Gratitude

“Were you to live three thousand years, or even a countless multiple of that, keep in mind that no one ever loses a life other than the one they are living, and no one ever lives a life other than the one they are losing. The longest and the shortest life, then, amount to the same, for the present moment lasts the same for all and is all anyone possesses. No one can lose either the past or the future, for how can someone be deprived of what’s not theirs?”

  • Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 2.14

When you are born, your life begins with an inhale. Your life, conversely, will end with an exhale, as your last breath leaves the body. Every breath in between makes up the moments of your life. Ryan Holiday, in his book, The Daily Stoic, has this to say: “This present is in our possession – but it has an expiration date, a quickly approaching one. If you enjoy all of it, it will be enough. It can last a whole lifetime.”

In the practice of mindfulness meditation, the practitioner is instructed to bring his or her awareness to the body; to the breath. To observe, absent judgement, the way the air feels entering and exiting the body. The concept is to train the practitioner to just BE in the present. To feel the weight of their body pressing into the floor. To be an observer of themselves and the various thoughts that pass through the unconscious and conscious mind, making no judgments about any of it. To simply BE in the moment.

Understanding how finite life is, is one aspect of cultivating gratitude for the moments that make up your life. As a parent, the singular point of advice offered by parents of older children is not to take a second of your child’s years for granted, because they go by so, so fast. This is advice that I pray I will one day give my children, not rooted in regret, by joyful recollection of the many moments we were present together, enjoying each moment as though it were our last. Each day; each stage of their development. Grateful for the time we’ve shared. Untethered from an attachment to a past filled with regret and a future full of anxiety, anticipation, and uncertainty. Fully enjoying the moment. The laughter. The life we have built together.

It is in fully immersing yourself in the present moment that gratitude for that moment becomes possible. And, material possessions and concerns outside of your control are no longer taskmasters competing for your attention, and, ultimately, your servitude. Right now, my boys love to be with me. They are excited when I pick them up from school, and they won’t let me leave until they’ve given me a hug and told me they love me, when dropping them off. I know that won’t always be the case, though, and all too soon, they’ll be asking me to drop them off around the corner so their friends don’t see them being driven to school by their dad, and jumping out of the car even before it has come to a full stop. But that is tomorrow’s problems. Today, I will enjoy every hug and every, I love you, dad.

Today, I will enjoy the aches in my back and the tightening in my knees from hours of putting together a Lego set on the floor that will likely be broken again in about as many hours. Why? Because they wanted their dad to be the one to build it with them. No one else. And, one day, that will no longer happen. One day they will move out of my house and leave me surrounded by silence. No one running through the living room with an overfilled glass of milk to get back to an argument over the Xbox controller. No one popping the buttons off my leather sofa or making all the photos hang crooked on the walls, jostled about by wrestling on the carpet. As much as I don’t want that day to come, because it means they are all grown up, it would be far worse if they never moved out of the house; never went to college; never started their own families. So, I will be happy that they lived long enough to leave me to figure out what life looks like without them under my roof. It scares me. But I can’t let tomorrow’s fears rob me of the present moment, when my nearly five-year-old boys practically knock me off my feet rushing to greet me in the morning.

This year I will turn 40. By all rights, best case scenario, I will live to see 70. That means I will never live to see my boys turn the age I am right now. But if God sees fit to grant me life well into my 70’s, 80’s or beyond, I pray that I don’t spend those last year’s attempting to make up for the time I wasted this year on Netflix and YouTube. Or watching the Las Vegas Raiders waste another season, finishing second or third in their division. I don’t have time to watch a mediocre team. Not when I’m trying to be a Super Bowl caliber dad. And I definitely don’t have time for baseball, unless my kid is holding the bat. Facebook, Instagram, Snap-Chat, Tik-Tok… all these things are designed to take you out of the moments that really matter, monetize your attention, and advertise possessions that you will trade the rest of your time and money to obtain.

What I do have time for is explaining why stars sometimes flicker, why milk can’t be left on the counter overnight, and why the best marshmallows have to be caught on fire for a few seconds before the flame gets blown out. I do have time to teach the importance of tying one’s own shoe, even though Velcro exists, and why taking the time to learn how to tie a half-Windsor, four-in-hand, and prat knot is both important and superior to any clip-on tie money can buy when dressing for your first job interview or school dance. I do have time to make sure there is always clean laundry for by kids to wear to class.

Because those things matter. They matter so much more than whether someone liked your Facebook post or, for that matter, took the time to read this blog. And they’re sure as hell more important that whatever the Kardashians are doing with their plastic, narcissistic existence. C’mon, America! Really? You watched 20 seasons of that garbage?

I rest my case.  

For My Boys III

Boys,

Being your dad has been the single greatest privilege of my life; Yet, I cannot help but wonder at times if I’m enough. If you wouldn’t have been better equipped had you been raised by a soldier; better educated by a teacher; better advantaged by a politician. At the very least, if you would have benefited emotionally under the nurturing of a mother. Someone who could have carried some of the weight alongside my efforts to raise you to be confident, self-sufficient men. But if there’s one thing I feel I have done, it has been to never allow your circumstances to become excuses for poor behavior or a lack of effort, nor have I allowed them to become roadblocks in your unique journey.

For my own deficiencies as a father; as a man; as a mentor, I apologize. In many ways, a man is ill-equipped to raise children perfectly. Much the same as a woman, attempting to do the same. I know that I have, in many ways, benefitted in my upbringing from the influence of both sexes. Both lending to the development of the man I am today. Both perfect and both flawed. And even two parents will share much of the self-doubt I carry at times, and may produce similar men under two sets of well-intentioned, watchful eyes, in much the same way I strive to. But these influences and deficiencies can never be a reason for any success, or lack thereof, that you achieve in your own lives, for many a great man has changed the world for the better with far less advantage or forged themselves out of far greater adversity.

You will be too young at the time of this writing to grasp the state of affairs currently facing families. We are just beginning to crest the mountain top of a world-wide pandemic, while many of our Nation’s leaders use the distraction to deceptively strip American’s of their Civil Liberties. Under the banners of unity, tolerance, peace, and safety, have sought to undermine many of the principles by which this Country was founded. Families are facing decisions as to whether or not to vaccinate their children with one of three products, rushed to market and ramrodded through testing to get it to people who have listened to mainstream media spreading misinformation and fear-mongering in order to influence the outcome of an election. Trillions in misappropriated stimulus packages passed with little regard for the long-term effects of such an influx of unbacked currency. You will one day read of this past year in your history books, if our current cancel culture hasn’t censored and rewritten these events by that time.

Although many people who may stumble across this may disagree with the conclusions I’ve drawn or the predictions I have made, I can say with full confidence that I sincerely hope those in disagreement are proven in time to have been right and that time has, by contrast, proven me wrong on every point. 

It is in times like these that anxiety and fear creep in. It is in times like these that the merits of a man are tested and tried. In time, the likelihood is that you will face similar or worse as you raise your own families. It is in those times that I want you to remember these words: Understand that which is in your control; Understand that which is not. Focus on what you control. Your choices; your actions; your attitudes; your will.

Nothing else is truly ever in your control and can be stripped from you without warning. Your health can be snatched away in a single breath. A loved one taken in tragedy. Your finances laid to ruin. In those moments, you must look within. As Rudyard Kipling writes in his famous poem, “IF”, “…Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken, and stoop to build them up again with worn-out tools…”

This is not meant as a pessimistic outlook on an unwritten future, but a word of inspiration. Because great men are born of adversity. They triumph in the face of uncertainty. How can you know the limits of your strength unless it is tested to failure? You need to know that your Dad sees greatness in you, but greatness comes from great sacrifice. Often rising out of suffering. It is with such knowledge that I would not wish greatness upon you; but, rather, the strength and fortitude to achieve greatness through the expectence and overcoming of certain adversity.

Know that any thinking man at times finds himself plunged into depression. Only a fool sees the world through the rose-colored lenses of untethered optimism. Show me a man of optimism and I will show you one full of delusion, unfit to rule himself, much less lead a family. This is a man who will be caught unprepared in a storm, rattled to his very core. Depression is a tool of temporary sobriety from the highs of life and should serve as a mirror, reflecting your shortcomings. Abraham Lincoln has been said by many to have been the greatest President this Country has ever seen, yet he admitted to severe and lengthy bouts of crippling depression. He was also considered one of the great Stoics of his time. A man who knew that emotions were a reflection of thought, and should be viewed as nothing more real than a happy or dreary dream. Men must feel a full range of emotion, for this is human, but never succumb to their influence in choosing a course of action. If you learn to isolate and apply logic to every thought, your emotions, albeit tempered, will be of use, rather than leading you down the path of the unstable.

And finally, in times of adversity, train your mind to the present. Many have speculated that only about ten percent of what we spend ninety present of our time feeling anxious about, ever actually comes to past. Yesterday is no longer in your control; neither is tomorrow. What you have is today. More precisely, this very moment. That is what is in your control. When you hold your own child in your arms, the days will feel long. But, don’t allow a second of it to pass in fantasizing about an imagined future or trying to recapture moments owned by the past. Look into the eyes of your child. Feel his or her breath upon your cheek. Treasure that moment above all others, because the quality of your life is made up of moments exactly like that one: here today; gone tomorrow. The exact number, I can only pray will be many, but it is my hope that you will live each one with the understanding that they are all too often, few.

Adoption Day 2.0

Today is an exciting day for my family. It’s the one year anniversary of the adoption of my twin boys. Anyone who has followed this journey from the beginning can attest to the highs and lows along the way, and how much relief my family and I experienced putting to rest an emotionally turbulent two year stent, fully invested in that end.

The year 2020 for most people has been difficult up to now, and the remaining months promise further uncertainty. My household has been no exception and, as a father, I can’t help but join in the worry about everything from civil unrest to pandemic level sickness. But 2020 aside, I wanted to tell you a little about post-adoption life.

My situation is uncommon to say the least. That is to say that the odds of a single man deciding to get licensed as a resource family (foster care provider), with the intent to adopt, receiving as a first placement a set of healthy twin boys of only 18 month of age at the time, and then to have that become a successful adoption, has got to be astronomically low in the spectrum of possible outcomes. This is not wasted on me, and I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am blessed.

For about eight months we took in another foster child. A beautiful little girl, also 18 months old at the time. And, as much as I would have liked to have been her permanent home, the addition of another child made clear my limits as an individual. Ultimately, she ended up with a wonderful family, long time friends of my own family, who are nearing the end of the adoption process with her. I have no doubt in my mind that this is the ideal placement for her, and I’m excited to watch her grow up in a strong, stable home full of people who absolutely adore her.

Once the transfer was made, however, we began to move into a more structured routine, absent the looming fear and uncertainty that we had previously shouldered; replaced, of course, with the normal fear and uncertainty experienced by all parents in regards to the wellbeing of their children. Amplified, perhaps, by the trials of 2020. My boys tell me (often thirty to forty times a day), “I love you, Daddy.” It is one of the greatest things to hear (in moderation) from the children you would do anything to protect and provide for. They are strong, healthy four-and-a-half year olds, with beautiful blue eyes to accent their ever-growing, razor-straight blonde hair. They love The Avenger’s, Lego, ruining their shoes, and riding their bikes.

And, eating twice their bodyweight in food each day.

I’ve started a college savings 529 plan, which they both hope to use to become members of the Avengers one day. Hopefully, we won’t still be distance learning by then. But, if there’s one thing I can say with certainty, it’s that this is all going very fast. The time from when I buckled their tiny, frightened bodies into fresh car seats in the back seat of my truck, until today, feels like a blur and I just want it all to slow down. Mostly I want this year back, as it has been a total loss in terms of enjoying the fun things, like family trips to zoos and parks. Other than one camping trip, we’ve lost out, like so many others, on those much needed highlights. I truly hope that 2021 goes back to some sense of normalcy.

The other day, while rifling through old photos taken over the past couple years, I experienced a deep sense of satisfaction. It presented itself, not so much as a feeling of accomplishment, although I believe that would be well earned, but more as a sense of completeness. Like a vacant space in a complex puzzle had been patched with the appropriate piece, creating a picture of life, previously obscured and lacking. And, even though my family was built in a far less traditional way, that it was always meant to go this way. It was a feeling of having no regret, coupled with a deep appreciation and acceptance for all the failures, missed opportunities and mistakes that lead me here. It felt like meaning and purpose. Far beyond anything I’ve ever achieved from success in business and relationships, both past and present.

Parenting is hard in so many ways that I’m going to forego mentioning any of them. Every day I see areas where other’s far surpass me in patience, grace and poise. Looking at a plate of fish sticks and macaroni, wondering if this is the best I could be doing in terms of their diets, for instance. Or being made aware of other children who know their ABC’s completely, and wondering if I’m capable of managing their education with everything else I’m juggling at a given time. I am not perfect. Having kids is like being examined under a microscope, where all your imperfections appear magnified by the little people you are fully responsible for the development of. But even with that, I can honestly say that I’ve been pushed to my limits in more ways than I knew possible, and still feel absolutely certain that the decision I made in August of 2017 was the number one best decision and defining moment of my life.

All of this is to say that the odds of mirroring my experience are low. Phenomenally so. But if it resides within you to be a part of the solution needed by a staggering number of children in every community, do it. Your experience will very likely be different. But, it will just as likely be uniquely beautiful, and you may be rewarded in the greatest way imaginable, when a child much in need of your love tells you once (or thirty to forty times a day), “I love you!”

It is life changing.

But no anniversary recap would be complete without ending this with acknowledgments.

First and foremost, thank you to my children, Thomas and Cole, who have participated in all the growing pains alongside me and occasionally been the recipients of poor reactions from an exhausted dad, who carries the guilt of those reactions far longer than the memories are held against me. Thank you for your often undeserved smiles, hugs and kisses, and for being the best part of who I am.

Thank you to my mother and oldest sister, without whom working full time would be impossible. And thank you for picking up a lot of my slack in the raising of my children. You are truly life saving, week after week.

And, to the remaining members of my family who have embraced my children as though they were my own flesh and blood. Your relationship with my kids means more than you know.

Thank you to my employer, who has graciously provided me with a professional environment that allows me to be flexible with the unforeseen circumstances that present themselves from time-to-time. The last decade of stable employment has enabled me to provide the life I have for myself and my kids. You will always have my loyalty and my appreciation. If you are my employer, you know what that last sentence means.

To my co-workers, who have had to put up with my moods amidst the maddening process by which foster children are acquired and adopted. Thank you for making me look good, especially during the times when I had little energy left to support you in the way I would have liked. Your competency and work ethic allowed me the freedom to keep work in the workplace and focus on my kids during my absences.

And, last but not least, to my remaining friends who have assured me that I was insane and in desperate need of professional help for doing this as a single man, but who, regardless of this, have supported me through every step of the process. Even if it seemed minor at the time, it was often the very thing I needed to pick myself up and continue.

For My Boys II

Boys,

You are turning four in a few days, and I’m starting to feel like this whole adventure is going way too fast for your old man. I’m so amazed by the discovery of your personalities as they develop and begin to mature. When I wrap my arms around you, I know that I am truly the luckiest man alive. I love all the ways you are similar, and appreciate the ways in which you are different from one another. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about myself over the past few years, it’s that you are the best parts of me, and my greatest fear is that, one day, for whatever reason, you may be separated from each other. That, hopefully irrational fear, has woken me more nights to a tear drenched pillowcase than I care to admit. For all my strength and hardness of heart, this singular thought can still break me and reminds me of a child-like vulnerability I had not long ago thought lost to the cruelty of this world. I have a recurring nightmare about it that is far to painful to share, especially when, intellectually, I know it is not real. It’s a manifestation of my love for you colliding with this terrible fear for your life-long well-being. It is the curse you will one day carry, while tucking your own child into a warm, safe bed, praying for one more day together.

I know there will come a time when I am no longer making the decisions for you, and all my prayers can be summarized in this: “Lord, may being a dad not be where I fail in this life. May our days together, however few; however plentiful, be filled with laughter, love, and life. May my sinful deeds not circle back to visit their vengeance upon my children nor cause my demons to sink their claws into the precious innocence asleep in the next room. May what I have to offer as a father be enough to build strong men. Men who trust; who love; who protect all those who are placed in their paths. May their hearts be light, free from deception or the weight brought about by immorality. May they live simple lives, free from obsession with power, greed, influence, vanity or any other pursuit which can poison a man’s soul and harden his heart. Above all, may they always have each other to lean on, in good times and in those times where all the things they hold dear seem to crumble within their grasp. May they always have a place to call home, surrounded by the wealth of family and true friends. May they better me in all things, that my greatest accomplishments are but fading ripples in the shallow pond of their humble beginnings. May they grow up to be great men, but knowing that their true greatness lies in the strength of their character. That they never spend a second doubting my love or knowing how proud I am of the boys they are today and the men they will become, some distant tomorrow.”

This is the birthday where you will get your first peddle bikes. I can’t wait to hold the back of your seats, while you learn to trust in a whole new way. I love you both so much!

And I always will.

Happy 4th Birthday, Thomas and Cole!

Your Dad

Until next time…

My Answers to The Three Most Common Questions I’m Asked

What makes a successful adoption?

In my limited experience, this is a fairly complicated answer. For me, I fell in love with the boys who were placed with me immediately. They felt as much mine as any naturally born child could have. Adoption, for them, probably felt the same because they were always mine in their minds, having entered the foster care system at the age of eighteen months, with the final adoption taking place ten days short of two years later. Most, if not all their memories were with me and my extended family. For me, however, it was the greatest relief I have ever experienced. Because, they were my children in every way other than biologically, and mere months before the finalization of the adoption, I was being told that I would need to work with the biological father on a plan for potentially transitioning the boys back to him. This was legally required, and, by all rights, a successful conclusion to a foster case. But, nothing in my heart agreed with that outcome. To take that another step, expressing these concerns can be viewed as a barrier to reunification and grounds for removal, in and of itself. You, as a foster parent, have no rights. At least not in the legal sense of what a biological parent has, whether qualified or not. And that makes adoption through foster care an extremely stressful process. When you, as a parent, would throw yourself into traffic to protect your child, but you have to willingly give that child back to a parent who has made minimal effort to change the behaviors that lost him or her their children in the first place, it is difficult.

But, so as not to get too far from the root of the question, the answer to what makes a successful adoption is a willingness to endure anything you may encounter during the process, without allowing your fears to rob the child of the short time they are able to simply be children, free from the worry of separation, hunger, abuse, neglect, or whatever other unique situation landed them in your care. It is your job to shoulder every ounce of it, and be as forthcoming, outspoken or protective as you are legally aloud, without them knowing their future was ever uncertain. When the adoption is actually finalized, not a thing will change for them, but everything will change for you.  Because your biggest fear will have been alleviated to make room for new ones shared by every loving, responsible parent on the planet.

 

What advice would you give foster parents when making the decision to adopt?

Do it. Without a second’s worth of uncertainty. If you’ve made the decision to foster children and your motives were, in fact, to complete your family and give a child who was dealt a lousy hand, a chance at a better life, then do it. I had countless people offer opinions ranging from, “What an amazing person you are. I could never do that”, to, “Foster kids are problematic and you are going to regret it.” Both, by the way, are worthless. Taking in foster children does not make you Mother Teresa and foster kids are not inherently problematic. If you’re doing it to be considered for a special honor, donate a kidney instead. It’s easier. If you think you’re a savior going to set a bad kid straight, then talk to a therapist and deal with your hero complex, self-righteous indignation, or repressed childhood memories. This is hard. It’s forever. You are not responsible for whatever brought them into your life, but now that they are, you are absolutely responsible for what happens next. Adoption gives you the opportunity to see this through to the end. It is the most personally rewarding and simultaneously difficult thing you will likely ever do. But, from the bottom of my heart, it is worth every second of struggle, uncertainty, and pain. And, to walk my previous statement back just a little, your willingness does, in my opinion, make you uniquely qualified for this privilege. You will not be perfect. You will second guess yourself and compare the job you’re doing to everyone else’s experience.  My advice is, let your child see you struggle. They have likely never seen anyone do that for them. It is through your imperfections that a child learns to accept their own imperfections, and still know they are valuable. They also learn how to work through a struggle as a member of a family.

 

What advice would you give perspective adoptive parents?

I know many people who have had dozens of foster children and never had the opportunity to adopt. I, conversely, was fortunate to be able to adopt my first placement, a set of identical twin boys. Going through an adoption agency is similar to visiting a Build-A-Bear at your local mall. You can be choosy, but so can the parents who are placing their child up for adoption. It is also prohibitively expensive for a lot of people. I think adoption is great, however you choose to go about it. A lot of people will tell you that going into foster care for the purpose of adoption is a terrible idea. With that said, even the system will tell you that the primary goal of Social Services is reunification. As it should be. Personally, I would change the amount of effort and time that goes into meeting this goal, but it is primarily an avenue to remove a child from a dangerous environment so that the parent(s) can fix the issue. There needs to be ample opportunity for them to get their child back. Now, I will preface my next statement with: THIS IS MY PERSONAL OPINION AND NOT THE OPINION OF SOCIAL SERVICES, CHILD WELFARE SERVICES, STATE ADOPTIONS OR THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA. It seems to me that California laws pander to the lowest common denominator in society, meaning that the more an individual messes up, the more time and chances they are given, and the more resources get invested into them. As a perspective adoptive parent, this can feel like the laws are written to benefit the parents, not the children. To whatever extent that “feeling” is or is not accurate, will vary based upon the circumstances surrounding each unique case.

Again, to get back to the heart of the question, my advice for perspective adoptive parents is this: Play the odds. If I was a mathematician, I would break down the odds for what it took for me to get to a place in my own life where this became a decision I was ready to make for myself and get approved at the exact time that a set of twin boys entered the system, and were ultimately a successful adoption. The odds of birthing twins is something like 1 in 30. The chance of a set of twins becoming available for adoption is probably somewhere in the vicinity of 1 in 5000. Then factor into that all the things that happened for me to make these decisions at the exact moments I needed to, and you’re probably somewhere closer to 1 in 500,000. I have no idea. In may be half that or ten times that. I failed statistics. But if you’re wondering if you should put yourself in a position where the odds are stacked against you, my answer is, yes. Absolutely. Make the decision and metaphorically burn the ships. It can and does happen for people just like you and me, every day in this state. It takes a leap of faith and a willingness to endure setbacks and disappointments, but my advice is to confidently take that step and ignore the advice of those around you who have never or will never do anything beyond what makes mathematical sense to them or takes minimal effort or personal risk. History is written by people who defied the odds. I am one of them. You can be, too. But no one has ever had a statue erected of them for their good intentions and, in my opinion, action is the most defining, replicable quality that separates great people from average ones.

Until next time…

Adoption Day

On the 29th day of the 10th month of 2019, at 11:30 AM, Cole Daniel Scott and Thomas James Stephen became the newest official members of my family. But, through it all, this family has expanded to include the number of people who have helped to make all of this possible and those close friends who have supported me through all the twists and turns in this journey. People often ask if it feels good to have helped reshape a child’s future. The simple answer is, of course it does. Unless you’re a sociopath, that should always be the answer. That is always a great feeling. But I didn’t start out with the motive of saving a child, or, in my case, children. I set out on this journey from a place of desperation and narcissistic navel-gazing. Scared that I would die without ever having the privilege of being a dad. What I set out to do was prove to myself that no one had the power to decide that for me, but me. What I did was reshaped the lives of everyone who has ever mattered to me. None more than my own.

From the first day the boys were placed with me, November 10th, 2017, they felt like my kids. One year later, the possibility of reunification was barreling down on me like a rabid dog. There’s nothing quite like looking at two children whom you would jump in front of traffic to protect, while listening to someone telling you that it is necessary to start working on a plan for transitioning them back to their biological parent, which will surely be a death sentence. Metaphorically, hopefully, but not necessarily. Vision clouding as the blood drains from your face, wondering if it had just been a reprieve and everything you’d been through together would leave the most confusing and gaping hole in their short lives, to date.

That was when I knew for sure that I was capable of extreme violence against another human being. But my rage was against an invisible adversary. It was against an imperfect system in an even less perfect world, and for that, there would be no bloodshed. It is an intangible beast for whom men position themselves, fruitlessly, at her reigns, only to be, themselves, devoured by the very power they seek to wield.

Fear is the fuel that feeds evil deeds. It has been said that people do nothing, but to change the way that they feel at a given moment. Terrible to think that everyone, stripped of there convictions, can be boiled down to this one trait in common. From the addict to the CEO; from the slave to the King he serves. All responding, godlessly, mindlessly, instinctively to the baser needs all mankind shares. And there is no more motivating a feeling than the fear of losing a child. It will bring the proudest warrior to his knees and the weakest coward to pick up a sword and take a life. Be it another; be it his own.

Nothing in any foster parenting book will ever prepare you for this reality.

But it’s still worth the fight. It’s worth it for even a glimpse of the light in a child’s eyes as he or she looks up at you with total trust and childlike innocence and says, “Help me, Daddy.”

Well, today, I got to witness judicial power grant me the rights of a father to do just that for two boys who have shared my home, my life, and now share my name for as long as the good Lord will allow. This is the happiest I imagine I will ever be in this life, and I have never felt less worthy of the gift I’ve been given. But I promise you this: I will spend every day of the rest of my life trying to earn it.

And, not just that, but to stare humility in the face as I think about the impact various people have had along the way. I’d like to name a few now:

To my ex-fiance, Anna. Thank you for your honesty. Had you given me what I wanted with you, I would never have experienced the pain of the last two years, which shaped me into the man, and, more importantly, the father I am today.

To my mother who showed me what a parent’s love looked like from the very first seconds of my life. A woman who has sacrificed more for me than I can ever fully comprehend.

To my sister, Ashley, who has given nearly every one of her days off to the care of my children so I can still maintain my employment. A person who has been as much as a mother figure as she’s been an aunt.

To the rest of my family, who have embraced these children as though they were my own blood from the very moment I welcomed them into our lives, terrified and overwhelmed.

To Daniel, whose name my son now carries, for being the unshakable rock who could always talk me off of any emotional ledge and offer a word of reason and an unwavering friendship that is, truly, one in a billion. There are no words to express the value you carry in my life. And, to your beautiful family who gave me the honor of calling me family and supporting me through this process.

To Rose, for being the big sister they have grown to adore. You are a beautiful person, inside and out.

To my friends, whom I nearly forgot to mention because, in my mind, they were covered under, family. You are all amazing. You are always there for me. I hope that I have been that kind friend to each one of you. Loyalty is a trait I value at the highest level. Thank you for yours; You, in turn, have mine.

To my employer, who has graciously allowed me times of absence from work to handle sicknesses, appointments, and exhaustion. Thank you for your generosity!

To the Social Services Dept. and my State Adoptions worker. From licensing to adoption, you are all incredible people with the hardest job on the planet. Thank you for dealing with my neurotic moments and for your support through it all. I feel a little sad that it’s over, but as we part ways, know that you do so with my eternal gratitude and respect.

To the biological father of my boys. Thank you for the job you did for the time you did it. I don’t take for granted the fact that without you, there is no us. Your boys will be great men because you gave them a chance at a life you knew you couldn’t provide. For that, I thank you. And, one day, these boys will as well. I wish you all the best!

To the family whose name they carry no longer. Please know that it is with no disrespect that I have taken the actions I have to insulate them from aspects of your lives. I have one job, and I intend to do it until my dying breath. Thank you for respecting the extremely difficult boundaries I’ve set, and for recognizing that they are non-negotiable. But they are not without mercy, either. You will always have access, within those boundaries, to have a relationship with them. In time, maybe those boundaries will loosen. But you, better than anyone, can appreciate the power of influence and example. You, ****, made one of the most difficult decisions any (relationship omitted) can make, and, because of that decision, you are never going to be shut out of their lives. But this has to be on my terms. That’s the only way this works.

And, finally. To my loyal readers. I’m sure that when you started this thread you expected something different from what you got, but I sincerely hope that what you got felt real. As real, unfiltered, and genuine as what you set out to find. Please know that this was started, under a pseudonym, for the privilege of being free to write unbridled. To take you through all of the raw emotions that I experienced. At times, there were large gaps between posts. Those were often the result of me dealing with emotions I could not yet craft into literate prose. But it is all true. And I hope you gained as much from reading it as I did from memorializing it.

I hope to one day share in your journey…

This concludes the intention of this blog thread. The author reserves the right to revisit it from time to time, to update you on where things go from here. Blessings!

Sincerely,

Elijah Cain

Until next time…

Decisions

In life, the average person makes thousands of decisions a week. Some may be as small as deciding between lasagna and meatloaf while in the grocery store. Others are much more significant, such as deciding when and how to purpose to that special someone in your life. In my own life, I have made some wonderful decisions. Such as getting my real estate license at the age of nineteen and purchasing a home at rock-bottom prices in the beginning of 2014. I have also made a few terrible ones: Choosing to build a home at the beginning of 2007 and believing I could ride out the recession with the aid of credit lines, for instance. Even in the aftermath of the worst decisions, however, you can usually find a silver lining. When the bottom dropped out of the real estate market and the Dow Jones Industrial Average was at an all time low, I was forced to take a job. The first shift work I had done in the better part of a decade. Believing this to be rock bottom, I convinced myself that the job would only be for three months, six tops, and that I would soon be back at the top of my game selling real estate full time. What came next was total devastation. Short sale on the house, sold the BMW, hung up the recreational pilots license, bankruptcy, and finally, though not immediately, my fiance’ terminated our relationship. But, had I not ended up in what seemed like dire straights at the time that I did, I would not likely hold the position I do today, with a job that I love earning an above average wage. I also would not have been able to write the remainder of this post.

Two years after all this transpired, I got back together with my ex-fiance’, and we, once again moved forward in our relationship.

In opposite directions.

As some of you may remember from my first post in this series, she and I had a pregnancy “scare”, which ultimately ended our relationship and drove me to what has become the best decision of my life: Getting licensed for foster care. And, a decision I was nearly (and sarcastically) committed for making as a single man working a graveyard job, when I was matched with a beautiful set of eighteen month old twin boys. In over my head, tired beyond belief, and run nearly to the point of failure on several occasions, only to suffer, a year and a half later, with a period of a couple months where reunification was back on the table and I was being asked to work with one of the parents on a plan for transitioning the boys back to their biological parents. But after this long and arduous period, parental rights were terminated and, a couple months later, the twins were cleared for adoption.

I remember those couple of months as being the most emotionally trying time in my life. I wasn’t eating, barely sleeping, and unable to muster the faith to ask God for peace. What I did do was far worse. After the boys were asleep in their beds, I would drink and pray. But my prayers were not for peace. They were threats. Threats regarding the things I would say and do if after putting them in my life, He were to choose to separate them from me. These threats would usually end in tears as I contemplated this reality, followed by a series of apologies and pleas for forgiveness for my complete and utter lack of trust. Asking Him to make some allowances for my attitude, given the circumstance.

I have always believed that I had the ability to affect change based upon the strength of my own will and my determination to succeed at a given task, but even I could not ignore the extreme coincidence of having had everything in my life drive me to a singular purpose, which would conclude exactly the way I had envisioned, where the boys entered the system precisely the moment I was concluding my licensing requirements, and, now, two long years later, almost to the date, I will walk into a court room at the end of one path, and walk out at the beginning of the next, with two boys entirely my own, with my own name.

My own family.

Even in my most arrogant times, I could not deny the hand of God in these, otherwise, impossible odds. Believe me when I tell you this. Getting licensed for foster care has completely changed my life, not to mention the lives of two little ones who have reached a place deep withing my heart that I never knew existed, and turned my entire world upside-down. This has been the most difficult two years of my life, and I would do every second of it over again in a heartbeat.

One other addition that I’ve failed to mention is that, as of about four months ago, I took in another child. An eighteen month old girl, who speaks at a kindergartner’s level. She is sweet and beautiful, and, while I don’t yet know how long our journey together will last, I do know that it will be an adventure that weaves itself into the very fabric of my being and binds us even tighter as a family. I had intended to keep this story-line about my journey from a prospective foster parent to adoption, with the boys at the center, but I can’t help but see how much they’ve grown and accepted our newest addition into our odd, unconventional family, and how much we’ve all grown together because of her. So, I only think it’s fair that she be included in our story, until the time comes for her to be reunified with her birth family or move into a forever home, and if that forever home happens to be mine, I can only imagine what the next years will bring.

‘Til next time…

 

The Good Stuff

My Mother, who for as long as I can remember, has catalogued the lives of my siblings, as well as my own, through the once-thought miracle of photography, giving us the ability to relive every childhood memory in vivid clarity. Birthdays, Christmas’s, school plays, sporting events, the list goes on and on. This never seemed all that important until recently, while changing out photos of my boys with updated ones from our most recent summer.

If there’s one thing that the last two years has taught me, it’s that parenting is messy; but, that it’s the chaos that makes a house a home. And I don’t just mean the Fruit Loops under the living room sofa or the feint odder of urine from an ill-timed trip to the potty. I mean the imperfect way in which life creates organically perfect moments. Moments that seem insignificant at the time, but later represent memories that, when reminded of, bring a sense of completeness and warmth; But, with that comes, also, a somber reminder of the truth of how fast it all goes.

One of my boys will position himself in such a way that if he thinks I’m about to get up from the couch, he can quickly throw a leg over my shoulder and hitch I ride to wherever I’m going. I cry a little each time, often exhausted from the previous graveyard shift, and the mere idea of pouring juice for what feels like the thousandth time that morning seems nearly soul-crushing, even without the added forty pounds. At least until I remind myself that tomorrow, he may be too big to enjoy these shoulder rides from Dad. Or worse, decide that I don’t enjoy them and simply stop making the attempts altogether. Either way, they will be over way too soon and I will never be able to go back and relive these moments.

When the two of them first arrived, nearly two years ago at the time of this writing, one of my boys had a cold. To manage the irritation of his symptoms, he would tighten his upper lip around his front teeth. That face became his distinguishing gesture. And, for a time, was one of the only ways I could differentiate between the twins. That is until my family and I began mimicking the face and both boys would mirror the expression for effect. This simple expression was one of our earliest interactions. One of our first family memories. And that experience is now gone, other than for one photograph my mother happened to catch of both boys making this face at the exact same moment, side-by-side. Absent which, even the memory of that may have been lost forever. A memory which, at the time, seemed insignificant. Until one day it no longer happened. It had been replaced by new interactions and new expressions.

When I think back over the amount of work the past two years have been, it’s easy to understand why some people choose not to participate in the parenting ritual, electing instead to avoid the added complication altogether. The truth is, I can hardly remember what my life was like before I had children; Truth is, I seldom ever want to remember. Because, for all the self-centered occupations I found myself once engaged in, a million tiny moment of connecting with my children have replaced them. And, years from now, lying awake in bed at the end of my life, those are the moments I am going to reflect on in remembrance of a life well lived. And I’m going to miss the weight of my growing boy pressing down upon tired shoulders, egger for his ride to the kitchen. I’m going to miss them spilling juice all over the kitchen floor because they’ve reached the age where they’re wanting to be more self-sufficient. It’s tiresome, but pales in comparison to the joy of watching them grow and learn and thrive. Or, feeling the frustration of arguing with their newly forming opinions of how things should be run around the house, but smiling inside as new facets of their personalities begin to emerge with each assertion.

Because those tiny moments, that is the good stuff. That is what makes life worth living. One day I may again fly airplanes and ride motorcycles. I may travel for business conventions and get fitted for a Brioni or Tom Ford Bespoke tailored suit. Or maybe not. I knew what this venture would cost me, and I have never felt like anything less than a con-artist, trading fate my meaningless pass-times and possessions for the simple joys that being a dad has given me.

For me, becoming a dad took planning and patience as I learned to navigate the unorthodox and emotionally taxing journey through the foster care system. But, even now I can’t see my experience as anything less than blessed. The number of things that had to line up for me to enter into the licensing process and exit out the other side at the exact moment my boys entered into the system; And now, to be staring down the finish line, only months away, with adoption paperwork only weeks from being filed with the state. Even for someone as self-assured and confident (bordering on cocky) as the culmination of my choices have led me to be, I can’t help but feel humbled by the experience and recognize the evidence of divine intervention at work. As though every negative experience in my life were all engineered to drive me to the point where I was ready to burn the ships and forge a path through terrain I’d never imagined for myself.

Two years ago I opened my heart and my home to twin 18 month old boys and the two of them saved my life. For all the successes and failures in my adult life and the amazing things I was able to accomplish and experience, none of it meant anything to me beyond the initial thrill accomplishment brings. I struggled at times with depression. I smoked, drank, and sought the wrong company in an attempt to dull the reality that there was more to life, but it seemed to allude my grasp, and no amount of power, influence, or money ever brought me any closer to attaining it. I was never suicidal. To quote Raymond Reddington from the hit TV show, The Blacklist, “Suicide is an act of terrorism, perpetrated on those closest to you…” But, I definitely wasn’t fulfilled. To quote a friend of mine’s recent and insightful assessment of my state during the time leading up to this decision, I was “cabin-fevered by my current life.”

I would never put the responsibility for the burdens I carry or the demons I face on my children. They are most definitely not responsible for my happiness. But they are absolutely to blame for it. The void that I felt has been filled with an abundance of chaos, which is both messy and unpredictable, but somehow fixed things in my life I never knew were broken.

So as a parent, unqualified to offer parenting advice to anyone: Be present; Be in the moment. The days are long but the weeks are short and the months fly by. Before you know it, they are gone and can never be recaptured. Don’t take a single second with your children for granted. No amount of money can rebuy the time you’ve lost trying to put them in a pair of Jordan’s.

Until next time…

 

Pendulum

The past six months would have been an emotional ride for anyone, such as myself, who has less than a fleeting and casual relationship with his emotions. Something akin to two strangers on a commuter train exchanging eye contact for a moment too long. That awkward awareness of the other one’s presence and a need to break the silence, but, choosing instead to repress the urge. Perhaps settling for an affirming nod in exchange for some hope that you won’t be robbed at knife-point the moment your feet land on the cool tarmac, just outside the purview of the other passengers aboard the train. But guarding oneself and repressing emotions have no place in the heart of a parent; instead, these are replaced with hope, fear, and a feeling of utter helplessness and panic.

You see, over the last six months, I’ve been engaged in somewhat of a zero-sum game. In order for me to win, someone else had to lose. The only comfort I can take in the hardness of my heart towards this reality is in believing with ever fiber of my being that my winning was the only way I could protect the children in my care from an uncertain future. A future in which their trust, that I worked so hard to gain, is shattered in what would amount to being the only abandonment they would likely remember. If you recall, they were only eighteen months of age when they entered the foster care system, and they’ve now been with me close to the same amount of time.

It’s been nearly eighteen months since they arrived, scared and confused. Fifteen months since the night terrors they suffered stopped recurring. Twelve months since the first time they acknowledged me as Daddy. Since that time, they have grown from size 4 toddler shoes into size 11 little kid shoes. Moved from diapers to big boy underwear. From potty chairs to potty trained (at least during the day). They say more words every day and express themselves in new areas of exploration, learning to dress themselves, feed themselves, and wash themselves. They love Peppa Pig and Paw Patrol and have recently developed a passion for everything Superhero related. Namely, Spiderman and Ironman. And they chase each other through the house making web shooter sounds and balancing themselves in the mid-air of their imagination with flight stabilizers in their imaginary Ironman suits. They are everything I’ve ever wanted for them. They are happy, healthy, and well-adjusted children. Just kids allowed to behave as kids. Free from the fear that everything they’ve come to know and love could be ripped out from under them at a moments notice.

But I have been living with that fear day and night for months. Allowing my new and unwanted emotional companionship to swing me from the heights of fatherhood to the depth that blacken souls with murderous intent, willing to go to any length to ensure that your protection remains intact. Only to settle into the worst feeling of all. The feeling of powerlessness to influence circumstances far beyond your control. Waiting far from patiently as decisions in court are continued for reasons that both haunt and terrify you. Brushing up against your biggest fears that reunification is going to happen, simply because State legislation mandates it, without the slightest concern for what happens next.

When children reunify with their birth parents, that may be the greatest gift to a broken family struggling to be once again made whole. I, myself, have seen this play out to great success and could not be more supportive of that outcome for those families. In other cases, this outcome becomes traumatizing, and the children re-enter the system again. This time a little angrier, a little less trusting, and a lot more fearful. There was a time when children would get removed from homes for unmitigated concerns and the parents would have little to no chance of regaining custody of their children. Today, the pendulum has swung in the other direction, where the primary goal is reunification. Not from an ideological perspective but from a legislative one, in which little room is made for the circumstances of each child as individuals. If the parent(s) does X,Y,Z, than the court rules in favor of reunification. If not, they move to terminate services for reunification. Why is it so cut and dry? Because there are thousands of children in the foster care system and that is the only way to get cases moved out of the way so that the State can handle the influx of cases coming in. It’s an imperfect system full of wonderful people trying desperately to do what is best for everyone, drowning in a sea of legislation, red tape, and paperwork, with one hand tied behind their back. It may likely be the most underpaid Government job in existence and no one leaves it completely unscathed.

The foster parent has both hands tied. And both will be tied as they watch the children they have bonded with, cried with, laughed with, and bled with, get strapped into a County vehicle and driven off to uncertainty without so much as the promise of weekly or monthly visitations. It is, without a doubt, the worst and most difficult part of being a foster parent. Second only to being reminded that this is what you, in fact, signed up for. That the 24 hours a day devoted, not only to the care of a child, but, also, to the needs outside of those necessary to a child’s mere survival — the reading of books together at night, the countless meals prepared, the trips to the park where you begin to see their confidence soar, the dozens of required and unexpected Doctor’s appointments, visits from Social Workers, program facilitators, and an onslaught of additional strangers who wonder through your home, from licensing to adoptions, many of whom become friends through it all, but can offer very little comfort where final decisions are concerned. Add to that the continuing education requirements and inspections necessary to remain licensed, as if everything else weren’t tiresome enough. All this, every day, without so much as a pause button — may offer them little more than a reprieve, and you can still lose them eighteen months later, due to a decision made by a Judge who doesn’t know them and is bound, at least in part, by cookie-cutter legislation.

This has been on my mind every waking moment for the past eighteen months, far more intensely for the past six. So much so that I didn’t know what to write about in this blog anymore. We’ve had amazing experiences as a family, and I can’t wait to share them with you, but they are constantly overshadowed by a cloud of uncertainty and fear.

But this is not a sad post.

Because two weeks ago the Judge ruled to terminate services. A decision that had been postponed four times, each one bringing additional anxiety, fear, and frustration with it. We are not out of the woods yet, but this was a huge milestone moving us one step closer to adoption. And, while I know that what is great news to me comes at a loss to someone else, in time, I think that even the family of these two boys will see that this was for the best. In time, they will get to watch these boys grow up, play sports, learn to play an instrument, excel academically, and learn to become men who protect each other and those around them. Who become contributing members of society and break this wretched cycle once and for all. You see, my intention has never been to take children by way of a hostile take-over. My goal was to be a dad. To raise children as my own. But my goal doesn’t exclude the birth family from being a part of that. I have been blessed with tremendous resources, and I intend to deploy those resources in the service of two toddlers whose names I cannot yet share with you. My goal is not to erase their past or to blot the names of those blood relatives from their family tree, but to graft in a new branch and to nourish the soil in the richness with which I’ve been blessed.

I look forward to working with them to agree on a continued roll in the lives of these children. But that chapter is still unwritten. Before that can happen, there are still two monumental court hearings that have to take place and a minimum of six month time in limbo, but we are so much closer now than we were. And that ruling marks the first true peace I have felt in months.

The boys are appropriately none-the-wiser.

Until next time…

Mindfulness

“The price of parenting is self-sacrifice, and rent is due every day.”

I’m starting this post with that rehashed quote – originally written to describe the price of success – partly because of the amount of time that has passed since my last post was written, and, partly, because the day-to-day living of that truth has left me, at times, with very little left in the metaphorical tank for the maintenance of personal hobbies and selfish pass-times.

With that thought in mind, I’d like to share a little about the past six months since the twins 2nd birthday, and offer an approach to parenting (or, surviving the rigors of parenting) that I have recently discovered. Something which serves to make the mental strain of working two careers, managing a household, and raising two toddlers as a single dad possible – without completely losing my grip on sanity.

In the past six months, we’ve knocked out potty-training during the day. The high chairs have been replaced with a small table in the kitchen and two matching “big boy” chairs. The cribs are now toddler beds, and their shoes have grown from a size 6 to a size 10. They are comfortable in 3T clothing and look even more comfortable in a lot of 4T items. Weighing in at nearly 40 LBS each, they have discovered the joys of swinging their weaponized aluminum bats at anything thrown their direction and prefer to spend their free-time chasing a soccer ball and eating. When indoors, they divide their time between playing with their “bye-byes” (their word for cars and trucks) and exploring content on their Kindle Fire Toddle Quieting Devices, so long as dad remembered to return them to the charger during the dreaded nap-time.

My favorite time.

And, not because I get some much needed “alone time”, but because those are the times I, too, get to sleep before my next graveyard shift. I’m still getting about as much sleep during the work week as I used to get in two average nights, but that has become an accepted new-normal.

Yes; admittedly, there are moments that produce stress fractures in my stoic façade which summon abrupt, poorly thought-out responses to both major and minor annoyances and/or inconveniences. I’m human. A fact never clearer than when reflected in the innocence of your children, responding to their own struggles in a manner they’ve methodically crafted in your image. For better or worse, they take on characteristics forged by example so much faster than those laid out in instruction, spitting in the face of “Do as I say, not as I do”. In many ways, they are the truest reflection of who you truly are. A struggling adult trying desperately to keep his $#!% together. And that thought is the bridge to the title of this post: Mindfulness.

Mindfulness: “…the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.” (Definition courtesy of Mindful.org)

In parenting terms, it’s not allowing the stresses of day-to-day living to cause you to lose sight of the beauty and joy of the experience of watching your children explore the world with untarnished, non-cynical eyes with all of its vast opportunities available to them.

Or, put another way: The ability to put up with incessant noise, complaining, and neediness for hours-on-end, without losing your mind.

It’s not new, although it has recently seen a tremendous uptick in popularity. I am not the inventor of the concepts and practices of Mindfulness or the author of a single one of its thousands of supporting texts, manuscripts, blogs, or medical journals, praising the effects and benefits of the daily practice of Mindfulness.

To demystify the term, to the extent of my understanding, it is the simple practice of taking a few minutes out of each day to sit quietly and silence the “ego” (inner-monologue) and inner-critic. To let go of the million and one thoughts being juggled, needlessly creating stress, anger, anxiety and depression. It’s the practice of bringing your mind inward to the physical space you’re occupying in that present moment, focusing on what the body is doing as you breathe in a deliberate, conscious breath, noticing the rise and fall of your chest and abdomen as you consciously exhale. As thoughts begin to re-enter your mind, acknowledging them, labeling them, and then drawing your attention gently back to the breath.

It’s the practice of being present in the moment and taking the fangs out of the voices in your head.

I’m not going to get into the specific how-to or why-to of Mindfulness Meditation, because there are a lot of free resources available from far more qualified writers who have already done the research and produced those types of guides. What I am going to suggest is this: The book, “10% Happier”, by Dan Harris, has an accurate and realistic title. There is no magic pill; No pseudo-scientific key to happiness and fulfillment; No spiritual enlightenment or philosophical self-awakening.  It is simply the act of silencing an over-active mind for a few minutes a day to gain some much needed perspective and reorder priorities. Letting go of the little annoyances you can’t control or change and allowing your mind to be a casual observer of itself, just long enough to get a sense of what’s gnawing at you, weighing you down, and robbing you of your happiness at that moment. Allowing your mind to take a break from the 24/7/365 juggling act and your body to systematically relax the areas where you tend to carry stress.

I promise you it will help you stay more present with your children; Teach you to respond rather than react to outside annoyances and inconveniences; Obtain more restful sleep during the short opportunities you have to do so; And, help you feel less overwhelmed. That is it. I’m not claiming any of the additional thousand +/- benefits claimed by scientific study, philosophers, or religious practitioners, who use it to become one with (fill in the blank), attain spiritual enlightenment or transcendence, etc., etc.

It helps me relax and reset for 10 minutes a day, which helps me feel about 10% calmer and happier throughout the remaining 23 hours and 50 minutes of the day.

And, it’s a much safer and healthier alternative to alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, and, this should go without saying, drugs.

 

Continue…