A week from tonight Thanksgiving will be a day past… we will still be filling up on leftover turkey and all the sides… my sons and I will probably be returning from the tree lighting at the Circle in Indianapolis…
I have never truly gotten caught up in the whole theme of Thanksgiving, and it becomes less important to me as I grow older. Throughout the year we have a number of dinners at Mother’s with the family, and the only thing different about the last Thursday of November is that our dinners consist of turkey and the familiar accompaniments. I am not any more thankful on Thanksgiving than I am at any other time when the family is gathered, and I am not any more thankful on that day than any other day throughout the year. I can remember being agitated in the days following the tragedies of 9/11 when there was such a wave of patriotism… I guess I could not digest the reasoning behind the need to suddenly boast of patriotism because we were contemplating war when we should have been flying our American flags daily. I also observe this a good deal with Sundays – it is so much easier to be a Christian on Sunday than it is the remaining six days of the week.
Due to a recent episode in my family, I guess I am stepping forward to voice my blessings, one in particular. Acceptance.
This past weekend our family was blessed with visits from very dear friends, Chris Hetzer (an adopted child), Jeff Carter (an adoptive father), AJ (an adopted child), and Phil Clary (a pre-adoptive father.) We also spent several hours at the national adoption month party, hosted by ACTION Adoption, where my family was reunited with other adoptive parents and adopted children. My sister, brother and I were adopted by our step-father, David Haas, and I have had several cousins who were adopted. In all the years since my adoption, never have I ever experienced a moment of not feeling accepted by my dad, or being treated as such.
When I began considering adoption, I immediately shared this with my mother. Not one ounce of apprehension did she display. In fact, Mother and Dena have been beyond description in how they have supported me as a single adoptive father and in how they have accepted and loved my sons as their own. The one person I imagined voicing any slight objections was my 80 year old grandfather. I am ashamed to even admit that I was apprehensive about telling him as he made sure I had twin beds (“big boy beds”) to welcome my son(s). In fact, his last major trip in April 2004, before his surgery that eventually led to the end of his life, was to my home in Kettering, Ohio to deliver two frames for two more twin beds (thanks to Grandpa I have four twin beds!). Grandpa’s sister, my Aunt Norma, and her husband, Jack, have, like Mother, Dena, Dad, Uncle Tom, Uncle Danny, Aunt Bonnie and Grandpa, been so accepting of me and my family. When Aunt Norma signs off her Emails, “Much love to my three Ohio boys,” it doesn’t get much better than that.
Much of my telephone and home visits with Mother are about our days, but mostly about the boys, and my still seemingly new role as a dad. Although I still feel very much my mother’s son, it is seldom lost on me that she has welcomed me into her world as a fellow-parent. Mother is terribly supportive of me as a single father, but never criticizes or advises. And it makes sense why she would not – she was the one who raised me. If I am a great parent, it is due to her; if I am a lousy parent, I have only my self to blame. Like Mother, I demand and expect my sons to do their best in all aspects of life… the rest falls into place.
My sons adore their Grandma and Aunt Dena, and are always eager for visits – especially back in Indiana. Mother, like her mother, grandmothers and great-grandmothers before her, has carried on brilliantly in the tradition of our family’s rich heritage of wonderful grandmothers. There is no distinction between my sons and Dena’s sons – to Mother, they are all her grandsons. End of story.
Last weekend was a beautiful reminder of something for which I am terribly grateful: acceptance. I was surrounded by loving friends who not only accepted me as an adoptive parent, but accepted Matthew and Jose as my sons. We went to the party and were immersed in a world of acceptance – people who had built their families.
For whatever reason, my younger brother, Destin, has not accepted my sons. In fact, I seriously doubt he even accepts my sister, Dena, or myself, as he tends to have a “holier-than-thou” attitude about anyone who is not related to his wife. Since his marriage in 2000, he has become more critical of our family while always pretending to wave olive branches and attempting to raise himself above our family. It has been sad to see this talented young man develop such a non-accepting, self-centered attitude towards a family that has always been close and dedicated to one another. However, I also recognize and respect the fact that he is an adult making his own decisions.
Last summer, Destin’s first child, Parker, was born. When Dena gave birth to her sons, Jonathan and Andrew, I was there for each arrival and held each nephew after his birth. When Parker was born, Destin wasted no time to call his friends, his barber included, but did not make an effort to call his own biological brother. I had been in correspondence (E-mail) with him most of the week, eagerly awaiting the arrival of a new niece or nephew. I did not voice my displeasure and hurt at not having been called, and even allowed myself to make excuses for him, all the while knowing I just don’t rank as high as those whom he accepts.
A week later, Dena and her sons were actually invited to Destin’s home to visit Parker. We were all surprised as invitations from him and his wife are rare, and if our family visits they are generally kept outside in the backyard or garage while Destin & Stacia’s friends and their friends’ children are invited inside their home. Dena’s sons were only allowed to touch the bottom of Parker’s feet (to prevent the spread of germs!), however, Dena learned shortly thereafter that the children of Desint & Stacia’s friends had already been holding Parker. That first week after his birth, as Dena was holding Parker, Destin said, “How does it feel to be holding your first nephew?” Dena replied that she already had two nephews and that she was not new to the “aunt business.” Destin then said, “No, I mean your first real nephew.”
Needless to say, Dena was furious. My mother was furious. I was furious, and hurt.
My sister suggested a very creative joint-gift for Mother’s Christmas gift in which we would all be involved. Last night Destin asked Dena point-blank, “Are Jake, Matt and… or whoever he included in this?” Dena said, “Yes.” Dena’s response pretty well shut him down, but it seemed to drive another thrust of the knife of non-acceptance into my heart.
Tonight when I hung up from chatting with Dena on the telephone, I headed into an adoptive parent support group meeting, struggling to calm the hurt, and slight agitation. As I sat looking around the room at some fifty families, I heard, numerous times, the gratitude of my fellow adoptive parents. I realized that we all shared one common bond – acceptance. We had accepted strangers into our homes and lives – calling them our sons and daughters. We all had family and friends who accepted these strangers into their hearts and families.
So, this Thanksgiving, I am grateful for acceptance from my family, my friends, my colleagues, my students and their parents, and so many with whom I come in contact. I don’t think any man could feel as blessed at this moment as I do…