Like many 20-year-olds, Barry Farmer felt adrift, unsure of what to do. He spotted an ad looking for foster parents and applied. Growing up in foster care, he knew how meaningful the role was to kids. But he had no idea he'd become a single dad to three sons before turning 30.
“After talking to the director of programs she was like, ‘Wow, impressive maturity. I’m willing to take a chance and license you as a foster parent,’” Farmer, 34, host of “The Barry Farmer Morning Show with Sharon Lizzy” in Richmond, Virginia, told TODAY Parents. “The director was like, ‘I can get you a license. But to be honest a young, single male, social workers are not going to be kicking down the door asking for you.'”
A year after Farmer received his foster parent license, he met his first placement — a 16-year-old who was in a group home. The teen stayed with Farmer for about six months. Two months later, Farmer received another call that changed his life.
“They asked if I want to try another teenager or do I want to go with a 7-year-old,” Farmer explained. “(I thought) ‘Why don’t we go with the 7-year-old and see how it is going to go?' It seemed like I could be a little more active and take him places.”
The child needed to be placed immediately and Farmer knew little about him.
“This child, in my head, is Black,” Farmer said. “When I got there, he was just the whitest white child that I ever worked with … I thought, ‘Wow this is going to be interesting.’ Because I have no clue what I am doing.”
Farmer soon learned, though, that the boy, Jaxon, wanted what most children want.
“He was so loving and caring,” he said. “He just wanted some hugs and to call me dad.”
They soon settled into a groove. Then Jaxon left to be adopted by another family and Farmer noticed how much he missed him.
“I didn’t realize how close he was to me until he left,” he said. “I was sad and he was sad. He did end up coming back and that’s when we both decided that I would adopt him.”
At the time, Farmer was 22. But becoming Jaxon’s dad felt right.
“You’re responsible for somebody else’s life on purpose,” he said. “Going from true strangers, we built a bond in six months where we felt comfortable enough to be father and son."
Almost immediately after, Jaxon wanted to expand the family.
“We were on our way back from the courthouse and I heard a little voice in the backseat saying, ‘So am I going to have a brother?’ and I’m like ‘I just became your dad like 30 minutes ago can we just calm down?’” Farmer said. “Once I was taking care of him, he did need a sibling.”
On an adoption website, Farmer found a boy, Xavier, who lived out of state and needed a family. Farmer drove for hours to show Xavier to see he was trustworthy and reliable.
“Kids need to know that you are committed to them,” he said. “I wanted to be that person for him.”
Farmer admits his own childhood led him to fostering and adopting. He was in kinship foster care and raised by his grandmother.
“What motivates me are those feelings of rejection of not having my parents around,” he said. “My grandmother, she didn’t have to take me in. I didn’t even know her.”
That made Farmer realize how important it was that he be that person for someone else.
“Why she did it, it was to help. She didn’t have to, she wanted to. Those are my reasons as well. I didn’t have to, I wanted to,” he said. “It just really gave me a sense of purpose and I enjoyed it.”
Soon after adopting Xavier, the program director at a foster agency reached out to Farmer about fostering a 4-year-old boy. At the time, Farmer felt unsure. He had just adopted a second son. He said no at first but believed that if it were meant to be, he’d receive a sign. A few months later, the director again called about the boy, Jeremiah, who needed a respite placement.
“I thought this must be it,” Farmer said. “He must belong here."
Soon after, Jeremiah became a part of the family. Jaxon is now 19; Xavier is 17 and Jeremiah is 11. The family enjoys their mini road trips on the East coast, visiting amusement parks, exploring new cities and going to the beach.
“We have a bunch of laughs,” Farmer said. “That really brought us all together. Every time we did it, they got to meet some of my extended family along the way.”
He urges people to consider fostering or adoption.
“Single parenting is not wrong. It is very doable with a village,” he said. “I would encourage people to not only becoming licensed foster parents but to become adoptive parents.”
While adopting his sons gives him purpose, Farmer has also learned more about himself.
“I have a lot more patience than I thought,” he said, laughing. “It’s also given me an opportunity to be the father I wish that I had.”