I find we are a group of people that are trying to do what is right by our kids. Part of that is figuring out the best way to love and respect the first families of our children and their pasts. We know we cannot separate our children from their deep ties to their family nor their stories, as difficult as some of their stories may be before they came to live with us. We all navigate this in different ways and as our children age we try to be there beside them as they find their own way and words.
On Mother's Day this year I think most of us tried in some ways to acknowledge or honor our children's mothers. Certainly I thought of her most of the day; I think of her most days actually. I think we identify and sympathize with mothers. Knowing the story of my girls' mother changed my life in so many ways. I see her everyday in my girls' eyes, faces, and laughter.
Sometimes, I forget their father. Today I wondered why. Why do I acknowledge their father less, try to honor him less? Why is he forgotten today? Why are there very few to no facebook acknowledgements of our childrens' fathers (given there are so many for their mothers on Mother's Day)? I can only speak for myself, but for me, the relationship is so complicated. And if I am honest, I have judged him from day one. Over the past three years, I have seen in my own heart a subtle judgement of fathers in DRC, in the U.S., in the world. It's a judgement that first says "you are to blame somehow" for the situation my child has found herself in today or the situation of all hurting children. It says, "you must not really love this child, not like her mother loves her." It judges before listening. It speaks before hearing, before understanding.
I was confronted with this ugliness within me when we met our girls' father for the first time. I had all kinds of "opinions" (judgements) about why they needed a second family (and it wasn't because of poverty). I made all kinds of assumptions. I walked away humbled and a bit disgusted with myself. And realizing I understood nothing. And I had so much to learn (and still do).
The first and last thing he said to me that meeting (and it was not "will you give me money"!), "I just want to make sure you love my girls like you love your girls you already have." What? I was in silent in disbelief.
Who was the greater person in that moment? Me with my assumptions, prejudices and judgments? Or their father, (who has never once asked me for money), who wanted to make sure they were loved more than any thing else?
Who was waiting for me when I arrived in DRC the first day we got there almost two weeks ago? Their father. What were his first questions? "How are the girls? Do you have photos?"
The relationship is not easy, it's actually had a fair share of disappointments and frustrations. There are some very hard and complicated reasons why he couldn't (or wouldn't) care for his girls. I cannot idealize him or pretend that the relationship will be good in the future. But I will not throw away this relationship because of the hard, or the complicated, or the difficult. Because if I did, I would also be throwing out the good, the beautiful, and the love. Aren't most relationships a mix of all of it anyway? Aren't we all a mix of the hard and the lovely? Also, it is not my relationship to throw away. He is their father, it is their relationship. And most of all, I can hold onto hope and mercy, and walk in forgiveness, committed to reconciliation. Hope for change, for a good relationship one day.
So, he is called baba. The swahili name for father. The girls know they have two fathers. Daddy and baba. Most of all, we have each other, for whatever the future days bring.
And perhaps you came here because of Reeds of Hope. Let me leave you with a few thoughts.
When I arrived at the orphanage a couple weeks ago, I was asked "do you have photos of the children that have been adopted, because their fathers and families come and ask and ask for updates, news and photos?"
Most of the children that have left the orphanage, have left with their fathers. Fathers who lost their wives. Fathers who are now caring for all of their children. Fathers who love their children, all of them. Fathers, most of whom, who brought their infants to the orphanage to save their lives because they couldn't afford the milk to keep them alive. Fathers who plan to come back and get their babies.
So, today, I honor fathers in Congo. I choose to believe in them as well as the mothers. Because I want strong families in Congo, strong families with mothers and fathers who love, care, and support their children.
Today and everyday, I am thankful for the first father of my girls. For their baba.