Uncle becomes caring dad to 5
The Daily Sentinel
Most GRAND men don’t start their path to fatherhood at age 36, single, technically homeless, with four traumatized children and one toddler who during her waking hours can’t be set down.
David Watkins took the path less traveled.
Nearly six years ago, the then-36-year-old was footloose and fancy-free. He had recently moved to Portland, Oregon, putting more than 1,000 miles between himself and most of his family, including his unstable sister and her five children.
Watkins was searching for a job, ready to make the West Coast his home, when he got a call from his mother back in Mesa County. His sister’s family dysfunction had reached a breaking point and the kids were being removed from the home by authorities, she told him. While Watkins’ mother was terminally ill, she had decided to take in her four youngest grandchildren and give them a new life.
“I was on the plane the next morning,” Watkins said.
Now 41, Watkins on Monday finalized his adoption of his sister’s five children. But six years ago, he really only knew his eldest niece and nephew, Corinne and Ethan. He’d never seen his youngest nieces, twins Abigail and Zoe, and had only met middle brother Sebastian once. But Watkins threw himself into caring for the children, who had all suffered abuse and neglect while in the care of their mother and her various boyfriends, according to case documents.
When the children’s grandmother was placed in hospice care in Montana, Watkins was faced with a choice. Really, though, it wasn’t much of a choice — he had promised his mother he would care for the children like his own, and he never looked back.
“It was like, OK, I’ll take the kids,” Watkins said. “(The county) gave me four kids with no car, no job and no home.”
The kids came with their own challenges. Pre-teen Ethan was defiant and angry, and later ran into trouble with the law. Toddler Zoe was non-verbal, and expected to stay that way because of her cerebral palsy.
“Her therapist said she would never walk, she would never be verbal,” Watkins said.
Watkins worried Zoe had never bonded with her “caretakers” before. For two months, he held her during her every waking moment.
As Watkins lavished time on Zoe, he fretted over Abigail, the twin with no physical disability. Would she feel less valued? Would she feel unloved?
While teenager Corinne didn’t live with Watkins, she stayed in her siblings’ lives even while bouncing around the country.
What does Watkins remember from those first few months? “Absolute chaos.” Watkins and his clan have come a long way. Watkins is back to working in his original field of house design, the family is no longer “squatting” in Watkins’ mother’s house, and their new home is down the street from a park.
Yes, Watkins said, it is a sacrifice to parent five children at once. He always wanted to have his own children, but never found the right woman.
But, he said, “I’m happy to make that sacrifice.”