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Tag: Foster Children

Familial Blood is Not the Most Important Thing


My partner, Polly, and I will celebrate our forty-sixth wedding anniversary in July. Not a match made in Heaven or Hell, our marriage is based on love, commitment, and devotion to Cincinnati Reds baseball. Before getting married, we talked extensively about having children. Both of us wanted children — one boy and one girl. We desired the perfect family: Bruce, Polly, and two children named Jason and Bethany. Jason will soon turn forty-five and Bethany will turn thirty-five in September. We didn’t, however, stop at two children. Driven by our sincere belief that God wanted us to have a big family — a quiverful of children — we had four more children: Nathan, Jaime, Laura, and Josiah. We planned to have even more children, but Polly’s obstetrician warned us after the birth of Josiah that any further pregnancies and births could lead to her death. Polly struggled with her last pregnancy and had difficulties giving birth. Her doctor said, “Polly’s too pooped to pop.” His dire assessment of our prospects for future children left us wondering whether we should listen to his advice or “trust God” — he alone who opens and closes wombs. We put our faith in the obstetrician’s advice, ending our plan to have as many children as God gave us. Were we weak, unable to trust God? Were we lacking in faith? Probably, but it seemed to us, at the time, that reason, wisdom, and common sense dictated we kill the proverbial rabbit. We returned to using birth control until Polly had a tubal ligation in the late 1990s.

Family matters to us. We live where we do today because our six children and sixteen grandchildren live nearby. If they didn’t, we would not live in rural northwest Ohio. This area’s political, religious, and social climate is not a good fit for us as liberal/progressive atheists. If we had our druthers, we would move to a rural fishing community on the eastern seaboard or a progressive community such as Austin, Texas. Australia, New Zealand, or Fiji would be nice too. 🙂 No moves are forthcoming, except the one to the oven at the local crematorium. Seventeen years ago, we purchased our home in Ney, knowing that this would be the end of the road for us.

Two years after Polly and I married, we decided to become foster parents. Our first foster child was a toddler named J.R. — the son of two drug addicts. J.R.’s dad was in prison at the time. Over the next decade, we welcomed into our home nine other children — some of whom were teenage court referrals. We also fostered a teen girl named Irene for a year who wasn’t an official placement. Her family attended our church and needed help, so we offered to let their daughter live with us.

We treated our foster children just as our own. They were a part of our family, and we treated them as such. Unfortunately, Polly’s mom took a different approach, making it clear that blood is what made us family, and since these children were not blood, she had no obligation to treat them as her “real” grandchildren. She would continue this behavior with our step-grandchildren, going so far as to not buy them gifts for their birthdays, or she would buy them different Christmas gifts from those she bought her real grandbabies. I suspect you can imagine how much heartache and disappointment her horrible behavior caused. We made it clear to her that we treated all our grandchildren the same way. We made no distinction between them based on DNA. If our grandchildren know anything about Nana and Grandpa it is this: we love them regardless of who provided the egg and sperm that brought them to life.

Polly and I have five step-grandchildren. There has never been a time when we treated them differently from our blood grandchildren. We know that blended families can be challenging, so we don’t want our step-grandchildren to feel anything other than welcomed and loved.

As our children have married, divorced, and remarried, new grandchildren have come into our lives. Polly and I are proud to call all of them family. You see, it is not blood that determines family. Two years ago, I learned that my biological father was not the man who raised me. Did this suddenly mean that Dad was no longer my father? Of course not. My sperm donor played no part in my life, dying before I could meet him. He is an interesting side note to my story, but Robert Gerencser — good, bad, and indifferent — was my real father. Not one drop of his blood flows through my veins. Should this matter? Of course not. Family is what matters, regardless of our biology. Our grandchildren — all sixteen of them — can count on us to be there for them. We will NEVER give preferential treatment to them based on DNA.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Short Stories: Caring for Foster Children: Lice, Scabies, and a Stolen Car

Bruce and Polly Gerencser with son #2, 1981

During the 1980s, Polly and I took in foster children from Licking and Perry counties in Ohio. We saw fostering children as an opportunity to not only help children psychologically and materially, but to also lead them to saving faith in Jesus. Most of the children placed with us were teenagers, though we did care for a two-year-old boy and a pair of sisters. We also took in a Black girl, making her the only non-white student in the local school district. Some of the children were court referrals, teenagers who had been in trouble with the law. I suppose, if I am honest, I naĂŻvely thought I could turn them around just by changing their home environment.  We also had a teen church girl live with us for a year. She had been living with her grandparents, and they were unable to control her. I don’t remember what the exact issues were.

One girl was from Buckeye Lake. She was a delightful child who had the bad luck of growing up in a dysfunctional home. She lived with us several times over the years. On occasion, she would spend the weekend with her parents and siblings. Their home was quite unkempt, to say the least. Without fail, she would return from these visits infested with head lice. We would treat her with RID, only to find reinfestations after she came back from seeing mom and dad. This, of course, led to our children also getting head lice.

One time, another child went home for a visit, only to pick up scabies while she was there. By the time we figured out she had scabies, so did Polly and I and our two sons. At the time, I was the assistant pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Buckeye, Lake, Ohio. The church was holding a revival service with John Babcock — a pastor and friend of Polly’s parents. John stayed with Polly’s parents that week. One day, he mentioned to them that he had this funny rash on his belly. It was quite itchy and all he wanted to do was scratch. Of course, when Polly’s parents let us know that John had some sort of “mystery” rash, we knew what it was right away: scabies.

In the mid-1980s, we took in two teen boys who had been referred to us by the Perry County Juvenile Court. One boy lived us for quite some time, whereas the other boy was with us for only a short while. He would later attempt to rob someone at knifepoint. He spent time in prison for his crime. While living with us, he was quite a handful, constantly pushing the rules. The other boy was quite friendly and likable. He loved our boys and we got along quite well with him. Years later, he and his wife would live for us for a short time.

One day, Polly and I awoke to an epic nightmare. In the night, the boys had gotten up, stolen our money, checkbook, and car, and run off. The one boy picked up his girlfriend, and off the three went to infinity and beyond. Their joyride was brought to an abrupt end by a New Jersey police officer who had stopped them for running a red light. The officer discovered they were driving a stolen automobile and promptly arrested them. Local law enforcement went to New Jersey to retrieve them, charging the boys with felony grand theft auto. The girl was not charged with a crime.

The boys were released to the custody of their parents to await prosecution. What complicated matters was the car they stole did not belong to us. Our car was at the Chrysler dealership getting the engine replaced. The car they took was a loaner car. New Jersey law enforcement informed the dealership it was up to them to retrieve the car. They did, and then tried to bill me for their costs. I knew they had insurance for such things, so I refused to pay — end of story.

One day, the Common Pleas Court judge’s office called and asked me to come to the judge’s chambers so he could talk to me. After arriving at his chambers, I could tell that he had already had a few too many. He asked me, Reverend, what do you think I should do with these boys? I pondered his question for a moment, and then replied, I think they need to be punished, but I don’t want them sent to prison. The judge decided to sentence them to one year at the youth detention facility in Columbus. Unbeknownst to the boys, he planned to set them free after thirty days — a sentence I totally agreed with. I knew these two White boys were in for a rude awakening when they found themselves locked up in a facility where being White made them a minority. As I mentioned above, the one boy went on to commit other crimes, but the boy who had lived with us the longest was scared straight and did not offend again.

Polly and I like to think that we made a difference in the lives of the foster children who spent time in our home. We did what we could to give them a stable place to live, along with a little — okay a lot — of Jesus, too. We hope our small acts of love and kindness made a mark on their lives. Several years ago, someone whom knew us let us know that one of our foster children had told them we had made a positive difference in her life. Hearing this made our day. I do wonder from time to time what has become of them. I think of our first foster child, a two-year-old boy. After a year in our home, he was returned to his drug-addicted mom. The boy’s father had gotten out of prison and they were attempting to make a new start in life. I wonder if the new start lasted. What kind of man did this little blond-haired boy become?

Have you ever taken in foster children? Please share your experiences in the comment section.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

How Many Grandchildren Do We “Really” Have?

grandchildren 2017
Our eleven Grandchildren, Easter 2017

My wife and I have twelve grandchildren, ranging in age from two months to seventeen years. Each one of these precious children is part of the Gerencser family. Polly and I have never made a distinction between grandchildren and step-grandchildren. We’ve never understood this obsession with blood children. If a child is part of one of our children’s families, he or she is our grandchild. It matters not to us if Gerencser sperm or egg played a part in their conception. We have never said of our grandchildren, even one time, that this or that child is a step-grandchild. Come Christmas, every grandchild is treated equally. We’ve never had the thought of treating some of our grandchildren differently because they were not 100% Gerencser. Unfortunately, Polly’s Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) family views things differently.

Polly and I recently traveled to Newark, Ohio to visit her mom in the hospital. My mother-in-law was scheduled for cancer surgery, and the day before surgery she developed heart problems which landed her in the hospital. Unbeknownst to me, Polly’s mom asked her how many grandchildren we had. When Polly said twelve, her mom replied, “yeah but all of them aren’t yours.” Polly replied, “yes they are,” to which her mom replied, “well, you know…. ” If I had been there I would’ve likely asked, “know what?” Of course, both Polly and I already know the answer to this question. In Polly’s parents’ minds, it’s blood that matters. This has been a common theme throughout the years. My youngest daughter received the same treatment the next day when asked about her oldest daughter — a child from a previous relationship of her husband. Much like her parents, our daughter does not make a distinction between stepchildren and “real” children. It’s absurd and offensive to even think this way. I like to think that this is a generational issue; one where older generations believe blood and name matter and that children and grandchildren who aren’t their blood or don’t carry their name shouldn’t expect the same kind gift or money on birthdays or Christmas as those who have the proper pedigree. I’ve come to the conclusion that there is no hope of fixing this type of thinking apart from death. As with many social ills, it takes the death of a generation to get beyond them.

ezra martin august 2017
Ezra, our latest grandchild, two months old. Born six-weeks premature, he was released from NICU several weeks ago and he is now packing on the weight.

Polly and I have two grandchildren who have either a different father or mother than a Gerencser. One grandchild is seventeen and will graduate from high school this coming spring. This girl has been in our lives since she was a toddler. She may have a different name, but she is very much a part of our lives. My son and her mother went through divorce last year. There’s no Gerencser in the home; that is, except our four grandchildren. No matter who marries whom and what happens in the future, there’s a hard, fast rule in our family: once a Gerencser, always a Gerencser. It is cruel for someone to be a part of a child’s life for years, and then, due to divorce or other social upheaval, walk away from him or her. I’ve never understood people who can do this. When our granddaughter graduates in the spring, we will be there. When she plays basketball games this winter, we will be there. Whatever comes her way — today, tomorrow, or a decade from now — we will be there. The same goes for our four-year-old step-granddaughter. We have known her pretty much from birth. She is every bit as much our grandchild as any of our grandchildren who have the “proper” DNA. We will be in her life from preschool to the day that she says “I do” — that is, if we live long enough. You see, what grandchildren really need is love and support; and Polly and I have enough of that for all of them. We wish that Polly’s family had the same, but they don’t, and it’s their loss. They are missing out on wonderful opportunities to have awesome relationships with two beautiful children. It makes me wonder about all their talk about the love of Jesus for sinners. Are these children not sinners worthy of love? And if their daughter and son-in-law say “these are ours,” shouldn’t they accept that and do all they can to be the best great-grandparents possible? I will never understand the kind of thinking that divides families according to DNA. I don’t get it, and I never will.

For a number of years, Polly and I took in foster kids. At the time, we had three children of our own. Many of these children were teenagers. Some of them were with us for weeks, but others were long-term placements. Our three children have many memories of their experiences with JR, Steve, Floyd, Roseann, Tonya, and Linda. For a number of months, a black girl by the name Tracy lived with us. Her placement was unusual because this made her the only black child in the school district. When our first two children were very young, a troubled church girl lived with us for almost a year. Years later, she would tell someone we knew that we made a big difference in her life. It’s gratifying to hear from children who lived with us, thanking us for loving them. And therein lies the core issue for Polly and me. These children, regardless of whom their parents were or what horrific experiences they had their life, we loved them as if they were our own children. Granted, some of the teenagers who went through our home didn’t want our love. In fact, they didn’t want anything from us. But we loved them anyway. Why? First, because of Jesus. We believed, at the time, that Jesus loved everyone; and if Jesus loved everyone, so should we. Second, it was inconceivable to us that we could love one child more than another. Who thinks like this? “Oh, you have the right DNA so I’m gonna love you more than these children who are placed in our home after being raped by their stepfather or abused by their parents”? Where’s the Christianity in that kind of thinking?

Here’s what I know: Bruce and Polly Gerencser are going to love every child that comes into their lives, regardless of their lineage. By God, if we can unconditionally love the feral cats that frequent our backyard and care for them spring, summer, fall, and winter, we can certainly — without reservation and a test from 23andMe — unconditionally love our grandchildren — all twelve of them. That’s just how we are, and we feel sorry for people who can’t see beyond the names on birth certificates.

Bruce Gerencser