November 2013 is National Adoption Month, a chance to celebrate adoptive families and stand alongside every child still looking for the warmth and stability of a permanent home, according to a Presidential Proclamation by President Barack Obama. This month, I had the opportunities to reach out and learn more about the process. Through this, I heard many inspiring stories, including one about a man named Peter Likins. Peter is an outlier. He had a lengthy career in academia, including faculty position at UCLA, president of Lehigh University and president of the University of Arizona from 1997 until his retirement in 2006. Although successful in his career, this is not what makes Peter an outlier. Peter and his wife, Pat, have been married over 55 years and over the course of that time, have adopted six children into their home. Talk about amazing! Wanting to know more, I reached out to him to hear his story.
JS: What was your and Pat’s motivation for adopting children?
PL: We wanted to have a beautiful family with at least four kids. After miscarriages we sought children to adopt and discovered that the most beautiful American family is an inter-racial family.
JS: What challenges did you have to overcome to adopt your children?
PL: We didn’t feel challenged in our adoptions or in any sense heroic. We didn’t give any consideration to how others in our families or our community might react to the children we chose to adopt, so we didn’t worry about such matters. We did pause when we had the opportunity to adopt two sisters aged ten and seven when we already had children aged nine, eight, four and three, feeling the need to obtain the approval of our own children before adopting two more, including one who was older than any of our children. With their approval, we forged ahead.
The challenges of adoption are modest in comparison with the challenges of raising a family, whether you create your children yourself or adopt them. In my memoir, “A New American Family,” I write an entire book about those challenges! (See my website at www.PeterLikins.com.)
JS: What personal qualities do you and Pat possess that enabled you to face these challenges?
PL: Although Pat and I are very interdependent, we are together highly independent of others when it comes to how we together choose to conduct our lives. In that sense I suppose we are natural outliers. We are also very resilient people; we can take a hit and get up again with confidence and optimism, as our family responsibilities often required.
JS: How did your peers – professional and social – view you and your family?
PL: Both Pat’s family and mine included family traditions that were inherently racist, as manifested in the attitudes particularly of my father and Pat’s stepfather, but the family members of our generation were all supportive and the older family members either got over their discomfort or learned to live with it. We didn’t consult in advance.
As a lifelong academic I have always lived in a supportive professional environment and our limited social lives revolved around my jobs as university professor, dean, provost and president. I suspect without really knowing that my black and brown children were to some degree spared the harshest treatment in their school environments because they were from a prominent family in their communities, although that may have complicated their lives as well.
JS: What advice do you have for individuals considering adoption?
PL: The biggest step is the decision to have children, which opens up enormous responsibilities. Once that decision is made, you have committed to lifelong obligations of high order, obligations that may be accentuated by adoption or by race differences or by issues of sexual orientation, just as they can be complicated by issues of physical or mental health, but the adoption issues as such are (or can be) secondary in this context. Unfortunately, many couples who have children are not really ready for parenthood, and for such couples adoption can present special challenges. If you consider adoption, first ask the fundamental question: Are you ready to be parents? If so, you are ready for adoption.
A huge thank you to Peter for sharing his insight!