You were always my son

Dear Gav,

I can’t believe I am writing these words: Today your mom and I adopted you. We imagined this day before we even met you. And today it finally happened.

Over the past few weeks I have been thinking about this day constantly. I still don’t understand how we got here. It doesn’t quite make sense, and something still doesn’t compute.

Last summer your mom and I packed up your books, clothes, and toys as we prepared to return you to your biological mother. We tried to fit in as many “lasts” as we could–one last time camping, one last trip to California to meet your baby cousin, one last visit to our favorite restaurants.

In late July we dropped you off, congratulated your bio mom on everything she had accomplished, walked back to our car, and wept. We thought that was it.

But somehow you were returned to us. Your legal case continued for several more months. And now–25 months after we brought you home–you are officially ours.

My sweet boy: one of my deepest wishes is you never learn how tumultuous the first two years of your life were. How hard it was for you even before you were born. I want all your early memories to be of love and happiness, and I never want you to dwell on why you became a foster child.

I hope that today–as much as it means to your mom and me–never really means anything to you.

Because more than anything else, I want you to believe something that has been true the day I picked you up from the hospital: I was always your father, and you were always my son.

Love,
Dad

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“I think we should take him”

On March 22, 2016, Steph and I met our foster care support worker W for the first time.  It was a Tuesday.

We had been wondering when we we would officially be certified as foster parents.  W told us it had happened a couple weeks ago, and that we should expect a call at any time. She said that we should probably buy some diapers and a pack and play. W knew that we wanted as young a child as possible–ideally under 3 years old.

Why a baby? Well, at some point Steph and I decided that since we hadn’t been parents before, it would be better for both us and the kiddo if we took a baby. We figured caring for a baby wouldn’t require us to exercise parenting skills that we didn’t have.

We also figured that we would have some time before we had any placements. In one week we were excited to fly to Seattle for a long weekend. We also had Memorial Day tickets to Mexico City. We assumed that we would get our first call about a possible foster child in mid-June, after we decompressed from our travels. But just to be safe, we planned to get the pack and play and diapers on Saturday.

W called us that Friday around 9 am. She told us that four-day old Gavin needed a home. He was still in the hospital. We only knew two things about him–his first name and that he was white.

I had always imagined we’d get a girl. Stephanie had imagined a non-white baby. But this little white boy was (potentially) thrown into our lives, and we had two hours to decide if we would take him.

I canceled my lunch plans so Steph and I could  talk. As we spoke, I started feeling that we should accept this placement. I don’t know why, but it seemed right even though we were thoroughly unprepared for it. I think I was about to say that when Steph said: “I think we should take him.”

We did. And the rest, as they say, is history.

On crying

Although I am a pretty emotional guy, I don’t think of myself as much of a crier. I didn’t cry at either my wedding or my PhD thesis defense–two events where I thought I would cry. And much to Stephanie’s annoyance, I don’t get that emotional in sad movies. I do vaguely remember that as a young kid I would cry easily. But in the last 15 years or so, I think I only cried occasionally–when my cousin died, tough moments with my family, etc.

The Gavin situation changed all that for me. As his case progressed and got more and more grey, I became, for lack of a better term, kind of a cry baby.

It took a while to develop. For almost a year, I don’t think I cried even once. Instead I would get this pit in my stomach feeling that left me drained and weak.

It often happened randomly. At work I’d be talking about something like SQL Server versions, and all of a sudden it would hit me. I wouldn’t be able to concentrate, and I’d walk back and forth from the snack room until it passed. Once it was so bad I went to the bathroom and just sat in a stall for a while.

Starting last spring–about 14 months after we got Gav–I found myself crying more. It was looking more and more likely that he would be returned to his mom. I often brooded about that possibility, and when I did, I started crying.

This especially happened as I drove. I had a pretty long, traffic-filled commute that lent itself to lots of negative thoughts. Almost every day in June 2017 I would cry for a few minutes on either the drive to or from work, and usually both.

As Gavin’s case dragged on through the summer and fall, I stopped crying as much. I simply became resigned to the fact that we would lose him. When I found out that we were wrong, that we were going to get to keep him forever, I wouldn’t blame you for assuming that I cried tears of joy. But I didn’t. I smiled.

Dear Gavin

Note: I wrote the following in late July 2017 after I thought we had lost Gavin forever. Our case took several unpredictable turns after we returned him to his mom. We have since gotten Gavin back. When I have the energy, I will post updates.

Dear Gavin,

For months your mom has been telling me to write you letters. Instead, I would lie awake at night, brood, get angry and cry all at the same time. But as so often happens, I realized that your momma was right all along, and I finally decided to write to you.

My dear son: In 2015, after your mom and I decided to become foster parents, I knew I was ready to start a family. I was even excited to become a father. But I never imagined how much would love being your father and how much I would fall in love with you.
Being your dad came to define me, and I cherish every moment we had together.

One day, Gavin, you’ll probably learn this cheesy saying: It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved before. I’ve been thinking about that sentence a lot. I used to think that it applied to romantic love–the kind your mom and I have for each other. Now I’m not so sure. Romantic love is complicated. For some people that sentiment may simply not be true.

But now that you are leaving me, that saying has never felt truer. I will miss everything about you my son, even the things that may not sound like they were much fun. I will miss waking up to change and feed you (you know how your momma loves to sleep in!). I will miss doing your therapies every morning. I will miss taking you to all those doctor’s appointments. In some strange way, I’ll even miss washing those ridiculous cloth diapers your mom made us get. Losing you hurts a lot, son, and I don’t know when I will recover.

But the pain I feel is dwarfed by the happiness you brought me the last 16 months. As hard as it is to imagine my life going on without you, it’s even harder to imagine my life as if you were never there. Gavin: along with marrying your mother, becoming your dad is the best thing that ever happened to me.

My sweet, sweet boy: Though your new mom is being incredibly gracious and promised that we will remain in your life, I can’t help but feel that you are gone forever. I don’t know how many more times I will hear your infectious laugh or have you fall asleep in my arms. I don’t know if you will get to know your baby sister coming this November, or if I will see you grow up. But whatever the future holds, I like to think that we did right by you. Perhaps selfishly, I hope your mom and I made a lasting difference for you.

Our–your–friends talk about things like how we helped your brain develop, how much we read to you, and how we addressed your medical problems. Yes, those were important. But that’s not what I’m talking about. Rather, I hope we introduced you to three things you’ll come to love.

First is camping. You may not believe it, but you first went camping when you were just three and a half months old. In retrospect it was probably a bit too cold for you, and we may have been a tad too aggressive. But your mom and I are certain you loved it! You also loved it when we went several more times that summer. At one point we liked to brag that you had been camping more than 2% of the days of your life. I hope one day you note that fact on your LinkedIn profile. I also hope and pray you continue to love camping and the outdoors.

Second is frisbee golf. I know it’s kind of crazy Gav…but your dadda loves the quirky sport of frisbee golf! I like to imagine that one day you’ll have the chance to play, and that the first time you step onto a course, you’ll wonder why it feels familiar. You’ll say to yourself: “Why do I feel like I’ve done this before?” Well son: you have! You’ve been with your dadda lots of times! When you eventually start playing, you can thank me for your familiarity and your incompetence. I surely played a role in both.

Finally, son, I hope we vicariously introduced you to Jamaica, the land of my childhood. Jamaica means a lot to your mom and me, and we wanted so badly to visit it with you. Although we won’t be able to take you ourselves, I hope one day you find yourself there. And as with frisbee golf, I like to imagine that the first time you encounter it, you’ll find it oddly familiar and comfortable. You’ll step off the plane and wonder why you seem to understand what everyone’s saying. Maybe at that moment you’ll have a faint inkling that I was once a part of your life, and that I constantly spoke to you in patois. Gavin: You will always be my likkle yute.

Dear son: I feel like I have so much to teach and give to you, and that I’ll never have the chance. I will have to be content with writing letters like these–ones I know you’ll never read. Nevertheless, the father in me feels the need to close with three instructions I hope you follow forever: Always love God with all your heart. Always treat people with respect–especially when you don’t want to or you think they don’t deserve it. And finally, never let anyone tell you that frisbee golf is not a real sport.

Forever and always,
Your loving father