The Son Also Rises

I thought my son's life was ruined because no one could have cared for him as well as I could, even though I was only 16 when he was born

At 16, I came into my own. I climbed my way up to starting as the JV quarterback and started on the JV basketball team. I began making funny, short Super 8 films. I was in love with my best friend, my first love. I no longer feared or heard my father's occasional outburst: "Wake up! You'll never amount to anything!" My life was taking off.

And then it crashed. My girlfriend got pregnant and decided to give the baby up for adoption. My childhood ended. Dad was right. I was a fuck up. I was too ashamed to tell my parents. I avoided her parents. I didn't share my agony or guilt with anyone. All my energy went into redeeming myself. However, I was now at war with myself, with my dad, believing deep down I didn't deserve happiness or success.

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The scar of that event gets prodded every time someone innocently asks, "Do you have any children?" And I think, "Yes, but I gave him away." I thought my son's life was ruined because I wasn't there for him. That no one could have cared for him as well as me. Really? As a 16-year-old boy, so young and scared, I would have been a stellar dad?

I wasn't that good of a son. I viewed my dad as a tyrant, holding onto my resentment of his tirades and overlooking everything he had done and said to support me. I mainly wanted to be a parent to do the opposite of everything he had done.

I wasn't even that good of a brother—using my younger brother for my own purposes, never getting into his life. When I was 17, he suffered a concussion during a football game. I was the only one he recognized. He didn't know what had happened and, terribly frightened, he badgered me with questions. I walked away. Avoiding embarrassment was more important to me than caring for my brother.

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When I see how limited I was back then, I sense the mayhem and complications that would have ensued had I tried to raise my son. I look at myself in my 20s and see the confusion, the fear and the hubris: cheating on my wife, accumulating massive amounts of speeding tickets and harboring anger towards my father. My driver's license was revoked in two states.

It's a relief to fully admit I was not at all ready to be a parent. From this understanding, I smile and think, "The boy dodged a bullet." It's freeing to realize what my limitations were. I hated the thought that my son might be raised by people who opposed my beliefs—rich, conservative people. The thought of these snobs raising him infuriated me. I see now I wanted to impose my will on my son. Where's the love in that?

The judgment I made at 16 stuck with me for 40 years, most of it unconscious, unexamined, weighing on me like a low-grade fever, and not fully examined until a year ago when I saw a YouTube video of adoptive parents meeting their child for the first time. It allowed me to see what it must have been like on the other side. Filled with such incredible awe, they can't stop crying. For five minutes, the father, holds his new baby, shaking and falling to his knees.

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The conclusion I'd held for 40 years began unraveling. Maybe giving him up didn't ruin my life. Maybe it didn't ruin his life. For the first time, I was able to imagine that my son's adoptive parents—mature, ready and filled with boundless joy—were given the light of their life. His life wasn't ruined; it was just different.

I may have missed out on being a parent, but he didn't miss out on having parents. Strangers didn't raise him. His mom and dad, eager and prepared, raised him, were there for him with their love and care.

The experience of giving my son up for adoption is a crucial part of my life. It shapes me, affects me profoundly. It invites me to look deeper at my humanity; at the humanity we all share. How all beliefs are a form of prejudice. Until last year, I was filled with remorse: It should have never happened! I bet these two fortunate parents and their adopted son would beg to differ. Having two mature and ready parents was a godsend for him. I imagine their beautiful experience and I'm filled with love for them, for him, for myself and for my dad, who's always been there for me.

Tags: family