I am so excited to once again be participating in the Adoption Bloggers Interview Project, organized and hosted each year by Heather Schade, mother to three in open adoption, blogger at Production, Not Reproduction, caretaker of the Open Adoption Bloggers network, and all-around great gal. This is the third year of this phenomenal project (you can read my interviews from 2010 and 2011 here and here), and it seems to just get bigger and better with each year. (Take a look at this year's ginormous list of participants! It's so wonderful to have been a part of this project from the beginning and see how much it has grown...)
This year, I was paired up with David, who has been blogging for almost exactly one year (Happy Bloggiversary!) at Seeking Fatherhood. David is one half of a pair of foster dads in California who are waiting to finalize the adoption of their two children, and his writing explores the highs and lows of their time waiting for placement as well as the challenges that come with being brand-new parents to a kindergartener and a toddler. I've loved getting to know him through his blog and our e-mails over the past few weeks, and I really can't wait to see and hear more about his children as their story continues to unfold.
I am always interested in how adoptive parents choose the particular paths they take toward adopting; can you tell me a little bit about how you and your partner chose adoption, and particularly adopting from foster care?
I'd been lucky to know several families who were created through foster care, so I had great examples. "Early adopter" friends had two boys who I sat for, then a good friend had a son, now my godson. I loved spending time with kids and wanted to have one myself, but wasn't brave enough to be a single dad, and just hadn't found the partner who I'd have kids with.
There are also historical/political factors. Before adoption by gay men and lesbians became as common, even as legal, as it is now, in Northern California gay men started pushing to be included in the foster care system. And some in the foster system started realizing gay men were an untapped resource who could help with special needs kids. ("Special needs" has a ridiculously huge range of meanings, and can be synonymous with "hard to adopt," so many African American and mixed race kids were kind of considered "special needs" even though they were perfectly healthy; crazy but true). And maybe gay men figured they were going to stand out as "different" anyway, so they were less reluctant to form multi-racial families.
Whatever the reason, lots of gay couples were creating families through the foster care system. So when I did come to the point in my life where I was ready to do it, there was this large population of kids who really needed to be adopted, and I had personal experience with how not scary it is, and how fantastically beautiful these kids are. It just seemed like the right place to look.
Something that has always intrigued—and, if I'm being perfectly honest, terrified—me about foster care adoption is that you don't get to start at the beginning with a newborn—you know, the usual way. How are you doing with that? What challenges are you finding in jumping in mid-stream this way? Is there anything you think might be easier this way?
This is something I've thought about a lot. And intellectually you can go back-and-forth, with for instance the fact that even giving birth to your own child there are no guarantees of what will happen, who they'll be, how they'll turn out. So on the one hand any parenting is a jump into this unknowable future.
But of course in another way, these are kids who've been removed from their families, almost always because of abuse and neglect. They've got extra challenges from the start of their time with you, which isn't their "start" on the planet. They've got baggage, and you'll never get to have their first 2 or 4 or whatever years with them.
Yet when you're matching to kids who are already a few years old, you have more information about who they are, and how they'll fit into your life. It still feels really terrible to say it, but there were quite a few kids whose developmental or emotional challenges just seemed like it would be too much for us to take on, or kids whose personalities or challenges just didn't seem like a "fit."
I think the real answer to your question is that it's completely surreal to jump into being the parent of a 2- and 5-year old, from no kids to 2 kids. Especially the first 4 or 5 months were just nutty. They've got expectations of what adults will do and how you'll behave, you've got ideas about what kind of parent you want to be. And you just have to muddle around and see how to make it work. It was like a blind date where' you've already committed to stay married forever! I'm also sad to think about what a terrible baby and early childhood our kids had, especially our daughter who's 5 and will remember more of it. And the tragedy of not having known them then is big. As we get more bonded, it seems, in a relatively short period of time, impossible that we weren't always involved or didn't always know them.
That's the magic of it—what seemed impossible now seems totally normal. Humans children are built to make adults love them, and we're built to respond. There are deep biological/social processes that cleave us together. I don't think we understand all of how it works, but this bonding force takes over. In the last few months I can really say, yep! we're a family. It was really meant to be this way.
One of the things that drew us to open adoption was a desire for our children to know who they are and where they come from - to not be missing those crucial pieces of personal history that so many closed-era adoptees spend so much of their lives seeking. This seems easier in many ways, in situations like ours in which the children were voluntarily relinquished by first parents who choose to remain involved in their lives. How do you think you will handle your children's questions about their history and keeping them "in touch" with their roots even though it seems unlikely that they will be able to actually be in touch with their family of origin?
Yes, this is a tough one. We're committed to being honest with the kids about their history. We don't really have a choice; our daughter remembers living in rehab with her mom, remembers her mom and her mom's friends, remembers being pulled out by the social worker and put into foster care. So we really can't pretend or deny.
Somehow we've got to walk the fine line of supporting her total and natural love of her mother, while protecting her from her mother as well. I do believe that her mother loved her and did her best for her even though she couldn't take care of her. And sometimes addicts get better. It would be wonderful if over time the kids are able, if even in some small way, to know their mom. But given the tough condition their mom is in right now, it's not possible for them to see her, so we get to help them understand why they can't, as well as empathize with them for missing and wanting her.
We've had to think about how to explain it in an age-appropriate way. Right now it's "Your mom's sick and can't take care of you. She takes medicine that's not from a doctor and isn't good for her. She loves you, but can't take care of you and give you what you need." That kind of thing. Eventually it will be the truth about their mom's drug addiction and mental illness. God willing it might be about their mom's recovery and ability to be some kind of presence in their life. But already I can feel that we're the parents—her drawings of "her family" are her, her brother, and her dads—and the "birth mom" is becoming just that.
What advice would you give hopeful adoptive parents who are at the beginning of the path you are on now? Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
I'm so glad I was blinded by a dumb, fierce determination and a belief it could work out. Because I think the truth is, if we knew what we were getting into, we wouldn't do ANY of the big undertakings in life—marriage, kids, jobs. I was in denial about the challenges, and really thought everyone was being overly dramatic.
But I guess I'd encourage hopeful parents to meet other families and find out their stories. I wish I'd been less shy about this, but the families I did know really showed me the challenges and joys.
You've written a few times about your identity as a gay man and how it has shifted both as you have aged and as you have become a father—notably in "It's Not Because We're Gay" and, in a bit different a way, in "These Clothes Don't Fit"—and reading that got me to thinking... You discuss in your very first post how you always wanted children, but I remember well a time not so long ago when that wouldn't have been possible. So much is possible now than was when you and I were young, thinking about how our lives would be: How did you picture your life, as a young gay man, and how is it different from your life as it actually is now?
Great question. You could say I'm living a dream I didn't even know I had!
I always loved kids, but coming out of high school and in college in the 80s, just living as a gay man seemed quite an aspiration—maybe possible but also just barely imaginable. Then as that goal seemed doable HIV and AIDS decimated a generation of guys. I spent 15 years learning about death and dying, comforting the sick and the worried well, volunteering, experiencing the fragility of life. I learned so much and I have to say I am deeply grateful to have had that experience. But at a certain point I was burned out on that work and wanted to be around new life and the energy of children. I began consciously to look for people with kids where I could play uncle. It was surprisingly hard; many said they'd love to help, but families are very particular systems, and you can't just insert yourself. Or I couldn't.
Finally I found my godson and dear friends who made me part of their family, and over time I realized I really really wanted to have kids myself. My godson is 10 now, and I've known him since he was a few days old, so it was a while that I was helping make this other family work, but couldn't really own that I could do it myself. I told myself I'd give up at 42, then 43. At 45 I found a partner I wanted to have kids with, and while we both feared we'd be too old to adopt, somehow we did it, at 48 and 51. Jay said we should face facts and go right to being foster grandparents. But while we're not as energetic as we would have been 10 or 20 years ago, we know ourselves, have solid careers, have our heads on as straight as they're going to get. Maybe in a perfect world everyone would have a young energeitc mom and dad, but in our world, I think we're a great family for these kids. And we're so incredibly lucky to have found them. They're a huge gift.
So it's amazing. I'm not sure the enormity of what's happened has sunk in completely. But I know the spectacular blessings of my life are not something I could have ever imagined as a young man. And I try to be grateful every day.
How difficult (or easy, I guess, if it is easy for you) do you find it to write about your family and your experiences while having to maintain such a high level of privacy? (I'm pretty impressed that you're able to do it at all, especially with regard to photos—but of course my style is very photograph-heavy, so if I couldn't include pictures of my kids I probably wouldn't be able to do it…)
This is really changing. I started the blog because I was desperate for an outlet while I was going through training and waiting for a match; I was seeking fatherhood and life was teaching me about waiting. I was ready to pull my hair out! And there was no privacy to worry about because there were no kids. I was taking lots of walks and shooting moody photos on my phone, which were what I used on the blog.
Then the kiddos landed, and there was so much to talk about, and they didn't really feel like "our" kids, and they were supposed to have visitation with their mom (who didn't show up usually), and the legal risk seemed big and scary enough that the awkwardness of not even using their names seemed worth it. Plus I still had a bunch of moody photos left.
Since they're still not adopted I feel our main job is not screwing that up, so I don't post anything that would identify them on Facebook, and don't use their names (or our full names) on the blog. Friends and family read it and it's a way they know what's going on, but those who don't know us already shouldn't have any way of figuring it out.
But increasingly they do feel like our kids, and we feel like family. I'll use a blurred photo of them, or the shot of them in the pumpking patch from the back, but it's getting more frustrating. And it's temporary. Seven months has flown by, and by early in the new year the adoption should go through. While I don't have a specific plan about it, there won't be a legal need to protect their identity. So I'll need to figure out what's right—there's still the question of their privacy, even when they're ours—but I think like many things it will feel a little more relaxed and organic. At least I hope so!