We adopted our now 21-year old son (and father to be) from western Russia in 2004 when he was seven years old. He had lived since the age of three in a desolate orphanage not far from the border with Belarus. His teenage sisters lived in a different orphanage not too far away. I had met Viktor through a fresh air program that brought him to northern Pennsylvania to meet American families to become part of a forever family. We hit it off, and after six months back in Russia while paperwork was being processed, I went to Russia with my Mom to pick him up. It was meant to be. As destiny would have it, I had started taking Russian language classes on June 19, 1996, the day he was born, and eight years before he became our son.
I read about reactive attachment disorder, and how it presents in children who’ve been neglected. I studied the facial features associated with fetal alcohol syndrome, trying to see if Viktor evidenced any on his face and head. I called him a few times, reaching him over a crackly phone, with Viktor asking “shto” (“what” in Russian) when I would speak using my feeble Russian skills. I wanted him to remember me, and to grasp that he would be coming back to the U.S. to be my son. I’m not sure I was successful, given how frightened he was when he realized that he would be leaving his sisters and Russia for a new life in America when my Mom and I went to bring him home.
Now, 13 years later, as I look forward to becoming a grandpa, I reflect back on those very early days with a smile. I did not know then how much our son would struggle to learn and to come to terms with his past. Through wilderness therapy in Utah, canine therapy in Missouri, a school for dyslexia and word processing issues in New York, high school, and then drug rehabilitation, he/we made it through together, in tact, and able to move forward as a family. Two fathers and a healthy, drug-free son who’s about to become a father to a little girl, our granddaughter.