Mr. Henderson served in the Air Force before going to Yale, where he majored in psychology. He graduated on Monday.
Two parent family
© Arad Golan Coll/Falmouth University
There aren't many conservative students at Yale: fewer than 12 percent, according to a survey by our student newspaper. There are fewer former foster children. I am one of the rare students on campus who can claim both identities.

My unusual upbringing has shaped my conservatism. My birth mother was addicted to drugs. As a young child, I spent five years in foster care. At age 7, I was adopted, but for a long time after that I was raised in broken homes.

Foster care, broken homes and military service have fashioned my judgments. My experiences drive me to reflect on what environments are best for children. Certainly not the ones I came from.

Where I came from can be understood through my name: Robert Kim Henderson. All three names were taken from different adults.

Robert comes from my supposed biological father. The only information I have about him is his name from a document provided by a social worker responsible for my case when I was a foster child.

My middle name, Kim, comes from my biological mother. It was her family name. She succumbed to drug addiction, rendering her unable to care for me.

And my last name: Henderson. It comes from my former adoptive father. After my adoptive mother left him, he severed ties with me in order to hurt her. He figured that my emotional pain from his desertion would be transmitted to my adoptive mother. He was right. The three people who gave me their names have something in common: All abandoned me. None took responsibility.

Last year, a fellow student told me I was a victim. Yale is the only place where someone has said this to me. I responded that if someone had told me I was a victim when I was a kid, I would never have made it to the Air Force, where I served for eight years, or to Yale. I would have given up. When I was 10, a teacher told me that if I applied myself, I could alter my future. This advice changed my life. From my response, my fellow student inferred that I was not as progressive as him. As our conversation unfolded, he asked, "What does it actually mean to be a conservative?"

For me, the answer is that people who came before us weren't stupid. They were stunted in many ways. But not in every way. Older people have insights worthy of our attention.

One piece of inherited wisdom is the value of the two-parent family. It's not fashionable to talk about this. How people raise their children is a matter of preference. But it is not really up for debate that the two-parent home is, on average, better for children.

First, two parents can provide their children more resources, including emotional support, encouragement and help with homework. One conscientious parent, no matter how heroic, cannot do the work of two. Second, single-parent households have a lower standard of living, which is associated with lower school grades and test scores.

Here is an example of the success of intact families from one of my psychology classes. The professor asked students to anonymously respond to a question about parental background. Out of 25 students, only one student besides me did not grow up in a traditional two-parent family. It's no accident that most of my peers at Yale came from intact families.

Outcomes are worse for foster children. Ten percent of them enroll in college, and 3 percent graduate. To my knowledge, among more than 5,000 undergraduates at Yale my senior year, the number of former foster children was under 10.

Along with taking accumulated wisdom seriously, I understand conservative philosophy to mean that the role of the individual in making decisions and undertaking obligations is paramount. Individuals have rights. But they also have responsibilities.

For instance, when I say parents should prioritize their children over their careers, there is a sense of unease among my peers. They think I want to blame individuals rather than a nebulous foe like poverty. They are mostly right. Many people who come from privilege do not like placing blame on ordinary people. They prefer to blame ideologies, institutions, abstractions.

A cynical interpretation of this attitude is that some students want to keep the competition down. Fewer children raised in good families means less competition for those at the top.

My skin crawls when people use me as an example of a person who can shoulder the burdens of a nontraditional upbringing and succeed. They use my success as an argument for lax attitudes about parenting. But I am one of the lucky ones.

Many people have asked me how I turned out to be relatively successful, given my turbulent childhood. My answer is simple: During adolescence, I had the benefit of two parents, my adoptive mother and her partner, and I believed I had control of my future.

My adoptive mother and her partner raised me from middle school through high school in the early to mid-2000s in a rural California town called Red Bluff. They made a stable home for me. We had dinner together every weeknight. We talked about minutiae. They would ask me, "How was school today?" And I would respond with the usual "It was fine." They gave me unsolicited advice. I was sarcastic in response. And we loved one another.

I experienced a stable family, if only for a few years. Though they experienced homophobia and struggled financially, they never let it get in the way of doing the right thing for their son.

Ordinary adults taking responsibility made all the difference for me. I maintain that the agency of individuals will lead to fewer impoverished childhoods.

If today that makes me a conservative, great. I take responsibility for that.
Rob Henderson, who served in the Air Force, graduated on Monday from Yale, where he majored in psychology.