Becoming Dad

My oldest child, Dallin, turned 10 yesterday. But it was 10 years ago today that I met him. Dallin is adopted and the day we found out about him was unlike any day I’ve ever had. It doesn’t seem fair — he has an extra day of experience being a kid before we became parents. Guess that is why he seems to always be a step ahead of us. Someone once said we experienced nine months of emotions in 24 hours. That sounds about right. This is the story of how I became a parent.

Dallin, one day old

Life in Context

Saturday, January 28, 2006 was not the most exciting of Saturdays. Jill and I were living in a small apartment in Chandler, AZ. We had lived there for about 18 months. I had recently decided to get an MBA and was taking a GMAT prep course so I could start school that coming fall. Jill had just started a new semester at Chandler-Gilbert Community College. I remember we did some cleaning around the apartment, but mostly we were studying. I was s took a practice GMAT test that day. Jill was studying for a microbiology class that was proving to be particularly challenging. For lunch we ate some leftover Little Caesar’s pizza from the night before.

What we did not know was that earlier that day, about 12 miles up the road at a hospital in Mesa, a baby boy had been born.

Someone once said we experienced nine months of emotions in 24 hours. That sounds about right.

Sunday morning came and Jill and I started preparing for a busy day. This Sunday was shaping up to be a particularly busy day for us. Jill was the ward choir director and I was the choir pianist and the choir was supposed to have an early practice before church at 9am and then sing during Sacrament Meeting. I’d also be leading the music during Sacrament Meeting, which was another calling I had. Jill was the primary chorister and was also supposed to be helping with a musical number in Relief Society that day. Our home teachers were planning to come visit us that afternoon. We had dinner plans with another family from the ward that evening and then we were supposed to do the music for the primary’s Great to be 8 program that night at the stake center.

The Phone Call

At about 7:30am the phone rang. Jill answered it. “Hi, my name is Kevin and I work with LDS Family Services, is your husband at home?” “Yes,” said Jill. “Good, you might want to get him on the line and you both will want to sit down.”

Now, we didn’t know Kevin. He wasn’t our case worker. Larry was our caseworker. Kevin worked with birth mothers, not adoptive parents. But he went on to explain that Larry was out of town and then he proceeded to tell us a story about a woman named Cyra who had come into the agency a couple of weeks ago. She was close to giving birth and had decided that it would be best to place this child. She asked the agency to select the couple…her only stipulation was that she wanted her son to go to a family that didn’t yet have any children.

I should interject here to say we hadn’t yet been told what exactly what going on. We assumed he was eventually going to tell us that we had been selected as parents, but he was taking his time getting there. Talk about burying the lede.

You might want to get your husband on the line and you both will want to sit down.

Anyway, Kevin continued that though she wasn’t due for several more weeks, she ended up going into labor early (the day before). Kevin called Larry to ask who the parents were because the baby had come. Larry, who was out of town, couldn’t remember our names but knew that he had put our file in the front of his top desk drawer. So Kevin went and found us there and (finally!) told us we had been selected as birth parents for a baby boy who had been born yesterday. And how soon could we get to the hospital to pick him up and meet the birth mother?

Well, the day took a decidedly different turn at that point. If we were going to bring a baby home from the hospital, we probably needed a car seat. And diapers. And bottles and formula and I guess clothes. So, we were short on some of the basics. But hey, we were only about three minutes into this parenthood thing and hadn’t even met the child yet. We had time to figure it out.

We made a few quick phone calls to let people know we wouldn’t be doing any of the stuff we had planned on doing at church. We called a neighbor Jill had been babysitting for and told her we needed to borrow a car seat. We scrambled and finished getting dressed and got out the door to pick up the car seat. We got on the freeway and started toward the hospital. I was driving and dutifully going the speed limit, though it seemed to be taking FOREVER to get to the hospital. Finally Jill, who it must be said is usually VERY strict about speed limits and such, said, in frustration, “Are we the only people on this freeway on their way to pick up their new baby from the hospital???” That was all I needed to hear. I floored it and got us to the hospital as soon as we could.

Dallin, about 18 months; one of my favorite pictures of him

The Hospital

There’s an odd sense that comes over you as you approach the physical space where your life will change. And you know it’s going to change. Your senses are heightened — more than just the physical senses. Your emotional senses. You take it in, remember nothing, recognize everything. We walked through the doors, about to meet Kevin, to sign paperwork, to meet the birth mother, to meet the baby. These are gates you pass through but once. Markers along the way.

We had an initial, brief visit with Cyra, the birth mother. And then we went to the nursery. And there he was. And then came the nine months of emotions flooding over us. We went back to Cyra and visited with her a bit. Then it was time for her to leave. There are no words for how we felt, watching her leave the hospital alone and empty handed, while our hearts and hands were full. I do not know of another sacrifice that we, as humans, must bear, that can compare to that.

I’ll never forget going back to the nursery for the second time. In many ways, it was more special than the first time because I looked over the rows of newborns and recognized my son, Dallin. The first time I saw him, he had to be pointed out to us. But the second time, I recognized him. That feeling hit me hard at that time and has always stayed with me in a very powerful sense. The ability and opportunity to recognize my children. That is a gift for me. The hospital decided to keep Dallin for another night, so we had the day to spend with him there in the nursery. We spent a lot of time with him that morning. We had yet to call anyone in our family yet. For a few precious hours we were the only ones in the world who knew. Those hours of togetherness will ever be one of my choicest memories.

No one knows anything about being a parent, especially when they first get into it. My kids will be the first to vouch that I still don’t know anything. We’re blessed with a level of naivete going into it (otherwise, we maybe never would). Luckily, these kids don’t know how to be kids either, so we get to learn together. I started by saying this was the story of how I became a parent. Every parent is still becoming. Become means to begin to be. We all begin to be things. And we are ever becoming those things. It doesn’t stop. And that is really all the wisdom I have on parenting (oh, except for these toilet seats. Seriously, every parent of young, potty-training aged children should use these. You’re doing it wrong if you don’t.)

Every parent is still becoming. Become means to begin to be. We all begin to be things. And we are ever becoming those things.

Last night, after a big day of presents, cake, ice cream, grandparents, and cousins, Dallin curled up on the couch, tired, worn out. And who wouldn’t be after ten years on this planet? He put his head on my lap and I stroked his hair while he held still and I held him.

Dallin, age 10
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