Merry Christmas, fellow foster/adoptive dads, however it may find you.
I absolutely love Christmas, but it can also be a particularly stressful time for foster/adoptive dads. The family is all together just a bit too much, the budget’s a little (or a lot) tighter, the chaos of the festivity can be overwhelming for the kids, and it seems like Christmas can draw out all the grief in foster care and adoption in a very pointed and painful way.
Wherever you find yourself on the spectrum of Christmas spirit at this particular moment, my desire is that the “thrill of hope” for which “the weary world rejoices” makes its way to you in some way as you close out another year of your foster/adoptive journey. It may not be much, and it may come along with a flood of lament, but I do hope it comes.
That being said, I wanted to write about something I recently noticed in the biblical narratives of the first Christmas. Believe it or not, the story of the birth of Jesus has an incredible message of hope and encouragement for foster/adoptive dads. Seriously. Just because you’ve never heard a sermon about it doesn’t mean it isn’t there.
In the Christmas story told in the Gospel of Matthew, a carpenter named Joseph found out that his fiancee Mary was pregnant. Joseph found this to be a rather strange development in his relationship with Mary since the two hadn’t banged one out yet and he knew very well just where babies came from.
For Mary to be unmarried and pregnant by someone other than her fiance would have been a scandal, the consequence for which have been public disgrace or even execution. But Joseph was an honorable man and didn’t want to completely destroy Mary’s life, so he resolved to back out of the engagement without making a big kerfuffle.
But sometime after making that decision, Joseph went to sleep and an angel visited him in a dream. The angel explained that yes, even though she was definitely pregnant, Mary was actually still a virgin and had merely been knocked up by the Holy Spirit. Since Mary hadn’t been unfaithful, Joseph was told to marry her and to raise the child (who will be God incarnate and, eventually, savior of the world) as his own son, even though he wasn’t the biological father.
Had I been Joseph, I would have woken up, thought, Hmm, what a weird dream, and gone about my day. But upon waking, Joseph, rather than considering his dream just the strange musings of his sleeping mind, believed that God had truly spoken to him and did exactly as he had been commanded.
If we believe the historical accuracy of this story, then God chose an adoptive dad to raise Jesus and teach him how to be a man. And if that’s really true, then God must have a special admiration for the role and work of foster/adoptive dads.
While the biblical account doesn’t offer much commentary, this could not have been easy for Joseph. In order to be obedient to the calling he’d received, he had to stage a major disruption in his own life, one he wouldn’t or perhaps shouldn’t have otherwise had to deal with.
For one thing, Joseph had to obey God when things didn’t make an ounce of sense, such as when it was explained to him that the Holy Spirit had impregnated his fiancee. For another thing, Joseph had to obey God when it required him to fly in the face of social norms, such as when he was told to marry the woman who appeared to have been unfaithful rather than divorcing and disgracing her as was the custom in that culture.
Joseph quickly found that obeying God and doing what was right meant acting without complete understanding and without being understood.
I can relate to that, and you probably can too.
Like Joseph, I’m raising a son who isn’t biologically mine. I played no part in his conception or even in the first thirteen years of his life. If I hadn’t adopted him, he would just be some random kid.
Also like Joseph, I believe I’m doing the right thing. Usually it doesn’t make sense, and I’m constantly asking, Why, after all the insane bullshit that has gone on in my house, do I so desperately and furiously love this kid? This “right thing” also upends social norms, I don’t know a single other 26-year-old man raising a 14-year-old boy (although I wish I did).
Because of this, I often feel misunderstood, and sometimes even ostracized. Several people have made it very clear that they think I’m crazy for choosing this lifestyle and that never in a million years would they choose to adopt from foster care.
But we can learn from Joseph of Nazareth that usually choosing to do the right thing is choosing to be misunderstood. And that’s okay. There are worse things in life than being misunderstood. Truly.
Have you ever felt inadequate and unqualified as a parent? If you’re not raising your hand or at least nodding your head right now, I think you’re lying.
Well, imagine how Joseph must have felt. Sure, he was a carpenter (a very manly profession) and seems to have been well-regarded in his community. He was even a direct descendant of Israel’s royal line, but he was still a mere human being.
And what was Joseph’s task? Oh, nothing much. Only to teach God how to be a man.
Yeah. Now let’s talk about feeling unqualified.
At times, I feel like an inadequate father because it doesn’t seem like I have much to pass on to my son, whether that be great wisdom or practical life skills or even just a fitting model for what a good man looks like. Maybe you feel that way too.
But consider what Joseph’s experience as a dad must have been like. Certain sources in the Bible say that Jesus literally never messed up once in his life, and yet Joseph messed up every single day. How does a man in that situation ever feel qualified for the job he’s been called to do?
At other times, I assume every parenting decision I make has the potential to utterly ruin my son’s entire future. If I let him play a first-person shooter game he’s going to become a serial killer or if I don’t make him read in the summer he’ll completely lose the skill by the time school starts again. When I’m in a rational headspace, I know that’s ludicrous. However, it doesn’t make the pressure any less intense on a day-to-day basis.
But good grief, at least I’m not raising God-in-flesh, the One through Whom all things were made, the long-awaited Messiah, the savior of all humanity. The stress of that task must have been unreal for Joseph.
A few parenting mistakes on my end might mean that my son ends up living with me until he’s forty. A few parenting mistakes on Joseph’s end might have meant that the whole salvation thing didn’t work out and humanity was screwed.
And yet in spite of all of this–the being misunderstood, the ostracism, the feeling unqualified, the pressure–Joseph was still obedient to God’s call. Joseph trusted God when God declared him qualified to be Jesus’ father, even when Joseph didn’t feel qualified at all.
God didn’t send an angelic message in my sleep telling me to adopt, but I believe God is fully on board with the path my life has taken and considers me qualified to raise my son. The choice is mine, then, either to live above the feelings of inadequacy and isolation or to give in to the thoughts that tell me I’ll never be good enough.
This may have been a rough year for you and your family, and Christmas may find you completely exhausted, unsure of what to do next, and on the verge of giving up. Perhaps you want to totally disengage from your paternal duties, work longer hours, drink more, or even walk away from everything and start anew.
I know how that feels. The year 2018 was difficult for our family, and I’m somewhat amazed we even made it to Christmas in one piece (even if our house and our hearts are not). While there was plenty of joy to be had as well, it’s easier to recall the arguments, the physical aggression, the property destruction, the hurtful words, the ER visits, the police contacts. It’s hard to see all the wonderful things 2018 brought us when we still have to replace a broken window, a broken windshield, a broken kitchen table, and a broken door.
But even through all the bullshit of this past year, let’s not forget that Christmas is a time for celebrating hope when there’s no logical reason to hope. And let’s also not forget that the embodied hope of Christmas was born into an adoptive family. Granted, this adoptive family may be a bit different from our adoptive families because the child in the manger is the only human who never sinned and the child in your home is a little shitbird.
However, the point is that God had so much respect for foster/adoptive dads that God made a completely unqualified adoptive dad an integral part of the plan to set the world back to rights.
A lot can be and has been said about the meaning of Christmas, and that’s all fine and well. But when we contemplate the character of Joseph in the Christmas story, we can say that Christmas is God’s divine endorsement of the role and work of foster/adoptive dads, even when we feel astoundingly inadequate and unqualified.
This article probably won’t alleviate your stress this holiday season, but I hope that, in the midst of the chaos and the overwhelm and even the grief of Christmas, you’ll remember that your role as a foster/adoptive dad is vital, revered, and holy. God has set a historical precedent for highly esteeming foster/adoptive dads, and why would it be any different with you?
Sure, Joseph may have lucked out in having a child as well-behaved as Jesus, but that was his calling. Your calling is to defiantly love the little monster having a meltdown in front of, or maybe even on top of, the Christmas tree.
Stay faithful to your family, even when you feel incapable of carrying on another day. Love that child with reckless, rugged grace, even when no one else understands why you still put up with them. Choose to see the “holy infant, so tender and mild” in the face of your son or daughter, even when they’re acting more like “your enemy the Devil, prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.”
God–the Creator of Universes, the Ultimate Reality That Is and Source of All That Is–is particularly fond of foster/adoptive dads, including and especially you. God trusted an adoptive dad to raise God-in-human-form, and God trusts you to raise your human-in-cave-troll-form. When nothing else about Christmas makes sense or speaks to you in any meaningful way, hold on to that.
Stay strong, my friends, and Merry Christmas.