Father figure now dad to four brothers

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Jun 12, 2003, 9:12:50 AM6/12/03
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Father figure now dad to four brothers
BY JOANNA PLUTA
STAFF WRITER

Like most other boys their age, the four Zackheim brothers spend their
afternoons playing in the front yard of their Lake Buff home. Balls whiz
through the air, one boys yells down from the clubhouse at the top of the
swingset, and bicycles clutter the walkway.

No one would guess these boys have known a life different from the one they
currently enjoy.

But this is only the fourth Father's Day that Mark, David, Patrick and Tim,
ages 5, 6, 8 and 9, respectively, will spend with their adopted father Marc
Zackheim.

"There were a few times that I wondered what we were going to do," Marc said,
describing the month between the day he and his wife Vicki won custody of all
four boys and the day the boys moved to Lake Bluff three years ago.

"But we're not youngsters, and we're not unused to what kids are like. We
trusted our (professional) training and prayed. But that doesn't mean your
anxiety is any less."

Marc, a 26-year veteran child psychologist, and Vicki, a social worker, both
work with a health care group based in the Western suburbs. The group manages
two therapeutic group homes for 17 boys between the ages of 12 and 20 in
Indiana.

While both find tremendous fulfillment from their jobs -- Vicki said her
husband acts as a father to the boys in Indiana, making sure they eat right and
care for themselves -- they found themselves considering adoption a little more
than three years ago.

"We said one, maybe two children, and we started looking around," Marc
remembers.

A brief and limited search for the right agency to facilitate the adoption
brought the Zackheims back to their friends in social services who told them
about four biological bothers: Mark, David, Patrick and Tim, then ages 1,3, 5
and 6, respectively.

"A judge had ordered that boys be moved out of their foster home, so they were
ready. And we were ready, too," Marc said of the quick adoption process. "I
looked at Vicki and I said, 'Do ya wanna?' and she said 'Well, they shouldn't
be separated.' So we said. 'OK -- let's meet them.'

The boys would be ready to move in a month, forcing Marc and Vicki to work
quickly to prepare their home. They filled their seven-passenger Chevy Lumina
with $1,000 worth of shoes, socks, shorts, underwear and other necessities from
the two closest Wal-Mart Super Centers, and borrowed a crib from friends.

"I never knew a van could carry so much," Marc said.

Marc admitted to waking in a cold sweat a few nights during the month they
spent preparing for the boys to arrive, but he never second guessed their
decision. And on June 6, 2000, the boys moved to Lake Bluff.

"When we first picked them up, Vicki went over to Mark and asked if he wanted
to come with her, and Mark jumped into her arms," the elder Marc remembered.
"And I asked David if he wanted to come with me, and he gave me his hand. And
when he asked the two older boys, they said 'OK.' So we brought them home."

As the boys acclimated to their new surroundings, their personalities came out.
Each boy has distinguished himself as the athlete, the reader, the socialite
and what Marc called the "all-around politician."

Five-year-old Mark likes to ride his bicycle, play with bubbles and go to the
car wash. David, age 6, prefers the grocery store, a chore the whole family
participates in.

Patrick, now 8, likes to play catch and basketball outside, and watch movies
inside. He and his father watch "Attack of the Giant Tomatoes," a movie his mom
does not to watch with them, Patrick said, because she thinks it's too scary.
And Tim, age 9, is a game-player. He likes Candyland, checkers and Don't Wake
Daddy.

The boys also convinced their parents to adopt Max, a 5-year-old black Labrador
retriever, from Riverwoods-based Orphans of the Storm. Little Mark is
interested in bringing a second dog into the family.

"Life is very busy," the elder Marc said. "I'm looking forward to a time when
they are a little older and all of the bathroom issues are down pat, so that we
can do a little bit more traveling."

The house, however, shows evidence of a well-oiled machine. Two refrigerators
line one wall of the kitchen, perpendicular to twin stoves. Four stools stand
alongside a nearby countertop, evidence that four mouths need to eat at the
same time each morning.

As each boy enters the house after playing outside, he pauses to wipe his feet,
and easily introduces himself to newcomers with a handshake and a "Nice to meet
you."

Each year, the family celebrates its June 6 anniversary. Last year, Deerfield's
Bakery made a cake in the shape of their home, which the Zackheims served at a
party. Their celebration this year will be delayed, but they're looking forward
to a day trip to Milwaukee in the coming weeks.

The Zackheims thought long and hard about adoption. Marc offered advice for
other couples who might be considering it:

"If your heart says to do it, you're the right person."

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