Friday, March 24, 2000

Decision to adopt grew into a rich family life

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Ken and Joyce Rhoads won't sugarcoat it, even 25 years later. They say raising their son was tough, especially in the beginning.

Everyone has a story worth telling. At least, that's the theory. To test it, Tempo is throwing darts at the phone book. When a dart hits a name, a reporter dials the phone number and asks if someone in the home will be interviewed. Stories appear on Fridays.
        “We wanted this child, but we had not had a lot of experience with children,” says Joyce, who grew up as an only child. So did her husband.

        They had been married for almost eight years when, in 1975, they decided to adopt.

        “All our friends had kids,” Joyce says, sitting in her wood-paneled kitchen in Springfield Township. “It looked like we weren't going to have any, and we just didn't want not to. So this is the route we took.”

        The waiting list for infants was long. So they decided to adopt an older child.

Tough adjustment
        Mark was 4 when he arrived in their home. For two years, he had lived in a foster home with six or more other children.

        “I really don't think he wanted to (leave the foster home),” says Ken, a convenience store manager.

        “Well, sure,” says Joyce, who works at the same store as Ken. “There were kids around there. Then, (in our home) it was just two adults.”

        Says Ken: “It was really a rough period of adjustment.”

        “For all of us, really,” adds Joyce.

        Mark was hyperactive, which made the transition more difficult.

        Ken and Joyce walked a fine line with discipline. Some people felt they were too lenient with Mark. But Ken and Joyce worried that he might rebel and be taken from them.

        “He was all boy. That's what I wanted,” Ken says. “And I sure got it.”

        They raised him the best they could. They sent him to school. They allowed him to play soccer and baseball and some football. They watched his artistic talents develop.

        Their boy wasn't perfect. But when he did something wrong he never hid from the truth.

        Mark, who is their only child, is now 29. He lives with his wife, Lisa, his 41/2-year-old son and 9-year-old stepson in North College Hill, about a 10-minute drive from Joyce and Ken.

        Mark doesn't call them Joyce and Ken. He calls them Mom and Dad.

First visit remembered
        He was only 4 when he first visited their home, on a trial run. But he remembers it. He remembers crying when it was time to return to the foster home. He thought they had rejected him.

        “Even that young, I knew what I wanted,” Mark says. “I wanted a family, a mom and dad.”

        He thinks back to those days and says, “I was a pretty big handful.”

        “For the most part,” Ken says, “it was a good handful.”

        Today, Mark works as a maintenance man for the River City Correctional Center in Camp Washington.

        He considers for a moment what his life might be like if Ken and Joyce hadn't adopted him. Maybe instead of working at the correctional center, he says, he might be locked up there.

        Mark's biological mother committed suicide when he was 8 or 9. He does not have a relationship with his biological father, a man he met only once.

        But Mark found what he needed — a stable home life — with Ken and Joyce, a couple who really weren't sure what challenges they would face when they adopted, or if they were up to it.

        “I think they did a great job,” Mark says.

        Ken and Mark argue sometimes, as fathers and sons will.

        “We jaw out pretty good,” Ken says. “I guess the problem is we're too much alike.”

        Like father, like son.

        When Mark's son was born, he named him after a man he respects. He named him Ken, after his adoptive father.

        “I think he really liked that,” Mark says.

        Yes, he does.


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