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Adoption Blog: Man Up!

On Becoming a Father

Becoming a father has taught me much about life, family and myself. It’s a labor of love, but the journey to where I am today wasn’t always the obvious one, and there have been some rocky roads along the way. My family life could have turned out much differently than it did, so I’m glad I didn’t let my fears and anxieties spoil what I have today. 

Parenting seemed so easy when I was childless. I could spot parenting mistakes a mile away. What I couldn’t understand was why parents continued to make them, allowing their little rugrats to run amuck and interfere with my happily childless life. Too much TV, too many video games, not enough time outside, not enough discipline! I toyed with the idea of writing a book. I would call it The Childless Man’s Guide to Parenting: A Comprehensive Approach to Making Your Children More Pleasant to Be Around.

It wasn’t that I didn’t like children; I just didn’t understand them. There weren’t a lot of little ones around my family when I was growing up, so I didn’t learn their ways; I assumed that they should act just like adults, only smaller! As time passed and I became more set in my own ways, I became less and less tolerant of other people’s kids, to the point of considering not having children of my own. I mean, we were happy, me and my wife, Leslie, and our animals. We could go anywhere and do anything we wanted at a moment’s notice, and we could afford nice things for ourselves. But as the years passed, our trips and toys just didn’t have the same satisfaction they once had; something was missing. Suddenly, I was 35 and the thought of a life without children seemed cold and unappealing.

But still, uncertainty and doubt plagued my thoughts. Would I be a good father? Do I have the patience for a child? Am I getting too old? Losing my father to cancer early in my life reinforced my paranoia: How could I be a good dad when I didn’t have a role model? I think subconsciously I came to resent my friends and their dads for having a bond that I was missing. I believe now that this jealousy shaped my feelings about parenting, and made it easy for me to reject the entire institution of parenthood.

A few more years would pass before we made the decision to adopt internationally, one that brought with it a whole new level of anxiety. Now, not only would we have to cope with ordinary parenting issues, but add to that bonding and cultural considerations, plus a trip around the world to India. I was excited, and a nervous wreck at the same time, but finally I was about to find out if I had what it took to be a dad.

I’m not sure I can explain adequately what happened in the short time leading up to the moment I first saw my boy. My mind was a torrent of anxiety and raw emotion—the culmination of 18 months of restless waiting. I felt like I already knew Manu from pictures and adoption updates, but suddenly I realized that I had no idea what this little boy was going to be like, or if he would ever bond with me.  I felt the urge to run away and hide from the conflicting emotions that were making me want to throw up. Ultimately, though, I knew it was time to take control of my future and no longer let the fear of it control me—so I pulled myself together, determined to make this moment a memorable one.

As they lead us into the room where Manu was sitting, playing on the ground, it happened. When I looked at my little boy and he looked up at me, it was as if I was being released from 20 years of pent-up angst and apprehension. It was all I could do to keep from crying on the spot. Suddenly, I knew everything was going to be OK. When one of the Aunties said to Manu, “Mama and Papa are here,” I thought, Yeah, Papa, that’s me! and I slipped into that role without a second thought of the emotional baggage I had brought to India with me; I was now a believer of love at first sight.

Manu has been home with us for over a year now, and what an adventure it has been. Every day I learn something new about him and myself. When he comes to me to show me his latest discovery, seeks my help to figure something out, or brings me a book and wants to sit in my lap, I know I’m doing my job right. I’ve earned his trust, and to me that’s what being a father is all about. We stay home a lot more than we once did, and we buy fewer things for ourselves, but we don’t miss them. His smile means more to me than anything else in the world. He’s just as loud and demanding as any of those other kids who used to drive me crazy, the only difference is that I have changed. He has filled a void in my life, and I can now see clearly what I didn’t understand before he came home. I’m also enjoying playing with toys again without seeming strange! I now realize that my book would have been a colossal flop, except maybe as a comedy piece. Becoming a father has taught me that love can overcome all of the other stresses of parenthood and life. I suppose if I were to write a book today, the only audience would be the old me—if he’d even read it. I would title it, Man Up! Life Isn’t Easy, But in the End You’ll Figure it Out.

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