One Virginia man who grew up in the foster care system is now living his dream of being a dad after adopting three boys — and he’s raising them all as a single parent.
Barry Farmer was inspired to become a foster parent after growing up in Kinship Care, a form of foster care that allows family members to raise a child when their parents are unable to care for them. While living with his grandmother as his legal guardian, Farmer says he learned how to be responsible for himself, and as she got older, he learned how to care for her when she needed help.
When he received his foster care license as a 21-year-old, Farmer took in 8-year-old Jaxon with the plan of taking care of him until he could be reunited with his family. The two bonded during their time together, and when Jaxon had was given the opportunity to live with potential adoptive parents, he turned to Farmer to ask if he could be his “father forever.”
“Becoming a foster parent was like a tribute to my grandmother because I could never pay her back, but I was definitely able to pay it forward,” Farmer, 30, of Richmond, Virginia, tells PEOPLE. “It was touching that this child of a different race felt comfortable enough to call me Dad, he was a child searching for belonging in a not so typical situation.”
About two years after adopting now 15-year-old Jaxon in 2011, Farmer considered making the family a little larger so Jaxon could experience being a big brother to a sibling. So, in 2013, Farmer adopted then 11-year-old Xavier. Then, in just over a year, Farmer would add another son to the household after he took in 4-year-old Jeremiah, who was in respite foster care, which is a form of temporary care that is meant to give the original foster family some time off if they need it.
“Jeremiah’s plans to return home had changed during that time,” Farmer explains, “and that’s when my two older boys and I decided to welcome him into our home permanently.”
Jeremiah was officially adopted in 2016.
“Fatherhood has been everything I imagine it to be because I’m the father I wish I had growing up. I’m involved, I’m there when my boys go to sleep and when they wake up,” Farmer says. “I’m their biggest cheerleader when helping them achieve their goals. I try not to miss a beat in their lives. I take the responsibility of being their father very seriously and never for granted.”
Being a parent has taught Farmer that life can be unpredictable yet rewarding, he says, and he’s even surprised himself at his abilities to stay patient as the boys run around the self-described “frat house” making up intricate handshakes, playing video games and (trying) to eat junk food all day.
While the family might not share very many physical features, they all sport seriously awesome long hairstyles. Farmer started growing out his hair after he adopted Jaxon, and little Jeremiah decided to “go along for the ride.” Jaxon let his locks grow to his shoulders, and Xavier wanted was sold on the idea when he realized it meant fewer trips to the barber. What’s even more awesome? Jaxon and Xavier will be donating their hair to cancer when they’re ready.
“They are loving, strong-willed and, at times, extremely thoughtful,” Farmer says. “My sons have a lot of potential to make a positive impact on this world, I just hope they realize it and act on it.”
Farmer encourages other people who are thinking about fostering or adopting to give it a try, and to be open to adopting an older child or teenager, who are often overlooked.
“This is about the hundreds of thousands of children who need permanent homes and closure on their traumatic past and how we need hundreds of thousands of individuals to step forward and help them,” he says. “There is no need to be afraid of older children in America waiting for their forever homes. They need your understanding, your compassion and your guidance.”