Motherhood came without warning for Margaret Forbis.
Motherhood came without warning for Margaret Forbis.
She and her husband, David, had never aspired to have a family. Margaret’s mother, Sharron Dake, remembers her daughter at age 19 first mentioning the idea of a life without children of her own.
Sharron says she was relieved upon hearing the news because she had had Margaret, her first child, at the age of 19.
“I was kind of wild and crazy when I was younger, and I kind of had made that decision when I was younger,” says Margaret in the living room of her home on a Buckner farm. The farm includes horses, cats, dogs, chickens, ducks and a pot-bellied pig – but never children, until eight weeks ago.
She married David 16 years ago, and the two Eastern Jackson County natives made a life for and by themselves. As she got older, Margaret reiterated to Sharron that she had no intentions of having children. Sharron says she appreciated and supported her daughter’s stance.
With the Atlantic Ocean and half of the world separating them, online conversations among three teenage boys from Ghana, West Africa, and a U.S. woman in her late 40s changed Margaret’s mindset beginning in the summer of 2008.
The group didn’t see the skin color or socioeconomic differences that separated Margaret from the boys. Instead, they saw the opportunity for a family.
Isaac was the first.
In August 2008, Margaret began talking to a teenage boy in Ghana named Isaac through a social networking website that one of Margaret’s biker friends had invited her to join. Isaac approached Margaret first with a friend request, and Margaret confirmed the request.
When she started talking with him, Margaret learned Isaac was 15 years old and that he was wanting to learn more about people from other countries. The two started talking more on Yahoo! Messenger, learning about their cultures and customs and other small-talk conversation starters.
Isaac then introduced Margaret to Richmond and Clement, who were already best friends. The boys used computers at Internet cafés and were mostly looking to learn more about people from other countries. Richmond and Clement bonded with Margaret because of their similar Christian beliefs.
When Margaret began talking with Richmond, he was on his own, staying with friends when possible. In the past year, before he moved to the United States, Richmond lived with an older woman who was a grandmother-like figure to him.
According to Margaret, Richmond doesn’t know where either of his biological parents are at. His stepfather took care of Richmond after his biological mother left, but because his stepfather had younger children to take care of, Richmond was basically left to his own means.
For Clement, his biological family was unable to take care of him and moved away, leaving him in the city.
“Adoption – I didn’t even think it was possible. I didn’t even think about it,” Margaret says. “It was just put on my heart that we needed to start to help them.”
She started sending the boys some money in December 2008, saying, “There’s not a big explanation or a big story. It seemed to be the right thing to do.”
About a year after they started talking, Margaret looked into getting student visas for the boys so they could attend school in the United States. However, she said she learned that wasn’t an option in U.S. public schools.
Meanwhile, Clement was adopted by a family in California in June 2009. By October 2009, Margaret – who had never traveled outside of the United States – had started the process of adopting Richmond and Isaac.
“It’s really hard to explain because nothing started out this way at all,” Margaret says. “If someone had told me three years ago that we were going to have children, I would have told them they were crazy.”
What led Margaret to change her mind? In a word, she says, “God.”
“Everything changed,” Sharron says, as Margaret expressed the desire to have the boys live with her and David. “Everybody in the family just got together and we just became one big help group.” Sharron’s voice drones on. “It took. Almost. Two years.”
A private adoption agent facilitated the process. In June 2010, Margaret traveled to Ghana and went to court as part of the adoption process. Because of immigration requirements, Richmond’s adoption took more than 10 months. In early April, the Forbises agent appeared before the Embassy of the United States in Accra, Ghana, and Richmond received his visa.
The law prohibits U.S. citizens from adopting international children after they turn 16. Margaret and David tried repeatedly to adopt Isaac until his 16th birthday on Nov. 16, 2010. A judge did not grant the adoption, and the adoption agent and Forbises were given no explanation. Margaret says she is hoping Isaac can be with her family once he turns 18 next year and that he’ll obtain a five-year student visa.
Margaret still talks online with Isaac regularly. He is attending school and lives in Ghana.
Before they even began speaking to Margaret online, Richmond and Clement say, they knew they would one day call America home.
“I had a faith,” Richmond says, his mouth expanding slowly into a smile.
The back door to the Forbis’ household swung open on a recent Thursday afternoon.
“Hi, missy. I love you,” Sharron Dake says with a lilt, greeting her daughter with a kiss. “Where are my grandsons? Where are the boys?”
Though Richmond was in a different room, Sharron showed off Richmond’s artistic creations scattered throughout the kitchen – drink coasters, a vase and several others. He is taking ceramics and physical education courses this summer at Fort Osage High School.
He may not be skilled with traditional tools, but Richmond sees the opportunities for beauty and creation among paper, clay, pencils and pens. He communicates his feelings with drawings and writings.
For Margaret’s birthday on April 30, Richmond sketched the likeness of her favorite childhood book character, a maid named Amelia Bedelia.
“Happy birthday, Mommy,” the 16-year-old boy’s message reads to Margaret, written during Richmond’s first month in the United States. “I love you so much.”
It’s just the beginning. On the envelope that held her birthday card from Richmond, he wrote the following message in near-perfect printed handwriting:
“Happy birthday, heaven sent Mother. I just want you to know that (I) am very happy to have you as Mom. Today, I, son, wish you a blessed life and happy day. May the Lord keep you strong and safe for me. I love you today and forever.”
A single backpack held all of Richmond’s possessions when he arrived in the United States. He gave away most of his clothing and shoes to his friends before leaving West Africa, including his beloved gold cross necklace.
He brought necklaces from Ghana to each of his new family members.
“Whatever he’s gotten, he’s shared,” Sharron says of Richmond. “We would ask about something, and he said, ‘Well, a friend needed it. I had to help someone.’”
The Forbises adoption of Clement took place almost by accident in recent months.
Without knowing the other family’s side of the story, Sharron gives the following account: The couple who had adopted Clement in California are the same age as Margaret and David and also never had biological children. Clement says he often went without lunch money or rides to places.
“I don’t think my mom loves me,” Clement wrote to Margaret in an email following his first adoption.
Before moving to Missouri, Clement says, he and his adopted mother went two months without speaking to one another. Months before his 17th birthday, he received a legal eviction notice.
Clement moved to Missouri on June 11, one day before his 17th birthday.
“And so he’s here, and he’s ours,” Sharron says. “He may not have the material goods he had in California, but by golly, he’ll have love. We just love, love, love you so much.”
Clement is a U.S. citizen and plans to change his last name to Forbis. Richmond has a Green Card and is in the process of becoming a U.S. citizen. His name is now Richmond Dake Forbis, taking the surname of his grandmother and new parents.
Life was different for Richmond and Clement in Ghana.
The boys basically lived in poverty and ate mostly rice. They washed their clothes by hand. They usually cooked outside using charcoal, and their water had to be boiled before they could drink it. Using a public bathroom required payment. They bathed in buckets.
Both boys were considered orphans at the time of their adoption.
With their new family, though, that’s a title they can ceremoniously remove.
David is quiet like Richmond. Margaret and Clement carry the outgoing, talkative personalities.
“He’s kind of a big kid himself,” Margaret says of her husband. “He kept saying, ‘I’m really looking forward to getting them on the tractor and the lawnmower.’”
The boys have never really been around “handyman” behaviors like using a hammer, Margaret says, and David is anxious to teach them.
“He talked about that a lot before they came,” Margaret says.
The boys are just like other teenagers. They wear white T-shirts and athletic shorts. Richmond’s shy face hid behind a Mizzou ball cap one afternoon. He answered questions softly while listening to music through headphones, a can of Pepsi in his hand. The boys like popular R&B musicians, and Richmond counts “Titanic,” “Harry Potter” and “High School Musical” among his favorite movies.
The home’s basement – the boys’ “bachelor pad,” as Margaret playfully calls it – was originally an apartment and is outfitted with a kitchen, a living room, a computer, a TV and a PlayStation 2.
Richmond and Clement both aspire to become professional soccer players. Clement also counts becoming a doctor among his goals.
“The sky’s the limit here, when you try hard,” Clement says of the United States.
The boys say “thank you” after everything, exemplifying extraordinary manners, even though they weren’t brought up in a traditional two-parent household, Sharron says. Richmond will ask for his grandmother’s permission before asking her a question.
He may not say much, but Richmond has feelings. His grandmother says he is worried about Isaac not coming to the United States yet.
Despite his worries, Richmond nods his head slowly when asked if he is glad to live in America.
“He’ll make friends very quickly,” Sharron says. “I mean, how could he not?”
Despite their different personalities, Richmond and Clement resemble biological brothers. Richmond is taller, but both boys have the same rich dark skin and similar athletic frames. Their legs have kicked around a soccer ball since they could walk. Their new family members have observed the boys traveling down a soccer field, their bodies moving and stopping in sync.
“And they hadn’t been together in two years, so that’s pretty good,” Margaret says.
“They’re just like soul brothers,” Sharron says.
Together, Richmond and his grandmother saw “Thor” in IMAX 3-D – a first experience for both. David will eventually take the boys to Worlds of Fun and a Kansas City Royals game. Last week, Richmond and Clement, along with Kansas City Soccer Club coach John Duker, attended a soccer game at the brand-new LIVESTRONG Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kan.
Richmond and Clement will attend Fort Osage High School this fall, where they intend to try out for the soccer team, as well as participate in soccer leagues during the off-season.
During the Fourth of July weekend, a welcome-to-America celebration will take place on the Forbises farm, complete with food, fireworks, live music – and of course, lots of family.
On June 14, the boys rode their bicycles into Buckner’s business district and bought their mother some doughnuts and juice. One morning when she woke up, Margaret found the boys washing her car, a chore she had not requested. They carried the water in buckets because they didn’t want the sound of the hose to wake her up.
When she adopted Richmond, Margaret says, she had no idea that Clement would one day live with them, too.
“They had kind of talked about it, though,” Margaret says. “They said if God meant for them to be together, they would be.”
“It’s been so great,” Clement says of arriving in Missouri on June 11. “It’s been like I’ve been here forever.”
“That’s good,” she says. “We all just kind of fit together, I think.”