Black Fatherhood, Adoption, and Theology

A Contextual Analysis and Response

by Michael Lee Cook (Author)
©2015 Monographs XVI, 187 Pages
Series: American University Studies , Volume 346


Black Fatherhood, Adoption, and Theology: A Contextual Analysis and Response is a qualitative exploration into the complex intersection of Black fatherhood, adoption, and theology. It is primarily based on the narratives of three Black adoptive fathers who formally adopted non-kinship children. The book takes a closer look at these experiences through the three dominant phases of an adoption experience and gives specific attention to the sociological, psychological, and theological dynamics at play. Ultimately, the book provides a constructive pastoral theology of adoption that sets forth guidelines of care for this population of adoptive fathers as well as others with an experience of adoption.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Foreword
  • Chapter 1. Introduction—Black Fatherhood, Adoption, and Theology: A Contexual Analysis and Response
  • Thesis
  • Primary Question and Its Importance
  • Research Methodology
  • Research Participants
  • Data Gathering and Data Analysis
  • Pastoral Theological Method
  • The Structure
  • Limitations of This Study
  • Audience
  • Chapter 2. Literature Review
  • Introduction
  • Black Fatherhood
  • Family Ties
  • Child Development
  • Economic Participation
  • Race/Racism
  • Adoption
  • Adopted Children
  • Adoptive Parents
  • Adoption Narratives
  • Adoption Agencies
  • Pastoral Theology
  • Black Fatherhood
  • Adoption
  • Research Gap
  • Chapter 3. Black Adoptive Fathers: Three Unfolding Narratives
  • Introduction
  • Martin Bridges
  • Calvin Winslow
  • Jason Young
  • Salient Themes and Concerns
  • Unresolved Loss
  • Frequent Isolation
  • Unexpressed Anger
  • Feelings of Stigma
  • Prevailing Anxiety
  • Presence of Shame
  • Ongoing Fear
  • Unexpected Findings
  • Altruism versus Pain
  • Resistance to Adoption
  • Impact of Time Between Phases
  • Adoption Disruption
  • Suspicion of Being Exposed and Exploited
  • Participation as a Source of Healing
  • Chapter 4. Black Fathers and Adoption: A Social-Contextual Analysis
  • Introduction
  • Social-Constructionism
  • Critical Race Theory (CRT)
  • Black Fatherhood in America: A Social Construct
  • Historical Perspective
  • Black Males: The Social Context
  • Black Masculinity
  • Role in Family Life
  • Adoption: A Socially Constructed Practice
  • Historical Perspective
  • Biological Preference
  • Community Attitudes and the Impact of the Media
  • Talking about Adoption: The Influence of Language
  • Public Policy
  • Practitioners and Scholars
  • Making the Connection
  • Chapter 5. Fatherhood and Identity Formation: Psychologically Considered
  • Introduction
  • Interpersonal Theory of Psychology
  • Fatherhood: An Interpersonal Construct and Practice
  • Impact on Child Development
  • Family “Breadwinner”
  • Community Role Model
  • Identity Formation: The Impact of Fatherhood
  • Initiates a Developmental Crisis and Opportunity for Growth
  • Provides Meaning
  • Impacts Self-Esteem
  • Contributes to Mental Well-Being
  • Fatherhood: A “Part” of an Identity in the Making
  • Reflected Appraisals
  • Status Anxiety
  • Self-System
  • Good Me, Bad Me, Not Me
  • Chapter 6. Adoption: A Significant Theological Metaphor and Christian Practice
  • Introduction
  • The Metaphor of Adoption
  • The Westminster Confession of Faith of 1647
  • Covenant
  • Act of Grace
  • Unconditional Acceptance
  • Act of Reconciliation
  • Abiding Commitment
  • Adoption as a Christian Practice
  • Christian Adoption Affirmed
  • Neighbor-Care
  • Love
  • Hospitality
  • Embrace of the ‘Other’
  • Compassion
  • Witness of Faith
  • One Church One Child
  • Appropriateness for the Narratives under Consideration
  • God, Humanity and the World
  • Chapter 7. Caring for Black Adoptive Fathers: A Pastoral Theology of Adoption
  • Introduction
  • Pastoral Theology—The Appreciation of Situated Experience
  • Community of Faith (Church)
  • Adoption Ritual of Affirmation
  • Affirmation of Adoption
  • Adoption Ministry
  • Healing
  • Sustaining
  • Guiding
  • Reconciling
  • Pastoral Counselors
  • Narrative Therapy
  • Problem-Saturated Story
  • Deconstruction
  • Alternative Story
  • Affirming Audience
  • Non-Theological Practitioner/Community
  • Foster Care and Private Adoption Agencies
  • Fatherhood Program Initiatives—Adoptive Fathers’ Parenting Component
  • Spiritually-Sensitive Pre and Post Adoption Services
  • Name Change: Speaking in a Different Language
  • Making the Connection
  • Chapter 8. Conclusion
  • Summary
  • Potential Issues Going Forward
  • Future Research Interests
  • Appendixes
  • Appendix I : Adoption Experiential Cycle (AEC)
  • Appendix II: Narrative Interview Guide
  • Early Phase (Concern/Decision)
  • Middle Phase (Application/Wait)
  • Late Phase (Baby/Aftermath)
  • Appendix III: About the Author
  • Notes
  • Foreword
  • Chapter 1
  • Chapter 2
  • Chapter 3
  • Chapter 4
  • Chapter 5
  • Chapter 6
  • Chapter 7
  • Bibliography
  • Index

| ix →


The preparation and completion of such a complex project is never the work of a sole proprietor, but rather the combined efforts and sacrifices of many committed and supportive people. In my case, there have been many. And while I am only able to give special thanks to several people in this limited space, I am very much indebted to all those who have contributed to my learning and development and inspired me along the way. This certainly includes my dissertation committee consisting of Drs. J. William Harkins, Paul “Skip” Johnson, and Emmanuel Y. Lartey. Thanks, also, to all of my wonderful professors including Drs. Pamela Cooper-White and Edward P. Wimberly.

First, I would like to give special acknowledgement to Dr. J. William Harkins who has been and continues to be one of my greatest inspirations, supporters, and friends. From the moment I met him seven years ago in his office at the Episcopal Cathedral of St. Philip, Dr. Harkins has affirmed me as a person and nurtured me as a son. He embodies the essence of a wise sage and has shown ← ix | x → himself to care deeply for others in ways that reveal the divine. Journeying with him has made me a better and more integrated person.

Second, I would like to give a special thanks to Dr. Paul “Skip” Johnson and all of the supervisors, staff, and colleagues at the Care and Counseling Center of Georgia. Dr. Johnson was an essential member of a team of deeply competent clinical supervisors that nurtured my understanding of and development in the clinical side of pastoral counseling. Dr. Johnson taught me the art and craft of creatively integrating theology and psychotherapy. When I first arrived into the Th.D. program, he told me that by the end of the journey I would be a different person. I can now fully attest that he was right.

Third, a deep debt of gratitude goes to the courageous research participants who gave freely of their time and wisdom. Each of them will always remain to me a generous source of inspiration and hope.

Finally, I would like to acknowledge the wonderful library staff at Columbia Theological Seminary for their combined and continued support throughout this process by providing the necessary resources I needed to complete this project. Your help proved invaluable.

Forgive me to those who I have not acknowledged by name, yet, have made lasting contributions to this work and my formation. May God bless each of you!

| xi →


Once in a great while a student comes along who is able to embody the gifts, graces, and disciplines of one’s vocation, and to write from the perspective of that “vocatio” in innovative, distinctive, and compelling ways. Writing thusly within the discipline of pastoral theology, and through the pastorally imaginative creation of this text, Michael Lee Cook is one such young scholar and practitioner. In this book, Dr. Cook has woven together in a rich tapestry the heretofore disparate threads of Black fatherhood and adoption, and he has done so with a keen eye toward both clinical and, especially, theological considerations of this deeply important topic. In so doing, he has contributed in new and important ways to the field of pastoral theology, and to the integrated disciplines which inform it, namely theology and the human sciences.

Michael’s point of debarkation is the theology of Howard Thurman, who knew that, theologically understood, we are all adopted children of God. ← XI | XII → Indeed, it is in this light that Michael begins his experiential narrative of the adoption, with his wife Crystal, of their son Myles Alexander. Thus, using a narrative approach, he explores both his experience and that of three Black adoptive fathers and their journey of formal adoption of non-kinship children.

Utilizing a qualitative research design, Dr. Cook’s investigatory template is guided by what he refers to as the Adoption Experiential Cycle, a theoretical tool developed specifically for this project. Taking into account emotional, psychological, and spiritual themes, this study results in guidelines for care and counseling which address the pastoral theological needs of this little understood demographic.

Moreover, the guiding paradigm for this exploration is the Liberating Intercultural Praxis pastoral theological method, contextually based and deeply phenomenological in its approach. Radically interdisciplinary in scope, this study utilizes sociological, psychological, and theological analysis in a rich, evocative synthesis, with a hopeful vision of both new research, and practical pastoral care here, and now.

The potential audience for this text is wide and deep. A comprehensive literature review provides an excellent resource for anyone working with or caring for adoptive parents in general, and for black adoptive fathers and their significant others in particular. The socio-cultural analysis of black fatherhood is a profoundly important study, breaking, as it does, new ground in the research on this demographic. The narrative approach lends both a compelling realism and a powerful specificity to the text. Dr. Cook’s consideration of fatherhood and identity formation offers a new and distinctive appropriation of Harry Stack Sullivan’s interpersonal theory, and a remarkably clear understanding of psychological contexts in which fatherhood and identity formation occur. Moreover, this study provides a unique glimpse into the socio-cultural implications of these processes in a particular context. Thus, we are all enlightened by this journey.

Finally, Dr. Cook’s insightful analysis of this demographic through the theological metaphor of adoption and the Christian practice of adoption, grounded as they are in the Christian narrative, provides an inspired, and inspiring, practical theological perspective. “Adoption,” as the author says in such a compelling way, “points to the relational nature of what it means to be human...it is a form of social justice because it is a reconciling force between that which was separated by something.”1 The narrative of adoption is viewed, from this perspective, as among those experiences which promote human flourishing, resilience, ← XII | XIII → and reconciliation. Moreover, this study provides rich and fertile soil for future research, and as such is a hopeful sign of things to come.

In harrowing the soil from which the harvest of this text emerged, Dr. Cook has done a great service to those whose lives he studied, and all those for whom adoption is a compelling metaphor and lived, narrative experience. What is more, he has contributed new and distinctive knowledge to the field of pastoral theology and beyond. I commend this work, and its author, to all who may benefit from the fruits of his labor.

Feast of Catherine of Siena

J. William Harkins, PhD, LMFT

Columbia Theological Seminary

Episcopal Cathedral of St. Philip

| 1 →

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Black Fatherhood, Adoption, and Theology: A Contexual Analysis and Response


XVI, 187
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2014 (December)
experience theological dynamics guidelines
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2015. 187 pp.

Biographical notes

Michael Lee Cook (Author)

Michael Lee Cook received his Th.D. in Pastoral Counseling from Columbia Theological Seminary and his M. Div. from Duke University Divinity School. In addition, he has completed extensive clinical training in pastoral care and psychotherapy at the Care and Counseling Center of Georgia and the Atlanta VA Medical Center. Cook is a licensed marriage and family therapist/pastoral counselor in private practice in the greater Atlanta area. He is also an adjunct professor at Emory University Candler School of Theology and Columbia Theological Seminary teaching in the area of pastoral theology, care, and counseling.


Title: Black Fatherhood, Adoption, and Theology
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206 pages