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A Letter to My Adopted Daughter: On Family

Please forgive me for my arrogance in thinking we were saving you; I realize now we're saving each other. I am not just a better father because of you. I am a better human being because of you.
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The expression on your face when I found you in the principal's office yesterday immediately answered all my questions: Yes, another fight. Yes, you started it. Yes, you could have made better choices about how you expressed your emotions. I knew there was nothing to discuss, so I turned to the principal and asked about consequences. Two days suspension -- next time it would be three days -- and if it happened again after that, we would be searching for a third school, four months into seventh grade.

I fell asleep last night thinking about you, and then I thought about you again over coffee this morning. I felt many things, but mostly anger. We weren't supposed to be here, having these struggles, well over two years into this.

On paper, we were a match made in heaven. Your biological mother is white and your biological father is Latino. Mom is white and I'm Latino. There would be no birth-order interruptions; you are six months younger than our only biological daughter and a year older than the elder of our two biological sons. We were confident we could meet your needs. I am a licensed psychologist with a specialty in pediatrics. Mom is a registered occupational therapist with specialized training in sensory integration dysfunction. I was sure that I would be able to connect with you. Like you, I experienced trauma in childhood and lived my teens away from my biological parents.

The plan was simple. Multiple diagnoses and medications be damned -- we were going to save you, after your two-plus years in state custody, and we were all going to live happily ever after. Three schools in four months is not the happily ever after I had in mind.

When you first arrived, we hid from each other. You pretended that you weren't feeling angry, afraid, guilty, sad, and confused. I pretended that I could parent you from a distance. We looked good to everyone on the outside -- we were pleasant to each other -- but we were superficial and fake. It was a three-month honeymoon of pseudo-family.

We finally got tired of pretending, and we let our differences surface. It was the end of the pseudo-family and the beginning of chaos. You admitted your anger, fear, guilt, sadness and confusion. I admitted my frustration at having been forced from the lazy, auto-pilot parenting I had slipped into before you arrived. As our differences emerged, I responded by trying to control you, trying to fix you and trying to heal you. I wanted to make you normal, which is another way of saying that I wanted to make you like me. As tried to change you into me, I forced us back into pseudo-family, and that cycle has repeated about every three months for the last eighteen months.

Over two years later, I have succeeded only in creating yet another threatening environment for you.

I knew last night that something had to give, and in the quiet stillness of this morning's coffee, I realized: it's me.

I must find the humility to empty myself of my agenda: my need to control you, to fix you, to heal you, to make you like me. Our differences have made me face my own brokenness -- my failures, my doubts, my fears and my sins. I admit now that I am an up-tight control freak who sucks with day-to-day details. (Before today, I would have referred to myself as "a results-oriented visionary.") In my heart, I know that only after I stop trying to control, fix, heal or change you will you feel safe. Only when you feel safe will you find healing and freedom. When that happens, I think we will have arrived at authentic family.

My and your mom's professional training has been helpful, sure, but it hasn't been necessary. What I've needed most is the courage to embrace my emptiness. Please forgive me for my arrogance in thinking we were saving you; I realize now we're saving each other. I am not just a better father because of you. I am a better human being because of you. How much of life's fullness have I missed because of my inability to empty myself and surrender?

You are growing up in a society that is fighting for the right to own and define the word "family." Here are my two cents: Family is where we can be vulnerable and unashamed. In that safety, we have no need for fear or resistance, and we heal and grow spontaneously. Getting to that place is hard work, and I don't think it shows up (or doesn't) automatically just because a family looks a certain way.

I dream of the day I walk you down the aisle. I will give you to a man with a look in his eye that will make it clear to you and the rest of the world that he knows he is the luckiest man alive because he gets to be the next safe place for you. I dream of the day I play with your children. I will bounce them on my lap, smile at them through my wrinkles and grey beard and remind them -- yet again -- how blessed they are that you are their mommy.

Thank you, sweet girl. Know that I am proud of you. You are powerful and courageous. You are beautiful and tender. I love you. I am yours forever.


Ps: Remind me someday to tell you about the time I was expelled in sixth grade for calling my science teacher a pinche pendejo.