This week’s installment of the Huffington Post Gay Voices RaiseAChild.US “Let Love Define Family” series is written by Michael Arden-Sonego, a former foster youth who is now a 22-year-old college student majoring in music production. This is Michael’s story.
Growing up, I never had a permanent home. The last place I lived with my mother was in a trailer in a Los Angeles suburb. I remember she always tried to kick my brothers and me out of that trailer for no reason. Coming home one day, I saw a man leaving our trailer that I didn’t know. Then I noticed more and more men coming out or going in.
I didn’t understand at first, but as I got older, I did. My mother was a drug addict, and this was her way to make money to buy cocaine and crystal meth. She did the best she could, but she chose the wrong path.
We didn’t have many opportunities in our early life. There was never enough money for food. My brothers and I would stand in front of the liquor store and beg for money so we could buy candy and junk food. It was either buy it or steal it.
When I was eleven, my brother Dereck and I were called into the principal’s office at school. There was a lady dressed in a suit and Dereck was sitting next to her crying. She was smiling, and it was weird, because I thought she was smiling to distract me from my brother’s crying.
She told me my mother was going away for a while and that we were to be taken away from her. It was for our own good, she said. I started crying, too.
The lady drove us back to the trailer to get our things. When we got there, I saw my mother in handcuffs and a police officer holding my baby brother. The last I remember of my mother that day was her looking at me from the back of the police car. At that moment I knew I was the man of the house, and it was my duty to make sure my brothers were okay.
For nearly two years, we lived in foster care. Our foster mother took us to weekly visits with our mother. Sometimes mom showed up, but a lot of times she didn’t. I could always tell when she’d been using because of the way she acted. I knew my mom wasn’t going to be able to get us back, especially after we were taken to a big picnic with other kids and a lot of people who wanted to adopt came to check us out. But no one wanted us, and I was always worried we would never have a permanent home.
One morning, our foster mother got a call and she seemed super excited. I was 12 years old at the time, and my brothers were 9 and 5. She said, “Michael, there is good news. The social worker is coming to talk to you.” She was happy, because she knew a couple wanted to adopt us. But I saw she was sad, too, because she had been our mother for two years, and she did a lot for us.
When the social worker came, she told me there was a couple that wanted to adopt my brothers and me. She wanted me to know this couple was different, because they were two men, and she wanted to see what I thought about that. She waited for some reaction, but I didn’t care. I just wanted to live somewhere I could call home, somewhere where I could finally relax and know my brothers and I were going to be taken care of.
When it was time to meet our potential parents, I was really excited. Their names were John Sonego and Michael Arden. I remember being a little intimidated by them because of how muscular they were. They both came up to us and said hello with big smiles on their faces, and after seeing their smiles I didn’t feel intimidated any more.
They brought a photo album with them. I guess it was a way of showing what our future life would be. They showed us pictures of their four dogs. Right away I knew that’s where I wanted to be, because I love dogs.
They showed us pictures of our new cousins and grandparents and aunts and uncles. This was another reason why I knew I wanted to go with them, because I never really had a big family.
This was their way of inviting us into their lives. They are good-hearted people and work hard to give us many opportunities. I am very grateful I have them as parents. They pay attention to everything. They guide us through problems with girls and school, and especially with some of the painful things we remember from our early life.
Everyday I want to thank them for giving us a new life and experiences. I love them a lot.
Michael’s father John Sonego is a board member of RaiseAChild.US, a national organization headquartered in Hollywood, California that encourages the LGBT community to build families through fostering and adopting to serve the needs of the 400,000 children in the U.S. foster care system. RaiseAChild.US works with foster and adoption agencies that have received training in LGBT cultural competence through the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s “All Children-All Families” initiative. Since 2011, RaiseAChild.US has produced media campaigns and events to educate prospective parents and the public about the benefits of fostering and adopting. Its free Parent Advocate program has offered personalized guidance to more than 2,000 prospective parents. Learn how you can become a foster or fost/adopt parent, visit www.RaiseAChild.US and click on “Next Step to Parenthood.”