So when my wife and I adopted our son he was one of the first to stop by for a visit. We sat across the living room from one another talking about the different aspects of adoption—specifically about the things we hadn’t anticipated. We were talking about what it was like to be full-time parents while someone else, living somewhere completely separate, also carried a title of “parent”. It was something unique to get used to; a concept we needed to adjust our minds to. I had been thinking that I had no friends who knew what that was like to experience that—except for the new friends we had made during the adoption process. Yet, here we were, chatting with Craig and he kept nodding his head. His head nods were the kind that he seemed to be saying, “Oh yeah. I know how that is.” But how could he? He wasn’t an adoptive father. Still, he kept doing it, and even interjecting comments about how he understood. It began to frustrate me a little bit, as if my unique situation was being taken lightly.
Then it dawned on me. Oh my goodness. He does know I’m talking about! I had known him for years, usually seeing him with his wife and six year old daughter—their happy little family. The thing is, I never paid much attention to the other side of his family—the side that lived across town also claiming the title of “father”. Craig had no biological children. His daughter was his step daughter. Since I saw no difference in the way he was “Dad” when compared to anybody else around me. I had no contact with his daughter’s biological father, so I never thought about it. I never stopped to consider the types of things he was going through.
I’ve learned to let people relate to our adoption story in any way they know how. It’s human nature to start comparing the unknown to things we do know. That’s why when, if someone were to ask you what something tastes like, you will usually try to think of something similar. Most meats taste similar to chicken or beef, right? If I tell someone a piece of my story, they will naturally start scanning their mind for something to liken it to. They’re not downplaying what I’ve gone through. They’re not trying to tell me my situation isn’t unique or important. They may never really understand what it’s like to be in my shoes, but that’s okay. I’ll never know what it’s like to be in Craig’s shoes as a stepfather either.
By Russell Elkins, author of Open Adoption, Open Heart: An Adoptive Father’s Inspiring Journey