SOUTH JORDAN — The 2018 Foster Dad of the Year is a tad uncomfortable being in the spotlight — make that more than a tad — but knows there’s nothing he can do about it.
Doug McLain’s wife, Janet, and all their kids — three of them biological, two adopted privately and four adopted from foster care — nominated him for his award, one that’s given annually by the Utah Foster Care organization in five regions around the state. McLain won for the Salt Lake Valley.
What can he do? Turn it down? Say no thanks?
“You should really write about my wife,” McLain says when the media shows up on the doorstep of the eight-bedroom house in South Jordan he and his wife share with the kids. “I’m here because I have a wonderful spouse.”
He doesn’t like to brag, he says, but he’ll brag about her.
And she’ll brag right back.
“He’s just a great dad,” says Janet McLain. His main qualification: “He can love lots of kids and they don’t have to be biologically related.”
In her nomination letter, she told the story of the McLains going away for a weekend trip to the mountains two months after Olivia had joined the clan when she was 4 months old.
As starts in life go, Olivia’s was about as rough as they come. She had been exposed to drugs and abuse and horrors at levels no one but her will ever fully know. When she was placed into foster care with the McLains, she was as nervous as a feral kitten.
At the cabin where the family was staying, little Olivia, sensing she wasn’t in the crib where she’d found comfort since Doug and Janet had become her foster parents, refused to lie down and go to sleep.
The only way she’d calm down was when Doug McLain held her against his chest in a chair.
So that’s where they spent the night: Olivia in her foster dad’s arms, sound asleep, and Doug McLain sitting upright in that chair.
“She only wanted him to hold her. She knew he was safe and she slept securely in his arms all night long,” wrote his wife.
More recently, just this past fall, when 10-year-old Sophia came to the McLains as a foster placement, Doug and Janet went to the airport to pick her up at midnight.
As they were driving home, they asked a scared and nervous girl who had left a difficult situation in one corner of the country for an unknown new family in another corner of the country if there was a special food she liked to eat.
Her answer surprised them. It wasn’t ice cream or pizza or french fries.
“Purple cabbage,” she said.
When they arrived at their house they discovered they were out of milk — when you have a house full of kids, milk ranks in importance just below air. So Doug hopped back in the car and went to get some milk.
When he got back, he had milk — and purple cabbage.
“He’d found a supermarket that was open all night and got that cabbage so Sophia would wake up to something special,” says Janet McLain. “He has a very kind and giving heart.”
The McLains' fondness for foster care can be traced back to Janet McLain’s youth. She was in foster care from the ages of 2 to 4 and again from 14 on, rescued both times from a difficult home life that involved abuse and alcoholism.
Foster care saved her, and she wants to try and save others. It’s why she got her master’s degree in social work and why she talked her husband into joining her in her cause.
“He did it to support me,” she says.
Now Doug McLain is every bit as passionate as his wife.
The only thing that will set them off is if anyone suggests they’re doing it for the money the state provides to foster care providers.
“Hah!” they say in unison. “When you hear it’s about money, it’s from people who don’t know how much it costs to take care of kids.”1 comment on this story
Doug McLain, who is a vice president and information technology specialist at Zions Bank, says the real payback is when you get a glimpse that you’re helping break a cycle of neglect and abuse. “There’s real joy to see emerging from all this chaos tiny, tiny successes,” he says. “If I die an old man who’s broke, but I helped kids, so be it.”
McLain and the state’s other Adam Ostmark Foster Dads of the Year — Rodney Jackson from Price, Nathan Henrie from Tremonton, Kurt Johnson from Lehi and a Cedar City father who prefers to remain anonymous — will be recognized at Utah Foster Care’s Chalk Art Festival beginning Friday, June 15, and running through Father’s Day, June 17, at The Gateway in Salt Lake City.