My wife and I met in college. When we talked about getting married and having kids we decided we should have a child and then adopt a child. We were both socially conscious young people who reasoned that we would want to have our own, biologically, created child. But given how many people are on the Earth today, we should adopt a child who needs a family, rather than add another person to an already overpopulated world.
After our son was born, we started the adoption process. We told the agency that we wanted a girl and we wanted her to be younger than our son. We wanted her to be healthy, but beyond that, we didn’t care whether she was Black, Caucasian, Hispanic, or whatever.
When we got the call from the adoption agency that they had a little girl they wanted us to meet in Los Angeles, we drove from our home in Stockton and headed south. I still remember the first time I held her. She was just 2 ½ months old, a small little thing. I could hold her head in my palm and the rest of her only made it half-way down my forearm. She clearly looked like her ancestors were from Africa. She was crying when I first held her, but she immediately stopped, when I smiled at her and talked to her. “Hey, little girl, do you want to come home with us?” She looked up at me and smiled and I’ve been in love ever since.
She was everything we had asked for and more. But the “more” turned out to be that she had more serious medical problems than we were originally told. We knew that her parents were young, teenagers, never married who opted for adoption because they both wanted their daughter to have a good home that they weren’t able to provide. What we didn’t know was the seriousness of her having a cleft palate.
It didn’t take long after meeting her for us to know she was the one we wanted to adopt and we arranged to take her home. We called her Angela, named after the city of angels where she was born and also Angela Davis, the Black activist, who my wife and I had both met at U.C. Berkeley. I’ll be 75 in a few days and Angela will be 47 in March. She’s taught me a lot over the years. Here are five of the most important things I’ve learned.
1. How to fight adversity.
Angela was born with a cleft palate, so every time she’s drink milk, it would go from her mouth into her nose through the hole in the roof of her mouth and she’d choke and cough. What a conflict, nourishment and pain went together. But she was a fighter and learned to deal with the discomfort until she had her repair surgery when she was a year-old.
When I feel overwhelmed by the adversities of life and feel like giving up, I think of Angela and feel re-energized by remembering what a fighter she is.
2. Finding creative ways to compensate for disabilities.
Even after her palate was repaired, she had trouble with speech. She went regularly for speech therapy. In pre-school, it was difficult because the other kids didn’t understand her when she talked. She found ways to communicate. She loved to swim but would get ear infections that eventually caused her to have difficulty hearing. She learned to read lips and so was able to know what people were saying even if she couldn’t hear them.
When I feel stuck on a problem in life, I think of Angela and ask myself “what creative solution would Angela come up with?” I’m guided by what comes to mind.
3. Forgiveness and healing.
Many people, like Angela, lost a parent when they were young or had a mother or father who was absent physically or emotionally. Everyone is affected by that trauma. Many become angry or depressed. I’ve seen Angela struggle with both emotions. But in her anger, she was never mean. She would test me and she really tested my wife, Carlin. It was as though she was afraid that we’d leave her like her parents did when she was born and she wanted to push us away before we pushed her away.
Raising her was a challenge. There were times I’d blow up and get so angry at Angela I wanted to hit her. I restrained myself from being physically violent, but I was definitely violent with my emotions and I know it hurt her. But she has forgiven me over the years and her love has made me a better father and better person.
Carlin and I got a long letter just as Angela was getting out of her teen years, the kind every parent longs to get, but rarely does. Angela apologized for all the trouble she had caused us and thanked us for hanging in there with her. We thank her for hanging in there with us. Growing up isn’t ever easy.
4. Being there for others.
As an adult, Angela would always help other people. Friends would drop kids by her house and she always made time to be supportive, even when she had kids of her own. She let people stay in her small apartment when they needed a place to be, even when it meant her sleeping with her kids in one big bed. When I find myself feeling selfish of my time and “too busy for others,” I think of Angela and I stretch a little farther to help others.
5. The courage to be a parent.
Angela has four children and raising them hasn’t been easy. Each one presents challenges that can drive a parent up the wall. Angela hangs in there, day after day, year after year. For her, family is vitally important. She holds the family together even when life becomes so difficult, she wonders whether she’ll have the strength to get through another day.
Angela’s a grandmother now. Her daughter, Teanna, recently had a little girl. That makes me a great-grandfather. Hard to believe, I’m that old, she’s that old, and the years have gone by so fast. Someday, I’ll be gone and the future generations will carry on. I hope they will continue to learn their own lessons about love, life, and courage. Thanks girl!
Your comments are welcome and appreciated.
Originally published on Men Alive
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