Adoption: The New Country of Fatherhood

Biskek, Kyrgyzstan. The name of that foreign city went through my mind overand over as I lay in bed. Biskek, Kyrgyzstan. Panic gripped me as I keptwondering why I had applied for a job in a country about which I knewnothing.

I had battled a similar kind of panic when my wife and I decided to adopt ababy. Adopting a child and becoming a father scared me as much as moving toan unknown country. I knew there would be joy and excitement as we begantheadoption process, but I was caught off guard by the attack of the "whatif's."

What if the child isn't anything like me? It's natural for parents to lookfor their reflection in their children. Fathers often want sons who willlovefootball, fishing, or other hobbies like they do. I was an English teacherand feared adopting a child who hated to read. Fathers are easily temptedtolive their lives vicariously through the achievements of their children.Butthe more I thought about not being able to boast in my son's genes, themoreI believed that having my ego less wrapped up in my son was probably a goodthing. Today, however, I cheer just as loudly as any other dad when my sonscores a goal in soccer. He's my son even though he doesn't share my genes.

Six years of teaching in grade school also taught me that a child with hisparents' genes could be just as much an unknown bundle as any adoptedchild.I had students who were completely different from the brother I had taughtthe year before. I saw unathletic children whose fathers were professionalathletes. Recessive genes even eliminated any guarantee that children wouldlook like their parents. I realized all children were a wonderful adventureof discovery.

But what if I don't love this stranger? I had known my wife for yearsbeforemaking the decision to marry her and love her forever. How could I justdecide to love a child who (in our case) wasn't even born yet? Although wecompleted our adoption in what we were told was record time, the forty daysleading up to it was like forty days of emotional labor as we gotphysicals,did interviews for the home study, filled out forms, talked to lawyers, andwatched friends and relatives give generously to help us with the cost. Mywife had not carried this baby in her womb, but we had certainly carriedthisbaby in our hearts and prayers.

Because of the "intensive labor" of the adoption process, my son didn'tseemlike a stranger when I first held him three days after his birth. With onearm gently cradling his whole body, I looked into his eyes and knew that myheart belonged to him. All doubts about my heart being large enough to lovethis child vanished as I gazed down into his blue eyes and said, "PeterJamesWilson."

But what if he later has all kinds of questions about who he is and why heisadopted? I had seen some adopted high school kids struggle with a sense ofidentity and a lack of connection with their parents. This was not a "whatif" I could completely work through in advance. But since our adoption wasopen and we had met the birth parents, I decided to keep a written recordofthe whole process.

I recorded how we sat in the hospital cafeteria with the birth mother asshesaid, with streaming tears, "I want him to know that I gave him up foradoption not because I don't love him, but because of how much I do lovehim." I have also written of how much joy and love he has brought to ourlives. I've now been writing in his journal for seven years. If he is fullofquestions and confusion when he is sixteen, I hope to hand him this journaland at least answer any questions about the depth of our love. Of courseother "what if's" came that threatened to diminish our love and courage. Mywife and I are about three weeks from adopting three more boys ages five,six, and seven. A whole different army of "what if's" are attacking. Butallthe "what if's" are in the future and can be answered or overcome. "Ifonly's" are the real enemy because they attack from a past where we cannotdobattle. I would rather face all the "what if's" in the world than live withone "if only."

I never made it to Biskek, Kyrgyzstan, but we did adopt a child whom Iwouldn't trade for anything the world. And I discovered this new country offatherhood that has become my heart's true home.

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