We left Saturday, October 26 on a flight bound for Curitiba, Parana, Brazil to meet the three boys who would become our sons. Certainly, we were anxious, yet full of hope and dreams. This day was three years in the making, and now our hope was becoming a reality. Only this time, we were actually on a plane.
As we watched the pine forests of eastern North Carolina shrink beneath the silver wings of our RDU flight, we knew in fourteen hours we would arrive in Curitiba. It was a journey, but then again this was only a flight; the real journey was still far from its beginning. However, more accurately, this would be one of the many journeys of different types with vastly different destinations.
Later in the week, Joy and I traveled three hours by van to the courthouse in Telemaco Borba. It was nothing you would expect from a typical courthouse. It was a one-story building that looked similar to a typical upper class house. The walls were beige painted cinderblock with red terracotta shingles. There was a low wall around the perimeter with tall white iron bars. We sat in the van waiting for a security guard to let us drive through the gated archway.
I obsessively ran scenarios in my mind for our first meeting. How awkward it might be to meet three older children for the first time, unable to speak the language adequately, in a culture with which we are unfamiliar. Do we shake hands? Do we hug? Will they like us? What do I say to them?
None of the scenarios fit our expectations. Once inside, two of the boys (Luiz and Alex) came out to meet us; Erinaldo was too shy and ran to hide. We brought book bags with a few clothes, books, and games. I took a large blue bookbag and walked quietly to find Erinaldo. Meeting him under a young sapling, he was afraid—so I squatted to speak softly and to offer the gift. He was reluctant (as we would find is quite normal), yet embraced me and called me “pai” (pronounced “pie”). This was the beginning of the journey!
In fact, this trip was only part of the journey. It is more about a journey towards being a family, but it is hard to write about the inner journey within myself. This second journey is most difficult, and a trip I am ill equipped to make. Nonetheless, here are a few things I’ve learned.
Being Pai requires a shift from selfish, to selfless. I must accept the fact it is no longer about me anymore. As a married couple, it is no longer about us. I take issue with those who say we have inherited the earth from our ancestors. Rather, we are only borrowing the world from our children. This shift is difficult for parents and forces some into financial and emotional breakdown. Our culture and distorted doctrine tell us a lie that puts some children in orphanages and other marriages in divorce court. One reality is that following the teaching of Jesus teaches us to live selflessly. For the maturing Christian, this shift may be easier, but for me it was a hard reality.
Being Pai requires me to be comfortable with being a super hero to someone, but respectful of the power being a super hero entails. Our children had no significant fatherly presence until I arrived at the courthouse. With this new position comes considerable responsibility. I realize I must bless my children, be a role model for them, and demonstrate how to develop into an adult male. It happens in big and small ways; doing the usual guy stuff, but also combing hair, brushing teeth, teaching how to tie a tie, or how to establish a garden. It is not just being a disciplinarian; it is teaching by demonstrating my personal “power” as a man, husband, and Christian.
In the same way, being Pai requires that I know how to build an arsenal of snowballs in a snow fort while also knowing how to make a smashing cup of hot chocolate when they come inside. It means I have to be as proficient with a spatula as I am with a screwdriver. It means there is nothing too feminine or (even) beneath me to do. Fortunately I learned those skills from my parents, so I already knew how to handle the washer, dryer, dishwasher, and stove. For now, the new skill is “couponing!” (I know…I know…that might be taking it a bit too far!)
Being Pai teaches me how to live with less sleep. My friend Gary Bailey helped me realize this truth. Children will get you up early and all through the night, but as I understand, when they are older, they keep you up at night—worrying and waiting for them to come home, or finishing the a class project that is due tomorrow and they chose not to start until 9:30 p.m. tonight. We are fortunate the boys sleep through the night, but as anyone can imagine, keeping up with three is like managing a circus of cats. Joy and I are lucky to manage as well as we do.
I also know, being Pai means that just as soon as I have figured out this “parenting thing,” the same tools do not work with the next child. This is the life-a journey to a destination unknown. You can’t truly prepare for it. You can’t protect them from everything. You can’t prevent all unpleasant things from happening. There are potholes, diversions, and airport layovers. There are plenty of spilled juice cups, grass stains, and broken crayons. You will step on another Lego, and build strong arms from carrying your children to bed. There will always be another “again” after you told them you can’t lift, carry, or spin “one more” time.
Being Pai means making mistakes along the way. Too many parents today seem to think the slightest mistake, or a refusal to spoil a child, will somehow ruin her for life. For these three orphaned boys, it becomes more evident each day that children are far more resilient than first believed. One of my church members commented that he knew his parents disciplined and withheld some things he wanted, yet, now as an adult he can’t remember what they were. You will not scar a child for life by limiting toys, TV, movies, candy, or cellphone. However, you will destroy them by withholding your time, love, lessons about work ethic, and instruction on character.
These three have been with us for 8-months. Already we have journeyed down the road of girls, cellphones, and sports. They have learned a great deal of English, and continue to develop as young men. Luiz (5th grade) has been on Honor Roll or Principal’s List both grading periods and shows strong proficiency to swim and SCUBA dive. Alex (Kindergarten) and I have running tally to see how may days his behavior is on “purple.” (Blue is for good behavior, purple is for being obedient and helpful to others.) Erinaldo is progressing slowly but on his own pace. At the time of publication, he will have received a surgical procedure to repair a slight vision issue that we hope will produce many positive improvements for him socially and academically.
The Winterville FWB Church is hugely supportive, and I seriously believe God’s plan was for us to be here during this time. These children love church, mostly because of the good people in this congregation. The boys need to experience love and community, and I am fortunate to have such a supportive bunch…even if they have to suffer to have me as pastor.