Letter to Adopted Sons

To My Boys

by Rumaan Alam

Sometimes we can’t tell our young children every truth of life—the good and the bad—as we have learned it. For Father’s Day, goop asked a few men to write letters to their children, to be read…not quite yet.

Of course, you’re men now. Maybe you’ll forgive me my insistence that you’ll always be boys, my boys, our sons, but also the suns around which everything important in my life revolves. Not an overstatement but also not salient. What I want to say is this: I’m sorry.

I’m sorry for the usual stuff. When I yelled because you spilled food on the rug. When I hurried you down the street because I was in a rush even though you weren’t because children never are. When I didn’t linger on what mattered: the weight of your head on my shoulder after you fell asleep, the satisfaction of hearing you laugh, the million funny things you said and did because you were kids and kids do and say funny things while they’re trying to figure out how the world works. It’s the last mostly. The way the world works. There was a time we weren’t certain whether to have children, your Papa and I. Clearly we decided to become parents, so why revisit that debate? Well, there’s a reason. I was in my late twenties. So young but still so certain that it was my destiny to be a father. It was something I took for granted, even if I knew that for a gay man it would require some effort.

We began to talk about how we might have children—deciding on adoption, then deciding on an agency, then waiting, then becoming parents, and then, three years later, becoming parents again. It all went so smoothly and quickly. Despite our certainty that we wanted children, we were dogged by the fear that our certainty was shortsighted or selfish or delusional or irrational. We were two men; could we raise a child? We were brown and white; could we raise a black child? Was it amoral to become parents? Was it immoral to become parents? Was it a mistake? This was something we talked about, this was something we reckoned with, and then, this was something we left behind. Now you’re adults, and you’re the only ones who can answer the question of whether we were selfish, whether we were shortsighted. Yours are the only opinions that matter.

We lived in a world where some said Papa and I were not natural simply because we were in love with each other. We were already different, so if becoming parents seemed still more different, we did not care. A leap of faith seems stubborn or blind or well-founded, depending on how the leap goes. The world had doubts, but we had joy. Still, however much you guard yourself against the judgment of bigots or even the skepticism of the well-meaning, it affects you. To be an interracial gay couple raising two sons a different race than either of us was both a source of pride and something we didn’t think about much. We had plenty of other stuff to worry about: sleep schedules and first teeth, then tantrums and report cards, plus the stuff like showing two kids how to be good people. But of course the big questions were always there. How would we teach you to be proud of being black, to respect women even if you didn’t have any in your immediate family, to be confident when you described yourself as adopted? I’m sorry if we didn’t get that stuff right. I really hope we did. You each arrived in our lives mostly the people you were already. You didn’t need your Papa and me to do much. There are only a few things in life—math, roller-skating, baking—that can be taught. Mostly we tried to get out of your way and show you that your being wonderful had little to do with us. I’m sorry we lived at a moment when families like ours seemed novel, an experiment. Because of those tiny but persistent glimmers of self-doubt, I learned that this is how everything works, and if there is something I taught you besides baking (math and roller-skating are beyond me, I’m sorry), I hope it’s this: If you go through life certain you’re doing everything right, you’re crazy. It wasn’t our family that was a gamble; it is every family. Everything in the world is held together with crossed fingers. Luck is on your side until it is not. Doubt is an essential component of everything. We lived protected by our privilege, but I still know that there are those who wanted me to have misgivings about being your father. And because of them I tried harder.

Doubt is as small and dogged as a grain of sand. But a grain of sand, ultimately, can become a pearl.

I love you.