Un­cle be­comes car­ing dad to 5

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Gabrielle Porter

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.”

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