My own family is real enough to me, but is there some kind of external measure that we can compare different family lives to? No, in short, there’s not.
Perhaps I should leave it there, because there is a certain soap box I can climb on when I am in the mood. I’m dad to a gorgeous eight-year-old boy who I am immensely proud of; we are a tight-knit family, especially as it’s just him and me – I don’t have a partner, and am fine with that. I enjoy being a father.
My son happens to be adopted, but that doesn’t change any fundamentals; he is my son because I love him very deeply, and I am confident in his love for me (he doesn’t need to tell me, because he shows me in a hundred other ways) – and because the courts have ruled it to be so. I have precisely the same rights and responsibilities as any other parent to their child; the only difference is that I missed the first few years of his life, and I wish I hadn’t.
However, we are a family, as real and as genuine as any other. We share a common bond, one bound by love and respect, and all effective families share the the same kind of bond. I feel very privileged that he has let me into his life so easily and willingly.
But something I only encountered recently – and for the first time – has sprung up. It caught me off-guard, perhaps because I moved in open-minded circles, but two separate people – when asking about my son – enquired as to the status of his “real” family. I immediately leapt in to amend their language and asked if they meant his “birth” family. On reflection, even that wasn’t entirely accurate – yes, my son was born to them, but families love and nourish and care for each other.
The enquirers were suitably abashed, I hope, when I gently but firmly corrected them. I wasn’t willing to let a statement like that go by; I am my son’s true family. I love him utterly, I get up at three in the morning when he needs me, and I give him experiences and opportunities and a base line. He deserves all that and more, and families do those things for their children. We’re a family for the rest of our lives now; we’re real, and it’s very thoughtless of people to enquire as to my son’s real family. I want to say, “You’re looking at him.” I was caught off-guard and a bit slow in coming up with a decent retort; perhaps next time I’ll say that.
My son is very open about his adoption; indeed, even today, he was introduced to someone I had once worked with, and he joyfully said, “I’m adopted!” He doesn’t do it to stand out, I think, but to merely state the fact; it’s part of his narrative and he’s proud of it, so why shouldn’t he want to talk about it? It’s normal to him; it’s what makes his family. It’s same as talking about the weather or school or music – they’re all just a part of his real life.
Like I’ve said, it surprises me when people – inadvertently or deliberately – dismiss a family make-up because we don’t share blood. You’re right, of course, but we share every other characteristic of family; love, respect, communication, consistency, and so much else besides.
If you know someone who is adopted, don’t insult them by asking about their “real” family. Their real family is made up of people who love them now, and potentially have done for a very long time; they had to move away from their birth family in order to keep them safe, and their forever family gets the opportunity to love and cherish them for the rest of their lives.
I’m my son’s real family; I may not have donated my DNA to make him, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t my son. The bonds between us are numerous and powerful, and we have accepted our relationship as genuine and powerful. To those occasional people whose choice of language is thoughtless, please don’t lessen our relationship by not considering us “real” – it hurts, even when we don’t show it, and it’s insulting. Consider the power of your words, and consider the love we share to make our family as real as anyone else’s.