December 16, 2011

Lending Your Voice: A Chat with Willie Garson

National adoption month came and went.  I have mixed feelings about it.  On the one hand, I think that there are so many children who need to find families and so we should be talking about it and "promoting" adoption.  I also think that most posts that I saw about adoption month were a little Rah Rah without the balance of saying that adoption is tough.  It is traumatic and painful.  So let's just agree that it is all of those things- hard and wonderful, challenging and worthwhile, difficult and amazing.  As an adoptive parent who has been through the hard (and still goes through the hard) I can still say without a doubt that adopting our son is the most amazing thing that has every happened to our family.  I'd take all the pain and the transition and the worry and the therapy again anyday because for us the benefits and the love outweighed all the other things and it made our family stronger.

I think that in the world of celebrity adoption, especially, it's difficult to get the full story.  We see celebrities adopt and there is never mention of the plight of orphans or the pain that children go through to become adopted.  The voices of those families get reduced down to photo ops and paint an unrealistic picture of adoption.  That's why I'm glad that there are celebrities out there, like Willie Garson, who are not only painting realistic pictures, but who are lending their voice to advocate for children who desperately need families.

Willie Garson
You may know Willie from his role of Mozzie in the current hit show White Collar.  If you go a little farther back, you may recognize (and LOVE) him from role in Sex In The City where he played Carrie's male BFF, Standford Blatch. Or you may know him from the other billion roles he's had on television and film over the years. But you may not know that his favorite role he's ever played in his life is Dad.  Willie adopted his son, Nathen, from the LA county foster care system in 2010.  Nathen was 8 at the time and the two had an instant connection.  What I love most about Willie is that he recognizes that adoption is an emotional two way street but stands firm on the fact that adopting a child and creating a family where there once was none, has been the most rewarding thing that he could ever do with his life.

He's now lending his voice, in conjunction with the National Adoption Day Coalition, to help advocate for children in foster care.  I had the wonderful opportunity to interview Willie Garson to help him spread his message that every child deserves to have a loving and stable home.

The Interview:

What circumstances led you to decide that adopton was the right choice for you?
Willie: I was in a relationship for a long time, and she didn’t want to have kids, which is fine, that’s people’s choice. After that relationship ended I realized, ‘What am I waiting for? I don’t care if I ever get married, but I know I want a kid.’

The Alliance for Children’s Rights, a kids’ advocacy group in L.A. and member of the National Adoption Day Coalition, is one of my charities. So, when I decided to adopt I worked with the Alliance for Children’s Rights and the Westside Children’s Center, who guided me through the adoption process.

Finish this statement, "I chose to adopt from foster care because…"

Willie: I knew a baby wasn’t right for my lifestyle; I’m an actor, we’re gypsies. Many children in the foster care system are older, and through no fault of their own have a harder time finding a permanent family. By adopting a child from foster care, you can make such an impact on that child’s life. I can see in my son Nathen’s eyes that it means something different when he calls me ‘dad.’

What was the hardest part in transitioning Nathen into your family? How did you work to overcome those obstacles and help him understand permanency after being in the system?

Willie: The hardest things for us were all emotional; Nathen knows his family, he knows his former foster homes, he knew kids at his old school, and on and on. While logistically it was easier as he knew what he liked to eat, washed himself, etc., there were times when I knew he didn’t believe this was permanent. We just dealt with it every day, with a LOT of promises KEPT, never broken...but that's good advice for any parent.

What do you think are the biggest myths surrounding children in foster care and how to you work to dispel them.

Myth: Only married couples can adopt.

Fact: I am a single working actor, and a loving father trying to be a good role model for Nathen. With my paternal clock ‘ticking’, so to speak, I reached a point in my life where I realized that having a child was something I didn’t want to postpone until I was married.

Myth: Children in foster care have too much ‘baggage.’

Fact: Most children in foster care have been through something negative or traumatic in their early lives, but they are not ‘damaged goods,’ they are children. These children may have never experienced a loving, stable home. Nathen for instance, was withdrawn and had some behavioral issues, but in less than a year in a nurturing and stable home with me he has blossomed into an outgoing and stellar student. He is very social and enjoys his time playing baseball, learning karate, and playing music with me. Nathen and I were meant to be a family.

What has been the most unexpected reward of adopting out of foster care. Was it different than you expected?

Willie: There are countless unexpected rewards, but that's true of every parent. Just to see Nathen get more secure and confident is reward enough, but we are partners in this adventure, we take care of each other.

What was the process like to make Nathen your son? Was he legally available for adoption when you met or did you foster first and then make the decision to adopt? How was the process emotionally for you?

Willie: I met Nathen at an L.A. adoption fair in Oct. 2008. Instantly I knew he was, ‘my kid.’ Nathen was legally available for adoption. From the beginning to end, it took only 20 months for us to finalize his adoption.

There was definitely an emotional roller coaster, but the strength actually came from Nathen himself, as I would imagine it comes from every kid...they adapt more easily than we do.

No matter their age, every child needs a loving home.

What do you think are the best ways for people who maybe aren't interested in being foster parents or adopting from foster care, to still reach out to children in the system?

Willie: Become an adoption advocate and help raise awareness of the 107,000 children in foster care waiting for their forever families. There are a number of ways to get involved by contacting organizations such as CASA, or you can get involved, like I did, by supporting some of the National Adoption Day coalition members who are working to find homes for children in foster care every day.

Thank you so much to Willie Garson, for lending his voice and his platform to do so much for the children in foster care and for taking the time to answer my questions (and for his honesty about the tough parts as well as the unbelievable blessings!). For more information of the National Adoption Day coalition (which works to advocate and find families for foster children) please visit their website.

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