Hephzibah dad fosters hope in fatherhood
David Hibbler plays catch with his son at their Oak Park home. | Jon Langham~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 15, 2012 3:12PM
Even though we set aside a day once each year to appreciate them, having a father is something most people tend to take for granted.
Not at Oak Park’s Hephzibah Home, though, which has been helping children in need find families since 1897.
And not in the home of Oak Park’s David and Gail Hibbler, who became foster parents to a 10-year-old Hephzibah boy two years ago.
“I’ve been very fortunate to have two strong, male role models in my life,” said the 52-year-old American Airlines baggage handler, who raised two kids of his own and found his life feeling a bit less rewarding when they moved on to college.
“My parents got a divorce at an early age, but my father stayed in my life and was very involved. Later on, I had a step-father as well. So I had two strong father figures in my life growing up and I know that really helped me.
“I’m a big advocate of fathers being involved with their children. I think being there and being a strong presence as a dad helps children all the way through their lives.”
Hibbler said he and Gail, who recently celebrated their 25th anniversary, talked about fostering or adopting a child even during the early days of their marriage. And they began the process of being approved as foster parents five years ago, when it when it seemed they might be called upon to take on a child from within their family.
That didn’t happen, as it turned out, but Hibbler said their involvement with Hephzibah during the qualification process eventually led to learning from the agency about “a little boy who needed a family.”
Specifically, they learned about young D. (the law shields the identity of children while they are wards of the state) from Hephzibah Foster Care Specialist Davida Williams, who said both Hibblers “have just been phenomenal foster parents.”
Williams particularly emphasized her admiration for D.’s new dad, on the occasion of Father’s Day.
“David is an amazing dad. You couldn’t ask for a better one,” she said. “He’s an incredible role model as a father.
“The most amazing thing to me is that this little guy he’s taken on actually looks like David now. I don’t know how that happened, but he does. You can literally see the influence David has had on him.
“He’s taken all the energy this boy has and helped him channel it into football and wrestling, along with his schoolwork. As a result, he placed fifth in the state championship this past winter out of more than 200 kids in his age group. He’s helping this young man become the best person he can be.”
Of course, that’s not to say the process has been easy for D. or the Hibblers — far from it.
“It’s been challenging for everyone,” Hibbler said, adding that’s to be expected, given the difficult early years of many foster children — and that they’ve relied on the support of family therapists, their church and the ongoing involvement of Hephzibah. “It’s been a very difficult thing to do. But it’s also been so fulfilling that I’m sure it’s added years onto my life.
“I didn’t just want to become a couch potato, sitting around doing nothing after my kids went to college. With this young man, I’m able to stay involved in life and in the community, especially since he’s involved in sports and other activities.”
Hibbler said he sometimes jokes that becoming a foster father was his mid-life crisis, instead of buying a sports car or having an affair. But he’s very serious about how much it’s meant to have D. be part of their home.
“The greatest personal reward is just seeing him happy,” he said. “I don’t want to say he was really sad when he first came to us, but I’ve seen how he’s learned how to smile.
He’s learning how to be an average kid, to just relax and be a kid. And one reason for that is that he has really bought into the whole family concept.
“From day one, he has called us Mom and Dad, not David and Gail. Because that’s what he told the good people of Hephzibah he wanted: A mom and a dad. He’s shown kindness to us in return by addressing us that way — and I love that.”