Bloomfield Township— Jason Paulateer did not celebrate his first Father’s Day.
Jason Lamont Paulateer Jr., 7 pounds and 21 inches long, was born July 30, 1996. He died exactly a month later.
A hole in his heart was diagnosed at birth, and the infant drew his last breath cradled in his mom’s arms.
The Paulateers were left with gaping holes in their own hearts.
“I was still numb from the loss,” said Jason Paulateer, 40. “I already was young and afraid of fatherhood.”
Mom Chapri Paulateer, 41, cherishes their son’s lock of hair, given to them at the hospital along with a cast of his tiny footprints.
But on Sunday, Jason, a banker at PNC Bank, will celebrate Father’s Day times eight. He and his wife now have three biological daughters and five adopted youngsters. They’ll also complete the move into a 2,700-square-foot, five-bedroom home that’s slightly larger than the home they’re renting.
Dad said it is a blessing.
“I will be celebrating this Father’s Day moving my family into our new home,” he said. “I will be celebrating the Lord’s blessings on our family in supplying us with a home of our own in a neighborhood where we desired to be, at a price we could afford.”
They’ve also owned homes in the past, with and without eight children, and they will remain in Bloomfield Township.
Despite the pain of losing their firstborn, the couple started their family again in 1998, giving birth to their oldest daughter, Micha, now 16. Two other girls followed: Michaila, 15, and Michaya, 9.
The girls’ adopted siblings include four boys — Malik, 11; Monte, 10; and twins, Malachai and Mekhi, 9 — and a girl, Mahoghany, 8.
But the Paulateers don’t distinguish between biological and adopted. They’re all family.
“The best part about being the dad in this family, is when I come home from work every day and get so many hugs and kisses,” said Jason, a former cub scout who enrolled all of his children in the scouts. “It makes all the troubles of the day just wash away.”
Mom describes the scene when he arrives home and says it’s like Superman entered the room.
“The kids are ecstatic, running over each other to get to him, and everyone wants to tell him about their day, all at the same time,” said Chapri.
Jason and Chapri are among a growing number of people in Michigan choosing to adopt.
According to the Children’s Bureau of the federal Administration for Children and Families, the number of foster children awaiting adoption in Michigan has dropped nearly by half in the past decade, from 6,967 in 2003 to 3,583 in 2012. The decline can be attributed to a combination of organizations reaching out to identify adoptive families, and other organizations helping biological families remain intact.
“The state has stepped up actions to recruit adoptive families and to provide services after the children are adopted,” said Jennifer Harmon, the Post-Adoptive Resource Center supervisor within Orchards Children’s Services in Southfield. “There is this push to create family preservation programs to keep children with their biological families, and our program provides resources to help families stay together once the children are adopted.”
The Paulateers, who met at Grand Valley State University, originally considered adopting one son. But they fell in love with the two older brothers, Malik and Monte, when they met them in November 2007, before learning the boys had three more siblingswho also needed to be adopted.
“We just couldn’t separate them,” said Chapri, an only child who always planned to adopt. “So we decided to adopt all of them, and the adoption agency worker suggested we change their names, so now all our children’s names begin with the letter M.” The adoptions were finalized between December 2008 and April 2009.
Michaila, 15, describes having five adopted siblings as a “good experience.”
“For one thing, you never get lonely,” said the aspiring cardiothoracic surgeon. “Although it can get very frustrating at times, it’s still good to have a big family and to see all the different personalities in action.”
Such a large family has inherent challenges.
Massive loads of laundry keep two washing machines and two dryers working overtime. Grocery bills are prohibitive.
“We can go through 2½ gallons of milk in a day, and I can cook three pounds of spaghetti for a meal,” said Chapri. “Breakfast is a dozen and a half eggs, two containers of biscuits and a package and a half of bacon.”
And it isn’t always fun and games for the kids.
“It’s sometimes too noisy with too many people,” said 9-year-old Malachai. “And when I get really mad and I want them to stop bothering me, they just won’t stop.”
Monte, 10, said he didn’t even want to be adopted.
“I wanted to stay with my foster mother at first, and to be safe,” he said. Chapri said the family still sees Monte’s foster mother.
“It’s hard sometimes, and we’ve tried to keep as many contacts as possible,” she said. Moments later, Monte quietly approached his mom and wrapped his arms around her, while she gave him a long embrace.
But Mekhi, 9, excitedly shared his own experience and offered what he’d like to be when he grows up.
“It’s fun and it’s easier for me to do my homework because Michaila is good at math and she helps me,” he said. “And when I grow up, I want to be a gold medalist in gymnastics, and I want to work at PNC Bank like my father. Then I want to run for president in 2023, and I want to be an entrepreneur and then I want to get married, have 10 kids, become a football player and then go back to gymnastics.”
The Paulateers beamed and said they are proud of their children, and want them to do well in school.
They selected the city they live in because of the Bloomfield Hills School District.
“That was not just our main consideration, it was our only consideration when looking for a place to live when we moved from Grand Rapids,” said Chapri.
But even in one of the state’s best school districts, some of the children struggle.
“All of the children we adopted receive some type of educational support, ranging from intensive intervention, such as a contained classroom, to math support,” said Chapri. “But there are a lot of resources in this district, which may not be available in other districts, so that really helps.”
School initiative coordinator Christina Tang said the Paulateer family is “famous within the Eastover Elementary School community.”
“The parents are very involved, so I’ve crossed paths with them and their kids many times throughout the school year,” she said.
“Jason and Chapri are truly an inspiration,” she said. “They are great parents and have such an amazing attitude. They are very helpful, giving, are always positive/upbeat, humble, and I can tell that they really love each other and their kids.”
Tang said she’d like to see the family get some help paying for a car trip to Florida on Tuesday to watch Micha play in a volleyball tournament, so she contacted The Detroit News.
“I hoped that someone might read about the Paulateers and give them something great, like tickets to Disney World or a donation of some sort,” she said. “Since the Paulateers have given so much inspiration and love to others, I just thought it would be great if some of that love and hope could be returned back to them in a special way.
“I think that especially during tough economic times, people are less likely to give and share,” Tang said. “But as the Paulateer story demonstrates, the more you give, the more you get in return.”