Archive for ‘Difficult Relationships’

May 10, 2020

About adoption

by Rod Smith

About adoption – these matters surface strongly for me around Mothers Day and other holidays…..

I was approached by a woman who changed my life. She requested that I rear her then unborn son as my own. The rest, as it is said, is history.

Adoption is a beautiful institution. It’s as old as humanity and can be as enduring as the best and most powerful expressions of love. I find it impossible to believe that somehow I would love my children more were they biologically my children.

I think this kind of thinking is nonsense – but if you adopt you will meet it at many a turn.

Many people will insist on attaching “adopted” onto every mention of my children (and “black”) as if we all need constant reminders and as if my children are not clearly African-American. I have learned to (usually) ignore this despite finding it quite amusing.

People who are against abortion deny the very essence of their anti-abortion stance if they have not at least adopted a few children. I am sure my reasoning is flawed but I’m going to stick with it. If a person is against abortion he or she ought to be adopting and fostering left, right and center. Before I get yelled at I am also aware that in some places adoption is next to impossible for single people or people over certain ages.

Children are quite comfortable talking about adoption if the parents are. My sons freely tell people they are adopted and appear to have no idea that there was a time when people tended to keep such things secret. This just may be fostered somewhat by the fact that I am Caucasian and each of them is not.

In every adoption there is a set of biological parents and the adopted parent(s) – all are very powerful in the life of the child and in impacting the life of the child. Sometimes I feel that the absent parents wield greater influence than the parents who are present. Sometimes it feels the other way around. These things are not static.

Birth moms and dads usually remain intimately connected to the child even if they never see the child again. This is an invisible connection that defies distance and time, and, if the adopted parent tries to ignore this connection or even extinguish it, the parent will learn about this connection the hard way, probably in a way that will burn. Rather acknowledge it than try to deny it or get rid of it.

I had to immediately decide I was sufficient for the immediate (the nights, diapers, bottles, strollers, cribs) and long-haul (sports, school, homework, university, and so much else both expected and unexpected). This was not, I hope, some arrogant assumption on my part but a decision that was and is essential to our survival. It’s about faith, not self-sufficiency. Who needs an unsure dad? Who needs a hesitant dad when he’s the only parent you have?

I had to decide that I was enough for each child. While far from perfect, the role is mine and I was and I am and I will be equipped to play it.

I decided very early in the process that I would protect my children from behind and not by going ahead. I would stand back so my sons would have to clear their own paths (make their way) rather than my submitting to the pressure of going ahead and somehow doing life for them.

I believed and subsequently saw that parenting, nurturing, and knowing what to do would download into me in the manner software can be downloaded into a computer. I would have it (abilities, understanding, wisdom) whenever I needed it.

I decided that at the slightest hint of racist attitudes or comments made by anyone ever in their circle of influence, I would remove my children from the ugliness no matter what the source of the bigotry. Now that they are older I do not do this anymore.
I resolved that each son’s future would always be in his own hands: that I’d offer each the very best of what I was capable but that ultimately the success of each and potential failure was always in each boy’s hands.

I decided I would focus on encouraging strengths rather than spin my wheels trying to improve so-called weaknesses.

I decided I would lead my children from my strengths and my love of adventure rather than through a coddling empathy or a misplaced sympathy that could emerge within them for having been adopted by a single man. Last count we’ve been to about 25 countries together (Nate a few fewer since he is younger).

I knew I was taking on a mammoth task and that I was doing so alone. While the help and support and love of an immediate community and family has been irreplaceable and essential, I had to remind myself that if all was lost, if all were unavailable, if all ran for the hills, the joys and responsibility of rearing my children would remain mine and mine alone.

Let me close by answering a frequently asked question: Yes: I do believe children are usually “better off” in two-parent families. Had one stepped forward for each boy and had the mothers chosen those families I’d have willingly watched them go….until the moment the judge hit the gavel and the deed was done….

May 5, 2020

He asked a question and I was moved

by Rod Smith

One evening during the past few weeks, while we have all been really together, one of my sons expressed a fear. 

It was a gentle moment. 

It was as if he’d been storing his fear and comments for such a moment. 

“Dad, I am worried that you are going to die and, well, you won’t be at my wedding and all those sorts of things. Is there like a guidebook for what I must do without you?

His care and concern and brewing anxiety moved me. 

I explained that while it is indeed possible that I could die soon and even before his wedding, it was somewhat unlikely. 

We reflected on how very capable he is and how little he requires me to do anything at all for him. I reminded him that our many friends, men and women who had known him from birth and who had witnessed his every growing phase, applauded his every achievement, would rally around him to love and welcome his bride – whomever she is – and combine efforts and resources to make their day spectacular.  

I reminded him that my brother and and their families love him and his brother at least as much as I do.

And then we talked about something else.

I forget what.   

May 4, 2020

Life-altering truths

by Rod Smith

Five mind blowing truths*:

  • You are responsible for everything that you say, everything that you do, everything you eat, drink, smoke, or take into your body. Extreme conditions exist where this is not so but they are, well, extreme. Getting hold of this will help you to stop blaming others and foster a radical shift in your perceptions.

  • You are the common factor In all of your relationships. You are the central figure in all of your actions. Understanding this will give a meaningful context for everything and help you to understand the people around you – the same is true for others. You are no victim. If you think or feel you are a victim there are steps you can take to move yourself out of victimhood. Are you willing to give up the rewards of victimhood? Yes, even victimhood has some rewards.

  • Among your most powerful human tools is the ability to experience, extend, and express forgiveness to all others. Forgiving others is not about others. It’s about you. The rewards will be almost instantaneous but will probably follow a period of clean but necessary pain.

  • Offer outlandish grace to everybody you encounter. You will notice it has an amazing boomerang effect.

  • Most of us are surrounded by barriers, some self-imposed, some other-imposed. It’s our job as unique individuals to be able to look beyond those barriers and to imagine horizons for ourselves. No one can do this for you. Think of what you could become if you had no fear.

*I am my first reader – all this applies to me as well as it may to you.

April 27, 2020

High maintenance people

by Rod Smith

High maintenance people require constant attention and approval. They crave to be the center of almost every conversation and will often become symptomatic (moody, resentful, loud, threatening) when not. They review every move, thought, words and actions of others. They tend to read unintended meaning into statements, looks, sighs, and attitudes of others. They are easily hurt, quickly offended, quick to rebuke when lacking the attention they think they deserve. Threats of withdrawal or desertion become a way of life.

High maintenance people are difficult, sometimes impossible, even in relaxed circumstances. They pick fights, find fault, and personalize almost everything. They argue with others, especially with intimates, for no apparent reason. They pick fights with strangers like waiters. They often live in a world of cut-off relationships where most others are idiots.

What can you do if you are in a relationship with a high maintenance person? You can do very little that will not hurt, offend, or get a reaction, but you must make a stand. High maintenance people seldom benefit from pity, patience, or empathy. 

They will only benefit from being constantly challenged to grow up.

April 13, 2020

Challenges of Close-distance relationships

by Rod Smith

• You trip over each other no matter what size your living space. It seems urgently necessary to make a schedule for who can be in the kitchen (bathroom, laundry) at what times and for how long. When it’s vacant and you go in, suddenly everyone wants the space at the same time, dog included.

• Under lockdown your eyes become magnifying glasses, enlarging everything. The way he chews his food; the ways she sips her coffee; the way the children leave things open; how she chews ice; how he breathes when asleep; how the children leave stuff everywhere – everything gets magnified and amplified. You get sizzle eyes.

• Things get very personal. You become experts in hearing something behind everything that is said and not said. Whispers can sound like screams especially if the content can be perceived as criticism.

• The slippery slide – of making everything into a catastrophe – becomes really steep and it’s easy to think the sky really is falling.

Rejoice if any of this is even momentarily true for you and your family. You are on a wonderful journey to loving each other in ways you never heretofore imagined.

April 12, 2020

Our second conversation

by Rod Smith

A 16 minute chat with my son.

April 10, 2020

Meditation for Easter Saturday

by Rod Smith
April 8, 2020

Be the adult…….

by Rod Smith

The Mercury / Thursday

Daily parenting challenge which I hope you will adopt…

• Be today the adult you’d want your child to become.

• Negotiate deals, resolve conflicts, compromise, in exactly the manner you hope your child does when he/she is an adult. Powerful learning happens by experience and observing, but it’s more than that. Your personal transformations will shape and “lift” your family beyond the power of role-modeling. How you are sets the path for how your children will (likely) be.

• Use money, save money, leverage resources in the manner you hope your child will one day utilize resources. Attitudes, actions are yeast-like. Your behaviors shape and become the norm.

• Treat your parents in the manner you hope your adult children will treat you in your advancing years and then expect nothing more or less.

• Love, serve your siblings and their families so your children in order to remove ambiguity about how love behaves in an immediate and extended family.

• Be an avid reader if you want your child to be an avid reader. It might not immediately “take” but chances are it will in the future. Valuable habits take time, not nagging.

• If you want your child to be well-mannered, courageous and kind, be that way with lover, friend, foe. There is no other way to teach these values.

March 31, 2020

Happy birthday to my son

by Rod Smith

Our first podcast:

March 31, 2020

Private celebration

by Rod Smith

On April 1, 1998, I sent a group email announcing I had responded positively to a woman who asked me to adopt her newborn baby. Some recipients thought it was an April Fools’ prank. 

Thulani, 22 today, will graduate in May from a prestigious private university. He earned the bulk of his hefty four-years of fees through scholarships and by maintaining academic excellence. His degree cost me a fraction of the total expense. He is so thoroughly personable the university officials bent over backwards to ensure my son had what he needed.

Thulani made promotional advertisements for the university and its basketball team because he loves to create. That his creations would “go viral” and serve the university was something Thulani would later discover. He did what he loved and the consequences rewarded him.

Life is like that, usually. Good things usually happen to good people. 

Right now everything the world over seems upside down. I wish my son was having a huge birthday and graduation event. He is not. We know this is a minute sacrifice when compared with others who have and will bury loved ones as this viral terror continues. 

We will light candles on a birthday cake and thank God for a boy’s success while we remember those who suffer. 

Life is beautiful. Life is brutal. Stay home. We are.