"Reaching Out for Her Dad"

I had expected to form an attachment slowly, but I was instantly smitten with my daughter. She was the one who came around in her own time.

One father's fears about attachment.

I do not easily give my heart to anyone. Maybe its a trait I was born with, or maybe its a defense mechanism I learned sometime later in life. Whatever the reason, I warned my wife, Carole, that it might take some time for me to accept as my daughter the baby girl we were preparing to adopt.

Two months after receiving the referral photo of Jiang Bao, we anxiously entered the Social Services building in Chongqing, China. I assumed I would be primarily an observer for this event–the photographer of my wife’s and daughter’s first meeting. But then, as my daughter gazed at me over my wife’s shoulder, and I looked into her beautiful eyes, I suddenly knew what had been missing in my life–in my heart. The emotional walls I had expected to break away slowly were blown apart. I ached to hold this treasure.

I reached out.

Maybe it was the noise and confusion of that strange setting, maybe it was all of the new faces she had already seen that day, or maybe it was my daughter’s limited exposure to males. Whatever the cause, my baby clung tight to Carole, crying and rejecting my efforts to take her into my arms. I was devastated, and had to turn and walk away so she wouldn’t see my tears welling up.

After an hour of paperwork, Samantha, as we named her, was legally ours. By then, although I knew that she was in my heart to stay, I also knew that she had not yet accepted me as her father.

First-Time Family

That night, Carole and I struggled to change our daughter’s first diapers and spent hours trying to get her to take her bottle. Exhausted, we ate our ice-cold dinner and collapsed into bed.

Samantha adjusted quickly, though, and on each succeeding day of shopping, touring, and playing in the hotel pool, she began to smile more. She even let me hold her as often as her mother held her. Our confidence as parents grew, as did our fierce attachment to this enchanting little girl.

Later that week, however, as we pulled up to my daughter’s orphanage for a tour, uneasiness filled my mind. I was concerned that seeing how Samantha had been cared for, or seeing other children awaiting adoption, would upset me. But mostly I was afraid that my daughter, who had just begun to accept me, would see her familiar caregivers and never want to leave them again.

The same lovely people we had met at the Social Services office met our van, and it took only seconds for the women to whisk my daughter out of my arms. My wife and I tried to keep up with them as they trotted around the facility, showing her to various caregivers. I noticed that Samantha was happy to be picked up by any of these women.

A Father’s Fears

After the tour, the staff from the orphanage took us to lunch at a nearby restaurant where Carole and I were led to a private dining room. We found it a little strange that our hosts wouldn’t be joining us, but did not become too alarmed when they came and took my daughter away.

As plate after plate of food appeared in front of us, I nervously joked that I wasn’t sure that the women from the orphanage understood that we had adopted Jiang Bao. Although I forced my own laughter, I had become very anxious to be with my daughter again. She had been out of my arms for an hour–the longest we had been apart since the day we met.

I quietly got up and left the private room. Across the main dining area, I saw our hosts from the orphanage eating at a large table. My daughter sat, nestled in the arms of one of the caregivers, happily watching the scene around her. I was afraid that my biggest fear had come true: She had re-bonded to the caregivers from the orphanage.

I slowly walked up to the table, and my daughter looked up and saw me. I stood there for a moment, and then it happened.

She reached out for me.

She raised her eyes to me, then her hand left the woman’s shoulder and extended toward me. Samantha wanted to be picked up by her daddy. She probably thought nothing of it, the act seemed so natural, but I felt tears coming as I pulled my baby girl into my arms. I was finally her father–in her heart, as well as my own.

Now and Forever

Since that day when she first reached out to me, I have never again questioned my daughter’s affection. Samantha has been home for over a year now, and Carole and I cherish every moment with our family of three. Like most parents we know, we are diligent with our Camcorder, hoping to capture Samantha’s every milestone to view again and again as our lives evolve–her first birthday, her first Christmas, her first steps, her first words.

But that moment, in an insignificant restaurant in a small city on the other side of the world, will always be accessible in my mind. That’s the scene I will replay because, like no other moment in my life, it defined me. I became, then and forever, her dad.


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