At first glance, Eddie Giese seems like a typical, middle-class American dad — average height, big smile, loves his wife and kids, enjoys fishing and video gaming in his free time.
But Eddie's daily life looks quite a bit different than most. When he married his high school sweetheart Stephanie in 2006, neither of them expected that the family they'd build together would be so unconventional.
Eddie soon found himself entering the world of adoption, something he wasn't sure about at first. "As a young newlywed just getting rolling in my career, I was...reluctant," he told Welcometoterranova. But Stephanie was determined, and he eventually agreed to attend the training classes and begin the steps to get the required certifications.
"Once in the classes, my entire perspective changed and I realized how much I wanted to adopt, too," he said. They fostered, and later adopted, Nicholas in 2008 when he was 18 months old. A few years later, after having two biological children, Eddie was the one who pushed to foster, and later adopt, two additional kids who came from backgrounds filled with trauma, bringing their family to a total number of five children ranging in ages from 8 to 13.
Nicholas, now 13, keeps them on their toes. His official diagnoses are Intellectually Disabled Disorder with Sensory Processing Disorder and a General Mood Disorder, although it's next to impossible for kids with severe trauma backgrounds to get accurately diagnosed. The clinicians don't know if neurological differences are from trauma or autism, and the behaviors can mimic each other.
However, despite Nicholas' struggles, Eddie believes in his son and advocates fiercely on his behalf. He knows how critical it is to extend endless amounts of patience and forgiveness, even when it feels like there is nothing left to give.
According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, on any given day, there are nearly
437,000 children in foster care in the United States. The average age of children entering the system is 8, generally meaning that they've been exposed to significant trauma before finding placement in a foster home. And even then, children can be subjected to further abuse or neglect in a system which was designed to protect them, something that weighs heavy on Eddie.
Fatherhood is all about balance, and Eddie tries to expend as much energy enforcing rules as he does showing his kids that "no matter what happens, they have someone who loves them dearly." He shares a special bond with his eldest son—they go fishing together, and since he is now officially a teenager, Eddie's been showing him how to do things around the house like mowing the lawn.
And then, of course, there's the whole business of Nicholas becoming a man. Autism Speaks recommends that parents begin talking to and preparing their child for the transition to adulthood around age 14. A few weeks ago, Eddie got to experience what he calls "a key rite of passage": teaching Nicholas how to use a razor.
"I'll admit it was hard not to get a little emotional...since he has an intellectual disability, I tried to break it down for him as slowly as possible and emphasize what to do and what not to do, and I shaved alongside him, as well. I also know I'll have to coach him through it a few more times before he's ready to do it on his own without my help. Come to think of it, he's actually due for another shave already!"
Abbey Saxton photography
Eddie's wife Stephanie thinks her husband is pretty amazing. "He's always been the kind of guy to take equal responsibility for everyday tasks like cleaning the bathroom, diaper changes, or waking up in the middle of the night, and full responsibility for any and all puke-related tasks… When we foster, he is typically the one who will attend court appointments. But my favorite thing about him is that he understands that the very best thing he can do for our kids is to show them in practical ways how much he loves their mom."
Looking towards the future, Eddie worries about Nicholas' ability to control his impulses and manage his emotions as he moves closer to adulthood. The lack of control can be alarming, but today, their fears are outshined by hope.
"We've seen so much progress in him, especially this year, that gives us hope… that he will be able to live an independent life and one that affects others positively. He has a hidden knack for music, so I hope that one day he explores that more and shares his gifts and his story of trials and tribulations to reach people for good."
Here's to the dads like Eddie, who keep showing up for their kids, even when it's hard.
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