Barry Farmer didn't have the easiest childhood, but it was an experience that made him who he is today – a dad to three boys. When Farmer was just a toddler, he and his three sisters went into "kinship care," a form of foster care where relatives or friends take care of someone's children.
"I was going from home to home, living with friends of my parents. And that wasn't stable," Farmer told CBS News. He then lived with his aunt, followed by a foster home. When Farmer was four years old, something happened that would change his life forever: He moved in with his grandmother.
It was initially a tough transition for Farmer and his "empty nester" grandmother. "It was difficult to leave my sister and aunt, who I knew for some time, to my grandmother's, who I just met," he said. At his grandmother's house he had neighborhood friends, a good school and a sense of community. That stability turned out to be incredibly beneficial to Farmer.
"Me losing my parents, I gained a whole village of support. My grandmother doing that inspired me to become a foster parent, too," Farmer said.
When he was just 20 years old, he saw an ad about how to become a foster parent. "A year after getting licensed, I got my first case," he said.
Farmer said social workers were reluctant to assign him cases since he was so young, but he finally got his first child. A boy around the age of 16 moved into his Richmond, Virginia, home. "He was more like a little brother, more than a foster son," Farmer said. Still, he let the boy call him dad because "he needed that father-son type of thing."
About a month after that child moved out, Farmer received another case. "I didn't know he was supposed to be white, no one at the agency did. I was very surprised he was white, I had never worked with white children," Farmer said. It was hard for him to wrap his head around it, because he realized there would be cultural differences between himself and his new "son."
"Culturally, it's different than what I'm used to," he said. "I didn't want to turn him down." Farmer decided to take in 8-year-old Jaxon. "He was supposed to be going home, he was supposed to be temporary," Farmer said.
However, when Jaxon moved out, he was placed with a family who was supposed to adopt him and he didn't like it.
"He missed me and I miss him because I wasn't really prepared for him to go," Farmer said. "That's when we made a decision I would keep him."
Farmer was just 22 years old at the time, and thought the social workers would have a problem with the adoption, but they didn't. Jaxon seemingly had everything he needed living in Farmer's loving home. But he still wanted one more thing.
"He asked me, 'Am I going to get a brother?' I was like, 'Okay, let me think about that,'" Farmer said. He had no intention of adopting a child — let alone two — but someone showed him a website of foster kids who need adoption and what type of family they're looking for.
Which is when he found Xavier, who was 8 years old when he moved in with Farmer and Jaxon. A few years later, when Xavier was 11, Farmer officially adopted him.
Farmer took in another foster child, Jeremiah, giving his other sons a new little brother. "They welcomed him with open arms, as did I, so we adopted him as well," Farmer said. "It's not like I planned it." Farmer officially adopted Jeremiah when he was five.
"Foster care itself is so unpredictable, you don't know what to expect once you signed up," Farmer said. "This is not what I signed up for but I embraced it." He hopes other parents considering fostering and adopting know it is difficult.
"There's no easy way to foster... it's an emotional journey. Adoption is emotional. And you have to have to put your own personal feelings aside to make sure you're doing what's best for the children," Farmer said.
Farmer, now 32, admitted there was an added difficulty for him as a black man to adopt three white children. "If you're in an interracial adoption, you must give them racial mirrors all the time, someone to relate to them," Farmer said. To do so, he sends his sons to a diverse school and keeps them involved in activities that promote diversity.
"We live in a diverse area, just a melting pot. So, they can decide who they're going to hang out with," he said.
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