As I write this, I’m dipping my toe into the swimming pool of more intense introductions, with my son knowing my true identity. I had three opportunities to meet him as a friend of his foster family, so he was able to get used to the image of me, and I was able to see him around people he was comfortable with. That was key – he felt safe whilst being introduced to someone new, and I was able to see him interacting with people he trusted, and that helped me know what his “positive behaviour” looked like.
Each of those first was a hard act to balance; I had never been mentioned before and now was being introduced as a friend. That was fine, although we were conscious we’d need to work with that when he was told who I really was.
Well, he has been told, and he reacted well; he asked questions, but we want him to – I’d be more worried if he was just silent. I’m writing this as I come back from a weekend of introductions, and his reactions to and about me have been fascinating. Although I’d never admit this to him, I’ve been just as nervous – I want to make a good impression, set him at his ease, and learn all about him. I always want him to feel comfortable with me so that he can talk to me about the good stuff as well as the bad – but I need to earn his trust, and that’s my job to do. What does he need to do? Be a child.
But one thing I was curious about from an early moment in this process was – “What will I feel when I meet him? When will I start feeling a father’s love for him? How long does a process like that take?”
Big questions. You hear people talking about the love they had for their child from the moment they were born – that there was some instinctive reaction that was love, without question. But, of course, my young man and I are coming late to the party – he’s no baby, and I’m not his first dad … but will be his last. How will I develop that love for my son?
I didn’t need to worry, of course, and nor did I need to analyse anything too deeply. Some things just happen, and it happened without any active effort on my part. In fact, the process began when he and I first met for just twenty minutes before Christmas; there was, I felt, a bond there in those few precious moments, and I can attest to the emotions I experienced being intense even then.
But with some delays in the process, I deliberately kept my own emotions at bay; I was concerned about getting hurt, to be frank. When things got back on track, I met him twice more, and the pleasure I got from his company even as Matthew was brilliant.
But when he found out who I was going to be to him, he greeted me the next time with the immortal words “Hi Dad!” That, for me, was the moment the final protective barriers I’d built up during the delays came down, and I knew what a father’s love felt like from the other side, in the proper meaning of the word. He vacilitated between Matthew and Dad for a while long, and that was fine – but then dad began to stick.
Reader, he’s my son, and I love him like a dad.