So - it was quite the surprise.
At twelve years old, his biological father decided that he would rather terminate his rights instead of pay child support. As his daddy, well – legally his step-dad – I welcomed the opportunity to legally adopt him as well as his little sister. The kids that I had called my own from the time they were just under 3 and 5 – I had the opportunity to really call them my own. Legally their last name was Burns, but throughout their school years they had gone by my last name of Kirby.
In my heart, they had been mine for some time. But, in the eyes of the law, I was an interloper. I loved them and accepted their love without a real stake in the whole family thing. If something had happened to my wife during those first years, I would have had no claim to them. Not that I thought about that – but I thought about that.
We had already endured a problem at the middle school. A coach who referred to my son by his legal last name instead of mine. Well, ok, my son rolled with it and waited for the coach to call out his legal last name before he got up for the sport of the day. But then – the coach said, “I thought you went by Kirby.” To which my son responded in the affirmative – the coach replied in a snide voice, “Then sit down until I call your name!” this went on for several weeks before our son told us. Whichever of the two names the coach called, my son would respond, immediately being dressed down by the coach in a condescending manner. My wife and I visited with the Principal and told him the action was unacceptable. The Principal stated that he would call the coach into his office so we could discuss it with him ourselves. This brought only one more comment from me, “He reports to you, you see that it is taken care of. He is not to continue this bullying tactic any longer.”
Within a week the coach pulled our son aside to say that he didn’t mean to hurt his feelings.
With the adoption on the horizon, a real twist was presented to us. Since our son was twelve, he had to sign a statement, witnessed by a notary, that he agreed to the adoption. We sat down and talked to him, he was happy that the adoption was happening although I’m sure, at the same time he wondered why his biological father was willing to give him up. When we discussed the fact that his last name would be the same as mine on everything legal from that point on, he was visibly pleased.
Then – with a quizzical look on his face – he said, “Can I change my middle name too?”
My wife and I looked at one another and she said, “Well, I suppose. You don’t like your middle name?”
“I hate it,” was all he said.
My wife nodded and said, “Well, then, yes, if you want to change it at the same time, that would be fine. What do you want it to be?”
He looked directly at me and simply said my first name. I felt the tears well up in my eyes. “You want your middle name to be the same as my first name?”
All I said was, “Wow!”
He is 33 years old now and I still feel a heart flutter when I hear his full name called out. When he graduated high school, then college – it was a thrill for me knowing that he cared enough for me at the young age of twelve years old to take, not only my last name, but my middle name as well. I will treasure that thought for the rest of my life.
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