The first time Barry Abernathy met Tyler, the little boy thought Barry was his father. He even ran into Barry’s arms and told him so.
The declaration wasn’t spoken as an adoption ploy or to play on Barry’s heartstrings. Tyler felt an immediate connection to Barry when he caught sight of the man’s left hand.
Barry Abernathy loved music. He was always singing and playing the drums, and he loved putting on little shows for his neighbors. So when Barry was a teenager, his mother took him to the music store and bought him a bluegrass album.
“I put it on the turntable and listened to it, and when I heard it … I was on fire,” Barry said.
He decided he had to learn to play the banjo. The only problem was Barry’s left had only had a thumb and part of an index finger.
He knew it would be a challenge; his left hand made it almost impossible to play chords.
“At age 15, I started learning the banjo,” he said. “My mom didn’t think it was something that was possible, but God had other plans.”
He learned to play the banjo and guitar, turning his love for music into a successful career. He now plays banjo with his band, Appalachian Road Show, and has been nominated for two Grammy awards.
“I definitely don’t have the physical abilities that others have, but I have learned that a melody can be found on an instrument without getting too awful complicated, and that has been enough for me,” Barry said.
An Obvious Decision
While Barry keeps his music as uncomplicated as possible, he wasn’t expecting life to become complicated at the age of 50. When one of his daughters was a teenager working in a day care center, she mentioned a pair of siblings she recently met.
Tyler, 4, and Zoey, 5, had been removed from an unsafe environment and put into the foster system. Tyler had the same disability as Barry, and people were already telling him he wouldn’t be able to do certain things in life. Barry’s daughter asked for her dad’s help.
When he stopped by the daycare to meet the kids, Barry spotted Tyler right away.
“He pats his little buddy on the head and said, ‘Hey look, that’s my dad!’” Barry remembered. “He literally thought because our hands were alike, that I was his dad.”
Then he ran into Barry’s arms and repeated Barry was his father.
“Do you need me to be (your father)?” Barry asked.
“You’re my dad,” Tyler said again.
He drove home that day thinking about the interaction. He argued with God, noting his age and circumstances as reasons to not adopt.
“I am 50 years old, and my wife and I have never even thought about fostering or adopting,” Barry said.
What he didn’t know, though, was his wife also visited the daycare center that day to meet Tyler and Zoey. They both felt God telling them to take care of these siblings. By the time they got home that night, they decided to expand their family.
“I said, ‘Lord, if you want us to do this, you need to make a way,’” Barry said.
And, He did.
Together at Last
Less than a week later, the kids’ eighth foster placement fell through, and they were looking for another place to stay. Barry and his wife stepped up and took in the two kids, intending to adopt them.
“When these children came into our lives, we both felt God’s calling to try and take them into our family,” Barry said. “ … I’ve never seen anyone else’s (hand) exactly like mine. Also, neither child had even known a dad. We were their ninth placement in 10 months.”
Their adoptions were finalized via video call in April 2020. While there are still struggles — the children had early trauma — the Abernathys are confident in their parenting abilities and in God’s direction.
“I don’t see how anything like that could be a coincidence,” Barry said. “ … We felt like it was God and it was fate that put us together with these children.”