City Councilman. Mayor. County Supervisor. These are a few of the titles Dave Roberts has held over the years.
To his family, however, the supervisor is simply known as “Daddy Dave.” And he and his husband Wally Oliver, known to their children as “Daddy Wally,” recently officially adopted their sixth child.
“All the kids are doing well,” Roberts said with a big smile during an interview at the Oliver-Roberts home in Solana Beach. “As you can tell, we have a full life, and now Manny makes six.”
Oliver and Roberts always dreamed of having children, but never imagined they would one day have a family of eight, including the couple.
“We never thought we’d have a large family,” said Roberts, who only has one sibling.
The pair have been partners for nearly 20 years.
Roberts worked as a budget analyst for the Department of Defense, but was working as a corporate vice president for defense contractor SAIC when he met Oliver, a third-generation San Diegan and retired Air Force master sergeant, at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, in 1997. He remembered spotting Oliver, who at the time was working at the Pentagon, during a visit to the headquarters of the U.S. Department of Defense. Oliver was holding a book Roberts had written.
“I jokingly asked him, ‘Would you like me to autograph that book?’” recalled Roberts, who has lived in Solana Beach since 1995. “So we just struck up a conversation and the rest is history.”
Oliver and Roberts legally married in 2008. By that time, they had already started their family.
The couple met their first son in 2000. Robert had just turned 5 years old. Three years later, they welcomed their second son, Alexander, into their home. He was 3.
The couple’s children were all their foster children whom they chose to adopt. Four of their children share the same biological mother.
In 2007, Julian came to live with the Oliver-Roberts family.
The 3-year-old was an emergency placement. His foster mother was suffering from a terminal illness.
“We thought our family was complete, and then the county asked us to take Julian,” Roberts recalled.
Their third experience in adopting resulted in litigation, which they eventually won. Julian had initially been removed from his home due to domestic violence.
“Domestic violence just keeps growing and growing, and sometimes, the victim keeps going back,” Oliver said. “That was the case.”
In 2009, the couple began preparing to adopt Julian. Two months into the process, a social worker spotted the biological mother pick up her boyfriend and alleged abuser after a hearing, which propelled the state to take away her younger two children.
Roberts was out of town for work the day the social worker called Oliver, which he remembers vividly. He did not hesitate when asked if the couple would welcome Julian’s younger half-siblings into their home.
“We wanted to make sure that they stayed together,” said Oliver, now a stay-at-home dad who also manages the couple’s real estate management company from home.
At the time, Joseph was 23 months old. Natalee wasn’t even 1 year old.
With no car seats, highchairs or cribs, Oliver called friends and family for help.
“I learned right then and there that it really does take a village,” Oliver said.
With his family nearly doubling in size, Roberts dropped out of the race for the 50th Congressional District.
“It was just overwhelming, but we quickly adjusted and got everybody on track and figured out a routine,” Roberts said.
The biological mother eventually had another baby, today known as Manny. In the beginning, she allowed the infant to stay overnight at the Oliver-Roberts house twice so he could get to know his siblings.
“We knew sooner or later we would get this kid,” Roberts said.
During his second visit, they discovered drug paraphernalia in his diaper bag.
“For him to be exposed to the potential — that meant it needed to be reported,” Oliver said.
When the mother passed her drug test a few days later, however, they had to return Manny, who cried when he left the family.
“I couldn’t go because it just tore my heart out,” Oliver said.
Manny’s visits stopped, but months later, Roberts received a call at work. Manny had been staying with friends of the biological family and they asked him to pick up the child.
That same day, they brought Manny home, immediately reporting the incident.
“That started the odyssey that led up to the formal adoption 21 months later,” Roberts said.
Oliver and Roberts officially adopted Manny, now 3 years old, on July 8. After the ceremony, the children brought court into session in Judge Timothy Freer’s courtroom.
“It felt good after all this,” Roberts said. “It’s been a long road.”
Bursting with energy, Manny played catch and with poi balls, a scooter and bicycle during a roughly one-hour interview with his dads. After running around the backyard and talking about his family and toys, the healthy and happy boy asked “Daddy Dave” to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
From school recitals to sports, the Oliver-Roberts family is a typical, very busy American family — complete with a dog, cat, turtle and beta fish.
Like his father Oliver, Robert is serving in the Air Force. The soon-to-be 21-year-old is also marrying his fiancée next week.
Alex, 15, is a junior at Torrey Pines High School, where he plays rugby.
The other children, 12-year-old Julian, 8-year-old Joe, 7-year-old Natalee and 3-year-old Manny all have busy summers as well. Julian is a leader-in-training at Solana Beach’s Summer Day Camp, where Natalee also attends. Joe is attending vacation bible school with a friend. Finally, Manny attends the Solana Beach Child Development Center a few days a week.
“I just feel blessed to have our family,” Roberts said. “Each day is an adventure.”
With his experience and knowledge of the foster care and adoption in San Diego County, Roberts aims to improve the system.
“One of the reasons I wanted to be a supervisor is to make the program work for families and try to remove some of the stumbling blocks,” he said.
In 2013, Roberts teamed up with fellow Supervisor Greg Cox to spearhead the Exceptional Families Adoption Campaign, which complements San Diego County’s existing adoption and foster-parent recruitment efforts.
“If the child is going to move from foster care to adoption, make it as seamless as possible so that we can find permanency as quickly as possible and the child can get into a forever family as quickly as possible,” Roberts said.
At any given time, approximately 30 foster children are awaiting a permanent adoptive placement, according to the campaign’s website. These children range in age from infants to teenagers, come from diverse ethnic backgrounds, and belong to sibling groups who need to be placed together.
The campaign aims to increase awareness about the need for adoptive families, who may themselves be “less-traditional” like the Oliver-Roberts family, or who are willing to adopt children who are in sibling groups that want to stay together or who have behavioral, developmental, psychological or medical needs.
“It’s been very successful,” Roberts said. “We’re really pleased with that.”
The county has also brought its informational booth back to the San Diego County Fair, which is how Roberts and Oliver learned about the county’s programs years ago.
Roberts is also an advocate of Voices for Children, a San Diego-based nonprofit that recruits, trains and supervises volunteer Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs). CASAs advocate for the rights and well-being of children living in San Diego County’s foster care system.
“Every child deserves a loving home,” Roberts said.
For more about the Exceptional Families Adoption Campaign, call 1-877-I-ADOPT-U (877-423-6788) or visit www.iadoptu.org.
For more about Voices for Children, visit www.speakupnow.org.