Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Road to Fatherhood (pt 3)

The term is “paper pregnancy”, and I believe that in length it eclipses the gestation period for an elephant.  In dead trees, it rivals the state tax code.  In thoroughness… I don’t think I was as completely, microscopically checked out when I got a low-level security clearance years ago.  Multiple sets of fingerprints.  Criminal background checks at both the state and federal levels.  Personal biographies and statements about why we want to adopt.  Testimonials of my good character (hah!) by family and friends.  Inspections of our house.  Multiple interviews with our case worker.*  Medical check-up.  Multiple certified copies of birth certificates and certificate of marriage.  Forms and reports and approvals by three governments: United States, State of North Carolina, and China.  And an alphabet soup of acronyms: LOA, TA, LOI, LID, etc.  This is all to the good, and I’m glad that everybody concerned is making such efforts to ensure that the children are going into good families where they will be cherished and well cared for.  But the time spent can be a little frustrating.  I got accustomed to “hurry up and wait” in the military, but even they haven’t perfected it to such a degree as this!

All this being said, the process is – I think! – really not that dissimilar to what a man goes through when he learns that his wife is pregnant.  OK, I haven’t had to deal with hormones and weird cravings (well, no weirder than normal), but there is the dawning realization that This Is Happening, that in the near future there will be a child in the family.  There’s the choosing of the name.  There’s medical information.  We’ve met with a pediatrician.  Just as most fathers see an ultrasound of their child before birth, we also have gotten to see photos.  I won’t say it was Love at First Sight, but it was something very like.  I look at her photos (not counting the framed one on my desk and the other that is my desktop background) several times each day.  I read and reread her packet, trying to glean anything I can about what she’s like.  I’ve concluded that she’s absolutely beautiful, almost perfect in every way.  Despite the likelihood that our first days – perhaps weeks – together will be filled with screaming or near-catatonia or both (and who knows how she'll deal with it all), I can’t wait to see her.  I’m told that this is absolutely normal for the expectant father, though I confess that I wonder at the ability – especially MY ability – to love a little girl that I’ve never met.  It would be of some interest to test my blood oxytocin levels when I look at photos of her.

Choosing our daughter’s name has been a bit of a journey of its own.  My wife and I have rather similar tastes in this area, so there were no squabbles because one of us wanted to call her “Jane” and the other “Tequila Sunrise”.  We wanted a name that was neither bizarre nor excessively common.  We settled fairly quickly on Caroline and chose Quinn for the middle name.  These are not family names.  We then selected a third name to honor her Chinese heritage: Měi (美).  This is a commonly used for girls in China as it means “beautiful”.  It is also part of how the name of our country is rendered into Mandarin: Měi Guó (“Beautiful Country”, ).  This went well enough until the happy day when we were matched and learned that the name given her by the orphanage was Xiàohuì (肖慧).  We thought that this was not only rather pretty, but also learned that huì ()means “intelligent”: PERFECT!  However, Caroline Quinn Mei Xiao-hui (we weren’t clear on how Chinese names are rendered into English at that time) seemed a bit… long.  I had visions of being angry and, by the time I got “CAROLINE QUINN MEI XIAO-HUI R-, GET IN HERE RIGHT NOW!” out of my mouth, I would have completely forgotten WHY I wanted her in here right now.  Unfortunately, we could not quite bring ourselves to part with any of it; the compromise was to make Quinnmei into a single name, as we found that Xiaohui likewise is.

Perhaps I should say a word about why we didn’t just keep the name given her in China.  This is sometimes done, especially by parents who adopt older children who have grown accustomed to their names.  It is more common in the case of a young children, I think, to do as we have done and keep the Chinese name as a middle name.  I have read that some adoptees like that their parents keep the Chinese name as it is a connection to their birth culture, while others dislike it and prefer an “American” name** that not only makes them “like everybody else” but is also a connection to their parents rather than to China.  It may be that Caroline will never use Xiaohui in her life.  However, it may be that, when she turns fourteen and decides that she hates us because YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND!!!, she will want to be called Xiaohui and NOT Caroline.  Only time will tell.


(*) I nearly caused at least one fatality if not an outright homocide during our first interview with our case worker.  We were both in his office (subsequent interviews were done individually), and the first question was, “Jim, you’ve written that you have concerns about your ability to be a father.  Can you tell me more about it?  Why do you think that?”

I immediately replied, “Because I’m an a$$hole.”

I think it safe to say that my wife couldn’t decide at that moment whether to kill me on the spot or drop dead of a combined stroke and heart attack.  My mother had no such dilemma: she informed me that, had she been able to get her hands on me at that moment, my life on this earth would have come to a quick, violent end.  Honesty is the best policy… BAH!

Happily, our case worker has the same personality profile as myself, understood my attitude, and we got along quite well.  As he has three daughters of his own, it was very useful to me to talk to him about Fatherhood.

(**) What is an “American” name, anyway?  Jane?  Selena?  Colleen?  Gabrielle?  Adriana?  Katarina?  Fatima?  Priya?  Lihua?  Machiko?  Answer: they all are, though admittedly they may be more popular in some parts of the country than in others.  One thing that has been brought pretty clearly into focus for me is that our country really is a melting pot, and people of just about every race, color, ethnicity or origin on the planet call themselves “American”.

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