“When You Wish Upon a Star” – Cliff Edwards (as Jiminy Cricket), 1940.
When I was putting the list of songs for this series together, this was one of the first, most obvious choices. It isn’t my intention, however, to spend these thousand-odd words talking about my life with Disney: that has been covered, I think, rather well, here, here, here, here and here. Rather, I want to talk about one particular wish upon a star that as of yesterday, roundabouts 2:00 in the afternoon (in a nice bit of serendipity with the timing of this particular song post) came true. Our adoption of our son was finalized. Though in our hearts he’s been part of our family since the moment we met him, in the eyes of the law he is now forever, irrevocably, ours. His life lies entirely within our hands; whatever may befall him going forward will be our responsibility and our fates will be forever intertwined. Till death us do part.
I haven’t talked much about him here for a couple of reasons. Primarily, it’s to preserve his privacy. You see enough stories about cyberbullying to make us very grateful that he hasn’t asked to be on Facebook or Instagram or anything else. My son has no digital footprint, and he doesn’t need one to grow up happy and healthy and with a rich experience of what young life has to offer him. The second reason is a bit selfish, and it’s that my wife and I have talked about adapting our experience of becoming adoptive parents of an older child into a book, so best to save the lion’s share of the stories for that eventual publication. Sitting in the courtroom yesterday, with this upcoming post looming, the words of this song flitted across my thoughts and it occurred to me that the path of wishes is often winding, with the realization of dreams seldom taking the shape of how they were initially conceived. In less pretentious English, that’s my way of saying how I never imagined I’d become a parent in this particular way. And yet, here I am. Dad, for good.
You will sometimes read stories about celebrities who talk about their single-minded pursuit of their goals, with a clear plan established from childhood and each step executed with undeviating precision, so that when success comes it’s less a surprise and more an inevitable conclusion. They know their future down to the minute. This kind of ordered life is not my experience. Nor, I suspect, do the majority of the world’s population find their existence unfolding like clockwork. When I was nine years old, I started writing a novel about a boy and his horse. I distinctly remember the day I had decided to do it, and I had not written more than the first paragraph before I ran into my parents asking if we could get it published. My father, wisely, suggested that I finish the book first and then we could see about it. At that point I had everything planned out: published at ten, a worldwide phenomenon at eleven, movie deal at twelve, retirement at thirteen. It needs not be stated, I suspect, that none of the aforementioned came to pass. (If I am fortunate enough to get a novel published at some point in the near future, it will certainly not be that one. I’m still slogging through the query process at present, and should those stars align I’ll wager it won’t be in any way how I imagined it.) In much the same way, every new year at school I imagined that this was the year I’d finally meet THE ONE. As dry times drifted by, I kept faith that I would someday meet the woman I’d marry, little realizing it wouldn’t be until I was thirty. But that dream came true. This summer we celebrate seven years of marriage.
The song promises that “Fate is kind, she brings to those who love the sweet fulfillment of their secret longing.” Even as I recited my marriage vows, I wasn’t certain I wanted to be a father. I felt too young, too inexperienced, too utterly lacking the qualities of patience and wisdom that seemed to exude from every parent I knew. Moreover, the idea of that responsibility was terrifying. I’d just come through some tremendous personal turmoil and taking on someone else’s burden was an impossible notion. So I went in to the pursuit of parenthood fairly half-heartedly. After struggling for several years with the frustration and heartbreak of futile fertility treatments, we eventually resigned ourselves to the idea that it would be just the two of us. At the time, I was okay with that, or at least, I put on a good show of being okay with it. Then against expectation, we found ourselves moving to a house within spitting distance of an elementary school. A man whom my wife has often consulted for spiritual advice suggested that this new home would be full of positive energy, and that a child would come into our lives in a most unexpected way. When we signed up to mentor a young boy through Big Brothers and Big Sisters, we thought maybe this was what he was referring to. And then one gray afternoon in late December, in a charged conversation we both arrived at the conclusion that something was still missing. Mentoring once a week wasn’t enough. We needed to be parents.
Two years and four months after that initial talk, with our families as witnesses we completed the final step. Any lingering questions were wiped away by the tears welling up as Madam Justice read out the adoption order and congratulated us. I’m still filled with doubt about the job I’m doing as a father, about whether I’m showing enough patience and whether or not I’m wrecking his self-esteem every time I lecture him about whatever he’s done that’s irked me today. What I don’t doubt anymore is whether or not I wanted this life. Fate, it seems, has indeed been kind, and fulfilled this particular secret longing. It knew what was meant for me better than I did. We have an amazing son, a bright, good-hearted boy whose future with us is far greater than the one that awaited him in foster care. I look forward to the day I can stand up at his wedding and tell all the embarrassing stories that I’m cataloguing for that very purpose, and when I can bounce that first grandchild on my knee. I have no idea what that will look like, but I know it will come. The star has been chosen and the wish has been made. And Jiminy Cricket told me so.