By Lawrence Gordon Vallandigham, Mountain View, California
“Are you okay with adopting?” asked Judy.
Startled, I thought, ‘how could I not be?’ I was adopted. But this wasn’t about me. This was about our commitment to become a family. With that question, adoption was no longer an abstract idea but our unambiguous decision to transform lives.
Like many of our friends, we married later in life, established our careers, traveled and lived well. But we also discovered that conceiving a family wasn’t easy, nor was it fun trying to conceive through procedures. Ultimately, it mattered less to us how we became a family, so long as we did.
And so, on a warm Sunday evening in June 2008, we sat at the kitchen island, completed our application with excitement and trepidation, and embarked upon our adoption journey. In our hearts, a baby boy was waiting for us, even though he had not yet been conceived.
Family and friends could not have been more genuinely excited and supportive. My mother cried joyfully while my father reflected upon their decision decades earlier. Judy’s mother smiled such that we knew she had long reserved room in her heart only to be filled by her new grandson.
Time has stood still twice in my life – watching the sunlit silhouette of Judy approach the wedding altar, and on an otherwise unremarkable July 2009 afternoon when my iPhone pinged, alerting me to an incoming photo and call from my wife. Our son was waiting for us in Seoul.
The vibrant colors of fall signal metamorphosis, and so it was fitting that in November 2009 we expectantly flew to Seoul. Taking no chances for delay, we made a subway trial-run to the nondescript Holt building a day before our appointment. (Then we enjoyed the city sights and sounds). The next afternoon, when escorted into the nursery room to meet our son and his foster mother, the entirety of Judy’s body ached to hold him.
Upon returning to the hotel with Gordon, our list of things to do was pretty basic: bottle, diaper, sleep and repeat. Later, in the small quiet hours of daybreak, like every parent before us, we exchanged unspoken glances — “Now what?”
Gordon is our miracle and it is unfathomable to imagine life without him. From first steps to first words, reading and beyond, his nature is one of eager discovery and engagement. One morning, he proudly declared “birds eat dirt” after watching finches in the yard. On a recent vacation, he gleefully marveled at brightly colored fish swimming around his feet while he collected hermit crabs and clam shells along the white sand beach. Without doubt, he is all boy — playful, inquisitive and joyful — and we truly are his parents as he is our son.
Before returning from Seoul, we spent an illuminating day with Molly Holt, the woman who signed my adoption papers 40 years earlier. She surprised us by producing documents from my file and described candidly the challenging future awaiting orphans, then and now. Unquestionably, I have been granted the gifts of family, education, marriage, profession and social mobility. My parents’ love transformed not just one little boy’s life, but now two. Serendipity? Divine providence? Who could have foreseen the impact of Harry and Bertha Holt’s ministry?
As an adult Holt adoptee, I occasionally wonder how it informs my approach to fatherhood. Will my experiences be relevant to Gordon? Should I be more intuitive about identity issues? Of this I am certain: just as I was lovingly raised, Gordon will always know of his beginnings – not as a reason for solicitous gratitude, but to understand the richness of family and the blessings of life.
For Judy and me, our hope and charge is that Gordon will grow in body, mind and spirit. If we do this right, he will grow in the security of family love, he will chart his own course in life, and he will be prepared to serve others. Perhaps, one day, he too will be okay with adoption.