Robert and Nicole Bethune pose for their first family photo with their newly adopted son, Robert Cole, and their nephew Ryan Stevenson, who was a big brother to Robert when he first came to live in the Bethune home.
COVINGTON -- Father's Day will be quite an occasion in the Bethune household.
Robert Bethune says he and his wife Nicole were chosen by their son to be his parents. It happened in the waiting room of Newton County Department of Family and Children Services when at not quite 2 years of age, he walked to the middle of several rows of chairs and took their hands, not knowing they were waiting for an interview about a child they hadn't met yet. And besides, it was their intention to adopt a girl, but that little boy changed everything.
"He had a conference with God and said, 'Let me go down there and help those people out,'" Bethune likes to say. "From that day on, Nicole said she knew what an expectant mother feels like and I knew what an expectant father feels like. He is the greatest gift God has given us. I tell him thank you for giving me the chance to be your daddy, and I hope I can be the best daddy you could ever have."
The Bethunes are part of the foster program with Newton DFCS, with one adopted son, also named Robert, who is now 6, and four foster sons, ranging in age from 14 to 23 months.
"We'll adopt as many as we can adopt," Bethune said, who admitted life has changed for him and his wife of 17 years since the arrival of their family.
"I can't tell you what I was doing before we had children," Bethune said with a laugh. "We've learned to use our time wisely and our resources wisely. You have to be on a schedule, especially with the younger ones."
Bethune said the first children who came to live with them were teenage nephews, one from each side of the family. They had wanted children of their own, but it wasn't happening and they decided to look into fostering through DFCS.
"We wanted to be high risk foster/adoptive parents. That's a parent who is given a child whose birth parents' rights are terminated and all the legal work has been done," Bethune said, adding that he and his wife had decided that they wouldn't be able to let a child go once he or she was in their home. "To go through that would have been devastating for us at that time."
The baby boy came into their lives just before he turned 2.
"We were able to celebrate his birthday with him with a party," Bethune said. "The adoption became official right before he turned 3."
After that, a strange thing happened. The Bethunes found the strength to include the children who need their love for only a short time in their family.
"We told our case worker our doors were open. We had one of our own and would like to go ahead and help other children," Bethune said. "We always act like the child has been with us all of their lives. We tell them, 'Don't ask, can I get a glass of milk?' You're at home. We always open our doors and arms to them and give them a warm welcome and an opportunity to be themselves."
Bethune said he feels like being a father to these needy children is an assignment from above.
"I've learned you don't necessarily have to have a biological child to be a parent," he said. "God gives people assignments -- some to give birth to children; others to care for other people's children."
He said he's been thoroughly impressed with the work done on behalf of these children by Newton County advocates.
"Through DFCS, it takes a whole team -- not just foster parents, but case workers, supervisors, doctors, therapists, judges -- a lot of people who really work together for one child to make sure they have everything they need," he said, adding that all too often he feels that DFCS is criticized unfairly.
"It's a great and phenomenal group of people who get together as a team to see the children flourish," he said. Bethune said at least two of the case workers he's been assigned were adopted through DFCS themselves. "They decided to come back with DFCS and give to an organization that had helped them along the way. That touched me to see people who were adopted go back to an organization and help them."
Bethune said he'd recommend fostering to anyone.
"My wife and I say we wish we had done this earlier, but then maybe we wouldn't have had Robert," he said. "You have to have a love for children, whether they come in for a couple of hours, a week or whatever. God allows us to come in contact for a reason and we just want to help them to be the best young man or woman they can be."
Bethune is a supervisor in the accounting department of a wealth management firm and his wife is a billing coordinator for a pediatric facility.
For more information about becoming a foster parent, call the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services at 877-210-KIDS, or visit www.dfcs.dhr.georgia.gov.