Johnny. Photo by Callen Harty.

Last year we took in a 15 year old boy named Johnny for a couple months after the aunt he was living with decided to move out of state.  It allowed him to finish the school year without disruption.  At the end of the school year he went back to Ohio to live with his grandmother again and to be with his old friends there.  We were sorry to see him go and let him know that he was welcome to come back again if it didn’t work out there.  We had felt that Madison and the opportunities he had available here were good for him and we knew that there were some tough issues with living back east.

We didn’t know if Johnny would come back or decide to stay in more familiar surroundings and with more familiar people.  It would be his choice, along with his grandmother, who is his legal guardian.  We didn’t know whether he would choose to come back here or stay in Ohio.  There is a comfort in what is known, even if that isn’t always what is best.  I know I hoped, for his sake, that he would decide to come back.  Brian and I both really felt it would be the best for him.  Now we get to find out if that instinct was right.  A couple weeks ago we received the notarized temporary guardianship papers that had been signed by Johnny’s grandmother.  They grant Brian and me the right to house, feed, and clothe Johnny, to make medical and school decisions, and in general to act as his temporary guardians here in Wisconsin.

Taking responsibility for the life and well-being of a young man is an immense responsibility.  I am almost 55 years old and have never had a child.  Brian is nine and a half years younger than me and has never had a child either.  So we expect to learn a lot in the next couple years.  Granted, Johnny is 16, so there is a level of maturity there, and he is really a good kid.  We already know that.  It seems a daunting job, but it is one we have agreed to take on with eagerness.  I have no doubt that we will not be perfect at it, that we will make mistakes, and we will have moments when we have no clue how to handle a situation.

There were already moments that those things happened in the couple months he was here last year, but we worked things out by talking.  What we know we can do is to be honest with Johnny and to communicate with him.  What we can do is listen.  A couple things I do know about young adults is that they need to be heard, they need to be talked with honestly, and they need to be treated with love and respect.  We can offer those things.  We may make mistakes, but with honest communication, love, and respect I am confident we can work through whatever those mistakes might be.

We will be committed to Johnny and to working with him to make his next couple years successful in every way.  We will do our best to support him in his school work, which we all feel is vitally important, and we will do our best to support him in the wholeness of his being.

I enter this new experience with some trepidation due to my lack of experience, but also with eagerness and joy because I feel this was something that was meant to be for the betterment of all of us.  I am looking forward to the fall.  I know that Johnny has as much to teach me as I have to teach him and I welcome the opportunity for growth that this will provide to all of us.

About Callen Harty

Originally from Shullsburg, Wisconsin Callen Harty is the author of four books and numerous published essays, poems, and articles. His most recent book is The Stronger Pull, a memoir about coming out in a small town in Wisconsin. His first book was My Queer Life, a compilation of over 30 years worth of writing on living life as a queer man. It includes essays, poems, speeches, monologues, and more. Empty Playground: A Survivor's Story, is a memoir about surviving childhood sex abuse. His play, Invisible Boy, is a narrative with poetic elements and is also an autobiographical look as surviving child sex abuse. All are available on (and three of them on Kindle) or can be ordered through local bookstores, He has written almost two dozen plays and 50 monologues that have been produced. Most of them have been produced at Broom Street Theater in Madison, Wisconsin where he started as an actor, writer, and director in 1983. He served as the Artistic Director of the theater from 2005-2010. Monologues he wrote for the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum won him awards from the Wisconsin Historical Society and the American Association of State and Local History. He has also had essays, poems, and articles published in newspapers and magazines around the country and has taken the top prize in several photo contests. His writing has appeared in Out!, James White Review, Scott Stamp Monthly, Wisconsin State Journal, and elsewhere. He has had several essays published online for Forward Seeking, Life After Hate, and The Progressive. Callen has also been a community activist for many years. He was the co-founder of Young People Caring, UW-Madison’s 10% Society, and Proud Theater. He served as the first President of Young People Caring and as the Artistic Director for Proud Theater for its first five years. He is still an adult mentor for the group. In 2003 he won OutReach’s Man of the Year award for his queer community activism. OutReach is Madison, Wisconsin’s lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community center. He also won a Community Shares of Wisconsin Backyard Hero award for his sex abuse survivor activism work. He has been invited to speak before many community groups, at a roundtable on queer community theater in New York City, and has emceed several events. In 2016, Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault named him their annual Courage Award winner for his activism, writing, and speaking on sexual assault.
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