Family Affairs

A professional Phoenix woman wanted to help one poor, "at risk" family. It was the type of private initiative that both political parties say will ease the harsh impacts of welfare reform. Her three-year experiment in personal responsibility rescued an 1

One month later, Barbara took a part-time job at the Phoenix library. She told everyone she was going to get her kids back.

Marjorie encouraged her.
"No matter what, no matter how bad she is, Grandmother Annie's daughter is a mother. And no matter what Barbara does, there is not a woman on this Earth, best mother to worst prostitute, who doesn't want her babies."

The Thaw
Dr. Goldstein's difficulties with Richie sprang from fissures deeper than the immediate threat of cancer or the fullness of the doctor's calendar. The problems percolated through emotional soil into the geological depths of his youth.

Dr. Goldstein's 1930s childhood--really, part of another age--and his formal, Masterpiece Theatre personality, clashed with Richie's streetwise moves and mindset.

The doctor was not completely oblivious to the contrast.
"I am somewhat of a flat affect but compulsive personality," said Goldstein, trampling the apparent. "I like neatness and cleanliness. When I was young, punishment was enduring lectures on the evil of sin, bad manners and moral infractions . . ."

Despite the differences between them, despite Goldstein's emotional fear and his physical anxiety, the doctor eventually embraced Richie, merged him into what had been, day-to-day, a childless home.

How could such a massive, tectonic shift in one man's behavior take place in the space of a year?

The truth is, Dr. Goldstein's parents raised him to face the challenges life, and Esther, rained down upon him.

"My parents were supportive, loving, kind but strict," noted Dr. Goldstein. "[They] imbued me with feeling of righteous indignation at wrongs, sins, inequities and unfairness."

And once the doctor looked past his own fears, he realized no one faced more inequity and unfairness than Richie. After raising three children of his own, Josh Goldstein agreed to attend the state's foster parenting class so he could help raise Richie Blandon.

If the doctor's childhood sounds almost Victorian in its rigidity, its moral underpinning gave Dr. Goldstein the tensile strength to rebound from life's blows. And for all his fears about the boy's family, Dr. Goldstein also recognized portions of the unmarked trail he and Esther traversed with Richie: The doctor's two older sisters, whom he described as his "best friends," had also been adopted.

Dr. Goldstein returned to his lifelong values, rather than wallow in grief over his own circumstances. For all of his sanctimonious preaching, he lived his beliefs. Concern for children's medical well-being on the global scale sprouted from the same vine that nourished the love of his own children.

After his wife left him and the kids, he had been a single parent for 20 years.

"I wasn't an absent parent," said Goldstein. "A little shadowy, perhaps. But I was always there in the morning and again at night. I was a parent."

Now, in his cavelike office, the only decoration is a single wall devoted entirely to pictures of his kids and his grandchildren. A fragile newspaper clipping from February 28, 1979, reads: "Single Father Discovers Cooking Can Be Fun."

Over time, Richie found that Esther's nurturing free spirit was complemented by the doctor's insistence upon boundaries and responsibility.

"I set up parameters, discipline," said Dr. Goldstein. "It fostered intimacy instead of separating us."

Unexpectedly, Dr. Goldstein also added nonsense.
Driving down the street one day, Richie watched Dr. Goldstein start barking at a local canine. Laughing out loud, Richie asked what was going on.

"I speak dog," replied Dr. Goldstein.
Richie began explaining to friends that once they got to know the doctor, they would learn that the old man had a great sense of humor.

Even as he waited for follow-up medical screening after his surgery to determine if his cancer had spread, Dr. Goldstein plunged into a commitment to Richie. He took out insurance policies to guarantee the cost of the boy's college education. Richie mattered to the doctor.

This fall, overhearing his wife describe their latest parenting hurdle, Dr. Goldstein offered a correction.

"When she says, 'I, I, I,'" objected the doctor, "she means, 'we, we, we.'"
Beneath the prickly crust, just as Esther anticipated, Dr. Goldstein's heart was as soft as alluvial mud.

"Richie and I did not have any intimacy when he first came into our home," said Dr. Goldstein. "In the beginning, I preferred that. I didn't have to give out much of myself. But that isn't how life works."

How does life work?
"I did not anticipate that he would call me 'dad,'" said Dr. Goldstein. "You know, we both wear the same glasses. I did not anticipate that others would think he was my son.

"It is not unpleasant."

The Hearing
Located in the industrialized sector of the river bottom, next door to steel yards and truck freight lines, Maricopa County's juvenile court facility measures time less in the second chances given to teenagers than in the Styrofoam cups of boiled coffee consumed by those who work there.

After slipping past a weapons detector, kids in baggy pants, bandannas and loose-fitting Filas lounge in side rooms and corridors. They wait with parents whose faces are pinched with irritation and tension. Placid lawyers kill the time.

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