National Adoption Month

At 21 Years Old, She Asked Her Stepdad To Adopt Her. He Said 'Yes.'

"Twenty-one years old, in a courtroom in Placerville, California, my dream came true. I had a daddy … the best daddy."

November is National Adoption Month. In honor of the month, we will be bringing attention to the thousands of people in foster care awaiting forever homes, as well as those who provide and advocate for them. These stories emphasize the idea that families are bound together by the love they share, rather than their biological roots.  

I was 6 when my three sisters and I congregated in the craft room. Construction paper, paint, yarn, and magazines were scattered around the room. Each girl pursued her own project. I finger-painted on a canvas and on myself in the center of the room. Tara sculpted clay on a long table decorated with paint stains, glue, and the refuse from dozens of art projects. Mary sewed a wraparound skirt at the trusty Singer machine. Yolanda lay across the daybed in the corner behind me and wrote busily.

"What ya writing?" I asked.

"A letter to Dad."

"Paul's my dad," I said, as if it were a matter of fact.

"No, he's not. Emory's your dad." I blinked in disbelief. My other two sisters nodded.

Emory and Mom divorced just after my first birthday. Mom never hid the fact, but I didn't come to the realization that Paul was not my dad until that day in the craft room. Mom and Paul married when I was two. Paul was the only dad I remembered.

Cold indifference described Paul's treatment of me. He never slowed as I followed him astride the white banana seat of my cotton candy pink Huffy bicycle, pedaling as fast as I could to keep up. Streamers flew outstretched from the white handlebar grips. I spent hours massaging his callused runner's feet. I attended his marathons. A consummate mimic, I cheered the Pittsburgh Steelers on television when he did, even though I hated football. I tried everything I could to break through his cold shell. I failed.

He and my mom divorced when I was eight. The only father I'd ever known left. Security evaporated. Paul disappeared, never to be seen or heard from again.

Mom remarried, and this man was so different from Paul. George talked to me and listened to what I had to say. He took my mother dancing and on trips to islands in the Caribbean. He was fun. Too much fun. He drank excessively. About six months into their marriage, money problems surfaced. He lied constantly about money. The Internal Revenue Service and numerous creditors clamored for payment.

Whenever he and Mother argued, he took us kids shopping. We saw through his manipulations, but we enjoyed the fruits of them, and the debt increased. Mother was determined to make the marriage work. She tried for a few years. No matter what she did, though, she couldn't change him. An alcoholic is an alcoholic. Until they decide not to drink anymore, they will do and say anything to feed their addiction.

After my mother and George divorced, I never saw him again. Once again fatherless (not that he was much of a father), I was bereft.

I attempted to initiate a relationship with my biological father, but he was resistant. I thought I would never have a dad.

Without a daddy, I prayed for a man's unconditional love. As a teenage girl, I thought the answer to my prayers was to be found in the arms of teenage boys. I desperately clung to their words of love. Their love was temporary; when the sex act ended, so did their feelings. Each encounter failed to fill my aching need.

At age seventeen, we met. I think he was forty-five, with silver hair and kind, laughing eyes. The day I met him, I began putting up walls to protect myself. Mother's husbands had not provided me with the daddy I craved. My sisters and I looked at this new man and assumed he was like his predecessors.

I guarded my heart and refused him entrance. With words and deeds, I pushed Steve away. Regardless of how poorly I treated him, he repaid me with kindness. The years passed, and his even-tempered constancy began to win me over.

All my sisters had families of their own. Steve was an excellent grandpa. He tickled, teased, and shared his cookies with each grandchild. They adored him. We all started to love him. I found a man I could trust with my injured heart, one I could believe in unreservedly.

I remember with fondness the many days that he spent patiently teaching me how to play golf. I never mastered the game. His time, patience, and enthusiasm were what I prized. He wanted and enjoyed spending time with me. He pursued a father-daughter relationship. This was a first.

Four years after we met and one week prior to my twenty-first birthday, I helped him take out the trash so I could talk with him alone. I had never wanted anything this badly. I took a deep breath and tried to pool my courage. "I know what I want for my birthday."

"What?"

I stuffed my bag into the large, rolling green trash can and tried to swallow the fear. "I'll understand if you say no." That was a lie; if he had said no, the words would have crushed me. Other possible questions flitted through my mind. Can I borrow your truck for a camping trip, get a laptop computer, or money? Any of these would have provided a believable replacement for my true request. He had no idea what I really wanted. I closed the green lid and plunged ahead anyway.

"Will you adopt me?"

I glued my eyes to the trash receptacle and held my breath as I waited for his answer. When he didn't respond immediately, my heart lurched fearfully in my chest. I turned slightly toward him, and my eyes lifted to his tear-drenched, smiling face.

"I'd love to." His arms came around me, and tears from a lifetime of disappointments from men were spilled for the last time. Years of heartache washed away.

Months later, we sat on a wooden bench together, our fingers intertwined. He squeezed my hand. Terrified he would change his mind, I waited, smoothed my simple white dress, and chewed my bottom lip. I wondered if the judge could refuse us. Would they allow me to be adopted at this age? After they called our names, I went through the motions in a fog of happy disbelief. The judge congratulated us. I couldn't believe my luck.

Twenty-one years old, in a courtroom in Placerville, California, my dream came true. I had a daddy… the best daddy.

This story is from Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Joy of Adoption: 101 Stories about Forever Families and Meant-to-Be Kids  © 2007 Chicken Soup for the Soul, LLC. All rights reserved.

Cover image via mimagephotography I Shutterstock

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