By Bill Moeller
Before I became a father, at the age of 36, I never suspected that adopting a young child, Nathan, would so powerfully dismantle my fortress-like evangelical beliefs. Nor did I anticipate the storm of turmoil, anger, and grief I would soon experience, as I relived my own childhood and confronted the dogmas I grew up with.
Nathan’s exuberant ADHD personality challenged and enchanted me and my wife from the day we first saw him. Nathan lived most of the first five years of his life in a dimly lit orphanage in western Ukraine. I will never forget the frigid November morning we first visited him at the orphanage. Although Nathan had never seen us or had any contact with us before, he dashed toward us with raised hands, exclaiming “mama, tata!” and kissed us on our cheeks. He instantly melted my heart.
Nathan was an unstoppable dynamo. For two weeks leading up to a court hearing on our petition to adopt, we visited Nathan for two hours a day. He was not still for a moment. Two weeks after the court hearing, we were allowed to pick Nathan up from the orphanage. For the next several days, Nathan hardly slept. Exposed for the first time in his life to a world outside the orphanage, Nathan was hyper-stimulated. After an epic transatlantic journey back to the States, with Nathan kicking the airplane seat in front of him and me unsuccessfully trying to restrain him the entire 10-hour flight, Nathan was home.
From day one, Nathan’s innocence, mischievousness, inquisitiveness, explosiveness, and affection fascinated and challenged me. He was so different from me, so much livelier, so able to live in the moment, and so unstunted in his capacity to enjoy life. Yes, Nathan desperately needed to develop communication, social and behavioral skills. But I didn’t want to destroy his spark. On the contrary, I hoped to learn from Nathan how to enjoy life and live in the moment.