Father Day

By Daniel Herd

In the early stages of our adoptive process, during a routine doctor's visit, the girls’ doctor, a specialist in high-risk infants, asked if we had any more medical history about their fathers. I replied that we still had no knowledge about either one and that they “had no fathers around.” The doctor paused and then said, “yes, they do now.” He might have added something about how a father can be defined by actions rather than biology, but I was too preoccupied by this realization. The title of "father" suddenly became real for me.

Before that, "father" was something I understood through experience, not easily defined. It wasn’t just a title for the genetic parent. My own father exemplified this through actions that demonstrated intentional sacrifice and investment in us as people. For instance, during winter, he would play a game called Abominable Snowman, hiding in the snow for my brother and me to find. This game wasn’t just about fun; it was about the effort and love he put into making those moments special.

The essence of being a father involves intangible qualities. My father’s actions, like playing in the snow or sharing a special treat, created emotional touch points that defined fatherhood for me. These memories, though justifications for my feelings, underscored the emotional truth of what being a father meant.

As I listened to the doctor’s words, I was flooded with memories and the realization of the responsibility and excitement of becoming a father through adoption. This led to reflections on how adoption would change my perception of being a father and how I would navigate this role when my role models didn’t fit this new model. The girls already had birth parents, cousins, and grandfathers, along with a history of loss and separation.

Adopting through foster care involves navigating inevitable loss. Someone, possibly everyone is going to lose. Lose parents, lose siblings, lose a child, lose your history, lose the only parent they’ve known. There is no way forward without loss. In the initial months, I wondered what would happen if the girls stayed with us permanently. The following year was filled with the fear that they might not. The recurring, sick feeling came from knowing the title of father could be taken from me at any time, coupled with anger that no other father (or mother) was fighting for them.

 Some fathers never get the chance to be a father, others can only provide a roof and food. I realized I didn’t have to be those fathers and couldn’t be those fathers. With an adopted child, especially one who doesn’t share your cultural or racial identity, you quickly learn you cannot simply copy and paste another father’s efforts. Each child, particularly transracially adopted children, will develop their own relationship with the word "father," and though it will always include an element of loss, it is my responsibility to help shape that relationship.

Adoption brings unique challenges and opportunities. It requires creating new touch points and experiences that define fatherhood for these children. It’s about being consistent, safe, and attentive to their world, helping them navigate new situations and challenges in a way that builds their capacity for the future.

Daniel Herd is an adoptive parent

This post is from our June, 2024, newsletter. If you would like to get our newsletter in your inbox each month, as well as information about our annual Transracial Journeys Family Camp and our monthly Zoom call to provide support for our transracial adoption parents please subscribe.

Fathers’ Day, Making Space for Fathers Absent and Fathers Present

by Avril McInally

A few years ago, while writing about Mothers’ Day for our monthly TRJ newsletter, I made the decision to move the apostrophe over to commemorate my child’s reality of having two mothers. This is no accident and not an error in punctuation. It’s my way of elucidating that my child has more than one mother, as well as my way of making space for and acknowledging my child’s mother of origin. I choose to move the apostrophe over for fathers too.

If only it were as simple as moving an apostrophe to signal these intentions in conversation. It can be exhausting and intrusive having to explain my family's makeup. It’s an exhausting, repetitive experience for all of the members of our family. When I do choose to have “the talk”, I’ve come to think about the people in my extended family of adoption as being present to hear what I’m saying, and to speak as if my child is listening too. How do I honor my child’s story and her right to privacy? How do I honor her birth parents' same rights?

The adoption journey and its coinciding conversations don’t get any easier as our children age. They continue to be complex in new ways. Should I attend that funeral service for Grandma or Uncle? If I do go, where do I sit and where do my kids sit? Am I a painful reminder of a painful separation? Is our daughter a painful reminder of a painful separation? Do the visiting family members even know an adoption in the family happened? I have to keep coming back to ask myself the most important question which is “am I being a healthy support to my daughter”? The answer begins with me asking her the question, “Darling, you’ve got to let me know, should I stay or should I go?”. A little of the Clash’s lyrics can go a long way ;).

Moving the apostrophe is simple, these crucial conversation usually aren’t. It’s my way of saying I recognize all of the parents who helped bring our child into and raise her up in the world. So, maybe someday, instead of asking me all of the usual, mundane questions about race or adoption, ask me about my punctuation.

As June is the month which holds our national holiday for celebrating Fathers’ Day, I’d like to invite you to move the apostrophe over in consideration of all of your children’s fathers and father figures. In order to make that space for more than one father, April’s conversation prompts for June are a good place to start not just on Fathers’ Day but whenever you or your children feel the need. Happy Fathers’ Day from me and from everyone on the TRJ board!

This post is from our June, 2023, newsletter. If you would like to get our newsletter in your inbox each month, as well as information about our annual Transracial Journeys Family Camp and our monthly Zoom call to provide support for our transracial adoption parents please subscribe.