A friend recently shared a seemingly joyous photo of him and his son at a Durham Bulls baseball game. They were holding hands and the sun was just right on their backs and the players appeared to be celebrating a victory.
He went on to say that we should not be fooled by the photo, the hand holding was actually his effort of keeping his son from running off and if we had been looking at their faces rather than their sun soaked backs we would have seen a hysterically crying boy with an obviously distraught father. The sun-drenched photo was even enhanced by one of his phones many filter options.
See, he said, not all that glitters is gold.
I’ve often told my husband that I love how our family looks in photos, not because I believe us to be such good-looking fellas, although I do, but more so because those captured split seconds, edited ever so lovingly, make us look like I wish we always felt.
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Your family is so beautiful …
Look at all that love …
You’re so lucky to have one another …
Happiness, pure happiness, they say.
I am sure there are more than just a handful of us walking around, accepting those warm compliments, feeling very much the impostor. Ah, if you only knew, we mutter under our breaths, if you only knew.
Our family took in a foster child nearly half a year ago. He is completely free for adoption; both his parents signed their rights away years ago, and he has spent nearly half his life as a ward of the court. He will be 7 this December and we very much want him to become ours.
I exaggerate not when I say that these past six months have easily been the most difficult in our lives. They have put my marriage to the test; so far we’re still winning. They have somehow made me create an odd shield between us and our lovely circle of friends, some of whom will be hearing this now for the very first time, and they have forced us to look at why having more children is so important to us.
We knew that our son-to-be had difficulties. We knew that we would more than likely be adopting a child that would one day be an adult still struggling with the cards life dealt him, but we never really understood what that strain would do to our family, to us as a couple nor to our nearly 5-year-old son.
His behaviors quickly presented themselves long before the warmth we felt upon his arrival had faded. The behaviors were aggressive, and angry, some sexualized and all so frightening. We barely knew what to do or how to do it.
Before his bags were unpacked we found ourselves the “willing” participants of an Intensive Home Treatment program. We were surrounded by therapist, by case workers and most sadly, by fear and doubt.
We stopped accepting the usual invites to the usual playdates because we were uncertain as to what might happen. If we were unable to manage his outbursts in the safety of our own four walls, how could we dare chance that at someone else’s home? It’s not that we were fearful of being judged; our friends are above that, (well, most of them) but we would never want the newest member of our family to be defined by someone else’s perspective, not without knowing his story, his whole story.
Who knows? Perhaps I subconsciously began to turn those invites down before they stopped coming, as I had feared they might, hard to say.
So like our friend at the Bulls game, we have been sharing our lives through selected and filtered moments. There are beautiful and exquisite moments that can be captured between tears. That moment when the sun breaks through a storm cloud, if held captive and frozen in time, would make anyone believe that all was right in the world. That image of us preparing to start a day filled with hope is how I want us thought of, not the one that follows, at the end of that same day feeling empty and broken. No, I would never share that photo; it’s not who I want us to be.
This lesson has been an extremely valuable one. As we wander through our days I look at the smiles on people’s faces and I wonder how quickly they might pass. I look at gorgeous family portraits, and I imagine what the moments right before and right after might have been like. I imagine what effort it would take to be bare and unfiltered in a world that edits, edits, edits and to have the courage to embrace it, to accept it and to show it.
If it’s true that all we really have is now, that yesterday is but a dusty memory and tomorrow nonexistent, then for now I am grateful that we have only been putting our best face forward, even if it is enhanced, Hi-Def and filtered to perfection.
Henry Amador-Batten lives in Durham. He and his husband are the founders of DADsquared, (www.dadsquared.org/) an international community offering support and resources to gay fathers. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org