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Clarence Roberts: Foster Father to Adopted Father

By: Kathleen Ross, CEO of UWMC

As we celebrate fathers, dads and father stand-ins on June 20th, United Way of Morgan County wanted to wish a particularly happy Father’s Day to one of our own…Clarence Roberts.  A local business owner, Clarence is also a volunteer for United Way and an all-around good guy.  Here are some questions…asked and answered…to help you get to know him.

Where did you grow up? He was born in Connecticut. He and his mother and brother moved to Decatur to be near his grandparents when his mother got sick.  She had Type I diabetes that was damaging her kidneys, although she would pass away of an aneurism when Clarence was 18.

Decatur or Austin High School?  He was a manager for the Austin football team.  He couldn’t play football and be in choir, and he loved choir.

How did you find out that you have diabetes?  In his senior year, he hit his head on a locker and was knocked unconscious.  When he awoke, he was in the hospital with a concussion and a blood sugar level of more than 900. “I did not even know I was a diabetic until then. I knew I was feeling bad, but the doctors weren’t really catching anything.  It was all genetics for me.  I got it from my mom.” 

“I’ve been on the kidney transplant list for about a year now, and they’ve come a long way with that process. The gender, race, age doesn’t matter.  There are certain DNA markers that have to match in order for it to have a better chance to not get rejected.” 

They have found a potential donor, but it isn’t certain that the match will take place.  “It normally takes between five and eight years to be matched, and I’m praying this goes through so I don’t have to wait any longer.  I’ve been on dialysis for three years now.  It’s rough on the body.”

Who was your biggest influence?  “The majority of it comes from my mother.  She worked two full time jobs, was going to college, and still found time for us.  I have no idea how, but she did.  She was involved in so many things in our church and in our community that it made me realize that regardless of what I have going on, that service is the key to true success.”

How did you get involved with UWMC? “Larry Waye (from the e-Center) was my mentor, and he told me about what you do, and I immediately knew I wanted to become involved.”

Why do you help UWMC with allocations?  “I believe that the biggest thing about being a Christian is service and love.  And I believe that y’all (United Way) are a hub that helps the other agencies to be able to serve, so I feel that if I can help in that process in any form or fashion, I would love to so that these people (partner agencies) can continue to serve.”

How did you meet your wife? He moved to Las Vegas with his pastor to set up a church.  When they returned to North Alabama to set up a church here, a friend gave his number to her friend, Rochelle, who worked at a nursing home. “We were friends for a year. We dated for a year. We were engaged for a year.  And now we’ve been married for ten years.”

Who is Maliek?  “Maliek is actually one of my wife’s cousin’s children.  My mother-in-law, who lives with us, adopted him; and ever since then, I’ve been “’Daddy.’”

When did you decide to foster? “Maliek was five or six at the time, and we wanted to have more children.  I had a cousin who ended up losing her children…there were five of them…and I told my wife that I loved them and didn’t want them to be split up.  So we jumped into foster parent classes, so we could get them.  By the time we finished the classes, some of their dads and their grandmother had  stepped in so they didn’t all have to be separated.  We decided to stay in the foster program because there are so many children who need homes and who come from bad experiences.  We thought that even if we don’t adopt the children, at least for a certain time…a certain season, we can give them a place where they’re loved and where they can get good teaching and a family environment.”

Photo by John Godbey

Tell me about Braxton.  “In October, Braxton will be five, and we’ve had him since he was 5 months old.  We immediately knew that our lives would not be the same if he wasn’t in our house, so we started trying to adopt him when he was about one.  The whole process took literally two years to get it done.  I feel that we’re luckier than he is; but he spent the first five months of his life in a prison.  His mother was in prison for abusing her older child; and she used drugs, so Braxton has a couple of issues…nothing too terrible; but we have him in speech therapy and things like that, trying to give him the best chance he can get to be successful in life.” 

“Knowing he had special needs never made me wonder if fostering him was something we wanted to do; but it made me wonder if it was something we could do. We decided that we didn’t care.  We would do what it would take to make sure he was o.k.  He was part of this family.  It never made us question whether we wanted him or not.  We just took classes and learned what we needed to give him the best care possible.  I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous or scared or concerned about it because I was.  It took a lot of prayer and educating ourselves on what we’d have to do.”

“Margaret McIlveen was the other reason I applied to foster.  Every year, FACES has its display at the Mall, where we met Margaret; and every year, Margaret would say, “I’m still waiting on you.”  And she definitely was a huge help.  She was such a remarkable person, and I really miss her.” 

Are you a father or a dad to your boys?  “I believe that a father helps you be born, but a dad teaches you how to live.  A dad is the one who gets up in the middle of the night because a child isn’t feeling well.  Once, when Braxton and Maliek were both sick, I slept on the floor in their room.  That’s what dads are supposed to do.  It’s not enough to just get them here.  You have to train them, you have to teach them, you have to love them.  You have to teach then what it is to truly be a man.  It’s o.k. to have emotions and it’s o.k. to love…I tell them I love them every night.  We pray together every night.”

Do you have any Father’s Day traditions?  My wife always makes it happen every year.  My wife, my mother-in-law, and my sister-in-law.  For Mother’s Day, I take the boys shopping so they can pick out something and we make a big production.  For Father’s Day, the important part to me is that every Father’s Day I get a steak.  I don’t eat a lot of beef because of the dialysis; but I get one steak a year.  They always take me out to eat and give me gifts, but the steak is the most important part.

A special thanks to our friends at Texas Roadhouse, who heard Clarence’s story and are treating him to his Father’s Day ribeye and are giving Rochelle a Mother’s Day dinner for good measure.

United Way, along with our 30 partners, fights for the health, education, and financial stability of every person right here in Morgan County.

 When you support United Way of Morgan County through your workplace campaign or through a corporate or individual gift, you are helping the most vulnerable among us…the young, the old, the sick, and the poor as well as those affected by both man-made and natural disasters.  Those people are your neighbors, your co-workers, your family members, and your friends.  

United, we can win the fight!  Won’t you join us?! www.uwmcal.org

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