A story recently published in The Catholic Spirit, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Metuchen, features one Holt adoptive father who helped advocate for older children in the Philippines during last year’s Philippines Ambassador Program.
Couple advocate adoption after enriching experiences
By Chris Donahue
TEWKSBURY, N.J. — Last fall, Holt, a Christian-based international organization that facilitates adoption of children from 11 countries, needed help. Tony Formica was one individual who decided to become an ambassador for Holt, which had helped him become a father. Thirteen years earlier, the member of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, Whitehouse Station, together with his wife, Caroline, had adopted his first child, Lia, through Holt. Then, through the organization, the Formicas adopted Joe, 11, Lucy, 7, and Anthony, 6 and on Jan. 18 they welcomed Maria.
All of the children were born in different cities or regions in China. The first three were adopted before their second birthday; Anthony was three and Maria, four.
The Formica’s visits to China to pick up their children usually lasted 12 to 13 days. Some of the children were in foster homes, some in institutional shelters.
“We got to see how the local people lived and what they could expect had they stayed,” Tony said when asked about the process. “A lot of families pretty much never left the hotel. The culture was not important to them. We know why they [children] came to be where they were. We educated ourselves as much as we could.
“Our grand plan is to all go back and revisit the places that are important to each of our children. We have no secrets from them. We’ll research their histories as much as they want to or as much as the facts will let us.”
Originally, the Formicas had planned to only adopt two girls.
“Spiritually, we need to be parents and this is how we did it,” said Tony, who retired as a full colonel in the United States Army after 35 years.
When they first considered adoption, Tony said, “We didn’t know anybody who had adopted or anything about the programs. We started looking and went to China because the process was good and fair and understandable.
Caroline admitted, “It was culture shock, especially getting Lia, but when we got Anthony it was a lot different because of more technology. I Skyped him every day.”
Tony said, “I jokingly tell my oldest daughter if it wasn’t for her the others wouldn’t be here because she turned out so well. I wouldn’t say it was seamless, but it just went so well that we went back for Joe.”
Caroline, an adjunct professor, added that after Lia, “We had to wait a year to adopt another. We put our paperwork in and they told us they had a little boy. We never expected to get him because at that time you didn’t get them [because of China’s two-child policy, boys were preferred]. Joe had a cleft lip and palate but as soon as I saw him I fell in love with him. I was surprised.
“After him we kept going because it seemed natural. It seemed like it fit.”
Finding families who fit with children waiting to be adopted is what Tony is now doing as an ambassador for Holt. When he learned the organization that had helped him needed help to promote adoption for children in the Philippines, he spoke to his pastor, Father Leonard F.A. Rusay, who encouraged him to join the program and offered full support. Tony decided to participate in the annual program, which is designed to find a family for a specific single child or sibling group, ages eight to 15.
As an ambassador for Holt, Tony was among a group of volunteers who spent a week in the Philippines with children getting to know their personality and the type of family best suited for them.
There are so many children in the Philippines in need of a family, Tony said his efforts were “just a drop in the bucket,” as he showed photos of children who are well cared for in homes and institutions, but in need of adoption.
“The [Filippino] kids are very spiritual. They say grace before every meal. Some will take the back of a person’s hand and put it on their forehead as a sign of respect.”
On a spiritual level, Tony said adoption reinforced what his faith teaches, “that people are people no matter where they are. In that sense, yes, we are all God’s children.”
Reflecting on the decision to adopt, the Formicas said it should not be made lightly because of the impact it may have on not only the parents but other siblings.
A key is to be willing to think about others and make sacrifices.
“You have to understand you won’t be able to pick up a book and read whenever you want or go away as often,” Caroline said.
“You have to realize your life will change,” Tony said, “but you have to want it to change. Children need a very serious and a lifelong commitment but, the rewards are immense. You are their mom and you are their dad and that is what they know.”
When asked if St. Joseph would be the best example for someone who is considering adoption, Tony replied, “I have thought a lot about St. Joseph and how he was able to accept and be very nurturing. He learned, ‘Blood is not thicker than water.’
“I have seen that and I have said it from day one.”
“Because we both grew up in Italian homes where family is above all else,” Caroline added.
“Whether you liked them or not,” Tony said with a laugh.
“I don’t like the word adoption in the sense that it tends to establish a different perspective on who your children are, if not to them, certainly to me,” he continued. “We think of it as building our family and this is our family. These are the people that are meant to be with us and if you would ask them I am pretty sure they would tell you say the same thing. They wouldn’t qualify it by saying, ‘This is my adoptive mother.’”
“We met adoptive families at a Holt meeting,” Caroline noted, “and one woman who had a daughter from China said, ‘Sometimes I forget I didn’t give birth to her.’
“That really struck me. Now I can say the same thing. I look at them like, ‘There are all these little souls already.’
“And when you adopt, everything they need, everything they are is right there. Whereas a lot of people, when they have a child, think you want them to be like you. You just give that up.”
“We wanted to have children who didn’t look like us,” Tony said. “At first I thought we did. Then we had a realization one day that people don’t have to look like you to have kids.”
Caroline added that a lot of people who have adopted feel the same way as they do: “How did this child, wherever they are from, just match? Fit? It is amazing how it works out.”
“We are not saving them. They saved us,” Tony said.
“We are saving our own souls,” Caroline added.
Jennifer A. Ruggiero, director of the Office of Respect for Life for the Diocese of Metuchen, N.J., described adopting a child as “a great work of love.”
“When it is done, much is given, but much is also received,” she said. “Tony and Caroline’s decision, commitment and witness in their adoption story, is an invitation to society as a whole to be courageous and generous so that the gift of adoption may be more and more esteemed, encouraged and supported.”
For more information about the Philippines Ambassador Program, please contact Jessica Palmer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For information about adopting a child from the Philippines or sponsoring one call Tony Formica at (973) 886-3639.
Chris Donahue is Associate Editor, The Catholic Spirit, official newspaper of the Diocese of Metuchen, N.J.