For some, graduating Junior High may not seem like a big deal. Heck, even the school themselves don’t call the act ‘graduation’ anymore. They call it ‘promotion’: a weird term at best.
But there I sat: one proud dad in the rows of identical, red folding chairs, set up on the lawn in the warm spring sun, looking at a ring of chairs set up for the graduates and realized… this is happening.Next year my son will be in high school. It was unbelievable.
The little boy that I once knew was being replaced by a young man. Another world was passing away and all of us – as a family – were standing on the doorstep of a new one.
It feels like just yesterday that Daniel was a third grader and a new student to our little school. And as proud as I am to be here to celebrate this moment with Daniel, the time just seems to have gone by too fast. I could not help but look back to remember all that had brought us here.
Years ago, when my husband and I were first shown Daniel’s profile in the gigantic binders full of children waiting for adoption, his prognosis wasn’t rosy.
His social worker had reached out to us as a potential match for both him and his sister, Selena. Their foster home was splitting up and they needed a home for them fast or they would have to be split up. This would mean the second time that Daniel could lose a sibling, having already lost a brother who was adopted earlier. It also meant that we were the best hope for Daniel and Selena staying together.
In the short, five-sentence blurb that serves to describe each child to prospective parents, Daniel was described as having Goldenhar Syndrome: a genetic disorder that had required several surgeries to correct a host of problems.
There was uncertainty about his long-term health going forward. And additionally, his foster parent described him as having multiple behavioural problems. All of this made me pretty nervous. I wasn’t sure if I was up to this.
However, my husband was not worried and convinced me that the best thing to do was to meet the kids… a choice I am so glad he encouraged because I can’t imagine what would have happened had I listened to the voice of fear that is often the way I make big decisions.
The day we walked in to Social Services my heart was beating out of my chest. I was in that anxious state of mind that gives you tunnel vision and makes everything around you seem fuzzy and distant. This was really happening: I could be a dad. And then I turned a corner and there they were.
Daniel was so small. In that moment all the worries I had just faded away and my heart broke wide open. Which is not to say all my fears vanished, but they were replaced with the feeling that whatever came up in Daniel’s life, I was willing to tackle it, no matter what it was: and that turned out to be quite a list.
The situation with Daniel’s biological parents had not been fully legally resolved. In addition to that, there is very little known about Daniel’s medical condition and that has meant that doctors and specialists have always been a part of Daniel’s life.
Also, due to Goldenhar, doctors told us that he could have organ trouble that could pop up at any time in his life. They were uncertain about how the condition could affect his brain, intelligence, and ability to function, as he got older. Daniel’s life was one big list of uncertainties.
Over the years, as I have watched Daniel grow, I have seen him walk into a room full of strangers and walk out again from a room full of friends: a skill I am in constant awe of. I have seen him try over and over to master skills that made him cry with frustration, until one day his weaknesses became his strengths.
Whatever circumstances his life has thrown at him, and whatever limitations his body imposed, Daniel’s spirit shined brighter and pushed him beyond those limits. That is the young man we have come to know and that no five-sentence blurb in an adoption binder could ever have prepared us for.
Today, as I sit here in this uncomfortable red chair and let it all sink in, I know that I am a proud dad. Of all the things I have ever done in my life, staying home to raise my kids has been the best job ever.
Even when I had to send Daniel back to the table to rewrite his English assignment for the millionth time… or every day he cried with frustration because I would not let him settle for less from himself because he didn’t believe in what he could accomplish. This day was the result of Daniel learning to believe in himself.
Yes indeed… this is really happening.
What will high school bring? There is no way to know. Knowing the person that Daniel is, and what high school can be, I know he still has big challenges ahead. But, I also know that Daniel’s strength, so different from my own, will help him get through it. And his dad’s will be there for the rest.