Two days after Fathers’ Day, I am posting a piece sent to me by one of my readers, David Keelan. Several months ago, he arrived in Merida – stuffed into a car with a driver he hired to bring him here from the US border, a few belongings from his past life, his large dog and a confused cat. Already he is helping out at the Nueva Vida Girls Shelter and has joined Rotary International. He has many interests, among them – writing. His personal story about fatherhood is unusual, brave, and very – “David”.
Happy Belated Father’s Day
A year after our marriage my wife and I learned we could not conceive children. It was a painful experience. The fertility treatments, the disappointments, and finally the acceptance that we would not have biological children. We decided to move forward with our plan to adopt sooner rather than later.
We wanted to make room in our family for two children and decided Russia was the best place for us to adopt older children, a brother and sister. After an 18-month process we – Chris, Victoria, Victor and I – became a family.
Immediately, we found ourselves immersed in the good and the not-so-good parts of being parents. It was as though someone flipped a switch and we were transformed into the mom and dad of six-year-old Victoria and three-year-old Victor. They were not infants – we were in the thick of parenthood – and we knew it would be a rough start. To begin with, we spoke little Russian and they spoke no English. In fact, our coordinator told us the kids worried that maybe we were mentally handicapped because we could not speak their language, Russian.
Our son and daughter came from poverty and neglect – they had been placed in the orphanage – and when they left with Chris and me, a whole new world began to open up for them. They had no preparation for all the firsts that occurred quickly, one after the other. We understood this initially during the plane trip to Moscow. That flight and the continuation to Washington Dulles via Frankfort overstimulated them in every way. This caused major behavioral problems – Chris and I realized that sitting quietly and playing was not going to happen. We were like firemen putting out unprompted flares in a burning building. We did not have time to contemplate the gravity of what we had just done by adopting. We were filling the role of baby sitters, not parents. On top of the behavioral issues, rumors were rampant that the Russian authorities would remove children from their adoptive parents at the slightest hint of any issues. We were on pins and needles until we boarded the plane to Frankfurt.
On the final long flight we were grateful to see that the kids were dog-tired and were desperately seeking sleep. But the over-stimulation would not allow them to have that. A sympathetic flight attendant and I carried Victor around the plane, trying to help him fall asleep, to little success. At one point I took an empty seat and hoped that Victor would not disturb the man sitting in the same row. Of course it was not long before the three year old became fussy, and loud. I looked over at the passenger and apologized. He gave me companionable look and said “Don’t worry about it, I am a father too.” It took me a moment to digest that comment. Are you talking to me, I wondered, Father? For the first time I understood that I was a father, and from now on when people looked at me they would see a father. I don’t know why it hit me, just at that moment. Maybe because we were so busy with the immediate challenges, we did not have the time to fully comprehend that we were now parents.
That all happened 15 years ago. Victor and Victoria are now young adults, starting independent lives. Chris and I are divorced, and I have taken on another big life change. I now live in Merida, Yucatan.
I may not have been present when Victoria and Victor were born, but I love being a Father and I love my kids. I am about as perfect a father as Victoria and Victor are perfect children. Lots of mistakes, lots of frustration, fear, and anxiety. But also great times, laughs, camping trips, hiking the Appalachian trail, vacations, visits, and successes.
We embrace our children and take everything they can throw at us. We often ask others for advice. Did I handle this correctly? What should I do in this or that situation? I have turned to my father, brothers, and friends for help. After all, I accepted the role of father, and I want to do my best. In my children’s case, they did not know a father until they, Chris and I formed a family. For the longest time they were scared of the “Man” in the house because their experience with their Russian father was – let’s just say – it was not good. There were moments of frustration, and I would ask my kids; “Do you know what grandchildren are?” They would say “No, Pop, what are grandchildren?” I would reply, “A father’s revenge. I can’t wait until you have our own kids.” They got my point and we all just relaxed for a moment.
There are all kinds of fathers. I often think about a young couple I noticed on a bus I happened to be riding in Centro. They were very small people, and young, very young. I thought at first they were a teenage couple. Both of them were dressed very colorfully, and they bounced around in their seats like the rest of us as the bus jolted up Calle 60. Then I saw they had a baby with them. When we got off the bus they were headed in the same direction as me. The entire time I watched them, I admired how happy they seemed. I wondered about this young father, and I wanted to wish him well and tell him “I am a father too.”
The point of this story is – we deserve a Father’s Day – we all belong to the same club. I look at other fathers and I respect the relationships they build with their kids. How content the young father on the bus seemed to be. But I find it difficult to look at myself in the same light. Maybe because I am intimate with my mistakes? Nonetheless, I am a father and I take this seriously. No matter how a man comes to fatherhood – whether biologically, through marriage, or through adoption – we have children and we are their fathers. Father’s Day celebrates the commitment we make to our kids.
So to all dads reading this post, congratulations for making it this far! Despite our mistakes, our commitment and our love will always carry the day with our children.