When Tom and I met in our first year of law school, Kristen and Courtney were eight and six respectively. Three years later, we graduated from law school, passed the bar exam, and got married. We were all facing many changes, and in order to do it successfully and joyfully, each of us in our own way had to become a bit fearless. Tom had to move into an All Female Household (no small feat for the oldest of a three-brother family), and we had to make room for a certain amount of testosterone-induced behavior (no small feat for three women who lived for many years without a man in residence). Tom was bigger and had more upper-body strength. We had him outnumbered three-to-one. And so we learned the fine art of compromise. Tom never left the toilet seat up, and we gave over the television set on Sunday mornings and Monday nights to NFL. There was that time Tom found and rescued Courtney’s escaped mouse in the middle of the night. We tried to be patient during March Madness. And we had some fun too. Kristen and Courtney liked doing Tom’s hair and nails. And Tom reaped the benefit of living with three women who were experienced at exterior illumination (read: we hung the outdoor Christmas lights every year).

Although Tom is amazing in so many ways, I’m sure it goes without saying that he has not been a perfect father. But really, who is besides Jim Anderson? (For you young ‘uns, Jim Anderson was played by Robert Young on Father Knows Best.) Sometimes Tom lost his patience and sometimes he didn’t pay attention when needed. The line between dad and the older brother he was in his family of origin was sometimes blurred; Tom would tease the girls or poke fun, sometimes when it didn’t feel funny to them. Other times the father role was wielded with gusto. Heaven forbid Kristen and Courtney would be sleeping in on the weekend. Sleeping past 9 AM on a Saturday meant that it was time to wake them up to do a chore, and often it was a chore that I had asked him to do. And what was up with that music? Why didn’t they listen to good music, he wondered aloud, like Kansas and Rush? But make no mistake about it, our children weren’t perfect either, especially during the teen years, when I wouldn’t have blamed Tom for moving out – I would have, but I gave birth to them, so I felt obligated to stay and see through what I’d started. But really, what teenagers are perfect anyway except for David and Ricky Nelson? (For you young ‘uns, David and Ricky Nelson were played by David and Ricky Nelson on The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet)?

Through both the good and the challenging times, Tom willingly and fully stepped up to the plate and became Kristen and Courtney’s father in every way. Over the years, he went to class plays, attended dance recitals, volunteered at school functions, helped with homework, coached Y-basketball teams, and barely batted his long, black eyelashes when it came time to foot the bill for college tuition for two, simultaneously at that. He has treated Kristen and Courtney as though they share his DNA, and they have said that when they were small, he was more fully present for them than many of their friends’ biological fathers. Around the time that they first hit their teen years, they came to us in unison (they had a way of ganging up on us like that) and asked us why Tom had not adopted them, since he was their de facto father anyway. Tom told them that while he’d always been willing, he chose not to adopt them when they were little simply because he could, but rather we decided to wait until they were old enough to choose adoption. They told him that they wanted him to adopt them, and that it was important to them that he do it as soon as it was possible. It is said that adopted children are chosen children. In our house, the father and two oldest children chose each other.

And so, in honor of adoption, and in the spirit of my commitment to post a daily list in March, here is the list that Kristen gave to Tom for his fortieth birthday just over five years ago. It hangs in a frame in his office.

To My Dad With Love on His 40th Birthday:
In No Particular Order,
40 Reasons Why I Love My Dad
by Kristen

1. He loves me.
2. He loves my sisters.
3. He loves my mom.
4. He’s willing to miss the last four seconds of an NFL playoff game to get Laura a glass of juice.
5. He can juggle.
6. He gave me my goldfish, Trixie, God rest her.
7. There is no one better with whom to discuss Fear Factor strategies.
8. He can do impersonations (the best are the Simpsons and Matrix characters).
9. He took me parasailing and went up with me.
10. His lectures are always in my best interest.
11. He can stick an entire dinner roll in his mouth.
12. He can burp words.
13. He is responsible for most of my clever nicknames.
14. He can taste something and know all of its ingredients.
15. He gives me the cool shirts he doesn’t wear anymore.
16. He can do flips off the diving board.
17. He does handstands in all kinds of public places.
18. He came with a wonderful family that loves me.
19. He will edit anything I write, over and over.
20. I can never get away with simply knowing how to do math; I have to understand it.
21. He’s fun to play golf with.
22. He wakes me up in the morning in unique ways.
23. He’s a father out of love and choice – never obligation.
24. He’s a Democrat.
25. I can tell him anything.
26. He will listen to me.
27. He’s nice to any guy I bring home, even the losers.
28. He’s great at Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy.
29. He wants me to be happy.
30. He has always supported me financially.
31. He never lets me escape anything without trying to teach me something.
32. He’s serious enough to be my dad and fun enough to be my friend.
33. I’ve always been in great company because the friends he surrounds himself with are great.
34. He always works very hard at whatever he has or wants to do.
35. He respects me even when he doesn’t understand me.
36. He took me to the Father/Daughter Banquet at a church.
37. He can remember amazing things like Chemistry after having taken it twenty years ago.
38. He loves to compete.
39. He always questions his world and surroundings (like during Christmas season, asking why our neighbors put a dog with lights and a red nose on their lawn).
40. I will never stop counting the reasons why I love my dad.

23 comments on “List Day Twenty-Nine: An Adoption Story”

  1. WOW! What a guy! He is more than just cute, Cheri!! I couldn’t get throught the post dry-eyed either. It has something to so with the grief of not having parents like your kids’ and envy.

    Thanks, Cheri- your post has once again, inspired and enlightened. (For many years, I did not believe that fathers like Tom existed. When I was 20 years old, a friend of mine declined an invitation on a Saturday afternoon because she was having lunch with her father. I was utterly astonished and confounded that anyone would give up a Saturday afternoon to have lunch with their father.)

  2. Cheri, you made me cry.

    I love that line about ‘chosen children’, and even more so how your girls chose Tom.

    They are lucky girls, he is a lucky dad, and you (being lucky also), picked well way back then!

    Enjoy your Sunday – Heidi

  3. Okay seriously, now I’m crying. So dang sweet. Love the adoption day photo. Love it all.

    And thanks Cheri for the lessons for us youngins’ I didn’t know. 🙂

  4. We don’t do anything minimally in our family. We feel things intensely. We can seem loud and even dysfunctional (“we do put the ‘fun’ in dysfunctional”), but we also love each other with an unbreakable passion. I love my DAD. I love my family.

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