Ryan was 19, and was home between semesters of college. He’d had a real difficult year while he was adjusting to school and being away from home, and his mom and I were doing everything we could to support him while he went through a challenging growth phase.
I had just bought this laser star projector from Think Geek, and I wanted to show him how cool it was to spray little green points of light across the ceiling of our living room, and just lay there, watching them drift around.
So we turned off the lights, stretched out on the floor, and did just that. The house was quiet, and the only sound was the soft whirr of the fan inside the projector.
We imagined constellations, and named them, but were mostly quiet, too, until Ryan, still looking up at our imaginary planetarium, said, “So I’ve been thinking about something…”
“Oh?” I said, “What’s that?”
“I’ve been thinking a lot about how I am who I am because of you. I love science fiction and literature because you introduced it to me when I was little. I care about people because you taught me to be empathetic. You have always been more of a dad to me than my dad ever was … and I was hoping that you’d make it official, and adopt me.”
One of the laser points of light drifted across the ceiling, like a shooting star. I watched it and tried to process what I had just heard. Ryan’s dad had spent his entire childhood trying to convince Ryan to reject me. He wasted their whole lives to that point trying to make them pick sides in a battle that neither one of my kids wanted to be part of. At times, it felt like he was going to be successful, and a day would come when the children I did not make, but did raise as if they were my own, would never speak to me again.
And now, a day had come that I always dreamed of, but never actually expected to happen.
“Is that okay?” He asked. I didn’t realize that I’d been quiet for close to a minute, while I was trying to process that this was real, that this was really happening. I didn’t realize that tears were streaming out of the corners of my eyes, down the sides of my face, and pooling in my ears.
“Ryan, I would be honored to adopt you,” I said, thickly.
“Is it okay if I change my name, too?” He asked.
The tears turned to joyful sobs, and I told him that I would love that.
It took months, and a lot more complicated paperwork that you’d probably expect for an adult adoption, but we eventually found ourselves in the same courthouse his soon to be out of our lives forever biodad had dragged us into for years. In the same place I had to listen to lies about me and my wife and our relationship with our boys, we stood up in front of a judge, my godmother (who came all the way to Pasadena to be part of it), his mom and brother, and a couple of close friends, and we swore that we wanted to legally become father and son. Years later, I got to do the same thing with Nolan, who didn’t choose a poetic moment under imaginary stars to ask (he isn’t a writer, like Ryan is) but asked me during lunch at Comic-con! Both days were the sort of thing I would have rushed home to write about when they were young children, but I kept it just for me and my family, until now, and not just because I wanted to respect their privacy as adults.