I never expected to become a father at 42.
I sat alone in the early morning hours of Christmas day, the remnants of the last minute preparations for Christmas morning lay around me. There was some straightening up to do, but most everything had been taken care of before Brian had gone to bed. Max had been in bed for hours. My parents, and Brian's, had overwhelmed him, I think.
Our Christmas Eves had been quiet for the last few years. The nieces and nephews were grown: college aged, most of them. We had kept up the tradition of sandwiches and dessert at our house, but the gift exchanges had grown subdued and the quantity of wine consumed had simply grown. The families seemed to be catching their breath, waiting for the next generation, the great grandchildren, to arrive.
Max had been a surprise for all us.
Early in our relationship, Brian and I had discussed adoption and surrogacy; but the courts were untrustworthy, at best, concerning adoptions by gay couples. We couldn't even be legally married for the first twenty years of our relationship. And we never seemed to be on the same page, at the same time, concerning children. We had each other, and our dogs, and we were happy.
Had something been missing all of those years? I didn't think so then and I don't think so now. Max didn't fill a void in our lives, he didn't complete our lives, but he expanded them in a way that I don't think we could have ever imagined.
I picked up my hot chocolate and discovered it was cool and congealing. A few seconds in the microwave would fix that, but I didn't want to get up from where I sat. I put the mug down and looked at the items spread in front of me: the last piece of Christmas morning waiting to be assembled.
The stocking that Max had picked out for himself was adorable, and with its red-nosed reindeer on the front, not what you'd expect from a twelve year old boy. Laying on the table around it were the things I planned to put inside before I hung it on the arch.
There was the bottle of cologne, to replace the small sample bottle that he'd carried with him and milked out every last drop. The brightly colored athletic socks that matched the high top sneakers that were wrapped up under the tree. The small packet of red foil that contained four of Brian's peanut butter balls that I had squirreled away from the batch he had made at Thanksgiving. And the eight pages of legal paper that lay neatly folded under the pen that my grandfather had given me on my sixteenth birthday, the pen I had used to sign every important document since.
Was I ready for this? Cliche, I know. But what father didn't have doubts? I don't think you can be a father and not have doubts.
There were no doubts when we opened our home to Max as a foster child, not from either of us. And if there had been doubts after, or if there were doubts now, the decision was already made, wasn't it?
The decision to try, at least, had been made barely a month into things. Max had fallen asleep on the couch while watching TV; Artemis, the dog, snuggled up next him. Brian had been in the kitchen making lunches for the next day. He came out to ask Max if he wanted fruit with his sandwich. He stood there in the arch between the dining room and the living room just looking at the two of them. He looked at me. I got up from my chair and took him in my arms.
"We can't just let him go, you know that don't you?"
And here we were, seven months later. Brian had left the final decision up to me; but we both knew that it really rested with Max. We hadn't wanted to tell him, because we weren't sure how difficult it would be; not that any amount of difficulty was going to stop us from trying everything we could. As time passed, and it was becoming clear that we had leapt all the hurdles, we had decided to make it a surprise, something to mark our first Christmas together.
I put everything into Max's stocking, leaving the peanut butter balls for last so they wouldn't get squashed. Then I unfolded the papers and put my signature on the final page. I folded them back up, put them in an envelope and slid Max's adoption agreement into his stocking.
I dumped out the congealed cocoa and hung the stocking along the arch under which I’d held my partner seven months before and we had made the most important decision of our lives.
On my way to bed, I stopped at Max’s room and quietly opened the door. Artie watched me from where she was curled at the foot of Max’s bed. Max lay sprawled in sleep and I let all of my doubts fade away. There would be time enough for those.
I climbed into bed beside the man that I still loved fiercely after twenty-two years and waited for sleep to come, more excited for Christmas morning than I had been in decades.