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You Are Me: A Letter to my Son

You don't have my genes. You don't have my hair, my nose, or my eyes. But you have my heart. By Larry Carlat



Dear Robbie, You were born a poet. As I sit here wrestling with words that invariably elude my grasp, I wish I could write like you can. But what do I expect? You are seven, and I am only forty-two. Before you read any further, you should know that your mom doesn't want me to write this. So I made a deal with her. I promised that if she feels the same way after I've finished, I'll punt on the whole thing. That's how intensely she feels about you, how fiercely protective she is of you. She doesn't want me to write this letter, because she loves you so much, and I love you so much that I have to write it, even if I don't show it to you until you have kids of your own.
Here are the words your mom fears: I didn't want to adopt you.

I know that sounds like powerful stuff, but to me those words are as trifling as the ants that march across the kitchen floor before you put your thumb to them. They mean nothing because I can't even remember feeling that way. I've searched my heart and can't find any trace of not wanting you. It would be like not wanting air. Still, just as I can't imagine not wanting you, there was a time when I couldn't imagine you. I didn't know that you were going to be you. I knew only that you were not going to be me.

Your mom says I was hung up on this crazy little thing called genetics, which should never be mistaken for that crazy little thing called love. It all seems so bizarre, given that my family background includes everything from cancer and heart disease to criminal behavior. Your mom says that I was worried that you wouldn't be perfect, that we would be inheriting somebody else's problem, and that nurture would be revealed as nothing more than nature's cheap consolation prize. Your mom says I can't recollect any of these gory details because sometimes I can be a stubborn bastard.

That must be where you get it from.

Because, Rob, when all is said and done, you are me--only way better looking. You are me if I looked like Brad Pitt and your mom looked like Sharon Stone. You are more like me than Zachary, who inherited torn genes from me and Mom. You and I are both the eldest son, moderately shy, and exceedingly anxious. We love Michael Jordan, movies, scallion pancakes, and the occasional doody joke. We're natural-born outsiders who share the same thin skin.

And there's something else that you and I have in common: I once had a space in my heart that wouldn't close. I still remember the cause. When I was four years old, two very large men wearing very large hats came into our house and hauled my father away. He didn't come back for eight years, and even after he returned, he couldn't repair what had been ripped apart. My dad was a sad schmuck, sad in that he never tried to change himself into a dad.

For me, everything changed the moment I saw you. After four years of infertility and a bout with cancer thrown in for good luck (if I hadn't had it, I never would have known you), I was finally ready to entertain alternatives to producing a mirror image. I tend to arrive at places in my heart long after your mom has moved in and decorated. Your mom always knew that she wanted to be a mom, while I was just beginning to understand what it meant to be a dad. You know the next part from your baby book that you keep under your pillow.

They met a wonderful young lady who was growing a baby boy in her belly. But she wasn't able to give her baby all the good things the world had to offer, and she wanted that for him, very, very much.

Seven months later, I found myself in the hospital, scanning the blue IT'S A BOY! stickers on the bassinets until I saw your birthmother's last name neatly printed in black ink. And at that moment, the space in my heart was filled. It was either magic or God-I've forgotten what I believed at the time. "You're my son, you're my son," I quietly mouthed to you through the glass again and again, trying to convince myself that your were real. Then I went to your mom, and we hugged and cried while you kept sleeping, our little boy, Robbie James Carlat, unaware of how much joy you could bring two people.

And the reason I can no longer recall not wanting to adopt you is simple: That feeling completely vanished on the day you were born. "I know, I know. It was love at first sight," you like to say, sounding like a cartoon version of me anytime I bring up the subject of your birth. But it wasn't like that between my dad and me. I don't remember my father ever kissing me or, for that matter, me kissing him. The thought of saying "I love you" to each other, even when he came back from prison or as he lay dying, would have cracked both of us up. In fact, the closest my father ever came to a term of endearment was calling me "kiddo" (which is the full extent of his parental legacy and why I usually answer, "Ditto, kiddo" when you say, "I love you").

There's a black-and-white photograph of my dad holding me up high above his head-I must have been six months old at the time-and it's the only time that I can recall him looking genuinely happy to be with me. I used to think of that picture in the months after you were born, when I danced you to sleep. I never dance, not even with your mom ("They're all going to laugh at you!" from Carrie pretty much sums up why), but I loved dancing with you. While you sucked on your bottle, I savored the feeling of your tiny heartbeat against mine. Joni Mitchell's Night Ride Home CD was on loud enough so we wouldn't wake up your mom, and I'd gently sing to you, "All we ever wanted was just to come in from the cold, come in, come in, come in from the cold."

Still, the space you were coming in from was far colder than mine had ever been. It's the original black hole, and all of our kissing and hugging are not enough. All of your incessant I love yous and I love the family-words you repeated as if to convince yourself, the same way I did when I first set eyes on you-are not enough. All of the times that you asked me to pick you up and I happily obliged because I knew a day would come when you would stop asking are not enough. Every night when we read your baby book, which desperately tries to explain whose belly you grew in and how you got to us, is not enough.

Nothing is enough, for there's nothing that approaches the clear and direct poetry of "I hate myself because I'm adopted" or "I'm only happy when I'm hugging and kissing you-all the other times I just make-believe." If anything, you get the prize for coming the closest to the pin with "Being adopted is hard to understand." And what do you win for saying the darndest things? A profound sadness. And let's not forget its little brother, anger, which you direct at your little brother for no apparent reason other than he serves as a constant reminder that you are the one who is not like the others.

The irony is that Zachy, the protypical little bro, only wants to be you, while you'd do anything to be him.

I hope that one day God grants your wish and takes the sadness off you, because your mom and I know how truly blessed we are to have two beautiful sons-one chosen by us and one chosen for us. It's like we wrote at the end of your baby book:

Mommy and Daddy waited a long time for a baby-a baby boy just like you. And though it might have been nice to have you grow in Mommy's belly….always remember that you grew in our hearts!

Perhaps the only thing we neglected to consider at the time was your heart. Which reminds me of sand castles. A few summers ago, you and I built a beauty on Uncle Stephen's beach, and you wanted to surround it with a moat, so we started to dig a hole with your big yellow bucket. We kept digging faster and faster until the hole got so deep that you jumped in. "Daddy, get the water," you said, and I ran into the waves, filled the bucket, dragged it back, and dumped it into the hole. The sand quickly drank it up, so I kept going back and forth, trying to fill the hole with water, but it was like pouring water down a drain. After a while, we finally said the hell with it and ran into the ocean.

You are the sand, little boy, and I will always be the water.

And that was where I intended to end this letter, until you came padding into the room in your G.I. Joe pajamas. "What are you writing about?" you asked. And when I told you that it was a story about you, you asked, "Is it going to be in your big magazine?"

And I said, "Yeah. How do you feel about that?"

And you said, "Scared."

And I said, "How come?"

And you said, "Because I'm going to be in it alone."

And I said, "No you won't. I'll be in it with you."

And you said, "I love you, Daddy."

And that's where I had to stop writing.

Larry Carlat is a writer and editor who lives in Woodbury, New York, with his wife and two sons.

© 2000- 2004 Copyright Adoptive Families Magazine.  Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited. 

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