In honor of November being National Adoption Awareness Month, Portrait of an Adoption is hosting the fourth annual acclaimed series, 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days. Designed to give a voice to the many different perspectives of adoption, this series will feature guest posts by people with widely varying experiences.
By Bruce Ellis
When you marry, it is expected that it will be a lifetime commitment. The words of the ceremony itself talk about “Til death do you part.” But not all marriages last forever. Divorce exists, and while it is complicated enough on its own, children make it even infinitely more complicated. How does the adoption of a child affect divorce, especially when the child is biologically related to one parent and adopted by another? That is the situation in which I found myself.
When I first met my now ex-wife, I entered into the relationship with hope and willingly accepted that her son was part of the relationship. She was thrilled that I wanted to build a relationship with him as well. Soon after we started dating, she admitted to me that it had been hard for her to make long-term commitments, because she worried how her son would react to losing another male figure in his life, if the relationship didn’t work out.
She told me that even if she and I did not stay together, she believed her son would still have a place in my life. What I never told her was that I had doubts about that.
How could I explain that the major goal for me was to accept him as part of her life, but not to make him a permanent part of my life without her? Unexpectedly, I soon learned that her son would become a major force in my life, separate from her. I had never understood what people said about how having a child can change your life and priorities.
With this boy in my life, I quickly learned that what was best for me no longer felt like the most important thing. When you truly accept the role of parent to a child, it becomes a call to place the child’s goals and dreams on a pedestal.
When the time came, I gladly accepted the amazing opportunity to make legal the bond that had been growing between my son and me, and I adopted him. While the journey has been hard, the rewards have been boundless. To this day, I can think back on milestones large and small, school events, shared interests, and little things that mark us as family, and I smile.
Shortly before the end of my marriage, my son had finally moved out on his own, a young man of twenty-one trying to make his own way in the world. But without our son around, the distance between my wife and me became more noticeable. As the years had passed and problems arose that stressed the communication between us, we slowly and almost imperceptibly grew apart. It is ironic that the end of our marriage came after our son left the nest, at a time when we were finally able to devote more time to each other. We discovered that we had little left in common aside from loving and parenting him.
When I could no longer pretend that things were still okay in my marriage, I harbored a large concern. How would a separation or divorce affect the relationship between my son and me? I came into my son’s life when he was eight years old; prior to that, he and his mother only had each other. I have always marveled at the close relationship between the two of them and wondered, would my son and I ever have close to that kind of bond?
I was terrified that this divorce would bring an end to my relationship with my son. No matter how much he and his mother had fought and argued over the years, I knew they had a bond that was beyond anything I had ever seen between a parent and child before. They were always ready to fight for one another at a moment’s notice. Would his protective instinct be turned on me? Would he see me as someone else who had hurt his mother and consider me the enemy?
Less than a week after my wife moved out, I finally had a reason to call my son. The wait for him to pick up the phone was excruciating. Eventually he did answer. Was he mad at me? Yes. He was. He felt I had not been honest and fair with his mother about how unhappy I was with our marriage. He thought I had not dealt with things in the direct manner that I should have.
He also reassured me. He reminded me that we were still family, despite divorce after adoption. Jokingly, he told me, “I might have to hide the fact that I am still talking to you from the rest of the family, but you’re still my dad.” More than anything else, I remembered how much his sarcastic and cynical sense of humor comes from me.
Several months later, my son called me up and asked if he could move back home with me. He had tried his best to make it on his own, but despite tremendous effort, he was not able to keep up with the bills and needed some help. As any father would do, I opened my arms and welcomed him home, knowing that he had grown tremendously in the time he has been out on his own.
A lot has changed for me over the last year. My son moved out, my marriage ended, and my son moved back in as a more mature and responsible man. I have tried my best to move on from the past and build a better future for myself, but I truly understand something more than I ever have before in my life: a piece of legal paper is less important than a life lived with love.
I had always taken great pride in the piece of paper that symbolized the legal parent-child bond between my son and me. However, now that he is a grown man slowly building a life of his own outside the shelter of his parents life, I know that piece of paper is less important than the fifteen years that we have spent together as father and son.
Bruce Ellis is a father, writer & independent publisher living in central Florida.
This year's Adoption Portraits series is filled. You may send a submission for next year's series to Carrie Goldman at email@example.com. Follow Portrait of an Adoption on Twitter and Facebook
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