Last night after dinner I had the routine task of taking three of our boys for a haircut. We arrived at the establishment in question, gave them our phone number (by which they keep track of customers' records) and asked the stylist in question to add another name ("Leon") to our ever-growing list of family members. Since we had a twenty minute wait we drove across the parking lot to the nearest grocery store to pick up a couple of items and returned for the haircuts.
I sat watching as three of our most interesting kids proceeded to get their hair cut. Jimmy/Ben is now 16, has lived with us since he was nearly ten. His English, after all these years, is pretty good but at times his enunciation is rather indistinct, and it is difficult for those who do not know him to understand him sometimes. Ricardo is now 14, has gone from being a sixth grader a month ago to a seventh grader and then a varsity wrestler in that same period of time. Ricardo is very bright, understands both Spanish and English (although he refuses to speak Spanish any longer and barely speaks much English, since he is an introvert), but is difficult for strangers to understand because of his decidedly South American accent. Leon is one of our newest sons, 12 years old, and of Asian ancestry. He is bright and perfectionistic, but also difficult to understand because he speaks quietly and with a Texas drawl and regional speech patterns.
So, among the three stylists, two other family groups and myself, all of whom are caucasian, I felt I was at least doing my social justice duty in providing a little more diversity to the hair cutting business. I watched and listened as I observed each of the boys getting their hair cut. Jimmy/Ben stumbled through his hair request, his hapless stylist trying to understand how he wanted his "big" (he is still trying to figure out the difference between "big" and "long," and says that his hair is "big" if it is long) hair to be cut. Ricardo didn't know how to say what he wanted, so he ended up with far less hair than he wanted (in the past two years he has reveled in the shaggy look, although his wrestling coach told him this week he needed to get his hair cut, so we finally had some leverage). And Leon was completely unsatisfied with his haircut, attempting vigorously but unsuccessfully, to receive a better "edge" to his cut.
During this enterprise I overheard the voice of a man getting his hair cut. Evidently the stylist was talking with him about his six-year-old son, who was also getting his hair cut. "Yeah," he said, "all you can do is provide them the direction, and they each will choose their own path."
I was struck by the simplicity and profundity of the statement. It quite accurately summarizes the internal struggle I have had as a parent for years. The difficulty of parenthood is that you can pour yourself into the life of your child or children, but there are no guarantees. You can provide the structure, the morality, the ethics, the philosophy of life ... but in the end that's all you can do. Your child or children will choose his or her own path.
Quietly I had to say, "Thank you, God." My eavesdropping ears had received the whisper of God, words that summarize what I have known (and probably even said in my own way many times), but words that I needed to hear again. As I considered the words, I couldn't help but glance at the floor as the stylists began to sweep up the remains of their work. Amidst the light brown and blond hues on the floor (evidence of our nearly monocultural experience in Minnesota) were three piles of jet black hair, clipped from the heads of my sons.
And I experienced the peace that comes from knowing that I have done and am doing the right thing in being an adoptive parent. Not only am I giving children the opportunity to learn a good way of life, but I have the opportunity of helping our community to understand that the world is a bigger place than our 50,000-population college town. And, perhaps even more personally, I am daily having my spiritual life challenged, refined and affirmed in the most unique of ways.