***Please forgive any grammatical or spelling errors. This is an insomnia inspired post and has not been proof-read. Editing and re-posting may occur by Wednesday***
Recently Athena and I visited Ms Scarlet, Prof Plum, and Festus along with Athena's immediate family. Festus wasn't too sure about that many tall people staring at him but he eventually warmed to the idea. That was almost entirely due to Ms Scarlet and Athena's dad playing with and generally distracting him. All in all it was a pretty good visit. There will be more written to recount the events of that later. I bring it up now because it was shortly after that visit that I began thinking about the terminology I use to describe my relationship with Festus.
If you've read many of the other posts on this blog you've no doubt seen me refer to him as my son. I've also referred to myself on numerous occasions as his birth/first-father. What I am wondering is how accurate these terms are. In the abstract sense what do these terms mean? Am I his father? Is he my son?
In a very real and observable way the answer is no. I am not his father. Festus doesn't live with me. I am not responsible for his rearing. He won't grow up calling me "dad" and I'll never be the person he reluctantly turns to in adolescence when things feel out of control. When establishing his individuality it won't be me he's differentiating from. That also means it's me he didn't identify with. These are facts I'm coming to terms with, sacrifices I've made. It may seem strange for this to come up given my primary reasons for choosing to place him with an adoptive family. To reiterate: since childhood I've known I did not want to parent. That knowledge, unfortunately, doesn't mean these sacrifices are without pain. Quite the opposite. They hurt a good deal. While these specific thoughts may not hurt me as much as a person who fully desired to raise his/her child I believe these circumstances do compound my sense of guilt.
Feeling guilty and selfish is something every first-parent experiences.
I've been staring at that sentence for several minutes. Attempting to continue, I've tried out a dozen different follow statements to continue the paragraph. Each time I re-read that sentence a part of me becomes paralyzed. If I open this up I don't get to close it again. I may not get to sleep tonight if I'm honest about this sense of guilt and shame. The truth is that's the deadliest part of the adoption experience for me. It's not the sacrifice, the uncertainty, nor even socially endorsed ostracism. Shame. Despite my best efforts there are still parts of me that wish I could take back the last two years. The strange thing is the degree of compartmentalization. I feel no shame or guilt at all when I see my son. I wouldn't change anything in those moments. All the shame I experience is internalized. I'm ashamed for. . . what? I don't know why. Do I wish I had made different choices? No. Do I wish I had handled Athena's pregnancy differently? Only in rare instances and those usually related to doing dishes or feeling overwhelmed. So why this sense of shame? Because secretly I feel I was intensely selfish in my decision.
I feel selfish because I didn't sacrifice myself and my life for my son. I feel shame because I believe I was selfish. My guilt is compounded because of the circumstances that lead me to place my son for adoption. I didn't do it because I could not raise him. I did it because I would not raise him. That statement is my mental flog. It is rare that it does so but when the self-flagellation takes hold it is more than cantankerous. It is sinister and ruthless. There is nothing anyone can say to me that is more dehumanizing, cruel, or torturous than what I tell myself already. This is one arena in which I feel comfortable saying I speak not only for myself but for most, if not all, first-parents.
All this because I am not a father.
But what of my son? Is he, in fact, my son at all? If I am not his father how can he be? Here is where things get strange and language shows how utterly incapable it is of accurately representing reality. Festus is my son. Just as I am not his father he is my son. It is observable, objective, and real. His hair is starting to curl like mine. There are similarities in facial structure and the build of his body. For eight months (remember, we didn't find out Athena was pregnant the moment Festus was conceived) Athena and I cared for him the best we could. I must say the best we could was damn impressive. I'm very proud of how we responded to his presence. We completely rearranged our lives to aid every aspect of Festus' development. I cannot think of a single aspect of our daily lives that did not directly revolve around care for him. At the end of those eight months I was weary beyond my bones. I hadn't anything left to give. I was completely tapped out. I gave Festus all the help I could muster and I am dedicated to continue doing so until my death.
I am not his father but he is still my son. Prof Plum is his real father. Ms Scarlet is his real mother. He is my son. He is Athena's son.