be improved.

"You can hold off a lot of problems that could happen later by having these screenings," John said.

All three of his sons are married, and John has seven grandchildren.

Though his kids may have all grown up, John still stays very active in the community. John is on the board of directors for the Oakland County Community Mental Health Authority and is a member of Children's Issues Committee for the Michigan Association of Community Mental Health Boards.

John said he might get even busier with more kids in his life as another grandchild is on the way.

"But no great-grandchildren yet," he said.

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Adoption Focus is a Right to Life of Michigan Educational Fund e-newsletter. © 2009 RLM EF

 

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