ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
Father’s Day has always been a great day for local physician Randy Claassen. But now it’s great for more reasons.
Inspired by the biblical admonition, “I was a stranger and you invited me into your home” (Mt. 35:1), Randy and his wife, Janice, have adopted four children over the past five years, enlarging their household from five people to nine.
Randy, a family-practice physician in Hillsboro, and Janice were already the proud parents of three daughters-Ashley, Angie and Alysha-when they began to reconsider their life direction.
As a physician, compassion has been at the core of Randy’s profession. Even so, the couple was drawn to seek additional avenues to involve themselves in the lives of others, but it was unclear in what capacity.
In 1998, while accompanying their church youth group on a mission trip in Houston, Randy said he and Janice were challenged to “get out of their comfort zone” in their everyday lives.
They concluded that for them, that meant pursuing foster parenting with the possibility of adoption.
Even while Janice was in high school, she was always fascinated with adoption and foster care.
Later, while Randy was a medical student, the couple worked in a children’s home with foster children.
“There I was, 20 years old and working with girls who were ages 12 to 18 and knew more about the world than I did,” Janice said.
Returning home from the mission trip, the couple completed 30 hours of classes and the long licensing process in preparation to be foster parents.
Janice said: “Getting ready to do foster care was hard for me emotionally. Even though I was the one who had really wanted to do it.”
One worry the family had was what effect bringing another child would have on their family of five. Would it disrupt the continuity and tranquillity of their relationships?
Initially, the Claassens said they preferred no infants and no child older than 7 years old.
“We really felt like our mission was to get someone older,” Randy said. “We really didn’t want any babies because they are more work. We figured there was a greater need for the older children.”
In November 1998, 5-month-old Peter was placed in the Claassens’ care. Even though he was below the target age, the three Claassen daughters fell in love with the infant and were more than willing to do their part.
Also in the foster system at the time was Peter’s sister, Katie.
“We tried to get Katie, too,” Randy said, “but the legal system had so much red tape it got frustrating.”
Even with Peter’s smooth transition into the family, the potential difficulties of being a foster parent were always lurking in the back of the Claassens’ minds.
“It’s hard to love a child enough to care for all his needs, yet be able to think that at any time you may have to give him up,” Janice said.
In February 1999, the Claassens received a phone call asking if they’d be interested in the placement of two sisters, Jamie, 8, and Lottie, 14.
The couple agreed to take them in, increasing their household to eight members.
Then, on March 17, 2001, Katie finally was cleared to move in with the family, and the Claassen household had swelled to nine members.
Three years to the day that Peter came to live with them, the adoption of Peter and Katie was finalized.
“We kind of did the foster parenting differently,” Randy said. “We never had a foster child go through our house that left here.”
On July 9, 2002, Jayme (formerly Jamie) was also legally adopted.
“The benefits of taking these children into our home are not immediately apparent,” Randy said. “It’s the idea that you know you’re helping a kid grow up in a better environment, and giving them a chance they wouldn’t have otherwise had.
“The hardest thing was integrating the new kids into our family, knowing that we were making permanent changes in our own family.
“Janice and I knew we wanted to do this, but our kids didn’t have a choice,” he said. “They had to come along. It wasn’t an option for them.”
Randy said it isn’t easy being an adoptive parent.
“It’s hard work and there is an emotional price to pay, but it’s the right thing to do,” he said. “You open yourself up for hurt, but the payoff is still well worth it.”
Randy is quick to say what he feels is the most important attribute to be a good father.
“Listening is the key, just being there,” he said. “Advice is fine, but listening is more important.”
Randy said treating each child equally is not really his goal.
“You have to work at treating them all fairly,” he said. “We may be more lenient with the younger ones, but that’s just because they’re little and the older ones should know better.”
Randy credits his father, who passed away in 1995, with teaching him what it means to be a good father.
“My father was the best,” he said. “I don’t know of anything negative that I can say about my dad.
“He was not a lecturer, he led by example,” he added. “We lived on a farm and he gave us a lot of responsibility. We worked hard and he expected a lot from us.
“Dad was the perfect man,” Claassen added. “He was everything you would want to be. He was a good provider, he was a good friend, and he could talk to anybody.
“That’s the way we’re trying to raise our kids, knowing they need to be responsible for themselves.”
Randy said the ‘mission work’ he and Janice have undertaken has rewards.
“It gives us an expanded sense of accomplishment,” he said. “It makes us feel like we’re doing something that’s really important.
“It’s hard to think about the good we’re doing when things aren’t going well,” he said. “But it all goes back to knowing this is the right thing to do.
“It’s not supposed to be good for Janice and me, it’s supposed to be good for the kids.”
With Father’s Day approaching, Randy is in touch with the highs and lows of fatherhood.
“The most difficult part of being a father is the emotional drain,” he said. “Adding to our family (has meant) there are just twice as many people who vie for my attention.
“The best thing about being a father, though, is that it gives me a sense of worth,” he said. “I love to accomplish things, but having kids is the most meaningful thing there is to me.
“I would rather spend time with my family than do anything else,” he added. “Making money and buying groceries is nice, but giving kids a chance in life is priceless.”
Claassen said instilling in the children a good work ethic and a positive self-esteem is important, but ultimately he has one goal in mind.
“The most important thing is to have them have a relationship with Christ,” he said.
The Claassens testify that expanding their “comfort zone” has reaped many benefits. They embrace the message they noticed recently while dining at a local restaurant:
“The will of God will never lead you where the grace of God cannot keep you.”