(Apologies to anyone who checked in last Monday looking for a new post. Apparently I scheduled this one for 1/26 instead of 1/19. I will try to remember how to use a calendar correctly in the future. – Joe)
January 11, 2003 is, and probably always will be, the most important day of my life.
(Sorry, future husband if you’re out there—our first date/anniversary will have to settle for a tie.)
That was the day the kids would stop coming to see me for visits, and were coming to stay with me. For good.
Because I needed something larger than my Camry, I borrowed Marge and Cindy’s minivan for the move. I also borrowed Max to come with me. Even though this decision was based on practical considerations, it seemed appropriate that I ended up driving the van of my parenting heroes, with the kid who pointed me firmly on the path to fatherhood, to pick up my kids.
Max and I made the four-hour trek without incident. The time at the house was minimal: A quick visit with the foster mother, packing the van with the boys’ very little bit of stuff—suitcases with clothes, some books, stuffed animals—and climbing in. Within an hour, we were heading back to Oakland and the start of our new life.
I would love to hear from other fost-adopt parents what they experienced when they picked up their kids for that final transition. I don’t know what I expected. Tears? Screams? Clutching to the door frame, refusing to leave?
What I got instead were two kids, pleasant as good be, sitting in the back of this strange car with this strange man (and a teenager who really was a stranger), as if we were long-time friends going out on a Sunday drive. It was so … undramatic? normal? … that I can’t even say much about the conversation. The only snippet I remember clearly is this:
Me: You know, I have a new name now.
Boys: What is it?
Me: It’s Daddy. I’m not Joe anymore.
That took about three days to sink in. During that time, if one or the other kid asked a question or made a comment to “Joe,” I would reply with, “Who is this Joe person? I know you are talking to somebody, but I don’t know who that is.”
Like I say, three days.
I was—and, unbelievably, still am—fortunate. I mean, really, really fortunate. We had our honeymoon as expected, but what no one expected was that on some very real levels, the honeymoon has never ended. The reasons are as different as the kids themselves:
For Daveon, who turned seven the week before I picked him up, there was—and continues to be—such an amazing, intense feeling of gratitude that finally, really, after so many false starts, here was home. And this guy who is (after a handful of others) calling himself “Daddy” is going to be the one that sticks—the one I never have to leave. Over the years, we have actually had to work against this deep gratitude somewhat—to help Daveon feel OK to get mad at me, speak his mind, let me know what isn’t working, etc. Trust me, it’s very weird to encourage your kid to yell at you once in a while. But that fundamental gratitude survives, and it has been a true gift in our relationship.
Mark, on the other hand, let his “cheerful self-centeredness”—accompanied by his charming air-headedness—set the tone. From day one, it never really occurred to him that anything unusual was going on. He used to live in one place, now he lived in another. This guy was Dad, and as long as there was food on the table and not too much yelling, life was good. And again, that basic stance has carried through to the present day.
I think it says a lot that over the first few months, the biggest behavioral “issue” we faced was training my 7-year-old to let me know when he was hungry, rather than just going to the refrigerator or cabinet and grabbing things at will. This training had less to do with food itself than with what I will call, for lack of a catchier term, my “philosophy of structure”—I’ll get into that later. But first, let me introduce the stars of our show.
Next: My Kids: Daveon