WILKES-BARRE — Rich Pais has been there when his child was born the natural way.
And he has also been there when news came of his adoption of two other children.
As Father’s Day approached, Pais said the feeling is the same.
“There’s absolutely no difference,” Pais, 54, said. “Now a mom might feel differently because of the child birth issues, but to me, a dad, it’s the same.”
Today is Father’s Day and for Pais, it’s a celebration of fatherhood regardless of the circumstances.
From his first marriage, Pais has one biological son, Christopher, who is 20 years old. From his second marriage, Pais and his wife, Julie, have two adopted children — Maria, 10, and Drew, 8.
Pais knows that a father and a child don’t need to share DNA to have that lasting bond of love between parent and child.
So when Pais and Julie got married in 2000, they decided they wanted to have a family. A native of New Jersey, Pais moved around during his life and moved to Wilkes-Barre from Maryland. His parents were natives of Hazleton, so he had some familiarity with Northeastern Pennsylvania.
“We looked for a quiet area to live,” Pais said.
They found a home in South Wilkes-Barre and began their life together. Pais said children weren’t coming “the traditional way,” so rather than go through an extensive program with doctors and treatments, they looked into adoption.
“And it happened,” Pais said. “God laid on our hearts and we decided to try to adopt a local child.”
Pais and his wife were foster parents for five children before adopting Maria in 2005 when she was 4 months old through a program in Mexico. Drew was 13 months old when he became part of the Pais family — ending a 3 1/2-year process with a Luzerne County agency.
“When you look at them, you love them and you care for them,” Pais said. “From the first moment you see that child, you get a feeling of always having been their parent. It’s just as if they came out of the womb. An adopted child obviously is older, but it’s the same sensation.”
Pais said he and Julie tell their children that people really don’t make babies.
“We tell them God makes babies and there is a parent for every child.”
Pais said he and Julie network with other adoptive parents and he said local adoption is essentially free. He recommends dealing with accredited agencies.
Pais is serious about the issue. He was recently appointed executive director of the Luzerne County Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) program. The mission of CASA is to assist the court in determining what is in the best interest of abused and/or neglected children whose cases are within the court system.
The CASA website states: “Through objective investigation and observation with the focus on the child assigned, trained CASA volunteers will develop and present their recommendations to the court to aid in establishing a safe, permanent and nurturing home in an expeditious manner.”
Pais said there are about 500 children in the local child welfare system who need a foster or adoptive parent.
“What they need is a forever home,” Pais said. “They need to know where they will spend their childhood.”
Pais and Drew were playing hockey on the corner of the quiet street where they live. They also like to toss a football around, and Drew is into gymnastics. Maria plays the piano and the family loves going on vacations to destinations such as Lake Placid, New York, where they hike, bike, skate and ski.
Pais also said that at age 54 he feels being an older parent has its benefits because he appreciates it more. He used to run fundraising events for children’s programs and now, he says, that passion has progressed to advocacy via his involvement with CASA.
Pais said there are a lot of teenage boys in the system who need a male role model to help get them through what could be difficult times.
“They need a man to teach them how to be a man,” he said. “A 14-year-old boy without a father needs someone to ‘man him up.’ That could be a mentor, a Big Brother or an adoptive father.
Pais urged local males, especially single men, to get involved.
“They need to stop watching ESPN and grow up and help these young boys,” hew said. “We’ve all seen what can happen — Kids for Cash, the Sandusky case — we see the chaos. The more you’re around and see the need, the more you want to help.”
Pais has a master’s degree in forestry and has been an environmental consultant for more than 30 years. His dad died when he was 9 and he was without a male influence in his life for years.
“The point is, I am not a social worker,” he said. “But I can see what a male role model can do to help a young boy out.”