Like most prospective fathers, I was beyond excited when my wife first told me she was pregnant. I had dreams of being a loving and playful father to my first child, praying each night over my wife’s pregnant body for a healthy child. When this first daughter of ours died at birth from anencephaly, a condition where the brain, scalp and skull never truly form, I was thrown into a dark form of grief, one that was unhealthy to both my wife and me. It took me some time to fully grieve for this child, to grieve for this loss in a healthy fashion.

Years later, I’ve been blessed to have three more biological children, as well as to adopt three children from the foster care system. I have had over 50 children from the foster care system call me Daddy in some form or fashion, as they came to live in our home and become part of our family.

Without a doubt, each child that has come to live with me has made me a better person in some way. To me, there is no difference between biological, adoptive or foster child: they are all children I have been fortunate enough to care for as my own. To me, there is no difference between skin color, as I truly see no difference in a child’s so-called “race.”

Through these 15 years as a foster father—and 20 years as a father in general—I have learned so much and am thankful for each child that has come to live with me: Watching a child in foster care smile the first time after years of abuse; teaching a child in foster care how to ride a bike; sharing a foster child’s first real birthday with him after so many had been ignored in the past.

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I am thankful for having the chance to hold crying children in my arms and having the opportunity to reassure them in the most difficult of times: Children crying over skinned knees from falling down, scared from thunderstorms in the night or filled with the anxieties of being placed into my home and wondering if they will ever see their “real mommy” again.

I am thankful for sharing birthdays with children, from watching my one-year-old as my wife opens his first birthday present, to showing a 11-year-old how to open a present at his very first birthday party—he didn’t know how. An 11-year-old boy did not know how to open a present. Can you imagine? He had never had a present to open before. Not on his birthday, not on a holiday. No one to tell him how special he was on the day he was born, and how much he mattered on the day that was supposed to be celebrated in his honor.

I am thankful for teaching a five-year-old how to read her sight words, a 10-year-old from a home of abuse how to write her name for the first time, and a 15-year-old from an environment of neglect that he is indeed smart enough to go to college.

Some children have stayed only one day through foster care, while others have stayed as long as a year and a half. Still others will be with my family forever, through birth and adoption. One thing I have learned while taking care of all of these children in need is that, above all, these children simply wish to be loved in a healthy and safe manner. Each deserves to be loved unconditionally for who they are. As a Daddy to all of these children, this is one of my greatest responsibilities—as well as one of my greatest privileges. For this, and for the many children who have come to live with me, I am most thankful, and most blessed.

Featured Photo Courtesy: Nathan Anderson via Unsplash