As I was sitting in the bare walled yet overflowing court room 7,000 miles away from my home in Colorado earlier this week, I was anxious with both the process of adoption in a foreign county and worried about the outcome. There were so many questions running through my mind. Would my son’s birth father come to court? Would he officially relinquish his 5th son after seeing him one more time? As I stood there in the crowded court waiting room, I felt that motherly instinct kick in and while our lawyer and interpreter had not yet arrived, I just thought I should bring my little W’s picture out. Perhaps I brought out the picture to look at it and remember why I flew for over 30 hours on a plane to Addis Abada. Perhaps it was to help calm my nerves by looking at his beautiful face. And perhaps, just perhaps, it was because I so deeply hoped someone in the courtroom knew my son’s birth father. Many of the other families adopting children had met their child’s birth parents, and as our name was soon to be called into the judge’s quarters, I was becoming anxious, since birth parents or the nearest living relative are required to attend court, otherwise the adoption process is halted until they are located.
I can now say all three reasons were true. Within ten seconds of taking little W’s picture out of my worn manila folder, a man sitting 24 inches away shouted my son’s name. He opened his hand motioning for the picture and the man sitting directly across from me for the past thirty minutes had tears come to his eyes. He said my son’s name. This man was his birth father. This man who had traveled over 500 kilometers (each way) on foot and by bus to give his child a chance to someday read and write, maybe even go to college, was my son’s birth father. As tears poured from my eyes, I looked into his eyes and at that moment I did not see a life of struggle or a man with strong features and worn shoes; I saw the most gracious and caring man in the world. A man who knew that the greatest gift a parent can give a child is the gift of a better life.
I always thought I understood what it meant to love your child, but it is foolish of me to say I could ever understand what my son’s birth father was going through that day. He raised his hands and proclaimed “praise be to God”, but even those words do not do justice to the sacrifice my son’s birth father gave. He told me “thank you” and all I could think was no, thank you. Thank you for making me realize my own birth son does not need another Lego set. Thank you for making me think twice about complaining about seats on the airplane. Thank you for opening me eyes.
Few of us in America could ever imagine poverty so deep we would part with our children to give them a better life. I know I still cannot comprehend what my son’s birth father was going through that day, but I can only hope he understood two words: Thank you. We gave my son’s birth father the two items we were allowed: a photograph of our family and a map of where we live. He held on to them tightly, but I gather the most prized possession this man has is the photo of his son, the one from my manila folder; the same photo which introduced us to our beautiful boy over 6 months ago.
As we flew back home, my sense of relief was not just from knowing in a few short weeks I will be able to fly back and bring my son home, it comes from knowing my son now has the love of two fathers. It comes from knowing what it means to sacrifice my own needs for those of my children. I have a new role model as a parent, little W’s birth father.
For more on the impact of love on orphans in Africa please read: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/27/sports/baseball/27kershaw.html