Jonathan McKee offers parents practical advice and encouragement in a discussion based on his book If I Had a Parenting Do Over: 7 Vital Changes I’d Make.
Mr. Paul Batura: I wanted to try and impress upon them the fact that being adopted does not put you at a deficit. In fact, it could actually be a great advantage for a lot of different reasons.
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John Fuller: Paul Batura joins us today on “Focus on the Family” And your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly. Thanks for joining us. I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, we’re gonna be inspired today. I have no doubt about it, because our guest, Paul Batura has written an incredible book and it shows the amazing impact that adoption has had on the world. And we’ll be talking about some famous adopted men and women who didn’t succeed in spite of being adopted, but they rose to their level of accomplishment in no small part because of their adoption and relationship with their new parents.
And you know what? God plans our days and knows our future when He formed us in the womb. Probably from the beginning of time, He knew you. He knew when you were gonna live and He knew everything about you.
In fact, in Psalms it says right in 139:16, “Your eyes saw my unformed substance and in Your book were written every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet, there was none of them.” I mean, it’s just that wonderful reminder that God knows us and He cares about us, being made in His image and I am looking forward to this.
John: Well, Paul is the vice president of communications here at Focus and he’s authored several books. His latest, Chosen for Greatness. And he and his wife, Julie live in Colorado Springs. They have three boys.
Jim: Hey, Paul, welcome to the microphones. You had to walk all the distance from your desk. (Laughter)
Paul: Thank you Jim and John. (Laughter) It’s an honor to be with you today. Thank you.
Jim: You have done a fabulous job in this book, Why is adoption so close to your heart and why do you think people in reading these stories will benefit?
Paul: Well, you’re right. It’s a very personal topic. My wife, Julie and I have had the privilege of adopting three boys, Riley, Will and Alex, as John just mentioned. And they all have very unique stories.
We were faced with the very real prospect early in our marriage that we weren’t gonna be able to have children–years and years of infertility, multiple miscarriages and frankly, I was intimidated by the whole idea of adoption. And when we were introduced to our first son’s birth mother, I think that hesitation began to melt away, but it became very, very real.
We had an opportunity to meet with her just across the street in a restaurant and it was a very surreal experience to be sitting at a table across from a woman who’s carrying potentially your future son. I’ve never had that moment and we’ve maintained a wonderful relationship with her now 11 years later.
Jim: When you look at that, you had to have and speak to this, because some listening are going through this maybe right now or they’ve gone through it or they are around the corner from going through it, there had to be some apprehension. You know, adoptive parents can say, will I be able to love this child like my own? I think particularly for guys, I don’t know that it’s a gender thing; talk about that process in terms of how you bonded. And you did a ceremony I think that helped that bonding.
Paul: We did and I would strongly encourage it. It’s called an “Entrustment Ceremony.” People can call it whatever you want, but it was in Edmond, Oklahoma. Riley was born there. His birth mom, Julianna had gone to live with her sister. And the laws of adoption are and it’s different in every state. But a lot of states don’t allow you to relinquish a child in a hospital. And so, believe it or not, a lot of children who were adopted at birth are transferred in the parking lot of a hospital.
Jim: Yeah, kinda like a back alley thing.
Paul: Yeah and can you imagine that moment and of course, the adoptive parents are thrilled probably, but what does that do to the birth mother? So, here we made the decision collectively to do it in a church. So, Julianna came straight from the hospital–
Jim: That’s the birth mom.
Paul: –the birth mom. We went to the church and it was just Julie and I on side of the family and she has a very supportive large extended family. And there we were surrounded by all of these individuals. And it was probably without an overstatement, the most poignant, but also the most painful experience I’ve ever lived through.
I mean, I’ve lived through deaths of people I’ve loved and there was Julianna, holding Riley and then handing him over to us. Her tears were falling on his head and that is where it really struck me that this is what we’re being entrusted with. And she said things. We said things and that’s never left me or Julie.
Jim: That had to be quite an amazing moment emotionally and you stayed in a relationship with the birth mom. She’s not excluded from contacting you and Riley and staying involved in him.
Jim: That’s, I think, a beautiful thing.
Paul: It is a wonderful thing and it’s something that I discovered in the midst of writing this. It was confirmed in the writing of this book, is that I think in every single individual who’s adopted, there is a curiosity.
Paul: No matter how good you might have an experience with your adoptive family, there’s gonna be that wonderment. What are my birth parents like? And what would my life have been like had I stayed with them? What about siblings and extended family? And this gives an opportunity to maintain that.
Now it’s not available in every situation. I mean, two of our three have this open relationship, but our middle guy doesn’t, which lends itself to another challenge, because there’s gonna be a time when he wonders, well, why do you have a relationship with his birth parents, but not mine?
Paul: So, that’s something we have to navigate, but I don’t think it negates the the value of it when it’s available.
Jim: Well and those are all the challenges in the moment that you have to navigate as the adoptive parents, the birth parent. It’s just wonderful that she gave life to that child. Let’s thank her for that and that you and your wife, Julie were prepared to take these little ones in and raise them as your own. I think that’s beautiful.
Now in the book you’ve compiled stories of people who have ascended in their careers or on the world stage in some way. What drew you to these people? And rattle off some of the names. We’ll get to the first one here in a minute, Steve Jobs. But just give us some of the flavor of the other names that you’ve covered in your book.
Paul: Oh, sure and they’re all individuals, people would be familiar with. So, Nancy Reagan, Nelson Mandela, President Gerald Ford, Johann Sebastian Bach, Leo Tolstoy–
Jim: Babe Ruth!
Paul: –Babe Ruth, right. And what really was intriguing to me was that when our now Riley and now Will are beginning to mature and are understanding more and more about what it is that they’re a part of, I wanted to try and impress upon them the fact that being adopted does not put you at a deficit. In fact, it could actually be a great advantage for a lot of different reasons. But looking to give them examples of real people who have been in similar situations.
And when I went to look up their stories, what I discovered was that most of those stories are about their accomplishments. Very little is about their adoption. Now I can understand why if it’s in many cases, many people would consider it a footnote. But I think what I tried to tell in this book is that, no, no, the adoption is actually the turning point for those individuals, because they wouldn’t have been able to accomplish what they did, had they not been placed in the situation that they were
Jim: Yeah and you covered 16 individuals in the book, so we’re only gonna have a handful covered today, but that’s a good reason to get the book. And I want to make sure, John, we make sure people have those details at the end of the program here.
We interviewed in the theme that you’re talking about, we interviewed a while back, Malcolm Gladwell and his book, David and Goliath. And you remember that, John and many of our listeners remember it, too. He talked about how hardship is important to building character, to positioning yourself to have empathy and better understand your surroundings.
I think what you’re driving at, connecting with Malcolm’s observations in his book, David and Goliath, is that adversity like being an orphan, can provide you with certain skills that you learn that help you achieve more than what you would’ve achieved without that setback. Is that fair?
Paul: I think that’s absolutely correct and that is a common theme in most of these adoptees’ lives. There’s something [that] happened, sometimes before they were born, often in the midst of their adoption.
I’m thinking, the name that immediately comes to mind is Dave Thomas. Dave Thomas, everyone maybe not, doesn’t know that name, but everyone knows Wendy’s hamburgers.
Jim: That’s huge.
Paul: And Dave’s adoption story is a little unique in that it’s not the Hallmark Hall of Fame story. His birth mother relinquished him at birth. He was adopted by a very happy couple. Unfortunately, his adoptive mother died and he wound up being raised primarily by his single father, who was his adopted father.
His father was not a talkative guy, wasn’t a very warm-hearted fella. And they didn’t really get along all that well, but because they single and alone, they went out to restaurants all the time.
Jim: Oh, my goodness.
Paul: And Dave says, sitting in those restaurants, his father wouldn’t really talk with him. And so, there was this sort of coldness, but Dave had to have something to do, so he studied the restaurants. He watched the manager. He watched the enjoyment that other families were having—
Jim: As a boy.
Paul: –as a boy and he said it impressed upon him how fun it would be. He says, I could run a restaurant, have all the food I want and make other people happy. And it was that adversity really, that he turned into something very, very good.
Jim: It’s a catalyst.
Paul: Yeah, he met Harlan Sanders, which is kind of a fascinating connection. He owned a few Kentucky Fried Chickens and then sold them and then got his money and opened Wendy’s.
Jim: (Chuckling) That’s amazing. Let’s talk about Steve Jobs, probably one of the most famous, the founder of Apple Computers. What was his story?
Paul: Steve’s is really fascinating. There’s so many twists and turns in this one. He was born to a woman named Joanna Shively and she had specifically requested that the birth, the adoptive family be college educated and that was very, very important to her.
Paul: Well, when they picked out a couple and everything was a go, but when Steve was born, this couple found out he was a boy and wanted a girl. And so, they turned down the placement. So, they had to quickly find another couple, which they did, Paul and Clara Jobs, but unfortunately, they weren’t college educated. And so, there was a bit of a tussle there and Joanna was not very pleased with that arrangement, but ultimately relented.
Jim: She didn’t have many options, right?
Paul: I think so. I think she was just assured. The parents assured her, we’ll send him to college when the time comes. But what’s so fascinating about Steve’s is that, you know, had he been adopted by a couple in Texas, no, he was adopted by a couple who lived in Silicon Valley.
Jim: Right there in the heartland of [technology].
Paul: Right in the heart of technology. It was, of course, growing at the time. Steve’s father was a mechanic, but he was kind of a journeyman. He did a lot of different jobs. He wound up finding a position with a laser company, all around the neighborhood where people who worked for Hewlett Packard. And Steve was immersed in this community of people who were, you know, in essence, investing in him.
And that’s really what planted the seed. He said his father was so careful about design, even on things that you can’t see. And I’m not a student of Apple computers, but they say that if you open up an Apple computer—John, you are [an Apple user)—that, you know, there’s great care given to components inside the Apple computer that no one ever sees.
Jim: Right, the aesthetics of it all.
Paul: Correct and that was in essence, a seed planted by his father.
Jim: His adoptive father.
Paul: His adoptive father. So he, of course, is raised in this environment and goes on to accomplish what everyone knows him for, but had he not been in that neighborhood and in that environment with those doors that were opened by his adoptive family, [who knows what would’ve happened].
Jim: Now in your book, you’re really covering these people that are notable people that achieved quite a bit and as you said, really in some ways because of their adoptions, etc., but spiritually, these people are all over the map. This isn’t a book of Christian people. These are human beings that suffered early in their childhood and how they overcame it and how they overcame it with incredible results. Another one of these people was Nancy Reagan. I didn’t know she was adopted.
Paul: Yeah, Nancy’s story is one that I think would surprise a lot of people. Everyone knows the name Nancy Reagan. Most people don’t know the name Anne Robbins. Well, that was Nancy Reagan when she was born. She was born to a couple in Queens, New York who had a very dysfunctional family life. They were divorced shortly after she was born. Her mom was a struggling actress. Someone said that she could never shake the stardust from her shoes and so, she was just constantly trying to get roles in plays in New York and along the East Coast.
She sent Nancy, that was her nickname, to go live with an aunt in Bethesda, Maryland. Well, in time, her mom remarried, wound up marrying a neurosurgeon in Chicago by the name of Loyal Davis and Nancy rejoined them when she was 8-years-old. She still had a biological father, so they didn’t officially adopt her until Nancy requested that her biological father relinquish parental rights, which he agreed to. And she was so excited because she could finally take his name and she didn’t feel like an outcast anymore, that she was the third wheel in their marriage.
John: How old was she then, Paul?
Paul: She was 13 and what’s so fascinating about her story is that when she took that new name, when she went by Nancy Davis, she wound up in essence, setting in motion, I think, a very significant thing. She moved to California. She became an actress, but the problem was, there was another Nancy Davis in California by that same name.
Jim: Who was an actress.
Paul: She was an actress and this other Nancy Davis was on the Communist sympathizer list. So, Nancy was havin’ a hard time finding work. And so, they said, “Well, you know what you need to do. You need to go see the president of the Screen Actors’ Guild. He’ll help straighten this out.
Well, I think most of us know who that person was. That was Ronald Reagan. She meets Ronald Reagan and of course, most people say that had there not been a Nancy Davis in Ronald Reagan’s life, Ronald Reagan would never have become governor of California or President of the United States.
Jim: That’s an incredible story and the influence of Nancy Reagan. You’re listening to “Focus on the Family.” Today our guest is our own staff member, Paul Batura and he’s written a book, Chosen for Greatness and it covers 16 fascinating stories of people that have been adopted and what they went on to accomplish, in part because of that hardship and how they overcame that environment.
Another famous person, a believer in this case, was George Washington Carver. Now if you paid attention in your history class in high school, you would know that name. Many people won’t know that name. He was probably one of the most famous African-American leaders who was born in the 1860’s, lived up until 1943 and was a[n] expert in agriculture. Tell us about George Washington Carver, his contributions and his hardship.
Paul: There’s a lot of mystery and even speculation surrounding the story of George Washington Carver, Jim and it stems from the fact that George was born to a slave woman in Diamond Grove, Missouri and she was owned, unfortunately by Moses and Susan Carver.
While she was doing normal household chores and helping around the family farm when bushwhackers descended upon the family’s home.
Jim: And what was a bushwhacker during that time?
Paul: Bushwhacker[s] were sort of guerilla warfare, soldiers who were around at the time of the Civil War. They would often disrupt life for ordinary people in the Union states. And they took George and his mother and his sister and they planned on selling them. Well, the Carvers went to try and find the family.
Paul: Wound up only finding George. Nothing was ever heard from his mother or his sister again. There’s speculation historians might say that she saw this as her opportunity for freedom and she took off and she was never heard from again. I don’t think so just based on other reading I’ve done that, you know, if you lost your children, I think you’d want to try and reach them.
Jim: But the Carvers were able to, you know, get George Washington back and he was only 6-, 7-weeks-old.
Paul: He was only 6- or 7-weeks-old.
Paul: He was actually a very frail child and Susan Carver had a big heart and wound up bringing him into their home and adopting him as one of their own.
Jim: Think of that. That’s big at that time.
Paul: What’s amazing is, even the naming. You know, we talk about the value of a person’s name and before he had been kidnapped his name was Carver’s George because that’s how slaves would often be referred to by their owner’s name.
Jim: Carver’s George, right.
Paul: And so, when he was reclaimed—
Jim: He became George Carver.
Paul: –[he became] George Carver.
Jim: That’s amazing.
Paul: And he was given all of the benefit[s] and all of the privileges of a normal child in their home, including living in their house, eating with the family. They were very, very much concerned about his education.
Jim: They hired a tutor, right?
Paul: They did; he was homeschooled because there were, you know, again, this is in the 1860’s and African-Americans were not permitted in most schools. There were separate schools and there wasn’t any there for an African-American close enough. And so, they hired tutors and instilled in him this love of learning, really what kind of set him onto to the trajectory that he enjoyed.
Jim: Right and he went to college, as well and specialized in agriculture, right?
Paul: He did, yeah. Most of us remember that from our history class. We know that George is responsible for finding over 200 uses of the peanut–
Jim: That’s amazing.
Paul: –and 100 uses of the sweet potato. Really remarkable, but what’s even more remarkable than his scientific discovery is just the type of guy that he was. He wanted to instill in others all the knowledge that he himself had been able to accumulate.
And I think it’s such an inspiring story. He had so many inventions that he never bothered to find a patent for. Wealth was not important to him. Money was not an issue to him and so, he wound up in essence, just teaching for 47 years. He became familiar and friends with Booker T. Washington at Tuskegee Institute and they forged a great friendship and that’s really probably his greatest legacy.
Jim: Yeah, amazing, brilliant man and again, overcoming an incredibly difficult childhood with the loss of his family.
Paul: And you referenced his faith earlier. He was a strong believer. He came to know the Lord when he was 10-years-old and because of his frailty, he didn’t have all of the jobs that a normal child of his age would have. And so, he had some free time on his hands and he would walk the forest. And he would really ponder at the glory of God’s creation.
There’s a great quote. He says that, “God is going to reveal scientific things to us He never revealed before if we put our hands in His.” And that was sort of how he pursued his science, was he saw science not as something incompatible with faith, but actually it complemented what he believed and what the Bible taught.
Jim: Ah, another shocker for me was in your book, one of the 16, Faith Hill. She’s a little younger than I am, a lot younger than you, John. (Laughter) No, but I didn’t realize again, she’s a person who was an orphan and was adopted.
Paul: Faith Hill’s, of course, a far more contemporary example and most of us know who she is, of course, a country music star. She was born Audrey Perry. Here’s an interesting little tidbit. Her parents had two biological children, two sons and had tried for more, but were unsuccessful.
And her dad thought, you know, two rambunctious boys is enough. I think we’re fine. And her mom, Edna said, “I feel the Holy Spirit leading us.” And so, they in faith, went to a doctor. Now if you’re out there hoping to adopt, you can try this. My wife and I tried this. It didn’t work, but it’s something that they did. They went to a doctor and they said, “If you ever come across a woman who is pregnant and looking to make a placement for adoption, can you let us know?”
Well, nowadays it would almost seem impossible, but shortly after they had that conversation, a woman walked into the doctor’s office and the rest is history. They wound up adopting her and it’s really a wonderful, wonderful adoption story.
Jim: Oh, yeah. Think if 35 million Christian households did that, we would not have an orphan issue, would we?
Paul: That’s true. That’s true (Laughter). What’s great about Faith Hill’s story is really her parents identified her gifts. They watched what she loved. and so, for example, she would be walking around the house with a hairbrush and an upside-down hymnal singing. Well, she couldn’t really read, but she was tryin’ to mimic what she saw at church.
Paul: And when she was 7-years-old said, “I want to go to an Elvis Presley concert.” (Laughter) Made her parents very nervous because of Elvis at the time–1975 was I guess probably kinda fading.
Jim: At the end of his career.
Paul: But they wound up agreeing to take her and she said it was that night at the Mississippi Coliseum, she said where a spark went off in my life, in my mind that I realized this is what I want to do.
Paul: And had her parents not cooperated or kind of fanned that flame, who knows what would’ve happened? She eventually pursued her music career in Nashville. I love this part of the story, because she had always dreamed of being a singer. She goes to Nashville. She falls on hard times. She winds up calling home lamenting the fact that, “I don’t think I can do this.” And her mom said to her, “Did you want to be anything else but a singer?” And she said, “No.” She said, “Well, hang up the phone and get to work.” And from there, her career turned because her mom, one, believed in her, but also challenged her.
Jim: Wow, yeah, I mean, arguably one of the most famous female country music stars that we’ve seen. You know, Paul, today’s program has flown by.
John: It’s a good sign, isn’t it?
Jim: We always say, John, when that happens, we know we’ve covered some good, good ground and again, we’ve only scratched the surface of the people that you’ve highlighted in the book, other names, Babe Ruth, like you mentioned and really a surprising list of people who lost their parents in one form or another at a[n] early age and ended up being adopted.
It is a wonderful read, just about the great gifts that God gives us, even if we don’t give Him credit in that regard, ’cause not everyone in your book is a believer, a Christian. And yet, powerful human stories about how God wires us to overcome adversity.
And if you’ve been listening along and believe in adoption, you know what? Here at Focus on the Family, we believe in it, too, so much so that we have a program called Wait No More. And we are attempting to get children from foster care where parental rights have been—there’s about 100,000 children in that spot—and we would love for you to pray about how to be involved. Maybe you’re not in the position where you can adopt a foster child, but you can do respite care, which is to help another foster family get a break and take the kids for a weekend and that’s a state by state thing in terms of what’s required.
Do the laundry for that adoptive family, whatever it might be. But you can call us here at Focus on the Family to find out how to connect and how to be a part of the solution and hopefully, begin to sow seeds into the lives of these children that are the future Faith Hills, Steve Jobs, Nelson Mandela’s, Babe Ruth’s and who knows? They’re gonna look back and say, that was when my life changed. Paul, this has been terrific and I love your book, Chosen for Greatness.
John: Yeah, I appreciate the subtitle, Jim, so much, How Adoption Changes the World and I’ll just say, as an adoptive dad, there are moments along the journey where we can kinda get discouraged. Maybe there are behavioral issues or challenges that our kids come with through that adoption process, but you’ve really given us some great hope personally in the book that, you know, we don’t see it right now, but maybe down the road there’s gonna be somethin’ really great that God does. So, thank you for that.
Jim: Yeah and Paul, as we end here, you and Julie adopted. What’s a little bit of advice you might give for the couple who’s thinking about it and yet, they may be a little afraid and unsure? What would you say?
Paul: Oh, boy, if you’re fearful, I would say, keep walking. Keep listening. Keep talking with people. Wear your heart a little bit on your sleeve. Let people know what the Lord might be telling you. That’s the only reason we have two of the three of our children is because friends came around us and introduced us to people who were looking to find homes for these two little guys. And it is a long journey. It’s a very, very challenging one. John, you referenced it in the midst of even parenting, but the adoption process can be very trying. It can also be very discouraging, but if you believe in the sovereignty of God, all is well.
Jim: All is well. Great to have you with us, Paul.
Paul: Great to be here; thank you.
John: Well, be sure to call us if you’d like to learn more about Paul’s book, Chosen for Greatness, to find out more about our Wait No More Program and to donate generous to the work here. As Jim said, the number is 800-232-6459 or stop by www.focusonthefamily.com/radio. And today, make a generous donation of any amount, and we’ll send a complimentary copy of Paul’s book as our way of saying thank you for your financial partnership and for supporting the work that we’re doing here at Focus on the Family.
Thanks for listening to the program today. On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, join us next time, as Robert Hendershot shares a remarkable story of raising a son with Down Syndrome.
Robert Hendershot: Raising a child with a disability is one of those things I wouldn’t wish on anybody, but I wouldn’t trade the experiences for anything or anyone in the world.
End of Excerpt
John: That’s next time on “Focus on the Family,” as we help you and your family thrive.
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