Compiling a scrapbook for the son he's never known, a father confronts his grief. By Warren Florence
Whenever I see just-born kids, I tend to look away. Then, as part of my self-prescribed therapy, I force myself to smile, and at least try to make a funny face. I think to myself, how can I possibly be a good father and husband until this issue is settled? Quite honestly, there are entire days that zip by when I don't think of him at all. Maybe it's because I'm making peace with myself. Maybe it's because I know I have love for him in spirit. Maybe it's because I trust that he's OK and that he will understand that giving him up for adoption was the best decision.
Somewhere around the fifth date with a woman in whom I'm interested, the euphoric giddiness of the new runs smack into real, putting-yourself-on-the-line sharing. We'll have gone through foods, films, and friends, joked about cheesy pop music and religion. Then somewhere along the joking way to marriage and honeymoons and minivans, the subject of kids comes up. And with it, the inevitable: Andrew, a son of mine, somewhere in the world.
Mind you, I've had many intimate dinners and long chats in the park, and I have even met a few parents of the thirty or more women I've dated since Andy's birth. Obviously, some relationships just don't work out. And not everyone gets married or falls in love. So what? But whether consciously or not, I still analyze women's reactions after telling them of the adoption situation in my past. I considered, when it didn't work out, that they weren't interested in a son who might disrupt a new family. A good female friend says it's a silly notion I rotisserate in my own head. But I'm still single, and it's still in the back of my mind.
From Me to You
The birth state's Department of Social Services (DSS) gave me a six-month extension to the time in which I could send Andy a one-time gift. I needed it because I still had no clue as to what to give him. I mean, what do you give in a situation like this? A stuffed animal? An open-ended pass to Disney World? Gimme a break! With only two weeks until the end of my extended deadline, I put together what I consider my first book. It took about a week. From a fancy craft store, I bought two pieces of rough brown leather (both outdoorsy-ish and thick enough for bookjackets), two small rustic-looking clasps to bind the book, and a pack of construction paper. Cut to the size of a bedside journal, it was as basic and as unpretentious as I could muster.
Handwritten, four or so pages detailed the facts as I saw them. I spoke kindly-because it's true-of the birthmother and her sweet disposition. How we were friends since high school. (At present, however, it's been a few years since we've spoken.) I wrote about how pleased I was to meet the adoptive parents and how their streaming tears showed so much love for a little boy they would meet at the hospital later that cold, rainy day. I knew right then they'd be the kind of parents who'd sit on his bed, with a light in the corner, and read to him at night. That he'd be given freedom to express himself. And write and draw and play in the trees. He'd be loved unconditionally. As I said, they hadn't even met the little tyke yet, and we sat and all cried together. I was touched by the fact that they cared enough to meet me. It was important to me, too.
Nearly a year after Andy was settled in his new home, my anger at being left out of the adoptive parents selection finally slid. It would be unproductive reading about it in his little book anyway.
I wrote down some important events of Andy's first year, 1992: tennis wins; Clinton's surprising victory; the Olympics in L.A.; a hurricane, ironically, sharing his name. It was very important to me that he see my love for words and writing. There was a page for e.e. cummings' poem "a(l)" and a page for Robert Frost's "The Road Less Traveled." I gave him the first poem I had ever written, a piece on time ending with "it will not stop/nor rewind for me." I was green and sappy at poetry writing. Still am.
He would wonder what I looked like, I'm sure, so I had an artist friend draw me at 23 on one page, then glued on the following page a photo of me at age 1. Along with graduating from college, the scrapbook ranks as one of the things I am proudest of.
In the summer of 1996, when Andy was 4, my younger brother and his wife had a beautiful child named Miles. I was transferring from a small school in South Carolina to the University of Wyoming, and spent that summer with my brother and his wife in New York City.
I had suppressed several years worth of memories until the day Miles was brought home. It's a cliche' to say it, but a flood of emotions surfaced, and I was unable to spend much time with all three of them during the rest of the summer. I went to the park to read e.e cummings, to the tennis club on Wall Street to teach, and to movies that started at 10 p.m. My brother understood. Looking back, I see that this was the second installment of a long therapeutic journey, the book being the first.
I had what I call a relapse in January. Andy is halfway to that magic age, eighteen years old.
January 26, 2001
Three in the Afternoon
I'm not going to pretend to write as if we've known one another during your nine years. And I'm not sure what to ask you, really, because I don't know at what age you'll be reading this. If ever. So I want it to be relevant to your life. If I were one of your friends I'd shout, Whaazzuup? And then we'd laugh. But that'll probably sound silly years from now. Especially from a stranger. Today is your ninth birthday and I hope you can hear my Happy Birthday whisper as you blow out the candles. Wow! Next year you'll be in double-digit territory. I bet you're getting big and handsome and smart. Did you enjoy all your friends coming to your fifth, seventh, and ninth birthday parties? Those are the years I remember my parents throwing parties for me. I think of you all the time and on your every birthday. What did you do for your special day, since it's usually too cold outside to play for very long? My birthday is in May, so we'd all chase each other around with water balloons, then fall and laugh on the freshly cut grass in the backyard. Are you keeping warm on the way to school? Are you healthy and climbing trees or playing sports? And do I dare ask if you're...safe? Are you safe, loved? (I became overwhelmed, thinking he perhaps wasn't. Ridiculous! I erased it.) What kind of cake is all over your face right about now? Please know that you're not forgotten on this day and most days in between.
Warren Florence lives in New York City where he is an editor of Tennis magazine.
© 2001 Copyright Adoptive Families Magazine. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.
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