Being a retired, single man could mean spending lots of time fishing, or traveling, or just hanging out more. For Lee Harris, 57, it means being a treatment foster parent for an 11-year-old boy with serious behavioral challenges.
“I’m pretty much a settled-type person,” Lee said. “So I’m not really making a huge sacrifice. I don’t see this as interfering with what I want to do. I relax at home!”
But caring for his foster son is not really what most people would call relaxing.
Lee is involved in the PTA and all the boy’s school functions and hobbies, he attends behavioral training programs at St. Aemilian-Lakeside, a social welfare organization at 89th and Capitol through which he is licensed, and he really works at helping his foster son overcome his problems and have a better life.
The way Lee sees it, the boy spent 10 years without someone regularly reminding him how he is supposed to behave. When the boy joined Lee’s home in May 2010, he acted out a lot and had serious problems respecting women.
“But I’ve learned a lot of behaviors can be overcome, through persistence, trying to help him deal with issues, being patient, and above all, showing a lot of love and concern.”
Lee says it is particularly important for boys to have male role models, so they learn what it really means to be a man, and not to define themselves through pop culture.
“Boys need the input from men to see the caring and compassionate side of men. Strength is not like it’s portrayed on TV or in music. A lot of it comes from enduring love.”
Lee says he talks to his foster son daily about the importance of respecting people and treating them like you would want to be treated.
The good news is that the boy is accepting his advice more and more, and sometimes he will even apologize for unacceptable behavior.
Lee sometimes gets a surprised reaction to a middle-aged man taking in a foster child. “But that’s until they get to know me; then they think I’m right for this.”
In addition to getting the satisfaction of knowing he can help a child be a better person, Lee has learned to really appreciate the traditional role many women play, he said.
“A lot of men don’t realize what it’s like to be a single mom; I’ve got to give credit to women who do so much for three or four children, and I’ve got only one!” he said with a smile.
Lee said he wishes more men would get involved in becoming treatment foster parents. One of his greatest rewards, he said, is an occasional hug or a thank you from his foster son.
“But even if he doesn’t say anything, I can feel it. Just to see his face, to see how happy he is … sometimes I just observe his face, and then I know.
“It’s not too challenging. Any man who is willing to put in the time and effort can do this,” he said. “And you get someone who loves you and appreciates you for what you do.”
For more information on becoming a treatment foster parent, call 414-463-1880, ext. 200 or visit www.st-al.org,