My husband’s earliest memories of his adoptive mother are as blurry as the black and white photos he has taped inside a leather-bound family album. He recalls the gentle hands that tucked him into bed each night and the smell of her lavender scented soap, but these memories are intertwined with the last and most painful of all: sitting on the cold hospital steps, muffled whispers in the hallway, and the tight grip of his adoptive father’s hand as they made their way back to the car without his mother.
Death was an abstract concept that he was unable to grasp at the age of five. Like many children his age who have lost a parent, he blamed himself for his mother’s absence, believing he was somehow responsible.
Within a year after his mother’s death, his adoptive father met and married a widow who had seven children. She was a gentle woman with a big heart who adopted her new stepson as one of her own. But it was a difficult transition for my husband. He went from being an only child to being one of the youngest in a tribe of eight. The once quiet home he shared with his father had become a busy hive of activity, and nothing could silence the loneliness inside him. When he learned that his first adoptive mother was not his actual birth mother, these feelings were intensified. He was plagued with a child’s self-doubt: Why didn’t his birth mother love him enough to raise him? Was there something wrong with him that made him unlovable?
Despite his second adoptive mother’s attempts to make him feel like part of the family, my husband still thought of himself as a boy without “real” parents. It created a prevailing sense of abandonment and mistrust that dogged him throughout his early childhood.
These emotions were reinforced during his teen years when his parents divorced. His father met another woman, left the family home, and married for the third time. At that point my husband had a stepmother, an adopted mother, a deceased mother, and a biological mother he knew nothing about. The impact from the divorce planted the early seeds of distrust, and he vowed if he ever had children of his own, they would never feel the sting of what he perceived as his father’s rejection.
When I first met my husband, I was intrigued by his story and admired his tenacity. He wanted a family above all else, and I knew from the easy rapport he shared with his young nieces and nephews that he would be a father who loved without reservation. I was drawn to his optimistic nature and married him without hesitation two years later.
From the moment our first child was born, my husband felt a strong connection and a sense of fulfillment that had been missing before. Having been adopted twice, he understood more than most adults the importance of making his children feel wanted and loved. For this reason, he was a hands-on parent from the start, determined to be the kind of father he wished he’d had while growing up. He attended every ball game, P.T.A. meeting, ballet recital and teacher conference, but also made a point of spending individual time with each of his four children so they’d understand how valuable they were to him. He was the type of father who initiated shaving cream fights in the backyard and dressed up in character costumes for their birthday parties. He taught them how to ride bikes, shoot hoops, swim in the ocean, plant butterfly gardens, and build paper-mache solar systems for their science fair projects. Most importantly, he used humor as a connecting point in his relationship with his children, and helped them to see the extraordinary in the ordinary. He was their Santa Claus, Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy all wrapped into one, and they adored him.
As a family, we faced our share of upheavals, but my husband proved to be unshakable. When he was in between jobs and struggling to make ends meet, he continued to provide stability in the home through love and affection for his family. During a brief time in our marriage when we suffered from the uncertainties of a future together, he never lost sight of his priorities as a father. Consistency in his parenting was key to creating confidence and resiliency in his children, teaching them to take responsibility for their actions so that they could one day become independent adults.
The unique circumstances surrounding my husband’s adoptions are what shaped him into the father he is today—a man of integrity and relentless courage who places family loyalty above all else. His unconditional love is the greatest legacy he will leave for his children, its early roots extending beyond the limbs of the family tree to the place he calls home.