Friday, June 14, 2013

My extraordinary inheritance

The first time I remember feeling like a father was ... let me explain.

When I showed up for my first date with Amelia, I knocked on the door and, when she opened it, I thought three things: "She is beautiful," "She's out of my league. Enjoy this one date." and "Her kids seem really great." She was a single mom of a boy (Aidan, 6) and a girl (Isabella, 18 months).

I was 34. I had never been married but had dated women with kids before. Some I got very close to and some I never really got to meet. If I was allowed to be around my various girlfriends' kids, it was always heartbreaking when things didn't work out. I mention this because it's important to understand that I definitely knew what was at stake, having been through it before.

By the time I met Amelia, I was more confident about who I was, what I wanted, and where I wanted to go in life than I had ever been before. I was on the right track—finally—and in just the right headspace. I had come to grips with the fact that I could be single forever or, at least, for a really long time. It was all right. That didn't mean that I would avoid marriage; it just meant that I wouldn't let the pressure of finding someone to spend life with make me choose someone just because they were nice or pretty or cool. I wanted to be a dad almost as much as I wanted to be married, but, again, I wasn't willing to stress, settle, sacrifice, or impregnate just so I could be.

When I started dating Amelia, I fell fast for her. Because I loved her so much, it was inevitable that I would love her kids. I'd arrive to pick her up and, while she perfected her make-up, I'd play Ring Around the Rosie or London Bridge with her daughter and have pillow fights or play Find the Hotwheels with her son. These kids were amazing individuals. In six months, Amelia and I were married. Insta-family.

On that day I became a guardian to two wonderful kids. Aside from hiccups here and there, I really took to the role of father figure. But, you see, as I recall the events of the last seven years, it's difficult for me to single out one defining moment where I finally felt like a father because every moment with them kept defining it.

But, I think I can narrow it down to a handful of them.

With Aidan, I'm his step-dad. We've always gotten along but it's been a challenge to know how to fit in to his life like a dad without it feeling like I'm trying to be his dad. We do a pretty good impression of a father and son though. For us it's been soccer in the backyard, me letting him win. Laughing at jokes that only he and I get. Playing video games and screaming at the action. Nerding out about some show or game or film. Showing him something I loved, like Back to the Future, for the first time and him loving it too.

There are the moments Patrick wrote about where you've been driving and they're all asleep and you have to unbuckle them and, without any words, you pick them up and their hair is wet with sweat and their fists are clenched and they nuzzle into your neck and you carry them to bed and kiss them on the forehead and they make that noise that can only be interpreted, in that moment, as thank you.

One time, when Amelia and I were engaged, Bella needed to spit out her gum and I, without a thought, held out my hand and she, without a thought, spit it into my hand and I threw it away.

The day of our sealing (pictured above).

The times Izzy got hurt or scared and I was the first person she ran to.

There's the baptisms, blessings, confirmations, and ordinations. The recitals, performances, and concerts. The bedtime prayers and tuck-ins. Christmas shopping and Christmas morning. The middle-of-the-night stories or jokes to soothe them.

Adoption day.
There is Bella's adoption day when she legally became my daughter and I got to testify, before a judge, that I wanted to be her dad and how I would always do my best to love and protect her.

Then, there was the day I married Amelia. Right before the ceremony, Bella was crying because she couldn't see her mom. The sweet two-year old couldn't be consoled. I watched as moms, dads, sisters, brothers, and others tried to help out. Finally, I walked out from under the arbor, gently picked her up, put her blanket over my shoulder and just held her. She nestled her head on my shoulder and stopped crying. Instantly.

So, it might be that moment. Still, maybe you should ask Bella if she remembers when she first felt it. Because, as much as these moments feel like "dad" to me, until I became Dad to her, I never truly was one.

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