For My Boys – Part 2

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

 

 

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.

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

 

 

 

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.

 

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The Big 2

May 3rd, 2016, at 7:08 and 7:09 P.M. That was the exact moment in time my boys entered the world, and there is no gift I can give them that could compare to the gift they gave me. You see, one more week marks six months since we entered each other’s lives, for, what I can only pray will soon become permanent.  Six months of fatherhood; Six months of memories, many of which have been some of my best; Six months of feeling terrified by the question of whether or not I’m going to be enough for them and be able to give them the lives they deserve.

The childhood they deserve.

The love, discipline, and instruction they will take into manhood.

A lot of weeks have felt more like a trudge against waves of exhaustion, than a triumphant victory march toward the winners circle. But, a trudge I have thoroughly enjoyed, and, after six long months that have gone by way too fast, I have never felt more at peace with where we have arrived together. As a family.

My family.

Me and my boys, their new grandma and grandpa, aunts and uncles, and, of course, friends. So, today, I would like to write them the birthday message they can’t yet understand:

My beautiful boys,

It’s hard to imagine a time before you and the thought of living without you brings almost crippling fear and anxiety that I struggle to find words to describe. We have been on a roller-coaster ride of emotional turbulence for some time together. I hate that you can’t share your feelings with me, or talk about the dreams that wake you up in tears, from time-to-time. I wish there was something more I could do to comfort you. The thought of you feeling any sense of abandonment or hurt, is the hardest part of being your dad. But, even the hardest part of being your dad would be a million times better than the easiest part of losing you. I can’t wait until those fears have been alleviated through the process of adoption, and all I’m left with are my wishes and intentions for your future.

Those wishes are, simply put, that you grow up to be honorable men, who always put each other’s needs ahead of your own. That you always have each other to lean on, even after I’m gone. That you remain the one true constant for each other that you have been since the moment of your shared birth.

You are two now; I don’t want you to have to grow up a second faster than you are, because the adults in your life aren’t sheltering you from the storm, into which you were born. Watching you run through the grass and throw sticks, just to see how far they go, is what I want for you, right now. Eventually, you will carry responsibilities, and it will be my job to prepare you for that. But, for now, your job is to run and play, laugh and get dirty, splash in puddles wearing rubber galoshes… Or, your best dress shoes. Because whatever you can destroy through the process of being two, is only material and can be replaced. There is nothing you can spill, rip, smash or stain that could ever make me love you less, and nothing that can be bought that could ever make me love you more. You are perfectly imperfect and that’s all you need to be.

I am so proud of you and amazed at how much you’ve both grown in such a short time. It’s exciting watching you try out new words, and I will try my best to make sure the words you learn from me are ALL okay for you to use. I hope you never learn the definition of a double-standard from watching me. Thank you both for your grace with me, and your patience as I learn how to do this whole parenting thing as a single man. There are so many great things I received from my mother, your grandmother, that I will likely fall short on providing for you. But, I spent the first six years of my life without a dad, and I hope I can, at least to some extent, make up for it by being a dad and a positive male role-model for you.  And, I promise to make sure you never have a boo-boo unkissed, a tear unwiped, or a need unmet.

Your laughter is the first thing I wake up to and your diapers, the first smell. Thank you for bringing both into my quiet, clean house, and for making it your home.

I love you to the moon and back!

Always and forever,

Dad

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, BOYS!

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Easy Silence

This morning, after cleaning pancake syrup from the various nooks and crannies of a pair of highchairs, of which there are many, I moved to the bathroom and worked up a lather of shaving soap and began to strip away a three day scruff. Looking down, two toddlers stood pantomiming the process in wide-eyed wonderment. I took the brush and painted their little faces to match my own.

In the background, Easy Silence by The Dixie Chicks emerged from a lengthy shuffled playlist, with the words, “Children lose their youth too soon. Watching war made us immune. I’ve got all the world to lose. But I just want to hold on to the easy silence you create for me. It’s okay when there’s nothing left to say to me. And the peaceful quiet you create for me. And the way you keep the world at bay for me.”

Why, you might ask, would a man have a song like this in his playlist? I’ll tell you why. Years back when I was engaged to the only woman I’ve ever truly been in love with, she shared this song with me. Telling me that this was what she felt I made for her. That I was the eye of her storm. Her place of refuge and safety. But circumstances being what they were, I think I eventually became the storm and drove her to seek refuge elsewhere.

Years later, when we got back together, she told me that I never stopped making her feel safe, we had just moved in different directions. How true that statement has become. But now, standing in the bathroom with two small children, the three of us looking like we’d just entered a pie eating contest, I began to realize the simplicity of the lyrics and wonder, How do I protect these boys from the raging storms of life, while preparing them for it?

You see, as a single man, I have been blessed with an ability to create whatever I wanted out of life. If I set my mind to it, I could do or be whatever I wanted to be…within reason, of course. But, as a parent, going about the task of parenting alone, I have discovered that, while it is possible, it has consumed every minute of the day and drained me of every ounce of energy. And still, some days are better than others.

That is not to say that I regret my decision. Just the opposite, in fact. Every day I spend with these boys strengthens our bond and fills me with purpose. It’s just that everything that is involved in caring for children is a whole lot more than my imagination could have prepared me for. Even as I write this, I’m reminded of the constant cloud of fear I’m surrounded by, listening to the congested coughs in the next room over, preventing the boys from obtaining the restful sleep they so desperately need. Wondering if I’m doing enough to help them recover and prevent it from developing into a worsening condition. Worrying about whether or not I’m giving them the nutrition their bodies need to grow, if I’m doing enough to prepare for their futures, and if the maple syrup I see clinging to strands of blonde hair, while we shave together in the bathroom, makes me a bad parent.

These boys are strong, both physically for their age and emotionally, having dealt with cold, hunger, and abandonment from a young age; yet, they are still babies with their innocence firmly (thankfully) intact. And it is my job to protect that innocence. To be the eye of their storm. Knowing fully, that one day I will have to allow them to step into it and become that for themselves, so that they can be that for their wives and their own children. I know that my job is to prepare them to be that. To grow from strong boys, dependent on others for their care, into strong, dependable men.

And that can only be done through example.

One of my challenges is in the fact that, during the week, much of my parenting is done on between three and five hours of broken sleep. This makes for lessened patience and energy. In addition, I manage a household, one shift of a department during the night, and a real estate career during the day. Something has to give, right? It does. In the following areas: My health, diet, sleep, hobbies, and in socializing with other adults. This won’t always be the case, but, for now, it is absolutely the case. I have lost close to 20 pounds, most of which — anyone who knows me would say — is weight I can’t afford to lose. This is partly because I feed the boys and eat what is left over and partly because I have no time to hit the gym. I also spend most weekends at home alone with the boys. We try to get out and do things as much as we can, but after going on almost a full month of fighting coughs, colds, and the flu, most of our time together has been spent indoors. Where my weekends used to be golfing and riding motorcycles, now they are spent wiping faces and places. I feel fortunate to say that I have friends who have gone out of there way to spend time with me in ways which include my children, but others have not. They are still friends, but this may be a forced separation into two distinct groups: Friendships I continue investing into and friendships that slowly disappear.

Recently, I was forced to reevaluate a number of friendships for an entirely different reason and decide if there was any value in fighting to maintain those relationships. Decidedly, there was not, and my energy has been redirected into things that do still hold value. Such as my remaining friendships, my family — without whom none of this would have been possible — and the various avenues in which I generate income. In time, the gym will factor back in, as will hobbies and alone time, but for now, this is my priority.

All of this is to say the following: Regardless of the energy I have or what may be crashing down on my own head, the image I present in the face of it all, the way I react to circumstances out of my control, and the way I treat the little inconveniences that, on little to no sleep, feel very much like the straw preceding the straw that broke the camel’s back, are what my children see. And what they see shapes who they become. For this reason, I lose not one second of sleep over the friendships I have lost. I simply do not have the energy to worry about anything I cannot directly or indirectly control.

This willingness to abandon control over that which is out of my control, along with the emotional and mental fallout which that abandonment has surely brought, is the only way I can effectively control my own behavior; And in turn, teach my boys how to control their own behavior. All that we cannot control represents the storm around us. What is left either becomes the storm or is quieted through willful, careful, and concerted effort that is made to appear effortless to those in proximity to you.

Here is an example to illustrate my point. When I was learning to pilot an airplane, how much control do you think I had over my environment and circumstances? I wasn’t causing the plane to fly. I barely understood what was keeping the damn thing in the air. Something about air moving at different speeds over a foil creating lift, etc., but, what little I did control, was the difference between success and failure, flying and falling, literally, the difference between life and death. My passengers, once I became licensed, sat in complete confidence in my ability to take off, navigate, and land the craft they had willingly strapped themselves into. But my efforts were not what made those things happen. I merely exerted minimal inputs which translated into a response from a much larger force. I managed the systems necessary for this object to defy gravity and to function according to the laws of aerodynamics. And, since I’m writing about it, you can safely assume that I managed to do this successfully.

Someday, when my children are managing the empire we have amassed, however large or small, you can bet it will be due to the abandonment of what cannot be controlled and the management of what can. The intentional choice to manage and influence that which is in your control and abandon that which is not is the beginning of personal power. Only when you can manage the storms that rage internally, can you have any positive influence over the storms that rage externally.

In conclusion, the answer to the question I raised earlier is, simply put, I can’t. Not perfectly anyway. But parenting, I’ve learned, is at least in part, managing to remain consistent in the face of a million tiny successes and failures. Finding a balance between protecting and instructing children, helping them navigate through life, leading them by their tiny hands until they learn to do so on there own. And then pray they can find their own way forward from there.

 

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Like A Boss

I believe that a man should manage his life in much the same way he would manage a business; more specifically, a corporation. Gone are the days when a man’s life was run like a ship captain on the open sea, acting and reacting to the perils of hostile waters caused by unforeseen weather patterns. Today’s modern man has to prepare, anticipate, plan, and execute according to his goals and appetites; his needs and the needs of those he is directly or indirectly responsible for. In the spirit of this statement, one could say that I am the CEO, COO and CFO of Me, Inc. I answer to a Board of Directors consisting of two 20 month old boys, who happen also to be majority shareholders, by default, with a vested interest in the successes and failures of their executive leadership. To this end, I am also the janitor, chauffeur, tutor, and chef.

A man without a plan is destined for ruin and a company without leadership will certainly fail. A sole proprietorship has far more latitude in the way it operates. For instance, a sole proprietor may choose to take a sick day, just because. He may choose to commingle funds from his business account with his personal account. He may choose to sell a company asset to pay for a new toy, and while any of these practices may be considered poor business management, there is no accountability for these actions beyond their impact to the individual’s bottom line. In a corporate structure, an individual commingling funds between accounts may very well be guilty of embezzlement and any action he takes is strictly scrutinized by a Board of Directors. He is held absolutely accountable for his actions by his shareholders, to say nothing of the IRS and SEC, etc., who are tasked with corporate oversight and accountability.

In the world of business, I have always had my act together commensurate to my positioning on the arc of a very steep learning curve, but on a personal level, discipline has lacked in the areas of personal finances, diet and exercise, and housekeeping. Put another way, as a business professional, I handled my affairs like a boss. In my personal life, I handled my affairs like a man with six months left to live, who would certainly be outlived by the consequences of his poor planning and decision making. This reality was a force to be reckoned with, once confronted with the responsibility of raising children as a single man. Suddenly, it wasn’t just my health effected by the dietary choices I was making; it wasn’t just my money I was accountable for managing; it wasn’t just the cleanliness of my home I was responsible for maintaining. Most importantly, it wasn’t just me who was privy to the undisciplined example I was setting. But, like all challenges in life, they bring about much needed change in individual areas of weakness, complacency, and procrastination. This has been no exception.

I feel fortunate to have developed the practice, early in life, of seeking out information that interested me and implementing it until it perpetrated lasting effect on my actions, and, eventually, my habits. This constant reinvention has allowed me to shape and mold my life into the image I’ve created, both internally and externally apparent. Recently, this practice has forced me down the path of transforming my personal life until it reflected my business life and, as a result, my personal finances are now budgeted out twelve months in advance, planning for bills, everyday spending needs, goals, and periodic responsibilities. It has also forced me down a road toward eliminating debt and becoming self-insured, rather than credit-dependent, in the event of an unforeseen financial crisis. I now have a plan for funding goals exceeding one year, out as far as five, ten, and twenty years. Why? Because the well-being of my children cannot be contingent upon the fickle and unstable nature of the economic climate or political landscape as it relates to my current professional life. If left to chance, I will have made very little provision for retirement or the creation of net worth, let alone wealth and self-sufficiency.  In short, I will have provided no legacy for my children.

Of all the things a man should seek to provide for his children, legacy should be chief amongst them. In this way, a boy learns what it means to become a man and put away childish things. Without legacy, what influence does a man have when presenting the importance of education — financial and social intelligence, manners and gentlemanly conduct, integrity and work ethic — to his children? In the absence of such things reflected in their example of a man, there is very little in the way of contrast for a boy to challenge the short-term appeal of professional snow sports, booze, and promiscuity (for example). In the absence of these things, “Do as I say, not as I do,” simply does not carry any weight.

In stark contrast to the way people shy away from doing business with a crooked enterprise, children grow up to model whatever standard has been upheld during their development with very little exception; although, exceptions do exist, in both positive and negative examples. But leaving this to chance is a wager a foolish man makes on the future of his legacy and the advantages he can hope to provide to his children. A wise man forecasts, prepares, and implements disciplined effort in the execution of his plan, adjusting where needed along the way, and then teaches his children how to do the same through instruction and example. Giving them a clear picture of what to emulate and what to root out. Of equal importance, giving them the tools necessary to emulate that example.  Tools that are smelted in the forge of self-discipline, delayed gratification, and personal sacrifice.

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