I have been a parent for more than a year. It’s been an unforgettable experience. Sometimes I have a hard time remembering what I was like before. I wish that that were strictly a good thing. It isn’t. I have found myself at parties with friends wishing I had more to talk about than the little urchin boy running around being cute and munching on snacks. But that seems to be all that my life is right now. I know it will not always be that way, because as he grows up I won’t be so completely consumed chasing him around, protecting him from himself and every other possible hazard that might befall him. So I have decided in 2009 that it is time to be more than a parent. For once in the Daddy Diaries I am not going to dwell on the tragedy of the foster care system, or the quandaries that we face in raising our son, or even the joys of being a dad. I am going to talk about me.
And you should know this isn’t something that I look forward to exactly. I have been known to be a little quiet and maybe slightly introverted, though not as much as I used to be. Unlike my partner, I do not do the social networking thing. I am not on Facebook or Myspace and ignore invitations to WAYN because those are scary places. Even if you can control who your Ethernet friends are, it’s just too much information out there. People from the past can resurrect; old bodies get exhumed; it’s a horror movie of the worst kind. In reality, the blog in the beginning was a little difficult for me, especially the first time I got a negative comment. I managed not to freak out and actually learned a lot from the commenter about what it means to be adopted and the culture/industry of adoption. It also helped me to understand the principles of blogging-that if you put something out there you need be prepared for the good the bad and the just plain ugly.
So you may or may not have interest in me personally and that’s fine. I will continue to write about raising our foster son and being a dad, but every once in a while I will toss out something about me. If nothing else it may give context to my views on parenting and what it means for someone like me to be handling all of the emotion that comes with loving and caring for a foster child.
I suppose I will start with a dream that I had last night so I can ease into this talking about myself thing. It was a little odd since as a very hard sleeper, I don’t normally remember dreams. I was in the jungle in South America being held by some group-though I’m not sure why. One of the captors whom I had befriended began to walk me down a dirt path. He let it be known that I was being set free and a few hundred yards away from camp he held out a small pistol in his hand for me to carry for protection. As I put the gun into my pocket I spotted the sand-colored uniforms of the Policia Militar (Brazilian military police) running across the path ahead. I signaled to the men I had just left and then began to furiously carve out a place in the brush for my new friend to hide. I left him there and made my way through the jungle to a dirt road leading to a construction site at the edge of the river. As I arrived I was greeted by a tall man in the same sand-colored uniform with a military cap. He described the construction site as another development along the beaches in that area designed to attract tourism to the state. He spoke English with a thick accent and seemed a little too familiar, in a menacing way. He said that I never should have helped my friend back there, that he and the others had already been killed. I wish I knew the rest, but the story ended abruptly when the 5 am alarm went off.
I can’t say what that all means except that I lived in Brazil and I knew several policemen while I was there, but I never was anywhere near the Amazon. Brazil was part of my mid-thirties, early, mid-life crisis. I quit my job, left a relationship and flung myself into grad school. Then I flung myself to South America. It was one of several of my adventures that took place at the turn of the century. The introvert suddenly turned adventurer jumped at every opportunity to go abroad. Brazil turned out to be one of three trips that I took before finishing grad school.
I remember the director of my exchange program, once told me that the students who did the best in Brazil were those who had namorados brasileiros-Brazilian boyfriends and girlfriends. I wasn’t sure if she was advising me to shack-up with a Brazilian or commenting about the policeman she had seen hanging around me. It turns out she was right. Spending time around him, his friends and family allowed a kind of immersion that not only brought my Portuguese to near fluency, it helped me understand what it meant to be Brazilian. In that environment I was forced to not only learn how to communicate, but to interact socially in a culture that was not my own. And Brazilian society is not composed, solemn, thoughtful, or inward. It is open, loud, colorful and tactile-the extreme extrovert of cultures. The little introvert in me could not survive in a country so boisterous where no one is willing to let you be a wallflower.
It was often a difficult process to adapt. All of the students in my cadre of the exchange program had some sort of meltdown. Most seemed to manage, but a few of them succumbed and quickly disappeared back to the States. I refused to let it get to me. At the six month mark I realized that I could say just about anything I wanted in Portuguese, I had learned to Samba and could play tour-guide in Sao Paulo one of the largest cities in the world. Though I continued to experience the internal difficulties in adapting to new ways of thinking and interacting socially, I knew that I was becoming a brasileiro. It was inevitable. Even up to the very end my organized, on-time, carefully coordinated ways were dashed by my Brazilian friend who showed up really late to take me to the airport; by the policeman who stopped us and was angling for a little payola before letting us continue on our journey; by the ticket agent who grilled me for being late and then tisk-tisked me for having an over-weight bag; and finally by the baggage handler who pushed a big metal cart into my shin and then didn’t understand when I let him have it. As I sat back in the seat of the plane, looking out the window sobbing uncontrollably, I left what had become my home.