Andrew, Adoptive Father: ‘Love And Devotion Do Not Require The Same DNA’
Originally Written by Andrew for Portrait of an Adoption
There was never a question in my mind that we would adopt. Carrie and I had many conversations when we were first married about adopting. It just happened in a different sequence than we had envisioned. After losing Matthew, adoption seemed like a way to rebuild our dreams of being parents.
I had very little idea of how adoption worked and there were elements that I found frustrating. The social worker visits annoyed me. I didn’t like having to answer questions about how we managed conflicts or what our fire-escape plan was. I didn’t like that our religion would affect whether or not birthmothers would read past the first few pages of our “dear birthmother” letter. It all seemed like a great many hurdles to jump, just so we could become parents.
Once we began making contact with birthmothers, my own annoyances seemed trivial compared to what the families we met were facing. Seeing glimpses into lives that lacked stability and predictability gave me a measure of perspective of what life is like outside of our immediate bubble.
One of the first things that we both noticed after meeting M was how easy it was for us to talk to her, even though our lives were full of differences. She was willing to learn to play our favorite card game. She laughed good-naturedly when we stared at amazement at hay-bundles on the roadside. She has been kind, open and accepting of us from the moment we met.
Parenting Katie has been a pleasure, a challenge and an enigma. I bear a great resemblance to my father, in appearance and in speech. I wasn’t sure how I would respond to being the father of a child who wouldn’t look or sound like I did, although I was very amused each time a stranger would tell me that my bald baby daughter looked just like I do.
What I have learned through parenting Katie is that love and devotion do not require the same DNA. Katie is the one who goes to White Sox games with me, who watches Star Wars with me, who likes things because they are important to me. We’ve listened to all three radio broadcasts of the original Star Wars trilogy over the past year when I’ve picked her up from after school activities. We are about to finish the last disc of The Return of the Jedi. I wonder if she’s as sad as I am that we won’t have any more discs to listen to together.
The wall of my closet is wallpapered with drawings from Katie. Notes from her are attached to the printer in my classroom. Her love is unquestionable, even when anger prompts her to declare she does not wish to be part of our family.
Katie possesses skills I wish I had when I was a child. I’ve always been in awe of her ability to make friends in new social settings. When I see her at a pool or a playground befriend kids that she just met, I cannot stop myself from staring and wondering, “how does she do that?”
She has embraced being Jewish with a devotion that surpasses what I felt when I was her age. I never attended the Simchat Torah celebration at my congregation until 6-year old Katie asked if we could. Now, my father and I have gone with her three years running. I look up when the holiday will fall weeks in advance to put in on our calendar.
On the day that Katie was born, I remember calling my parents to tell them that she was here. My dad said to me, “You’ll always be Katie’s father.” And he’s right. At the end of the day, she’s my girl, just as if she were born to us. That’s what the court order says that made us her parents. I know her. I know her patterns, her habits, her responses. There are many parts of her I don’t understand; that holds true for all four females who live in my house, so she’s in good company.
Carrie and I sometimes have what we call “Sliding Door” conversations, named after the 1998 film that showed two parallel universes determined by a sliding door closing on an underground car. In these conversations, we imagine what our lives would have been like “if…” Should those alternate universes exist, I feel very sad for the Andrew that doesn’t have Katie in his life.
I cannot imagine not being able to feel her hugs or see her smile. Her expressions of love, often in the form of a note or a picture, have always affected me. She is so very complicated, so fiercely independent, and so vulnerable. I love that she wears a storm trooper costume on Halloween and then wears footie pajamas to bed. I love when she talks about her imaginary team of unicorns that pull our car along as we drive. Mostly, I just love her.