Being a parent is an incredibly exciting / daunting / thrilling / overwhelming experience (delete as appropriate). It’s not for everyone – there are people who are comfortably or heartbreakingly childless – but it seems to be an instinct in the majority of us.
I’ve reached the age of 37 without raising a family, although I’ve been fortunate to have been involved in the lives of children; two of my sets of friends have (independently) had children, and I’ve had the privilege of sharing in their lives.
Being an uncle, of course, is very different to being a parent, but this is something I’ve wanted for the past few years. I wish I could tell you precisely when I decided that parenthood was for me, but I can’t pin it down to a particular nanosecond. That’s very nebulous, but I suspect it’s the same for a lot of people; I’ve not been very scientific in my research for that statement except asking a couple of people I know whether that was the case for them – and, because they agreed with me, I’ve used that as a statistical reality.
Deciding to become a parent myself was a huge decision to make; raising a child is an Herculean task – or, at least, it should be. We should treasure our children, but also treasure a diversity of families; what does a good family look like? That’s a hard question to answer, because no-one knows – and if anyone tells you that they do, they’re confused, lying, or just being bloody-minded to give their own point of view credence.
It caused surprise in some quarters when I stated that I wanted to be a parent, primarily because I’m not in any kind of committed relationship. So often, people seem surprised when they discover I’m going to be a single parent – why am I going to take on that level of responsibility without any support from a partner? It’s not always said to me directly, but to my family – who always report that back to me, to allow me to laugh at such a perspective … and occasionally get cross at such a skewed one.
Of course, choosing to become a single father is considered to be even stranger by many; that’s a rareity even within the community of single parenthood. I’m a confusing statistical reality in many peoples’ minds, and am forced to accept that attitude; as frustrating as it is to be considered such an oddity in the grand scheme of things (and I am well-used to being a minority in many ways), I accept that some people will just think that way no matter what.
Another question that gets posed – usually to my mum, interestingly enough, like people are worried about my reaction if they said it directly to me – is about my ability to cope with the day to day minutiae of parenthood. As a single man, I’m struck by the difference between this role and single motherhood – women who are naturally assumed that they will be just be able to cope without any concerns. Instinct – or something else – will just take over and allow a mother to perform perfectly in every situation, whereas I will lag behind in some unspecified way.
But I’m also considered “daring” and “brave” somehow – I don’t quite understand how, but taking on a child as a single man is unusually risque. That whole concept – of a dad being lauded for activities a mum does without batting an eyelid – is a baffling one to me, and the subject of another blogpost entirely to itself. I’m a human being who wants to raise a child; my gender should be irrelevant.
I’m adopting a child; childbirth is very obviously closed as an path to me, but there were always options – surrogacy, for example – and I looked into all of them. Adoption was the one that most appealed, however. I savoured the focus and opportunity this gave me, being analysed and checked and questioned; it was actually quite a therapeutic process, and I learnt a lot about myself along the way. I’ve always been open to exploring new recesses of my mind, and this certainly gave me the opportunity to do that.
As a result, my son won’t come home as a new-born baby, but as a school-aged child. He’ll have opinions and thoughts all of his own, and will have experienced a number of years that I’ve played no part in. I won’t have chosen his name, his background so far, or his life experiences up to this point – but I’ll have experiences with him every day after then.
That excites me; the opportunity to give him a future that’s rich and full of possibilities is a privilege I’ll never take for granted (and if I ever do, beat me round the head with a head of cabbage). It’ll never make up for the past he has experienced, but he has had brilliant foster care, and I will continue what they started.
Adoption is a huge commitment, in terms of your energy, your ability to reflect, and your determination to become a parent. I chose to go through an adoption agency rather than my local authority, purely because they were struggling at the time to match up the number of children they had in care with the number of adopters coming through. Going to an adoption agency meant an additional level of work, but gave me a more national reach in terms of looking for children.
The work to get to approved as a prospective adopter took six months. It involved an initial meeting with a social worker, a full medical, and a DBS check for starters. Whilst all of that was going on, I had an in-depth assessment from the social worker, where she analysed my capacity to be a parent. She was able to pull lots of information out of our discussions, on subjects as diverse as finance, my upbringing, health, my relationships with loved ones, and my diet. Danielle also interviewed family and close friends, and spent many, many long hours immersing herself in my thought process. Poor woman.
Once all of that was done, she wrote an incredibly long report that was submitted to a panel of experts. They went through it with a fine tooth comb, then interviewed me in person (perhaps “grilled me” is a better term, although with the best possible intentions) and then made their recommendation as to whether I could be approved as a Barnardo’s adopter. Thankfully, I passed muster (and those simple words cannot do justice to the anxiety and tension as you wait to hear if you’ve been approved), and I was able to start looking for a child.
If that sounds a little harsh, then you’ll understand how I felt as I began this process. I was given access to a website where different child’s details were listed from a variety of local authorities around the country. The child’s social workers would give details about them – a little bit about their history, their personality, their looks, etc – and then you would have a discussion about the children you felt were a good match.
That was the hardest thing I think I’ve ever done in my life, and to try whittling down over 800 childrens’ details to anything like a few was emotionally draining. But I went through it for the sake of the child I knew was out there, waiting to be found by me.
And then I found him – after much searching and discussion, I was matched with the right child. The process of having a child placed with you is just as tough; as it should be, because a child’s future is so important, and they deserve every opportunity to be placed with the right family. The fact it takes time is understandable and entirely acceptable; I am happy to jump through as many hoops as need to be in order to prove myself worthy.
But the bureaucracy is tough-going, draining even. I can’t pretend to always have been “happy-go-lucky” about the process, because it wears you down from time to time – especially when things don’t go according to plan. For me, I experienced this first hand when I discovered that the date for my final panel – the meeting I attend in his home district – had been delayed from its original slot in mid-December to February the following year.
That stings a little, I don’t mind admitting – I’ve moved past the date now for when panel was meant to be, and I face an interminable wait for the meeting to now take place. But when that happens, I know my son’s room will finally come alive just a few short weeks later.
This has been a frustrating blip in the otherwise smooth ride, but I had the chance to meet my son recently (although he didn’t know who I was). When you hear the stories where parents say they fell in love with their child from the moment they met … I’d never understood how that was possible. But now I do; he was an absolutely amazing human being. I can’t fault him; he was filled with potential that I was excited to be a part of.
When he comes home, my quiet, orderly life will be transformed into one of school, play dates, emotional ups and downs, and so much else. There will be times when I crave the calmness of what I currently have, but I will never regret for one moment what I have done – because I’ll also gain the privilege of raising a child to be the best he can possibly be … all by being given one simple title; Dad.