Saturday, June 27, 2009

Attachment Is a Nice Thing

Over the years of raising attachment-disordered children (our oldest four children, in particular) I have forgotten just how nice attachment can be between a parent and a child. And, I suppose, how natural attachment is for many parents who raise children with that innate capacity not having been destroyed by early years of neglect or abuse.

Today I took three of our kids, Mercedes (13), Leon (14) and Ricardo (15) to our church parking lot, where they met a group of teenagers and parents who are on their way to Kansas City. There they will be engaged in mission work together for about a week's time. Over the years I have taken many of our children to such settings, and I have learned to be careful not to excessively embarrass them. Our older children seem to have had the more significant attachment issues, and I learned in those early years of parenting to keep my distance in public situations. I always made sure to bid them goodbye and pat them on the shoulder or whatever, and almost always with no reciprocal response and never at their initiation. I became accustomed to this unusual way of saying "goodbye," always hoping that my consistent efforts to express affection would pay off one day. To date they really haven't. With our older, attachment-disordered children it is still painfully awkward to express or receive emotion. I have pretty much given up on that after all these years.

So, this morning before we left the house I made a point of hugging each of the three kids going on the missions trip, telling them that I was happy they were doing something good and that we would miss them in their absence. I wanted to make sure I had a moment for connection if things at the church became too busy or awkward for that to occur. We loaded into the car and set off for the parking lot.

Arriving there they unloaded their luggage and gathered with other youth and parents. I had to make a quick trip to the ATM for cash for my young missionaries and joined them a few minutes later. I joined the casually gathering circle of humanity when I felt a warm body cuddling up to mine. Expecting it to be our daughter Mercedes (who is quite affectionate at home and in public) I glanced down, having to make a second glance. It was our newest son, Leon, clearly desiring to be close to me in the moments before his departure. I stretched my around his shoulders and hugged him close (but not too close, since I didn't want to embarrass him). His body eased into my side, as natural as sunshine in the morning. He was content to stand as close to me as he could, my arm around his shoulders squeezing his tanned neck as an act of parental affection. He didn't move until he had to, when our youth pastor invited the youth participating to move to one side of the circle and the rest of us to the other. And even then he was reluctant; it was obvious that he preferred to stand close to me in those waning moments than with his peers.

I couldn't believe it. I have a kid -- a fourteen-year-old boy, at that -- who is attached and who loves his dad (he loves his mother, too, probably a little more than me). It was a very fulfilling emotional moment. I have waited years and years for one of my kids to initiate any indicator of healthy attachment, and reality arrived early this morning on a humid, rain-spattered morning in a church parking lot.

It's strange how adoptive parents learn to value the things that many "ordinary" families take for granted. Like a child-initiated hug in a church parking lot filled with peers and parents. Attachment. It's a very nice thing.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Breakfast With the Kids' Friend

Claudia and I have always had as a goal for our family something we might call permeable boundaries. Permeable boundaries is a concept that attempts the best of two worlds: clear boundary expectations with a sense of inclusive hospitality. What I mean is that we have some clear family guidelines about what we expect from people who live in our home, but we want our family to be an "open" system, not a "closed" system. Many families with clear expectations, it seems, become mini-fortresses unto themselves, where those who are "in" are "in" and those who are "out" are "out."

Claudia grew up in a family where her brothers' and her friends were always welcome in the family home. She tells me that on more than one occasion her parents "took in" friends of her brothers who were unable, for whatever reason, to live with their families of origin for a period of time. It was simply the way her parents practiced their faith. They were (and are) hospitable people, generous in giving of themselves and whatever they have.

I was also raised in a family where inclusion was a strong value. Although we never had anyone live with us for any length of time, my mother from my earliest days instilled in me a concern for those who were different (due to physical or mental handicaps), forgotten (foster children in the community) or outcasts. She herself was raised in a family with interesting dynamics; her mother was always clear that there were no "step"-whatevers in our family. There were only children and (as they grew up) people who were to be treated with dignity and respect.

It is no surprise, then, that our home has continued to follow in these noble directions. Even during some of our most challenging times three years ago we did our best to be hospitable to friends of our kids. I have served food at our table on more than one occasion to our son Mike and his friends in moments when it was obvious they were inebriated or high. Frankly those moments tested my Christian conviction, because the behaviors I cite violate our family guidelines, and I was not all that interested in being kind to older teenagers living in ways that rejected our values. I decided, with gritted teeth, that my Christian witness would be stronger in providing compassionate hospitality than in asserting a moral code ... at least in those moments.

In any case, we have always considered it a privilege that many of our kids like to invite their friends to our home. Usually that has been for a short period of time -- an overnight or a weekend -- but this summer that invitation has extended to what appears to be an entire summer kind of thing. Our fourteen-year-old boys (we have three of them) have a shared friend who is a really nice kid. He is respectful, appropriate and cooperative.

Just before school was letting out in May, Leon asked if this friend could "move in for the summer." Claudia and I thought the request might be a bit exaggerated for emphasis, but we had no problem in saying, almost immediately, "Sure, as long as it's OK with his parent(s)." The request, it turns out, was quite literal, with no exaggeration. When it became apparent to us that he would be staying with us the summer, Claudia sat him down to explain our expectations. He would need to comply with our family's behavioral guidelines. He would need to assume a household chore. He would need to keep in contact with his mother on a regular basis. Their friend has been here nearly every night and day since that time, and it has worked out beautifully.

Last night as we watched Leon's late baseball game (it started at 8:00 PM and wasn't over until past 10:00 PM), I glanced past Claudia to see him sitting in one of our family's chairs, as bonded to us (or moreso) than our own children. Fortunately for him in this very white community he has "siblings" who belong to us who look nothing like us, so it's as natural as can be for him to assume a family connection with us.

I was up earlier than anyone else today, and I decided I would make pancakes for breakfast. On my day off (which Friday is) I usually make something that I eat right away and then serve others as they awaken (until about 10 AM, which is our family cut-off time for breakfast). It was quiet in the house, I had just sat down to eat my pancakes and sausage, when out of the corner of my eye I saw our kids' friend walking quietly up the stairs. Not wanting to shatter his or my solitude, I waved good morning to him. A few minutes later he appeared in the kitchen, and I asked him if he'd like me to make him some pancakes.

"Please," he said, a response, that from my kids or their friends, will motivate me to do a lot. A few minutes later we were sitting down at the table together eating quietly, as he prepared for his morning at summer school. In those moments words aren't really necessary. It makes me feel good to know that we are providing this young man with some stability and connection during the summer. I hope it teaches him something about the lived values of a Christian family. And I hope it teaches my kids something of Jesus' ethic of inclusion and hospitality.

Years ago I might have felt a bit awkward eating breakfast with my kids' friend without my children being there, but these days I simply count it a blessing and thank God for helping us create the kind of family that has permeable boundaries.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

A Cynic's Surprise

I have alluded to the reality that I have a tendency to be a bit cynical about things at times. Years of working with humans in both my professional and personal life remind me daily of just how fragile and ordinary life can be. While I find every individual's story interesting, and often provocative, I have seen and experienced too much the apathy and pain of others to have more than a jaded view of things. As an adoptive parent of older children, experience has taught me to expect the worst so that I can appreciate the surprise of something going well. (And, in case you're wondering ... no, it is not my practice to express to my children that I expect the worst in them ... I communicate expectations of the best, but prepare myself internally for the worst).

Last night Claudia and I were together in two church-related meetings. The first took place with nearly all of our teenaged kids, while the second was just the two of us plus a couple of other adults. Both meetings were really positive and encouraging, which makes me smile internally. During the second meeting I received a call on my iPhone from one of our older sons asking, "Is it OK if we go to the park?" Having learned from many years of parenting experience, you will understand that my next question was: "Sure. Who is 'we'?" He said, "Ummm. Just about all of us, and he named each of the boys in our family, plus one of our kids' friends who is pretty much living with us this summer." "OK," I said.

After the meeting, on the way home together, I said to Claudia, "Oh, yeah. That call was from Jimmy. He asked if they could all go to the park."

"Hmmm," Claudia replied. "I got a call from the girls [our fourteen-year-old daughter and her friend] that they wanted to go to the park, too. I think we should just swing by the park before we go home to see what's happening."

We have had a good summer so far with the kids who live in our home. They are getting along well together, can be trusted for periods of time with no parents in immediate line of supervision, and generally are earning a great deal of trust with their good behavior. Inwardly I began to cringe, wondering if we had reached a new negative turning point and hoping that I would not regret my decision to tell them they could go to the park together.

In years past, especially three years ago after having moved to our "new" community and with several of the older children living in our home at that time, any of their forays into the community were met with some new challenge. Negative peer influences, physical assaults, alcohol and drug experimentation ... we were never sure what would happen, but we always knew something negative would happen.

As we rounded to corner to the park, I was subconsciously chafing within. Just how disillusioned and disappointed would I be this time?

Before I could make out the figures in the distance (it was dusk and my middle-aged eyes aren't what they used to be), Claudia said in approbation. "Well, will you look at that? Our family is playing baseball together!"

With the exception of our sixteen-year-old daughter (who is home for a few days from her boyfriend's family's house), all of our children were at the baseball field. There were enough boys to fill the outfield and bases, as well as allowing a pitcher and a batter. In the stands were the two girls in what appeared to be a cheerleader-like stance. They were not arguing, taunting or otherwise disturbing one another. They were, I kid you not, playing baseball together. What could be more all-American and "normal" than that? And who else in our community has the personnel resources under roof to accomplish such a feat without even calling friends?

I returned home with a glow in my heart, my cynicism for the moment melting in a pool of emotional warmth. A few minutes later they returned home as the summer darkness was closing in. Seeing fourteen-year-old Leon, I said, "Hey, it looked like you guys were having a lot of fun. You even had a couple of cheerleaders out there."

He glanced at me impassively and without missing a beat responded, "Well, I think they were doing my texting than cheerleading out there."

So maybe I'm not the only cynic in our family, but every once in a while everyone, even those of us predisposed to negativity, enjoy a surprise.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Irony Which Informs My Faith

Claudia and I returned from our Philadelphia trip today. We had a delightful few days together doing what we most enjoy ... I love to investigate new places and historical sites, and Claudia likes to, well, work. So I spent most of yesterday exploring Philadelphia in the rain (I was gone about ten hours all told) while Claudia worked diligently in the room. Both of us feel we succeeded, so we returned home satisfied.

We were thrilled to learn that our kids who had been semi-independent (we have good neighbors across the street who serve as support, plus Dominyk's PCAs) for these days did well in our absence. Almost all of the laundry was done, the kitchen and living rooms had been cleaned and the emotional barometer was as steady as a blue-skied summer day.

After greeting our kids I began to skim through the accumulated mail for the week. In the midst of magazines, bills and solicitations was a letter from our son. As I surveyed the envelope with its county adult detention address, the irony which I have contemplated many times struck me once again. Our son's name is (I'll make this non-searchable, so read around the "*"s) J*ohn W*esley F*letcher, a name that has important connections in our family of Christian faith, the Methodist movement. It was John Wesley (1703-1791), an Anglican priest, who was instrumental in a revival of religion that swept across Great Britain and into the early United States of America. John Fletcher (1729-1785) was a contemporary of Wesley's and considered to be the theologian of the movement. It was rumored that John Fletcher was Wesley's intended heir apparent, but due to Fletcher's early death and Wesley's extended life this never materialized.

In any case, you might see why our son's name is significant in the family of a United Methodist pastor. When he was baptized at the age of ten we explained to him the historical heritage his name carried. His full name is J*ohn W*esley R*odriguez F*letcher (we included his birth surname), and we and he have always been proud to see the Methodist and Hispanic connections in his identity.

To see the names of two of Methodism's founding fathers handwritten above the institutional stamp of a county jail is an irony which forms my faith. And no, it is not the irony you might think -- a United Methodist pastor with a son whose name represents powerful figures in Christian history sitting in a county jail for charges that could result in his having to register as an offender for years to come.

No, the irony for me is that one of the groups of people John Wesley was most concerned about was those in prison. Much of his time and the time of his "preachers" was invested in visiting those who were incarcerated. In fact, for those of us who are ordained Elders in the United Methodist Church, it is a question asked of us prior to ordination: "Will you visit those in jail?"

It is oddly comforting for me to recognize this irony -- that my son J*ohn W*esley F*letcher is situated in a location his historical namesakes would have been quite familiar with -- and to believe that one day my JWF will discover the spiritual power that transformed those who have come before him.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

A Visit to Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary

I am on vacation this week in Philadelphia, the birthplace of the United States of America. I have accompanied my wife on one of her speaking engagements, and while she works I experience the city of foot. This has been my fullest day this week, just in time for our return tomorrow to Minnesota. I am happy to report that I have walked more than 18,000 steps today, most of them from our hotel to Independence Hall and back. Once there I hailed one of the tour buses, disembarking at what is now a visitor's site, the Eastern State Penitentiary. This penitentiary was first opened in 1829 and saw its last prisoners leave in 1971. The tour is self-guided with the assistance of an easy-to-use listening device. I spent nearly two hours in the experience, moving at a fairly steady pace; I could have spent at least another hour there, exploring empty cell blocks and listening to further presentations with more attention to detail. It was really quite fascinating.

In the past few years I have become much more interested with the history of penology as a parent of a couple adult "kids" who have found their way behind bars as a result of breaking the law. I must say that the adoption journey has provided many opportunities for me to think about situations that earlier in my life rarely crossed my mind. Sure, I had thought philosophically about the criminal justice system as a college student, debated about it during my years in seminary, even initiated a visit to a prison years ago with two of our foster children in attempt to "scare them straight." I am not sure what ever became of the two foster kids, but I was always hopeful that I wouldn't be the parent of kids behind bars. Unfortunately, that has not proven to be the case, and I have had to come face-to-face with more than philosophical meanderings about criminal justice.

ESP came about due to the prison reform concerns of leading Philadelphians like Benjamin Franklin and (Episcopal) Bishop William White. They and others formed what was then called The Philadelphia Society for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons (it first met in May 1787). My visit to ESP reminded me that in many cases the purpose of incarceration was not punishment for crimes committed; it was created as an opportunity for the "criminal" to become "penitent" (note that this is the root of the word "penitentiary"). While not all facilities were built with this purpose in mind, ESP was in the early 1800s. Even the language used to describe the experience connected with religious imagery. Ask a priest or other person familiar with the ways of the monastic, and he will be clear that even today in such a setting an individual monastic's room is called a "cell." In the cell was an opportunity for solitude, confession and amendment of life.

At ESP in the early days prisoners were "hooded" before entering the facility, until they were securely locked in their cell. This was to protect their identity from being observed by others, as well as protecting the identity of those already incarcerated. Once in the cell they had the bare minimums -- a bed, a bench and a cast iron toilet. Interestingly, ESP has indoor plumbing in place before the White House in Washington, DC! Once a day for an hour's time the inmate was allowed to step into the fresh air immediately behind his cell. Each cell had an individual area for outside exercise; no contact was permitted between prisoners. In the early years, an individual could serve the length of his sentence and not have contact with any other prisoner during that time period.

I found this picture too interesting to pass up. It is a picture from the "early days" with an inmate in his cell. He has a writing desk, a bed and on the wall above the door to his exercise area in back is a cross (the picture does not show that clearly) in the center, with two pictures on either side. Immediately above the door is this text:

I believe in God my Father
And in Jesus Christ my Saviour
And in the Holy Spirit, who comforts me and leads me into all truth

Compared with today's context, it seems a glaringly sectarian approach to reform. A clear statement of the traditional Christian understanding of a trinitarian God would never find state approval in today's culture. It would seem, in fairness, that it wasn't a universal at ESP, either, as there was a synagogue and a rabbincal leader for inmates of Jewish faith. However, the role of religious faith was, for those who created this penitentiary, paramount. To reform one's life meant, by default, the need to connect with God.

There don't seem to be any good records as to the success rate of ESP. It is not known whether ESP's approach to reforming a criminal's life was more fruitful than those penitentiaries where punishment was more the norm. I have to wonder, though, how much benefit might be derived from the appropriate exploration of spirituality by those currently incarcerated. (I'm not advocating that state or federal penitentiaries be places where faith is forced upon anyone, but why wouldn't society benefit from the opportunity to offer to a "captive" audience the opportunity to "reform" based upon a new or renewed relationship with the Divine?)

It seems to me that the United States of America -- with more people incarcerated than any other country in the world -- might rethink some of our criminal justice processes. Perhaps it is time to form a new Society for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons. It is nearly two hundred years since this positive model was initiated. What might it look like today?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A Treasured Day

Once again I am up early this morning. It is not even 5:30 AM, and I have already been at my home desk wading through the treasures of yesterday, my birthday. Yesterday was a strange day, actually. I had a couple of pressing church-related responsibilities that kept me distracted and unfocused on the presenting event, beginning my forty-fifth year of life. The day itself was rather full, and the evening was no exception.

Two of our sons, Wilson (10) and Leon (14) had their first baseball games of the season, Claudia and I both had evening meetings, and there was no time to cook or prepare for any kind of celebration. Beginning at about 4:30 yesterday afternoon life in our home shifted into high gear as the component parts of our family began moving in different directions. Our fourteen-year-old daughter Mercedes needed to get to her job at McDonald's. Leon had to get to his game site by the appointed time. Wilson's game was close enough to our home that he could walk to the field. Ricardo had soccer practice. Dominyk was not yet home from his PCA (personal care attendant) time. Claudia and I wanted to share a little time together before heading our evening meetings. I wanted to catch at least some of one of the boys' first baseball games.

Amongst the drop-off's Claudia and I found about an hour to have dinner together, while our oldest at-home son, Rand (20), facilitated further schedule issues and coordinated the feeding of available family members. I dropped Claudia off at her meeting site after our shared meal and zipped off to watch the first forty-five minutes of Wilson's game.

If you read this blog regularly you understand that I am no sports fan. I have never been a sports fan, from the earliest days of my life. But I am a big fan of my kids, so year after year I have found myself sitting in uncomfortable portable chairs or on hot (in the summer) and cold (in the winter) metal bleachers watching everything from football, to Tae Kwon Do, to wrestling, to basketball, to soccer (a fan of which I have become over the past couple of years, by the way), to hockey and myriad other athletic pursuits of my children.

I do not always understand the lingo of each particular sport, nor do I fully grasp all the intricacies of the rules. (My wife, on the other hand, does understand most of those details, so I often turn to her for explanation. Yeah, I know. Kind of gender atypical, but hey, it works for us).

Last night as I sat watching my third grader play his first baseball game of the season I was blessed with a few moments of gracious solitude. I sat in my chair, not that uncomfortable, although I was a bit chilly (the past week or so in Minnesota has been unseasonably cool, with highs barely reaching 60 degrees most days). I observed these young boys and their coaches, grateful to have the opportunity to be the parent of a younger kid again. As time ticked by I began to wonder if I would actually get to see Wilson bat before I had to leave. Just before I needed to depart Wilson's turn came, and I watched with pride as he picked up the bat, eventually hit the ball and made it to first base. His 62-pound body with spindly legs can run, and his brace-toothed smile always brightens his face. As I passed by him on the way to the car I congratulated him. He smiled and waved as I said goodbye.

I must admit I was a little preoccupied and brooding as I drove into the church parking lot. The tightness of schedules necessitated a significant meeting on the night of my birthday, and I would rather have been watching my sons' baseball games. But responsibility calls, and I did my best to explain the situation to both Wilson and Leon. Wilson's earlier response to Claudia (when she explained the difficulty of our schedules for the night) had been, "Well, it's going to be hard for me to win this baseball game if no one is there to watch me." Fortunately both of the boys were gracious in understanding that last night was a difficult one, but that we would be at most of their games in the near future.

The focus of my meeting at church concerns the broader vision and future of our life together as a congregation. The content is not without controversy, but what was shared received largely positive feedback. By the time I walked to my office before coming home it was well past 9:00 PM. After making an important telephone call and sending a few quick emails I walked through the darkened corridors of the church facility to my car in the parking lot. I breathed a sigh of relief, thanking God for the opportunity to serve in a church with bright possibilities and huge opportunities for the future.

Pulling into our driveway a few minutes later, our house appeared darkened except for two windows. Expecting to be enveloped by the silence of sleeping bodies, I was surprised that a few people were still awake, awaiting my arrival. Our oldest son and our dog Gizmo were out the door before I got to the house. Stepping into our entryway our daughter Mercedes greeted me with a warm smile and a huge hug. She asked how my meeting had gone and I responded positively. Skipping down the stairs I looked into our darkened family room, where I had heard voices and said, "Hi," not certain who was actually there. Our sons Ben (17) and Ricardo (15) and one of the boys' friends (15) greeted me in return. Looking for the baseball players, I found Leon in the garage looking for a lost item in the van.

"So, how did your game go, Leon?" I asked.

"I won it," was his response. (I think it's always interesting when a kid playing in a team sport responds in the singular to a winning game than in the plural, but that's another story altogether).

"That's great! What was the score?"


"I'm proud of you, Leon."

Before I could issue another congratulatory word, he said, "Yeah. I won it for you, Dad."

I was momentarily stunned by the words. I cannot recall, in raising our older kids, many of whom have been involved in sports or other activities over the years, ever hearing one my kids tell me that. The warmth that radiated from his face, the delight in his eyes to know he has parents who care about what he is doing, the sheer joy in being part of a family that will never leave him ... in that split-second the emotions and the benefits of older-child adoption flooded me with gratitude. I thanked Leon for his words, apologized for not being there for the game and told him how much I loved him.

Stepping back inside the house I began to look for Wilson. He had just stepped out of the shower, wrapped in a large towel, his jet-black hair glistening with water, his eyes sparkling with excitement.

"So, Wilson, how did your game turn out?"

"We won."

I congratulated him and then listened as he reeled off several sentences of baseball jargon that I tried to follow. I gathered from his rapid-fire report that his work on the team had been important, that he enabled several home runs to take place and that he had the honor of taking home the game ball. (Or something like that).

"Oh, Wilson. I'm so proud of you. That's exceptional!" I responded.

And then he, like his older birth brother minutes earlier, touched my heart with a treasured word. "I put something in your 'treasure box' for you on your desk. It's a picture." Earlier in the day Wilson had been a Cub Scout day camp event and he had painted for me a green, glitter-covered wooden treasure box. I walked the few steps into our bedroom to see on my desk a 3 x 5 inch picture of WIlson in his baseball uniform, prominently displayed in the opened green, glitter-covered treasure box.

Smiling with joy a bit of a tear crept from my eye. "You know what?" I rhetorically queried Claudia, sitting nearby. "I think the kids we currently have home now are going to make up for all the pain and difficulty of our early years with our older kids. These kids are going to help me leave behind a lot of my disillusionment and cynicism."

Turning forty-five wasn't that bad. It was a day of mixed emotions and responsibilities, to be sure, but I feel like a very fortunate man to have had such a treasured day.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

45 to the Third Degree

One hundred fifty-eight years ago today my grandmother's grandmother Sarah Harriet (Day) Hughes was born. Ninety years ago today my grandmother Irene Harriet Strause (Libby) was born. Forty-five years ago today I was born. In several months I will become a grandfather at the age of forty-five, at the same age as my grandmother before me.

The last birthday my grandmother and I shared together while she was living was three years ago. Her health had been fading for several years, but the summer and fall of 2006 marked her final days with us. In earlier years of my life June 9 was a marker of the relationship my grandmother and I shared. Some years it included a shared birthday celebration, almost always a visit (we lived less than ten miles apart as I grew up) and always a continuing reminder of how fortunate I was to be the first grandchild born to my maternal grandparents.

Beginning in 2007, though, this day has become a more pensive, bittersweet day for me. With my grandmother's death I am more cognizant of the cycle of birth, life and death. I am reminded of those blessed intersections in life that help to give us identity. For some reason 45 seems to be one of those symbolic markers. My grandmother was precisely my age today when she became a grandmother, and I will be (although not precisely) 45 as well.

There is something about watching a new generation emerge that roots a middle-aged person. During these middle years of life we have to acknowledge that our physical, temporal lives will not always exist. There will come the time when our physical corpus will be planted into the ground; we will leave behind a legacy, but it will live in the memories of others, not in our physical presence with those whom we love. Middle age is another of those golden opportunities for second chances.

I have struggled over the past decade plus to understand myself as a parent. I always believed I would be a good parent, and I had a fairly clear understanding in my mind of what that would look like. In my life as an adoptive parent I believed, let's be honest, that I would do my part to save the children of the world. I naively believed that children who had experienced early neglect or poverty or dislocation would find solace in the home my wife and I would seek to build upon a foundation of unconditional commitment and self-sacrificing love. My dream was that this solace would heal the wounds and provide a glowing future for the children I would call mine.

Now nearly thirteen years into the adoptive parenting journey I realize that my fantasies must meet the honest practicality of middle aged awareness. I must admit that in my zeal I overstepped my boundaries; I can no more save a child than a midwife can give birth to her patient's impending infant. As an adoptive midwife I can offer support, instruction, encouragement, the perspective of years lived. But I cannot make my child's decisions for him or her. It is as fruitless to try to change their hardwired tendencies or their moral freedom to choose as it would be to change the color of their eyes.

It is a complicated tangle being a parent. Having the highest of goals and offering the best of opportunities guarantees nothing in terms of outcome. And perhaps the reality is that the outcome is not ours to control anyway. It's kind of like turning 45. Who wants to acknowledge that about half of our years have already been lived? We cannot control that; we can only live it.

I am reminded today that the only years I knew my grandmother were the second forty-five of her life. And that gives me hope, that in the next half of my life perhaps the next generation of my children will do even better than the first.

I can live with that. And so can they.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

It's Not Always Bad ...

For those who read my blog on a regular basis, you might tend to think that all of life is challenging and fraught with emotional peril. There are certainly those moments, and much of what I thought being a father would be like has been challenged in the past few years, but it's not always bad.

At all.

This morning I had such a delightful experience with our third grade son, Wilson. It is the last week of school before summer break, so school schedules are more fluid, kids are experiencing the joy of anticipated freedom and teachers have that look of relief in their eyes. In Wilson's classroom this morning it was Donuts with Dad. Later this week it's Muffins with Mom. Weeks ago Wilson made sure to invite me. It was apparent (pun intended) that he really wanted me to be there.

So, as planned, I waited at the school office until the right time, when Wilson was to meet me. A few minutes after my arrival Wilson and his friend Tim (who has been at our home before) greeted me. Wilson and Tim are an interesting contrast in personalities. Wilson is quiet and reflective, and often I have to strain to hear his words. Tim is outgoing and gregarious, and no one has to listen intently to hear what he has to say. Walking toward me Wilson smiled as Tim boomed out, "Hey, dad!"

I exchanged greetings with them, told them I was excited to be going to Donuts with Dad, and then heard Tim say, "Hey, dad. It's OK if I call you that, isn't it? I'll just tell people I'm adopted by you." We had discussed this before when Tim had stayed the night with Wilson several weeks ago, and I have no problem with kids calling me "Dad" (whether they "belong" to me legally or not). I said, "Sure. Let's go to your classroom."

The third grade classroom was bustling with activity as I found an adult-size chair and sat next to Wilson's desk. Wilson trotted off to select a donut for the two of us, and in the meantime I noticed Tim bobbing in and among others. For whatever reason Tim was without a parent this morning, so I waved him over to Wilson's desk and said, "Join us." He smiled and brought his chair and his written work over.

The three of us had a great time, all thirty minutes of it. WIlson read to me from some of his prepared work, and then Tim read a story as well. We ate donuts together, I asked the questions that all parents of third-graders need to ask, and then it was time to leave.

What a great way to begin my day. With my son Wilson snuggled next to me, occasionally patting my hand, enjoying the opportunity to share these minutes with his dad. And with my other "son" Tim as he told me about his written story and pointed to items he had crafted during the school year. One rather large white male father-type, one rather small Asian child-type and one larger African-American child type. None of us resembling one another physically, but bound together by the need for this forty-five-year-old to be a father and these two ten-year-olds to have one.