There was a time when I did not understand how adoption worked. Didn’t you have to have a biological tie with your offspring to be truly, deeply, emotionally bound to it? Over the years, I came to think not–at an intellectual level. But like many other theses, I became convinced of its truth only after a visceral personal experience, that of becoming a biological father: relationships between parents and offspring did not seem to have a magical biological basis to them.
My relationship with my daughter–now twenty months old–has evolved. When my daughter was born my strongest relationship was still with her mother; a great deal of the affection and protection I sent my daughter’s way was because I loved her mother so much. I did not feel instantaneous bonds forming with her; I did not get a free pass in her affections toward me either; the biological bond between us did not neatly translate into an automatic love on her part. I felt protective about her, fiercely determined to guard her from all harm. But I think I would have done the same for any helpless one placed in my care the way she had been.
As she has grown, more dimensions have emerged in our relationship. She responds to me verbally and physically; she calls me ‘Papa’; she looks for me; she calls out to me. It is these responses and interactions with me that seem determinative of the quality of our relationship, not necessarily our genetic commonality. You could say it is that which brings about her responses to me, but I doubt it; at times, she is even more attached to one of her daycare providers, an affectionate, caring, young woman, with whom she has developed a bond strong enough to occasionally make my wife jealous too.
My wife’s relationship to our daughter has a stronger biological basis; she bore her pregnancy for nine months and developed a special intimacy on a daily basis thanks to her breast-feeding (which continues to this day.) I had no such physical contact with my daughter; I had to rely on hugs and close holding–some of which, she now, in her toddler phase, occasionally rejects–and naps together.
Sometimes when I look at her, I can see, in her facial features, hints and glimmers of my family: sometimes my father’s features, sometime my brother’s, sometime my nephew’s. Those are uncanny reminders of a connection grounded in biological markers and I enjoy the connection they enable with those who came before me. But, ultimately, what brings the two of us closer to each other, I think, is that we live together, we spend time together, that I care and nurture for her (in many inadequate ways, compared to the time and effort my wife puts in). What motivates these actions of mine is a sense of loyalty to my partner, my commitment to this shared enterprise, my desire to make my family grow, my growing sense of a bond developing between her and me. I think I would do the same even if the As, Ts, and Gs didn’t match up exactly.