Editor's Note: This is the third in a series of excerpts from Joseph Sadusky's new book, Magic Lessons: Celebratory and Cautionary Tales about Life as a (Single, Gay, Transracially Adoptive) Dad. The book contains many stories about my life as a dad, as well as lessons learned, and we're excited to share several excerpts from the the book over the course of the next few months. Read previous installments here!
One of the fun things about adopting older kids is discovering the ways you and they are alike. Since these little people already have distinct personalities, and there's no shared bloodline, it's a pleasant surprise when your kid acts a certain way or expresses a certain trait and you think, "Wow. Just like me." When I was making dinner, it was always a kick when I would ask Mark to get the tablecloth out of the cabinet, and he couldn't find it. Even though (a) it was bright red, (b) it was the only tablecloth in the cabinet, and (c) it was the only thing in the cabinet. And then to think: "Gee, when I was a kid, I also could never find things that were right in front of my face!" (This is a true, if not especially flattering, example.)
Here are some other ways Mark and I are alike:
- We're both great rule-followers, mostly because we hate getting in trouble.
- We're very private. We reveal facets of ourselves to another person only to the extent that that person makes us feel safe to do so. So, for example, when Mark took up violin while at elementary school, he was very careful to tell that fact only to . . .other kids who he knew also played the violin. Self-promotion is not exactly our strong suit.
- Remember how I mentioned that Mark loves predictability and gets anxious around the unknown, when he has to plan a day or an event, when everything isn't precisely mapped out? Alike.
- And boy, are we both lazy. Make no mistake: When there's something to be done, we get it done. If the day's to-do list contains ten items, we will go through, and complete, one to ten in order. (This ties in to the rule-following thing.) I'm pretty sure that the main reason both of us overcommit to so many activities is that it's the only way we get anything done. But when the coast is clear, when there isn't something we have to do—plop. Inertia as a lifestyle choice.
- We have the same birthday! (Not the same year. That would be weird.)
As for overlaps with Daveon:
- We both live ninety percent in our heads. Over the years, I've consistently tried to encourage Daveon to breathe, relax, feel what's going on in his body. These are exactly the words I've heard from therapists, friends, and myself (to myself) over even more years. Unfortunately, I'm not sure my efforts to get him into his body have been any more successful than my efforts to do so for me.
- We both feel hyper-responsible for doing things right and have a distrust of authority figures and supposed caretakers. As a result, we struggle to trust others enough to let them take care of us. We take care of you. Both in high school and college, I heard countless stories of the friends Daveon consoled over breakups, breakdowns, and self-harm scares—not to mention his cheerleading support of their successes. Which is a mirror of the role I typically play with people in my own life. On the plus side, we are the best friends you'll ever have, given how we morph to others' needs at the expense of our own. On the negative side: Feel lonely, much?
- Daveon and I share the feeling that we are different and will be rejected by others—me for growing up homo in the straightest, most white-bread world imaginable, him for being the (not) proud winner of the "How many homes have you lived in?" award. Consequently, we often get—or at least feel—rejection. The whole "creating your own reality" thing. Case in point: In middle school, Daveon felt very much the outsider. He also chose to wear shorts with mismatched knee socks. Which led the kids to laugh at him, which led him to feel even more the outsider. And so on.
- We smile a lot, more so from a sense that we should always put on a happy face than from actually feeling happy. (See the previous two bullets.)
- We love fantasy and have escapist fantasies and dreams. When he was younger, Daveon often mentioned that his dream was to be at a massive party, and someone would come onstage to say the DJ was sick, and could anyone take over? The key here is not his fantasy of crowds chanting "D-J! D-J!" at his monster skills. It's that it was simply going to happen—no work or effort on his part, just being in the right place at the right time. Has Dad had similar dreams about stumbling into Mr. Right? Yes. He has.
- We're both restlessly creative, and like nothing better than to make up our day, and our stories, as we go along. In fact, Daveon has written some raps and poems that are almost as good as some of Dad's. Almost.
For kids who don't share your DNA, I think it's important to look for and comment upon ways that you are alike. It reinforces the truth that connectedness and belonging transcend genetics, and for me at least, it helps me get my kids at a deeper level when I can draw these kinds of connections. For example, I'm much more patient with Mark about the invisible tablecloth than my father was with me. Although maybe not so much with the laziness.
You can even make a game of emphasizing similarities with other family members, genetic or not. One sister and I used to share stories of how Mark and her daughter competed against each other in the quest for the (lovingly bestowed, of course) title of Family Airhead. Meanwhile, Daveon showed his family loyalty by carrying on a longstanding tradition of getting diagnosed with scoliosis and needing to wear a brace for a few years. Apparently, carrying on the tradition of serving lasagna at every family gathering was too much work.
And even if drawing these kinds of comparisons isn't important in the end, it's certainly a lot of fun.