As a pre-adoptive candidate parent, I was encouraged to write a letter to my (still unknown) prospective child. The idea behind this is obvious: I must delineate, as best I can, why I want to be a father; while superficially the letter might be a kind of commercial promoting myself as a parent, the real purpose is to expose, to me, what my motivations are.
I’m not ashamed of my motivations. I want to be a dad. I recently moved from my old, cramped apartment to a larger, split-level townhome to make room for my son, whomever he might be; but there’s just so much you can do with rent, bedrooms and such before you have to really look inside and analyze what you’re up to and why.
There’s stuff in here that’s intensely personal; but I’m not much of a one to mask real feeling when it’s sincere — and the letter is probably mature in many ways, but bear in mind it will be read by a kid who has been terribly torn by life’s sodomy, a boy well-acquainted already with the fluid bleeding nature of pain; how do you condescend to such a child, how do you try to paint a picture of endlessly blue skies, endless green meadows, and fuzzy bunnies forever? That’s bullshit, and a boy aged five to ten or so, up for family-shattered adoption, is well aware of that.
Kids, even young, even in ideal families, can smell lies at a thousand yards. The worst thing you can do, the quickest way to lose their trust, is to utter the tired, false phrase everything will be okay. You don’t have to be a parent to know that’s true; you just have to know a few kids.
So here’s my draft to Yoshi.
I don’t know you now and you don’t know me. I’m writing this as a kind of exercise, a way to let me see how much I might be ready for you.
My life has been pretty calm, I guess. I mean, I never had to live through a hurricane or a war on my home turf, I never had anyone close to me who died, I never had to understand the sorrow of losing one or both parents forever. Sure, some things were hard, but nothing was really awful.
When I was a kid my parents broke up and that was bad, but I never really lost the sense that they were there for me. My dad sort of drifted off, got involved in his own things; and I do that too sometimes, so I think I don’t hate him for his obvious devotion to his latter family.
Meanwhile my mom drifted a while and found a really great guy, Pete, my other dad. They decided to make it official a few years back and got married, and while not every part of our still-learning family necessarily agrees with every other part, well, I think we’re going to hammer things out and make them work. So we’re all used to things happening that seem different, things that make it seem like we’re made up completely of a family of weirdos.
They’re all weirdos — me included — but we really are a family.
And then there’s you and me. I think we will fit right in once we’re used to it, a great big happy family of the weird.
When my folks split it was very bad. It sucked. I was only eleven, just a kid like you, and it wasn’t fair and I hated it and I didn’t know where things would go, didn’t know if I’d be wanted by anyone. After the divorce my dad started a fight with my mom over custody for some typically-stupid adult reasons, the kinds of reasons that don’t care about the kids even though they say they do, and I had to choose. I knew I wasn’t really being asked to choose — I mean, that’s what I had been told by adults in my life right then — but I knew I was choosing all the same.
(I’ve always hated how adults tell kids things they just know aren’t true, like how you aren’t really choosing something when everyone knows you are; kids aren’t dumb and sometimes they’re a lot brighter than the adults. Because kids pay attention to things adults don’t always notice. Kids see things that adults don’t always understand. Kids have to live through things that adults simply cannot comprehend. It seems like when people get older, they forget. Well, I haven’t forgotten. I haven’t forgotten any of it. Even though I am very old — old enough to remember the days before Xbox, DS or MP3, before DVD or satellite TV. I remember life before SpongeBob; I remember life before there was even a Cartoon Network. That’s old, boy.)
It was very hard, having to tell the people around me that I wanted to be with my mom and not my dad. I didn’t want anyone to be hurt. I didn’t want to be put in the middle, but I was.
Why? I still don’t know; nearly thirty years later, I still don’t know.
I heard a lot of typically bad adult excuses, such as this is how we can figure out what’s best for you, and I remember being pretty pissed when some adults asked me, in those days, why I seemed so sad. I mean, duh. (I even had a teacher tell me not to wear my heart on my sleeve, which didn’t make sense to me then; and now, much older, I understand the term, but it still seems like a stupid thing to say to a kid caught helpless in the middle of his family’s self-destruction. Sure, I was sensitive. Who wouldn’t be?)
I do know that asking a kid, at age eleven, to pick Mom or Dad is a pretty damned shitty thing to do.
Maybe that same kind of shitty thing happened to you. Maybe you were asked to choose one day. Maybe someone said to you that you could pick your mom or your dad or … or something else.
Maybe I’m part of that something else. And you know what? The idea scares the hell out of me. Because I don’t want to be someone else who just hurts you again, I don’t want to be just another damned adult who stomps on your heart and doesn’t seem to care.
I don’t know you right now. I’m writing this on guesses and ideas. But I guess I have a few ideas about where you’re coming from and how bad it hurts. Maybe you’re in that “transition” thing between how it used to be, and a foster family now, looking at the idea of settling down with me forever. Maybe you’re wondering if life will ever stop being so sad and strange and confusing.
Yoshi, boy, sometimes it’s going to hurt. Not every day, not all the time, but sometimes life hurts. There is no way anyone can stop it from hurting. Even if you live a “perfect” life, some days, you’re going to be in pain. That is a hard, sad reality; and one good way to deal with it is to have someone in your life who loves you and will hold you as the tears roll and refuses to let go of you until you are okay. To know that, whatever it takes, when you are in the shelter of that person’s arms, you are home and you are loved.
And maybe you’re wondering if coming to live with me means you’ll never see the other people in your life again.
Don’t worry about that, Yoshi. If you want to call your other families on the phone, you can. If you want to visit them you can. If you want to have them come and visit with us you can. They’re a part of your life and they’ll be there as long as you want them to be. That’s true, kid. It’s as true as life and love.
But deeper down maybe you’re afraid of something else. Maybe you’re afraid that you’re going to go from house to house forever, like you’re doomed to live your life in hotels, surrounded by things that aren’t yours, moving your clothes and toys from chest to box to drawers that don’t belong to you, stuck forever in a place where you always have to meet new kids, go to a different school and sleep in a room that never seems to be the room that really belongs to just you. Maybe you’re afraid you’ll be like Harry Potter, stuck in a tiny cold closet under a staircase and surrounded by angry people who don’t really want you.
All the toys in the world, all the books you can read, all the games you play or shows you watch don’t help when it’s dark at night and you wonder if anyone could ever want you, or why anyone could ever want you.
But I do, Yoshi. I want you. I want you to be my boy.
I have a room for you, with a bed you can sleep in all your own, a place where you can live and have friends, your friends, over to stay the night. I can cook — I’m actually pretty good at it, so good that one of my recipes was used at work for a while in the cafeteria — and will make you breakfast, lunch and dinner, just for you. I have closets for your clothes, and a bathroom you can use to brush your teeth and take showers or baths, I have room and space for you in my house and in my heart, and you won’t have to share any of it with anyone if you don’t want to, and you won’t have to worry about being replaced or taken away.
I’m not your mom, of course; I’m a man. And I’m not your dad either. What I am is an adult man, in his late 30s, who wants to be a father; I want to be a dad and I want to know what it’s like to have a son.
Now I could maybe get married and have a son that way; and that would probably work … but what if I got into a fight with the woman I married? What would happen to the kids then? Might it end up like it did with my own mom and dad after I was born? Would my kids have to try to pick?
I wouldn’t want that. I don’t want that. I want to be a dad, with no one telling me that I can’t be, with no one to argue with. So I decided a few years ago that if I was going to be a dad, that if I was going to have a son of my own, no one would be able to take him away from me.
So I understood that I would have to adopt, if I really wanted to be a dad forever.
And that’s what I’m doing now, as I write this. I’m looking for a son, and when you read this, I’ll know it’s because you are the one. I call you Yoshi now because I don’t know what else to call you, and in Japan the word “yoshi” means “adopted son”. It’s not just the turtle from the Mario games.
I can’t make things like they used to be when you were with your mom or dad. I can’t change the world back and I can’t make them different. No one can. Sometimes, people get trapped into things they didn’t plan, and sometimes they don’t know how to get out. Like the poor girl in the well from The Ring, all they know is how bad it hurts, how bad they want to get out.
And sometimes there are kids who get caught in it all, caught like ghosts in a scary movie, trying all the time to escape but not knowing where to go.
Yoshi, you are not a ghost; you are a living human boy and there is a way out for you, and if I can help you find it I will.
I can give you food, and clothes and a bed of your own and a room to live and grow up in, games to play, friends to share, things that let you grow and learn and be happy in the world — but I can’t stop you from hurting sometimes when you think of how badly life has treated you; I can’t take away the real hurt of losing what should have always been yours.
I’ll hold you when you are sad and I’ll kiss your tears away, but I will never be your true birthright; I’ll never be your biological father. I know that, and you will too, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be your dad and it doesn’t mean you can’t be my son.
I don’t know you yet, Yoshi, so I can’t say that I love you; but I can say that, when you are ready, I will love you, and that it won’t go away, and if it works for us, it will be something that will be there for us, for the rest of our lives. I will look at you and tell people, “This is my son, my boy.” And you will be able to tell people, “Here’s my dad, right now, right next to me.”
You can, if you want, be the love of my life.
If you let me, I will love you. If you give me a little room, give me a chance, take your time and get to know me and learn you can trust me, I will be there for you, I’ll have your back, I’ll cover you and care for you and fight for you, and I won’t stop until I’m dead.
Because that is what fathers do for their sons, and if you let me, I will be what you need me to be, as much as I need a boy to call my own.
Will you be happy every day, from now on? No. No one can be. Anyone who says otherwise is lying. But will you be able, after a while, to see that maybe life isn’t so terrible, will you be able to be, in a while, content?
I hope so.
I call you Yoshi now because I don’t know who you are.
Be my son. Let me be your dad.
Please tell me your name.
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