To start the New Year’s weekly Huffington Post Gay Voices RaiseAChild.US “Let Love Define Family™” series, Rich Valenza shares a personal story about family and the importance of making family memories, past and future.
Exactly 20 years ago on Jan. 2, 1995, I experienced a truly remarkable day. It was a day so great I will remember it always.
In my adult life, there has been only one Christmas gift that surprised me so completely that it brought me to tears. On Christmas 20 years ago, my mother shocked the heck out of my father and me with two tickets to Penn State’s first Rose Bowl appearance in over seven decades. It was no secret that with Penn State finishing their regular season undefeated and ranked No. 2, these Rose Bowl tickets were impossible to get.
I had no idea that my mom was so determined to do the impossible. She tried every angle she knew. Just as moving to me was the fact that her last chance at getting the tickets for us was through her friendship with one of Penn State’s 40,000 employees -- who, with just days before Christmas, happened to beat all odds and win the employee lottery for these highly valued tickets! Her friend kept her promise to my mother and handed the tickets over at face value. My mother’s stealth resourcefulness and immense pride brought me to tears when my dad and I opened the envelope. My father and I were completely astounded. He cried with me.
Tickets to a football game may seem like a trivial gift to some, but the experience of that game means so much to me for two additional reasons. First, the game turned out to be the last great day I would spend one-on-one with my father. A short time after his trip to Los Angeles to visit me and attend the game, my father’s back problems were finally diagnosed as painful bone lesions resulting from multiple myeloma, a rare cancer of plasma cells that led to his death just a few years later.
The Rose Bowl game day also turned out something else that was unexpected. It is where I took my first step to building my family. Let me explain. Prior to the game, Dad and I walked around a pre-game fair set up on the grounds just outside of the stadium. For some reason I stopped at a booth and picked up a flyer with photos of children on its cover. A man in the booth asked me if I had ever considered adopting. I’m not sure where it came from, but I heard myself answer that I had! My father looked at me with a big grin. In that moment, I shared his surprise.
When we returned to the car, I tucked the adoption flyer in the glove compartment. About four years later I negotiated the purchase of my new dream car at a local car dealership and hastily began clearing out my old car for the trade-in. When I opened the glove compartment, out fell takeout menus, faded gas receipts, expired grocery store coupons, and... the adoption flyer from the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services. The children’s faces on the cover reminded me of that day with my dad and the hope and surprise we both experienced together at the possibility of more grandchildren to carry on his name.
That year I made a New Year's Resolution. I decided that in five years I would start the process to adopt. Today, my partner and I are raising two great kids that enrich our lives and give us a life full of purpose and pride.
On average, it takes people about two years to move from their first thoughts of fostering or adopting to actually starting the process, so I was definitely a late bloomer. If you have ever considered building a family through fostering or adopting, I encourage you to make it your own New Year’s Resolution. RaiseAChild.US is ready to help you with free services and support.
Today, it is hard for me to believe that these vivid memories of my mom and dad are 20 years old. But I know that time is precious and there are children waiting that would love to start building a lifetime of memories with you as their parent. Take the Next Step to Parenthood at www.RaiseAChild.US.
Rich Valenza is the founder and CEO of RaiseAChild.US, a national nonprofit organization headquartered in Hollywood, California that encourages the LGBT community, and all people equally, to build families through fostering and adopting to serve the needs of the 400,000 children in the U.S. foster care system. Since 2011, RaiseAChild.US has run media campaigns and events to educate prospective parents and the public, and has engaged more than 2,500 prospective parents. For information about how you can become a foster or fost/adopt parent, visit www.RaiseAChild.US.