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Adopting -- and adapting 

The Rev. Steve Schulte always wanted children.

“Always, always,

always,” said the pastor of St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in Thunderbolt.

But at age 22, when he realized he was gay, he put the dream aside.

It resurfaced six years ago. That’s when Schulte started volunteering through the church at juvenile court. When that committee dissolved, Schulte was asked to join the citizen’s panel review, a similar group at juvenile court.

By that time, Schulte, more settled in Savannah, comfortable with his church and more aware of the number of troubled youth in the area, started taking the Model Approach to Parenting (MAP) through the Department of Family and Children Services (DFACS).

For three months, he and others met once a week for three hours. MAP is a prerequisite to adopting a child.

Schulte passed the course. So did his comfortable home in Thunderbolt.

But when he told the woman from DFACS he was gay, she picked up her purse and ended the interview, saying something like, “It wouldn’t be appropriate for a child to be with a single man.”

Schulte, who has headed the church for 10 years, went back to birthing, baptizing and marrying his parishioners. And he continued serving on the citizen’s panel review.

Two years later, the woman who denied his application appeared on a case before the panel.

“After the meeting I approached her,” said Schulte, “and told her who I was. Then I asked, ‘If I’m good enough to serve on this panel to recommend to a judge if so-and-so should be able to keep a child, then why wouldn’t I be good enough to be a parent?’”

The question went unanswered.

Then Schulte turned to the Lutheran Church of Georgia, who sent a representative from Atlanta with two bulging photo albums of children needing homes. Once again, when Schulte said he was gay, the man picked up his albums, stood up and said, “I can’t help you.”

The third time was a charm. Last February, Schulte turned to the Lutheran Ministries of Georgia, located in Savannah.

“But this time I said, ‘Look, I’m a Lutheran pastor. I’m openly gay. This is my story. Are you willing to work with me?”

This time the answer was yes. Two weeks later the agency called and said they thought they had a match.

The following Saturday Schulte and Andrew, an energetic 11-year-old, redhead, spent their first weekend together. By the end, Andrew was calling Schulte, “Dad.” Schulte was pleased - until he started reading the young man’s files.

“Something wasn’t computing,” Schulte said. “The medicines, the diagnoses and the boy in front of me. They did not match up. They said he had trouble getting along with others in school, that he would yell, scream, curse, act up. That he was schizophrenic and bipolar. It seemed as if we were talking about two different people. By Sunday I was very upset and nervous.”

Why is he getting these labels? he asked. Why is he acting up?

“They tell you things in small bits,” he said. “That’s when I learned that at 8 years and 5 days, Andrew’s biological parents dropped him off at DFACS.

“His parents said they couldn’t handle him. They were divorced. Between then and now, he had been to 15 foster homes. When I met him he couldn’t hold a spoon properly, drink milk without slurping, look someone in the eye or shake a hand. He didn’t know ‘thank you’ or ‘please’ or ‘yes, sir.’ He did not brush his teeth.”

The second time Andrew came to visit, things were not so smooth. They had gone shopping. Andrew wanted a hot wheel car. Shulte said no.

When Andrew pitched a fit, Schulte said, “If you don’t stop we will leave without anything. Which is what happened. We left the cart and got into the car.

“Later I asked him, ‘Why do you act up?’ He said, ‘Because eventually everyone gives in.’ That’s when I said, ‘Well, you’ve met your match.’”

The next weekend, the pair went to Hilton Head, where Schulte was performing a beach wedding. When Andrew saw some other kids in the water, he ignored Schulte’s warnings and went in.

“So I bribed him. I said if you come out I’ll buy you a Game Boy Advance. So he did. But when we got home we sat in the driveway and I said, ‘I promised to buy you the Game but not the software.’ I would do that, I said, if he promised not to take it to school, but that if he did I would take it away and never give it back.”

He promised. Schulte bought the software. Andrew played with it for hours on Sunday. The next day, before school, Schulte said, “I’m going to check your backpack. I asked, ‘Is it there?’ He said no. When I found it I took it. He yelled, screamed, cried, turned over a couch and called me every name he could.

“That’s when I said, ‘Look, you can push me to the limit or take my word. One day I may decide to adopt you and if I do I want you to be able to believe and trust me.’ And that was it. He settled down like a light switch.”

Last November, Schulte transferred him from Coastal Middle School to Royce Learning Center, which has been a great fit, Schulte said.

“He’s bright. He remembers everything he reads. But there are gaps.

When his teacher gave him a thank you note, written in cursive, and I asked him to read it, I learned he couldn’t read or write cursive.

“He also -- and this is part of the Asperger’s -- doesn’t have any facial expressions. So last summer I bought a chart with all kinds of smiles. We’re working on that,” Schulte said.

“This is definitely the most challenging thing I’ve ever done. More than becoming a pastor.”

Since then, Andrew has joined the G-Cat swim team, where he swims four times a week, and taken several trips to visit Schulte’s family in Ohio.

The final adoption process was a breeze. But not before Schulte raised two issues. First, his name.

“I asked him if he wanted to change it and he said yes. That night I was talking to my grandmother and I learned my great-grandfather’s name was Andrew.”

Then there was the gay thing.

“The second time we met I told him I was gay,” Schulte said. “I said, ‘You may have two dads but you’ll never have a dad and a mom. He said that was OK. ‘And kids may make fun of you.’ He said they make fun of him now.”

Then Schulte recalled an incident from school.

“Andrew had overheard someone say two girls were gay, that he couldn’t help but break in and say, ‘No, they’re not. They’re lesbians. Guys are gay. I know because my dad’s gay.’

“That’s pretty cool, don’t you think?”

 

Jane Fishman can be reached at gofish5@earthlink.net. To comment in a letter to the editor, e-mail us at



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