Dick Kurtik says being a father is hard work, but it’s not rocket science. He should know. The retired chemistry teacher has been married to a veteran of the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab for nearly 20 years. Together, the couple decided to take the plunge into parenting for the first time, serving as foster parents of infants and toddlers through Angels Family Foster Network.
The 73-year-old Encinitas resident says he had never taken care of an infant on his own until six years ago when his niece asked him to babysit her four-month-old daughter, Lucy, for the day. “My wife was working at the time, and initially I was terrified,” he says with an easy laugh. “I was amazed that I was capable.” He soon found that he was more than just capable, but quite good at it. To his delight, he gained tremendous satisfaction from caring for his grandniece. “We went on walks, I tried to make her laugh, basically, I just gave her love.”
Initially it was Kurtik’s wife, Susan, who suggested becoming parents who foster. She researched options and found Angels Foster Family Network to be the best fit for them. “We liked that the organization limited the number children in foster care in a home to one child or sibling set,” so children could receive the focused attention they need. The Kurtiks also felt they were best equipped to provide care for infants and toddlers, which is the age range Angels serves. The couple attended an information session at Angels and felt deeply moved by the stories they heard about the infants and toddlers who needed temporary care. They were also surprised to hear about the connection between many of the parents who foster and biological families. These were truly respectful partnerships rather than adversarial relationships, and that had great appeal to the Kurtiks, especially Dick who enjoyed playing a mentorship role during his 33 years teaching at Moorpark Community College in Ventura, Calif. “Fostering goes beyond caring for the baby, it’s caring for the parents too,” he explains.
Though reunification with a child’s biological family is always the goal in foster care, it’s not always possible, as the Kurtiks discovered with their first placement, an infant who spent several months with the couple. The San Diego County Department of Child Welfare, which works in partnership with Angels, realized that reunification was not an option, and the Kurtiks’ placement was adopted by another family. The Kurtiks stay in touch with the little girl and her “forever family” and enjoy frequent visits, which now include their new foster placement, a baby girl who has been with them for nearly two months. “Our family keeps growing!” Dick says. The Kurtiks’ grandniece, Lucy — Dick’s original charge — is now 6 years old and has a 3-year-old brother Enzo, and both are crazy about the most recent addition to the family. “Lucy always wants to hold the baby, and kiss the baby,” he says. “Did I ever think something like this would happen? No. But it’s very rewarding. We just want these children to have the best chance at succeeding in life as they can.”
Space may be the final frontier to some. But for Dick Kurtik it’s fatherhood. He plans to celebrate Father’s Day setting up a visit with the baby girl’s biological father, then heading to the park at the beach. “She likes the swing,” he says. “I don’t feel as though I need a special day. We try to get as much as we can from every day we’re together.”
For more about Angels Foster Family Network, visit angelsfoster.org.