By Tom Reardon, August 2020 issue.
For Father’s Day this year, Echo shared a brief discussion with Alan and Carlos McMillian about their experience with being both foster and adoptive fathers and what fatherhood means to them.
The McMillian’s story, which has now included their son, Julian, since 2018, is a story of hope and, in the words of Julian McMillian himself, a story of “just going with the train” (which is 12-year-old speak for being patient). It is this patience that helped build a family and we thought it was important to revisit the McMillian family and learn a bit more about how they went from being a family of two to being a family of three.
Having begun their journey to fatherhood in 2015, Alan and Carlos went into being foster parents with open minds and love in their hearts to share with children in need. With over 13,000 children in Arizona’s foster system, it is safe to say that men and women like the McMillians are not only needed, but vital to the well being of our state’s children. During their journey as foster dads, Alan and Carlos began volunteering at the Arizona Department of Child Safety’s (AZDCS) Children’s Heart Gallery events.
Carlos, who is a stylist, volunteered his time to help the children look their best for the photo opportunities the Children’s Heart Gallery creates so that AZDCS can share the story of their foster children on their website (childrensheartgallery.org), and also at the semi-regular events they typically host around the state.
For Alan, who is in information technology by day, he shared his talent for writing by helping the children create a bio to go along with their picture. During the in-person events, there are also guides who help lead the children through the process of being pampered, photographed, and meeting potential forever families.
In January of 2018, the McMillians were volunteering at a Children’s Heart Gallery event and Alan was asked to help guide a young boy and though he had never done so before, he was happy to do so.
“I was meeting with the kids as they were going through the process and writing up a little bio on them to include with their photos. The coordinator came up and said he had a young man who needed a guide and asked me if I could do that. I said, ‘Sure,’ and that’s when I met Julian,” says Alan with a huge smile on his face.
Julian remembers the process surrounding the day he first met Carlos, who he now calls “Dad” and Alan, who has the name “Papa,” but there wasn’t any sort of instant feeling of the three of them becoming a family.
“It is a long process. It starts, usually, with the kid. I went to the zoo and they took pictures and they put it on a website for kids. After that, I went to this photo shoot and they (his parents) were there. My papa was the guide, My dad was cutting hair. I guess they really liked me, so we became a family. I’ve been here now for two years,” says Julian who is about to start seventh grade.
Initially Alan was the one who the most excited. He went to Carlos and told him there was a kid he had to meet. The three of them spent some time together talking at a table over lunch. Carlos remembered there being an initial feeling of hope.
“There was some excitement. We were in the process for some time and we just weren’t really finding anyone who was a good fit for our family. Alan told me about this kid, and I went over there and we were chatting with him. It is the only time I have ever seen him so quiet. (Everyone laughs.) There was definitely excitement and interest and anticipation. There is so much red tape and so many people you have to get through,” says Carlos.
For prospective parents looking to adopt, the process can be long. For children who are adopted through the foster care system in Arizona, this can take a year or longer. For the McMillians, it began with them expressing interest in Julian to their caseworker and then there was radio silence for a bit.
“After we inquired about him, it took over two months. It seemed like it was going to go nowhere because we weren’t getting any responses,” remembers Alan.
Once the ball got rolling, though, the Mcmillians got to connect with Julian over an initial series of “meet and greets” as Carlos described it, which included day trips and meals together. Eventually the outings started being overnight. For Julian, the idea of the three of them becoming a family really started to take shape when he first visited the family’s home in the Norterra area of north Phoenix.
“When I first went to their house (I felt like I had a family). I was like, “Is this it? Am I going to have a family?” says Julian, who was 10 at the time when he first met his new parents.
Confidence in the process built quickly for Julian who would like other children to know it can work out for them.
“After six months, I was officially theirs. I would say (to other children), ‘Hold on. Just hold on.’ I feel like, just go with the train. I don’t really have anything to say because in the process, it’s still like you have a family,” says Julian.
For Alan and Carlos, though, it took a bit longer to feel confident that everything was going to come together.
“I think it was probably about halfway through the process, about three months after he moved here, that I started to feel confident (that the adoption was going to go through),” says Alan.
Once the decision was made to have Julian move in with the McMillians, there was a six-month waiting period before the adoption could become official. This is a typical length of time for adoptions that go through the Arizona foster system and the Mcmillians remember working with Julian’s support team throughout the process. Carlos offers his advice to prospective parents:
“Just be patient. When you feel like you are being patient and feeling like you have done everything you need to do, be even more patient. Everything takes time. That’s probably the biggest thing. Hanging in there was the best thing we could do. The train is taking us somewhere and it is a really good place. Life is fantastic,” says Carlos.
To say that this feeling is mutual is an understatement. Spending even a small amount of time with the McMillians on a zoom meeting showed that the three of them are truly a family, although Julian shared one of the most telling things about the nature of the foster care system when he stated:
“I wouldn’t have said ‘no,’ anyway. I wanted a family. I wanted to be out of the group home.”
He went on to say, though, what he would like everyone to know about his family:
“I think we have a perfect family for us. We’re just perfect for each other. We are a compatible family. I’m pretty easy to deal with. Gimme a game and a TV and that will keep me distracted for a long time. “