The Birth of a Family

The Birth of a Family© iStockphoto/Thinkstock

What’s a single white guy doing with three Mexican kids? Making a loving family — and showing how foster adoption can work.

from This Is Us: The New All-American Family

David Marin was in his early 40s, longing to be a dad.”I’d led an interesting life,” he writes in his new book, “traveled to 11 countries, jumped out of airplanes, graduated from law school, and I’d had three holes in one.” But as a divorced single man, his dream of raising kids eluded him. “At night, I imagined the worst: sitting alone and retired … watching families drive by.” Marin decided to adopt from foster care. Although more than 500,000 kids are in the foster system in the United States — one quarter of them available for adoption — the process of winning approval proved arduous. Marin, who was vice president of advertising at Pulitzer Newspapers in Santa Maria, California, endured miles of bureaucratic red tape, vetting by two counties, three rounds of fingerprinting, and frustrating delays (a required home-safety class, for instance, was postponed twice). In September 2003, 14 months after he’d first made inquiries about adoption, Social Services called him about three siblings (from the same mother, different fathers — all felons). In December, Marin met the kids. Then came a month of “Family Practice” — weekend and evening visits, with follow-up calls to a social worker.

Finally, on February 27, 2004, Marin brought home Craig, two; Adriana, four; and Javier, six, for good. The new family was often met with stares and suspicion (one woman at a restaurant where they were eating called the police, worried that Marin was doing something inappropriate). But the hurdles of this adoption were nothing compared with its joys, says Marin. In this excerpt, he writes about the challenges with his youngest child, Craig, and how, together, he and the kids overcame them.

Craig’s life was a cartoon. He was the prey, like Jerry the mouse running away from Tom the cat, or the Road Runner chased by Wile E. Coyote. But two-year-old Craig was neither clever like Jerry nor fast like the Road Runner, so in real life, he probably only whimpered when the predators, his mother and her boyfriends, laid into him. When I first held Craig to smell his baby hair — my dumbbells weighed more than he did — he just held on, waiting for the drop or the throw.

Craig didn’t speak; he pointed and grunted. When I told people he didn’t talk, they would ask me his age. After I said he was almost two and a half, they’d turn away. That’s not good, the turning away.

He put his clothes on backward and had a hard time keeping up on walks to the Santa Maria river levee, so he rode in the stroller. If we walked for long and his little legs grew tired, I’d hoist him onto my shoulders. He liked heights and a breeze in his face, and when I pushed him in the swing, he wanted to go higher than the clouds, away from it all. He fearlessly climbed the jungle gym, but if a dog came near, he ran toward me until he saw it was a squirrel the dog chased, not him.

Nothing was smaller than Craig. He was always looking around; there was danger ahead and behind and, with hawks, above. He could not communicate the truths of his early life, and I had no records or files for him — Social Services didn’t even know his name was Craig; they’d been calling him Chris. He just came along with Javier and Adriana.

I worried because he was so frail. During Family Practice, a social worker called me.

“Hi, David. Has anyone told you that you have to wake Chris up every night?”

“No. His name is Craig.”

“Craig? Well, anyway, you have to wake him up every two hours to see if his nose is bleeding. He has bad nosebleeds.”

I was game but ill-prepared. One morning I found Craig lying in a pool of blood in his bed. I rushed him to a doctor, who said Craig’s fingernails could be shorter and maybe he was picking his nose. I felt ashamed: It was my job to notice that.

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