Waiting for the real work to start

Nov. 15, 2013 @ 11:37 AM

My friend Colin – another adoptive parent - asked over lunch last week whether I felt like a dad now.

“Has it really sunk in?”

It’s been nearly six months since Catherine and I adopted John Michael in Asheville and brought him home to Durham.

The answer should’ve been an emphatic “Yes.” But as I thought about it, I grew less certain.

Without a doubt, it’s seared into my mind that -- as a unit -- we’re responsible for this child for the rest of our lives.

But, so far, I can’t say that I’ve done anything that feels particularly father-like. Sometimes I feed him. I change his diapers. I tickle him and make him laugh so I can get a glimpse of those tiny white teeth creeping through his gums.

Even during the most horrific diaper changes -- the ones dubbed by Catherine as “poonados” -- or teething tantrums, I relish the time I spend with my son during the day and at night before we put him in his crib.

But many of these, to me, seem like textbook babysitting tasks.

I’m still waiting for my first real parenting moment, when I’m sure I’ll counsel or scold him, teach him something about the world or try to mold his behavior.

Right now, it still feels early for that. He’s only able to communicate through facial expressions, laughing and crying and some hand gestures. A lot of times when he seems upset I just run down the checklist -- Food? Diaper? Teeth? -- and see what works.

These adventures with the communication barrier may be a preview of the teenage years. Guess we’ll see!

I doubt I’ll wait much longer for these true parenting opportunities. Within the next few months, John Michael should be sitting up and crawling. His communication skills are likely to improve and, with continued practice, I’ll get better at reading the signs.

The more I think about this, I feel conflicted. On one hand, at this age and phase of growth, he’s such an easy child to manage. He can be contained; controlled. I like that. But the more he evolves, the more mobile and independent he becomes, he’s not going to be so easily contained. That comes with risks, but it also creates opportunities for all of us to explore new things together.

I can already tell that John Michael has a healthy sense of curiosity, just like me. Wherever we take him, if he’s not snoozing, he wants the freedom to take in his surroundings.

I’ve taken a lot of pride in watching him evolve from a relatively helpless crib-dweller into a grinning, laughing, grabbing, flipping baby boy. Seeing him go from nothing but bottles to rice cereal that he often wears like a facemask.

Saturday, we’re taking John Michael to Raleigh for a gathering hosted by A Child’s Hope, the agency that helped connect us with our son’s birth parents. Hopeful parents and adoptive parents like us can share stories and let counselors catch up on our children’s adventures so far. It’s well timed during National Adoption Month.

I can’t wait to show off his teeth, how big he’s grown, how sharp he seems.

Maybe this fatherhood thing has sunk in more than I thought.

Wes Platt can be reached at wplatt@heraldsun.com or 919-419-6684. Follow on Twitter at @HS_WesPlatt. Connect on Facebook at facebook.com/wesplattheraldsun.