Giving Respect to Dads Who Adopt

With Father's Day observed this Sunday, Los Angeles writer S. Pearl Sharp salutes single men who adopt children — fathers who volunteer for duty, instead of being compelled to do so by biology or societal expectations.

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ED GORDON, host:

Leonard Pitts figured out how to be a good father even without a role model. But how about those who take on the commitment of fatherhood for other men's children? Commentator S. Pearl Sharp found these to be among the most extraordinary dads.

Ms. S. PEARL SHARP (Writer; Filmmaker): I'm out of Father's Day cards. That is to say, all of the fathers and extended family uncles who helped shaped me have made their ascension. But I am blessed to know some black men who made daring choices about fatherhood. I call them the step-up dads, because they stepped up to the plate and took on the children that other children had abandoned.

A Peter Bailey, the esteemed journalist and lecturer, came out of the Malcolm X wing of the black liberation movement back in the 1960s. He was an associate editor of Ebony Magazine when he received a request to do an article on 4-year-old Reggie(ph), an orphan who had spent his entire life at the New York Foundling Hospital.

If Reggie was not adopted within a few months, before turning 5, he would most likely stay in institutions until he was 18. People are wary of adopting children older than toddlers. Caught up in his story, Peter began his own search for a couple he would take Reggie. When he couldn't find one, the story took an unexpected turn.

Mr. PETER BAILEY (Journalist & Lecturer; Former Associate Editor, Ebony Magazine): Being a single adoptive parent was as far from my - If you had asked me, would I be president of the United States or a single adoptive father first, I probably would have said president of the United States. That's how far it was from my consciousness. And stepping up to the plate is one of the things that Brother Malcolm used to speak frequently about. And here was a test.

Ms. SHARP: Peter Bailey is the first black man that I knew to do a single parent adoption. This was especially significant 35 years ago, when a single parent adoption by someone other than a family member was almost unheard of, even for women. After Peter and Reggie had been a family for three years, they made a joint decision to adopt another boy. Bailey's first son turned 40 this spring. And the two sons have given Peter six grandsons.

One of my favorite griots, writer Arthur Flowers was leaving Los Angeles headed to New York to focus on his literary career when an elder came to visit him. Young Flowers, she said, you need to go home. Your family is in trouble. You don't ignore a message that comes to you like that, and once back in Memphis, Arthur found that his sister was unable to function and his mother was trying to handle his sister's four rambunctious boys, stair-stepping at 5, 4, 3 and 2. Arthur unpacked for a moment and stayed for four years.

I admit, adoption was something I always meant to do, but I let being single and surviving in the unstable entertainment industry get in the way. With my freelance schedule and erratic finances, how can I ever adopt? So, no one was more shocked than me when the word came out that Taurean had adopted twin boys. Wait, you're not talking about crazy, fast stepping Taurean, are you? The party boy? He did what?

(Soundbite of song “Hill Street Blues Theme”)

Ms. SHARP: Yeah, actor Taurean Blacque, who was playing Detective Neal Washington on the hit TV series Hill Street Blues had been asked to be the spokesperson for the county of Los Angeles Adoption Services. But Blacque felt he could not ask others to do something he had not done. So he decided to look into the adoption thing and was told he was not eligible. Why? Because he was male and black and single, never mind that he had already raised two healthy sons of his own.

Now, you know what happens when the system tells a brother he can't do something. He pulls a gun. Just kidding. Taurean adopted the twins and then two more. Then there were five, all from one addicted mother, and there was Taurean, buying baby clothes and diapers as fast as he could. And, what? Seven come 11? He looked like the Pied Piper of Hollywood, dancing out of town. Yes, Blacque walked away from Hollywood and moved home to Atlanta to raise these 11 children. In 1989, this father who had been told he was not eligible to adopt was appointed by the first President Bush as a national spokesperson for adoptive services.

So this is my shout out in this Father's Day season when the brothers mostly get bad press and department store sales in their name. This moment is for the men who did more than handle their business. They took on the weight of raising some other man's children. This is for the step-up dads: I saw you, I noticed. Thank you.

(Soundbite of song "Song for my Father")

GORDON: That was S. Pearl Sharp, a writer and filmmaker based in Los Angeles. She's saluting single dads of adoptive kids for Father's Day, which, of course, is this Sunday. And in tribute to dads, we close today's show with Horace Silver's jazz classic, Song for my Father.

(Soundbite of song "Song for my Father")

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