A Real Father
Seven years ago, I watched a loving birth mother tearfully place a tiny child into my sweet wife’s open arms. That was the moment I became a dad.
I felt overwhelmed with the responsibility before me. It was an emotional moment for everyone there. I will forever be grateful for the sincere love, trust, and confidence of our daughter’s birth mother in us. She knew that we would give our child everything we possibly could.
I’m now the father of three beautiful girls. When people find out that the oldest two are adopted, there’s a common question that follows almost like clockwork. The conversation goes something like this:
Them: “I didn’t know two of your girls are adopted—that’s so cool.”
Me: “Thanks! Yeah, it’s awesome. We feel like the luckiest parents in the world.”
Them: “So, how much do they know about their real dad?”
Each time, I can’t help but think, “Wait, what? Real dad?!” I’m their dad and I’m plenty real.
But don’t worry, I’m not offended. I know what they mean—they mean birth father. And it’s okay, I’m super secure in my dad-hood. I’m a father and have the dad jokes and dad bod to prove it.
When we put our two oldest to bed and it’s story time, I love to tell them what an incredible gift adoption has been for us. I tell them about the special club they belong to—the amazing adoption club.
“Who else is adopted? Who else is in your club?” I’ll ask.
“Superman!” My four-year-old will start.
“That’s right. Who else?”
“Batman, Spider-Man, and Ironman,” my seven-year-old will add.
“Yep. Pretty much all the coolest superheroes—and who else was adopted who is even more super than them?”
“Jesus,” they’ll say together.
“That’s right,” I’ll say. “Jesus was adopted by Joseph, and His story is true.”
When I talk with my girls, I often reflect on Joseph’s role as an adoptive father. I have always admired and aspired to be like Joseph. He was the man Heavenly Father entrusted to care for, love, protect, and teach Jesus. As the Savior grew, Joseph taught Him and shared with Him all he knew. Joseph was an example. He was a loyal and loving husband to Jesus’s earthly mother. Amidst the judgment of his peers, he was a faithful fiancé, and he trusted and obeyed God.
I imagine Joseph felt overwhelmed but that he also felt the love, trust, and confidence of Heavenly Parents as he accepted the solemn responsibility of being the earthly father of the Savior of the world. He was a real father in every way that I am a “real dad.”
Or was he? And am I really?
Sometimes when I get asked “So, how much do they know about their real dad?” I’m hit with the unintended but far more important meaning of that question. Because no matter how many diapers I’ve changed and skinned knees I’ve kissed and sleepless nights I’ve spent worrying about my children, they are not really mine. They are, and will always be, children of God first.
If I do my job as a father right, I should be able to answer the question I so often get with confidence: “They know a lot about Him. They pray to Him. They know that He loves them and has a plan for them and wants them to come home to live with Him again one day.”
So, welcome to the club—the amazing adoption club.
You are adopted. You are a literal son or daughter of Heavenly Parents. They love you more than you can understand and want you to come back home to Them when your work here is done.
And what makes a dad a real dad? It’s not just making corny jokes, telling embarrassing stories, or even sharing the same DNA. It’s being an example. It’s teaching your children who they are and whose they are.
I’m grateful for the opportunity I have to be a dad to three of Heavenly Father’s children, and I’m trying my very best to be a real dad. As I work every day to love and teach my children, I’m being a real dad. And you know what? I’m okay with a small “r” on that word. I’ll reserve the capital “R” for their Real Father—their Heavenly Father.
Derek Westra is a husband to one, father to three, and self-proclaimed donut enthusiast to hundreds. Derek loves all things creative, including writing stories, painting (poorly), playing and recording music, and cooking (badly).