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Adoption Blog: Man Up!

The Unexpected Gifts of International Adoption

Just when you think you’ve got life all figured out, someone or something comes along and compels you to reevaluate your attitude, your reality, and your small place in the great, vast world. For me, that thing was our adoption journey to India, which gave me the greatest gift—my son, plus a few unexpected, but appreciated, life lessons.

I knew that adopting would bring my wife, Leslie, and I the gift of a child that we so desperately wanted, and with it a dramatic change to our lifestyle. I knew also that I would need to prepare for this adjustment, but what I wasn’t expecting was an almost spiritual attachment to the people and cultures of India, the birthplace of my son, Manu.

Competing Realities

A country of contrasts, India is at once the most beautiful and disheartening place on earth. It is the world’s largest democracy, claiming just over a billion in population, but it is clear that many, many people are left out of the process: Trying to compete in the modern world, it is a society that has legally abolished a centuries-old caste system, but has not shaken all of its prejudices.

Ancient temples and monuments serve as a backdrop to a life of poverty experienced by millions of its citizens, some of whom I witnessed on my first trip to the country—women and children begging for money and leftovers or scrambling for a piece of fruit.

Unfortunately, as we soon found out, if you are seen helping one, you suddenly find yourself surrounded by dozens. Compelled to do something, we did not give these women and children money, but rather fruit from our hotel, or other food items.

Leslie and Manu surrounded by curious school children in New Delhi, India.

It’s hard for me to imagine my son growing up with these circumstances, but the reality is difficult to ignore. In a country that has more children under the age of eighteen than the entire population of the United States, many will end up in severe poverty. Leslie and I never thought of our adoption as about “saving” anyone, except possibly ourselves. But it would be dishonest for me not to acknowledge that, while I did and still do have some reservations about taking Manu away from the Indian culture he would have known, I was very relieved to be bringing him home with us, away from the almost certain impoverishment inherited by a homeless child.

Falling in Love with My Son’s Birth Country

Of all of the places I had expected to travel in my life, India seemed so exotic and remote that it was never really a consideration. Aside from dinner at a few Indian restaurants, and the occasional conversation with an Indian acquaintance, I knew little about the place from which I would eventually meet my son. Needless to say traveling halfway around the world, to venture into country whose culture seemed so foreign had me a bit uneasy.

To further complicate matters, unlike adoptions from some other countries that send families in groups together to pick up their children, we were largely going to be on our own to plan transportation, accommodations, dining, and anything else we would need, or wanted to accomplish, during our trip. Thankfully, we found a wonderful travel agent who helped us in purchasing airfare and hotel accommodations, and with that out of the way, the only thing left to do, in my mind, was to get in, get the boy, and get out. But it wasn’t long, just enough time for me to get oriented after our long flight over, before I loosened up and began seeing the beauty of the ancient culture that surrounded me.

A New World View

After arriving (you can read more about that chaotic time in an earlier post), we spent three days in Bangalore, mostly at the children’s home adjusting our new son to us, but during nap-times and in the evenings, between his bedtime and ours, we explored as much of the town as we could. We patronized local shops and dined in local restaurants, whose foods enticing spices lured us in from the streets. It was almost surreal to be eating Indian food in India!

The Taj Mahal, Agra, India

A week later, with Manu now an official member of our family, the three of us traveled four hours by car from New Delhi to Agra to visit the Taj Mahal. Along the way we traversed the rural countryside, passing through several small towns, allowing us a glimpse of life outside the touristy areas. At one roadside stop, a man and his two monkeys tried to sell us jewelry and other trinkets; it was like a scene out of a movie! Occasionally along the way, in seemingly deserted fields, or amidst cattle in pasture, an enormous, glorious golden idol, paying tribute to one of the Hindu deities, would arise—a definite reminder that we weren’t in Kentucky anymore. We finally arrived in Agra, and I can say with complete honesty that the Taj is the most breathtakingly beautiful place I have ever visited. No picture I’ve seen does it justice, and the tale of its creation—a monument constructed over 22 years by the Mogul emperor Shah Jahan, in honor of his favorite wife who died in childbirth—is a love-story for the ages.

It was very special for me to be sharing these experiences with my wife and new son as a family, taking in even a small bit of the culture into which Manu was born. I know that pictures and stories will not affectively convey the majesty of India to our son, far too young to retain what he was seeing, so I look forward to a day when we can return with him as he re-discovers the country of his birth.

The remainder of our two-week visit, including tours of other historical sights and more great food, only reinforced my new desire to learn as much as I could about my son’s birth country.

An Opportunity to Participate in a Cross-Cultural Exchange

I had been concerned at the outset about how people would react to two Americans adopting an Indian baby, but in almost every circumstance, from our hotel staff to the aunties who took care of the orphans at Manu’s children’s home and the average person on the street, we were treated with friendship and respect. A few times we even had local Indians come up and ask us about how they might go about adopting for themselves; they were very interested in hearing our story. It did seem to us that everyone was happy that our baby had found a loving home, which eased any apprehension or self-consciousness that I was still carrying around.

On a couple of occasions we attracted quite a crowd of interested folks who wanted to shake our hands or touch the baby. At one monument, a crowd of young school children on a fieldtrip surrounded us, genuinely curious about who we were and why we were there. I stepped out of the way to give some of the children a closer look. I watched Leslie cheerfully interact with the local children, and Manu smiling at all of the attention. That image of my wife and son is burned forever in my mind. It was then that I realized how special we were as a family, created by the chance circumstances that brought us together over time and thousands of miles. We were a unique family in a unique country, and we fit in just fine.

A Greater Appreciation for My Own Country

Seeing the poverty in India gave me a greater appreciation for the social services available in my own country. While the US is not perfect, our social-welfare structure prevents much of the suffering we saw on the streets of India. It troubles me greatly to imagine my son possibly living in those conditions, and before we left India we had resolved to help this enormous and ongoing problem in any small way that we could. Since returning home we have made a point of sending support to women and children through child sponsorship programs and other reputable charitable organizations who specialize in welfare and education. This allows us to stay connected with, and give back to, a country that gave us so much more than we ever could in return.

International adoption brings families together and changes lives in innumerable ways. Taking the opportunity afforded by adoption to learn more about our son’s culture and heritage was one of the best decisions we have ever made. I encourage all prospective adoptive parents to consider strongly not only traveling to pick up your child, but also to spend a little extra time discovering the only world s/he has ever known.

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