Family

One man's struggle to become a dad

Author: Canadian Living

Family

One man's struggle to become a dad

I was a single male in my late 30s and my biological clock was ticking. I desperately wanted to be a parent. The thing is, I wasn't in a relationship, and do you know how hard it is to ask a woman to borrow her uterus for nine months?

This is my story about an adoption that involved hurdles. Lots of them. But mostly this is the story of how the most beautiful little boy in the world came into my life. His name is Trevor.

1. Adoption process
Trevor's was the first photo I saw when I walked into the Adoption Resource Exchange at the cavernous Metro Toronto Convention Centre in November 2004. I was overwhelmed by the sight of hundreds of people, mostly couples, wandering from booth to booth scrutinizing photographs and reading profiles of children who were up for adoption. It's literally like shopping for a child.

Trevor grabbed my attention right away. He was about to turn six years old, and I had wanted a child between six and 11 years old. His profile said that he enjoyed music and drawing, and that when he needed to work through difficult issues, he did it through art. As a theatre director and educator who lives for the arts, I knew we had a lot in common. And there was something soulful about Trevor's eyes that touched me. His profile also suggested Trevor would benefit from a two-parent family. That didn't deter me. I had become used to overcoming obstacles. Not only was I single, but I was a single man. I knew that couples and single females stood a far greater chance of adopting a child than a guy on his own.

I approached the two social workers and asked about Trevor. We had an amazing chat. We spoke for almost an hour even though other people were lining up behind me, eager to inquire about Trevor. I explained my background, interests, and why I thought I'd be a good parent. Then I said I'd be back.

2. Unfairly judged
One of my best friends, Tara, was with me that day for support. As a social worker, she helped me navigate the entire adoption journey. As someone who'd known me since Grade 7, she also had an intimate understanding of the kind of child who would be a good match for me. Tara and I wandered around the convention hall. Some agencies, upon discovering Tara and I were not a couple and that I was looking to adopt as a single male, became instantly suspicious, and one was incredibly aggressive. I knew they were just doing their job, but I also felt I was being judged unfairly.

Tara and I went out for lunch and had a long talk. What if I left at the end of the day with all hopes dashed? What if I didn't find a child? My emotions were running high. We returned to the centre and headed back to the social workers who were representing Trevor, and talked some more. I filled in the paperwork formally expressing interest in adopting him. Was I putting all of my eggs in one basket? What kind of chance did I have up against all sorts of two-parent families? I went home, totally overwrought. On Monday I got the call: I was being considered – along with two couples.

Page 1 of 4 -- Why be a dad? Edward explains on page 2
3. Why be a dad?
People have always said that I have a knack with youth. There came a time several years ago, after I wrote and directed a play about bullying, starring school-age actors, that I consciously thought to myself: I really love spending time with kids. Why don't I do this for real – as a father? You get to a point in your life where you need something to be more complete. For me, it was becoming a parent. It's what I needed to be me. My clock was ticking. I was 36. I wasn't in a relationship but I knew I could get a lot out of parenting.

I wrote my first letter to Children's Aid in late 2003 stating I wanted to explore adoption. My request was rejected. It was a blow. It was clear in my mind that they had turned me down because I was a single man. I wrote them a letter using the word discrimination. They called to set up a meeting. That was my opening, and I jammed my foot in the door.

4. Biological clocks and nurturing skills
In the meeting I was emphatic: "You allow single females to adopt. Do you not think it's a possibility that a man also has the same needs, the same biological clock ticking, the same ability to nurture?" It worked. I was invited to attend an information session and take the adoption parenting course.

The first day of the course I sat down by a gentleman and his wife. His first words were: "So, your wife is not coming?" There were five couples, two single women and me. But I was driven. I had my home study and criminal checks done before anybody else in the class.

Between that day in November 2004, when I learned I was in the running to be Trevor's parent, and the following April, I went through more home visits, security checks and interviews. I also drove up to the town in northern Ontario where Trevor was living, and met with his case worker, therapist and foster parents. Trevor's situation hadn't been a good one. He had been taken into care by Children's Aid – twice – and had become a crown ward. He had been through hell. Abandonment. Upheaval. Separation from birth parents. There would be lots of issues. Trevor also has a sister who would probably remain in care, and couldn't be adopted with him.

Page 2 of 4 -- Find out how Edward makes out in his final interview on page 3.
I had one final interview with two of Trevor's social workers on a Sunday in April at my home in Stratford, Ont. They had scheduled a one-hour visit for 9 a.m. They didn't leave until 1 p.m. Afterward, I was a wreck. Had I said the right thing? Had I talked too much? My hopes were high. So, too, was the potential to be hurt. The next morning the phone rang. It was my case worker. "Edward, you've been chosen to be Trevor's new dad."

5. Meeting Trevor
I met Trevor in person for the first time in late June. His foster parents, a wonderful couple with teenage children of their own, invited me to their church picnic so Trevor could meet me before he was told I would be adopting him. I was sweating bricks when I arrived. I was introduced as a family friend and spent the entire day with Trevor and his foster family. We played Frisbee and I helped him with his lunch, hoping it wasn't too apparent that I was paying special attention to him. I wanted him to accept me first as a person. By the afternoon he started sitting down beside me without being asked. We discovered we both liked magic tricks. You couldn't peel me off the car ceiling when I drove home that night. I was on a total high. It had been a perfect day.

Two days later, when Trevor's foster parents explained to him that he was going to be adopted, he threw a fit and started crying. It was heartbreaking because he didn't want to leave them, but it proved he was still capable of bonding emotionally. (The fear with kids who've been uprooted is that they can develop attachment issues.) Still, leaving his foster family meant he'd go through yet another loss, including separation from his sister. That's a lot for a little six-year-old. But his foster mom told me that Trevor calmed down considerably when they told him who was going to adopt him. That cheered him up.

6. "Welcome to our home"
Trevor and I did a lot of staring at each other on our first day together later that week. He was checking me out, trying to wrap his brain around the idea of me as his dad. It was a blur of emotion, but I do recall that he asked all kinds of questions about where I lived, and we talked about me becoming his dad. We had a picture taken that day that now hangs in the entranceway of our house in a frame that says, "Welcome to Our Home." I look at it often.

We had many visits up north that summer, and he came to spend a week with me in Stratford, before coming home for good on Labour Day weekend. We explored Stratford, sought out favourite parks and walked the dogs. We also talked a lot about families, and what families look like. I remember our first overnight together. When it came to domestic things such as tucking him into bed, we had no history. And the first time I had to bathe him, we just stared at each other. OK, so, what do we do first? Wash your hair? I was suddenly in the dad role in a very intimate way.

I didn't get a lot of sleep in that first month Trevor lived with me. I spent a lot of time sitting on the floor in his room at night watching him sleep. I'd think to myself: He's part of my life now. We're family. Of course, it got rocky for a while. He started testing me, seeing how far he could push. I knew to expect this. The social workers had prepared me for Trevor's deep-seated fear: "When are you sending me back? When will you, too, leave me?" Trevor would suddenly act out at home, or get into confrontations at school. One time he threw a tantrum in a restaurant and the only thing I could do was say, "OK, we're out of here." There were a couple of nights when I asked myself, What have I gotten myself into here?

Page 3 of 4 -- On page 4, Edward shares what his life is like with his son.

But what's really surprising is that the rocky period didn't last for long at all. Trevor and I are having the longest honeymoon in adoption history. We are just really well matched.

I remember some friends threw a party for us not long after Trevor came to live with me. He would come over and sit down in my lap when he wanted to be with me, and I'd wrap my arms around the most beautiful little child in the world, so keenly aware that he was putting his trust in me. I can't count the times I found myself getting choked up. Parenting opens the flood gates of emotion, and you can't close them.

7. Life with my son
Another moment that stands out is Trevor's first Halloween at his new school. The parents were invited, so I went all out and made orange-and-black cupcakes. They were such a hit that a classmate of Trevor's exclaimed, "Wow, cool. Look at what Trevor's dad made." I almost started bawling. Very soon after, Trevor started calling me "Dad," not "Edward." There was no question in his head: I was his dad.

Trevor is now 10, and he has changed in so many ways in the four years he's been my son. He's coming into his own. He has learned to trust more. He hugs. He has a natural gift to be on stage, which has grown. He's much more calm. He was almost labelled as having ADHD back in 2004 because he was so wound up. That's all gone now. He used to have allergies, but they disappeared within two months of coming home with me. It turns out they were stress-induced.

I've discovered a lot about myself along the journey. I can't do "new math," for one thing! But I have learned to be more patient, to be more tolerant. I've learned to let unimportant things go. Trevor is headstrong and energetic, and likes to challenge, and I've learned where my threshold is. At the same time, raising a child like Trevor has pushed my boundaries. I've learned it's important to say, "I don't know, but we'll find out together." In hindsight, the only thing I would change is starting the adoption journey a little earlier. I'm so grateful for the sheer amount of joy in my life now, thanks to that little boy in the photograph with the soulful eyes.

This story was originally titled "About a Boy" in the June 2009 issue.

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Five things no one tells you about being a parent
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One man's struggle to become a dad

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