Raising My Sister's Boys

10/26/2007 at 06:00 PM EDT

Raising My Sister's Boys
"I don't want to force them to call me Dad. Whatever they want to call me, they can call me—as long as it's nothing bad. In the beginning, Chris would say, 'You are not my father.' This weekend, he kept saying, 'Dad, Dad, Dad.' It just rolled off his tongue, which was kind of cool. Then George said, 'No, it's Joey.'"
Kenneth Jarecke
Raising My Sister's Boys| Adoption

"On the weekends I take the kids to the park or to a $2 movie. I have dated, but right now it's too much. I'll meet friends for a drink or two every three months or so. But I've never been one to go out. I get more enjoyment doing something for the boys. Seeing them happy makes me happy."

Kenneth Jarecke

That choice would transform Democko from a carefree 20-year-old who hit the gym twice a week to a multitasking single dad. But first he had to convince social services he was up to the task. "They said men couldn't take care of themselves let alone a child," he says. And there was an extra challenge: Chris, born with spina bifida – an incomplete closure of the spine – needs to be catheterized every four hours. Even Democko's mother, Susan, asked, "Are you sure you want to do this? This is for the rest of your life."

He was sure – and proved it by attending a parenting class, taking Chris to physical therapy, even getting a night-janitor job at Disneyland so his days were free for the boys. On May 3, 2004, Democko brought home 3-month-old George, becoming the youngest foster parent in Orange County. Helped by his mom (who died in 2005) and roommates, he recalls the time as a blur of diaper changes and late-night feedings. "I was a zombie," he says. Several months later, Democko also brought home Chris and Anthony, adopting them last fall. "Twenty is very young to take on something like this, and what's so unusual is that there are three children," says Linda Reuter, adoption program manager for the Orange County Social Services Agency. Julie Akau, a social worker there, adds, "He's always been very committed to the boys – and they adore him."

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