John R. Bowker is passionate about helping children. He has worked in many areas to improve the lives of children, including helping found Wayne County Community College and having 2007 proclaimed the “Year of the Child” in Michigan. His commitment to helping kids goes beyond just that, though; John has talked the talk and walked the walk.
If anyone asks John if he has any kids of his own, they will get this answer about “the list” of his kids: “Yes, I have one of each: fostered, biological and adopted.”
John and his wife, Diana, a junior high English teacher, started their list back in 1972. Living in Royal Oak at the time, John said he and his wife saw an advertisement in their church newspaper by Catholic Social Services for adolescent foster care. John said despite the concerns at the time of fostering a teenage child, they felt qualified to take care of a foster son.
“Well, we can raise a teenager first, and then we’ll know what to expect,” John said to his wife.
Patrick, their foster son, joined the family at age 15. Not long after, Diana gave birth to their biological son, Marc, in 1973. John said Patrick was old enough and was itching to go out on his own, so Patrick decided to move out to begin his career. John said although they offered to adopt him outright, Patrick wanted to keep his biological father’s last name. Patrick and his biological father have a lot in common, including their love of cooking, John said. Patrick is currently an executive chef for the Oakwood Healthcare System in the Detroit area.
“He wanted to keep his birth name, but for all practical purposes he was blood,” John said.
After Marc was born, John and Diana kept trying to have more children, but they could not get pregnant. John discovered later that a prescription drug he had been taking had affected their ability to conceive. At the time, they thought Marc should have a brother, so they decided to adopt an infant. John said that through their earlier foster experience, they were able to quickly move through the adoption approval process. They had a family-wide conference and decided they should move forward.
“It should be a family discussion and a family decision,” John said.
In 1978, they adopted son Paul when he was six-weeks-old. John said Paul knew he was adopted from an early age. There were seldom any problems with the adoption, John said, and Marc and Paul got along great growing up. Despite their previous experience gained from raising a teenager, John joked that Paul, a former Marine, was still definitely a unique child.
“God sent him to us to keep us either young for a really, really long time or put us in our graves early,” John said.
There is much advice John could give from experience to people considering foster care and adoption. John said that everyone in the family needs to be involved in the decision and take “ownership” of it, including the potential grandparents. He also said it was very important to have the medical history for the child’s biological family.
“Having a medical history for the child as well as the biological parents is extremely important,” John said. “I can’t stress that enough.”
John, a licensed mental health professional, also stressed that prospective parents should insist on having a mental and physical health screening and that the system needs to be improved in that area.
“You can hold off a lot of problems that could happen later by having these screenings,” he said.
John’s list of kids has grown since. All three of his sons are married, and John has seven grandchildren and another on the way.
Though his kids may have all grown up, John still stays very active in the community. John is on the board of directors for the Oakland County Community Mental Health Authority and is a member of Children’s Issues Committee for the Michigan Association of Community Mental Health Boards. John said he might get even busier with more kids to help soon enough.
“But no great-grandchildren yet,” he said.
When there are, it will be yet another category of kids John can add to his list.
For more information about adoption, click here.