Nearly ten years ago, Steven Williams and his adoptive son Francis formed a new family. Today, they often share their story with prospective adoptive parents. They recently did a television interview on behalf of You Gotta Believe, the agency that brought them together. “Francis was great on-screen, cracking jokes and completely confident,” Steven says.
Something was missing
For father and son, the adoption represented a huge change. Steven was 45 years old. He’d retired from a career in theater, and had begun a successful nonprofit career, raising funds for HIV/AIDS-related programs across the county. “By all rights, my life was great,” Steven says. “But something was missing.”
“I didn’t have a family,” he says. “It was always important for me, but I had written it off for me, a gay man in theater. It was never going to happen.” During 2005, he started looking at adopting an older child.
Eventually, he found Francis’s photo (then known as Frankie) on the New York State Adoption Service photolisting website. After meeting Francis, he started carrying the print-out of the photo in his wallet. That, the caseworkers told him, was the sign. “We knew you were his father,” they told Steven. “We were just waiting for you to figure it out.”
Francis, a ten-year-old, had been living with a foster family in upstate New York. He had been born to a mother who had begun having children at the age of 13. “His birth mother loves him very much, but she just wasn’t stable enough to parent him,” Steven says.
New start, tremendous changes
Francis moved to join Steven in Manhattan in the summer of 2006. While it was a big change for Steven, it was even more of a transition for Francis.
One of the pieces of advice that Steven gives new adoptive parents is to not take their child’s behavior too personally. “It’s not your parenting. They are going through a huge adjustment.”
Overall, he describes the experience of adopting his son as “the dream adoption.”
Neither he nor Francis sugarcoats their stories, however. They both turned to therapy over the years, and the support of family and friends helped too. “I tell prospective parents to set up as much help and support as they can, especially if they are single,” Steven says.
Francis also has advice for parents and kids going through the adoption process: “No matter how difficult the parent or child gets, be willing to leave them alone for a little while, then help them work out the problem.”
Now that Francis is 19, the two have navigated the teenage years together. For Steven, there were even more new parenting experiences. “Francis is straight, and started having a girlfriend as early as sixth grade. I chaperoned him and his first girlfriend on their first date—to the zoo.” Steven remembers.
After starting college and then taking a year off, Francis has begun a two-year program in technology and game design. He’ll complete the program with a game design portfolio, and will then be qualified for a transfer to a bachelor’s degree program.
Learning from each other
“Being a father means learning on the job,” Steven says. “The best you can do is strive to keep up with your son and love him unconditionally.”
Francis says he has learned a lot from his father as well. “Even when I mess up badly, he has helped me to make things right.”
“Never give up on each other,” he says.