By Chris Maza, Guest Contributor
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Our son came to us on in August, an 11-day old baby boy.
The anxious first-time foster (and hoping to be adoptive) parents that we were, we were standing by the window the moment that the social worker’s car pulled in front of the house and were heading out the door to meet them probably before the car was even in park.
That short walk down our front steps and across the yard seemed to take forever, the entire time a million thoughts running through my mind.
“Am I ready for this?”
“What if I do something wrong?”
“What if there’s something I don’t know how to do?”
“What if he gets sick?”
“What if he’s up all night, every night?”
“Wait, seriously, am I really ready for this? I haven’t even HELD a baby this young!”
In many ways, I was the person you would least expect to have a child.
My inner monologue wasn’t exaggerating. I had never held an infant before. In the past, I had refused to hold babies that small, even my own niece and nephews. As ridiculous as it sounds, I was afraid of “breaking” them.
What’s more, I was the guy who once made a deal with my wife over margaritas that if we had kids, I would clean up every ketchup spill (nothing repulses her more) if she changed every diaper.
But ready or not, I was about to meet my son for the first time.
He was perfect.
From the moment he was taken out of the car.
Oh my God, the hair! A big, curly black mop that wildly covered his tiny head.
Even as he was brought into the house, I distanced myself from holding him, leaving that to Mommy. But Mommy needed to sign a paper, so thrust into my arms he was and into his hands forever went my heart.
Suddenly, I was Daddy.
My son instantly became my little buddy. Because he was too young for daycare and parental leave doesn’t apply to foster care placements, one of us would have to stay with him during the day. Thanks to a flexible schedule and equally flexible boss, I was able to work from home to stay with him some days and brought him into the office some others. I bought a jogging stroller and we went on runs together. He even made a visit to a brewery or two.
On weekend mornings the three “men” of the household – myself, my son, and our dog Comet – would have “Gentlemen’s Breakfast” on the back porch.
We tried to show him as much as we possibly could. Family time ran the gamut –books, Disney movies and Disney music dance parties, an education on Star Wars, apple picking, football games, the beach, ducks at the park, corn mazes, Yankee Candle, walks on the rail trail and on and on.
And like all parents, we worried.
We spent sleepless nights with him as he cried. Then we had sleepless nights lying silently awake wondering if he was alright because he WASN’T crying. We overreacted to his first cold. When he was old enough for daycare, I downloaded the app that would allow me to look in on his room.
And beyond the normal parenting worries, we also had the constant fear that comes with the process of trying to adopt through the state. There were stress-inducing visits with his birth parents. There were social workers. There was the ever-present risk that our son could be taken from us.
All the while, though, he could always captivate us with his smile.
Oh my God, the smile!
He was perhaps the happiest baby on the planet and by that virtue, even when obstacles stood in our way, we were the happiest family on Earth.
But on Oct. 13, our greatest worry was realized.
We learned that a family member had stepped forward and our son would be leaving us. The next week and a half was filled with uncertainty, doubt, anger, sadness and tears, but we were sure to make sure all our son experienced was laughter, adventures and memories we will never forget.
On Oct. 24, our son was taken from us. As we strapped him into a stranger’s car seat in our living room, I couldn’t help but feel like I was committing a tremendous betrayal. I’m his father. I should be protecting my son. Shouldn’t I be blocking the door and forcing them to pry him from my cold, dead fingers?
Instead I watched a stranger walk out the door and take him out of our lives forever.
In that moment, I felt I wasn’t Daddy anymore.
My son just turned seven months old.
We can’t see him. We can’t even find out how he’s doing.
But I still think about him every day.
I look at his photos and his smile still makes me laugh.
Sometimes I cry.
And, of course, I still worry constantly.
And with that I realize that I will always be Daddy, no matter what happens.
My son will always be with us in our hearts and in our thoughts. We pray that wherever he is he is safe, warm and happy. We pray that he never loses that smile and the knack for lighting up a room with his glee. We hope he somehow knows how proud of him we are, that we will always love him, cherish the times we had together and no matter what, we are always here for him.
But also I am thankful to him. He changed who I am changed for the better the moment he entered my life. And now as I look to the future if I’m ever blessed to be a father again, I’m not afraid of what kind I might be.
I already know.
I’m already Daddy.