The Lost Boys of China

January 19, 2015 a father's perspective, gender as a special need, Mike 8 Comments

It started with Adam

It was at McDonalds on a crisp December morning in 2002, and we had just completed an ultrasound appointment for our second child. During the appointment, we learned that our first child, Abby, was going to have a baby brother.

Over her tray of hash browns and an Egg McMuffin, Anne was visibly upset.

Under normal circumstances, I would try to be an empathetic spouse. I would seek to understand what was bothering her. I would try to match her somber expression and offer words of comfort and consolation.

This was not one of those times. In perhaps the least empathetic moment of my life, I just sat there beaming while tears dripped off of her nose.

After several minutes and the greatest Bacon, Egg, and Cheese Biscuit of my life; I finally asked her what was wrong.

“I’m so scared. I feel like I’m a good mom for Abby. I know how to love her and to connect with her. I don’t know how to love a boy. Aren’t you scared? Mike?” she sobbed.

I finally snapped to attention and said, “I’m sorry you’re sad, Anne… but I can’t be sad, because this is the best news in the world! You don’t have to worry, because I’ve got this. I know EXACTLY what he’ll need and what he’ll want. He’s a boy! He’ll want to wrestle. He’ll want to eat buffalo wings. He’ll think farts are funny. He’ll find a way to convert everything into a gun or a sword. Yeah, I know what to do with this one… and I can’t wait to be his dad!”

Adam is 11 now, and I am happy to report that I was right. He’s awesome. I do know what he wants and needs… He wants me to join him in the backyard for a game of basketball or soccer. He wants me to grab the other X-Box controller and sit next to him on the couch. He wants to watch the Colts game and then act out the plays during the commercials. He wants me to debrief every sweet move from his soccer games. He wants to eat nachos for every meal and wash it down with ice cream. He wants to be seen as smart and strong and capable. He wants his mom to hug him and baby him… but not for too long and not often in public. He wants to love and be loved. He is, in essence, a little version of me.

In case you have any question about it, boys need moms, too.

In case you have any question about it, boys need moms, too.

To be clear, I LOVE my daughters, and I connect with them in ways that I do not connect with Adam… but they share some gender-specific time with their mom (often involving the Hallmark Channel, the Duggars, Pinterest, or Waiting Child lists from China… (which is a separate issue.) At these moments, Adam and I like to slip like ninjas into the basement for ESPN or a video game.

I worry that these characterizations make it sound like our relationship is exclusively one of manly fun. It is much, much more than this. More than just loving time with him, I love HIM. And more than just being a playmate, I take very seriously the role I have as his dad… a role that includes raising him up in the model of his Father in heaven.

But if you judge these things by how much you like sharing activities with a person and want to talk about the same things and how much you laugh when you’re together (and are willing to ignore that I make him do homework and chores)… aside from my wife, Adam may be my future best friend.

Gender as a Special Need

Fast forward 5 years from that breakfast in McDonald’s. Having been incredibly blessed by adding Mia to our family through adoption, we were in the thick of a second adoption journey.

We were at the critical stage in the adoption process where families populate the “Special Needs Checklist” … a horrific document where you identify which special needs you are and are not open to as a family.

Having walked through the incredibly painful and emotionally retching process of selecting and deselecting special needs by some ill-informed process (which, for me, included an assessment of whether the stated special need had a “telethon” or not), Anne asked me about the final and most surprising special need… gender.

To those of you who are unfamiliar with Chinese adoptions, you may not realize that gender IS a special need in China… but not in the way you might expect.

For years, the combination of cultural norms and the political realities of the “One Child Policy” conspired to place a lower value on infant girls in China. This yielded a hugely disproportionate number of healthy girls in orphanages.

Almost the only boys who were abandoned in China were abandoned because of some medical issue.

But while Chinese culture undervalued girls, there was a surprisingly opposite impact within the adoption community. Families hoping to add a daughter were often drawn to China and the large number of little girls needing families.

But as the number of healthy children decreased in recent years, the disproportionate desire for girls did not. While girls and boys were now being abandoned in more equivalent numbers, the pull from adoptive families continued to show an enormous bias towards girls.

Over time, this has resulted in a “backlog” of boys in the system. In recent years, more than 75% of adoptions from China have been female. Today, there are younger boys with less severe special needs being regularly passed up in favor of older, higher need girls. (And to be clear, they ALL… boys and girls… need families.) Largely because of the female bias of adoptive families, today’s waiting child lists feature grossly disproportionate numbers of little boys.

Which brings us back to the Special Needs Checklist. Having already assessed what medical needs we thought we could accommodate, we needed to answer the final question – were we open to a boy? (And given the numbers, openness to adopt a boy was virtually the same thing as choosing a boy.)

The shameful admission in that moment is this… What should have inspired the exact same reaction as the McDonald’s from half a decade earlier… my immediate joy and bold sermon to my wife that boys are awesome… was not there.

For some deep, dark reason; I had questions and reservations.

Although I did not fully realize it at the time, I think I was afraid that a Chinese son (especially one with special needs) would be “different.”

Like Anne after the ultrasound, I had questions about whether I could really understand and connect with him. I worried that he might be too different, that we would not understand each other, that he would not fit my ideal model for a son… or I would not fit his ideal model for a dad.

My three sons.

My three sons.

I almost let my ignorance and fear of the unknown get in the way of God’s plan for my life… I almost let it get in the way of WILL (and his younger brother, Sam, by extension.)

My Three Sons

I sit here today having now adopted two sons from China – Will and Sam. And they are living proof that my fears about adopting sons were even more ignorant and inaccurate than I thought.

I was afraid they might not attach as well as daughters, but Will and Sam have attached brilliantly, completely, and perhaps a little more quickly than their Chinese sisters. They seemed to have an inherent sense that they needed parents and wanted a family… so when we entered the picture and passed some early “Are you serious about this? Will you really love me? Are you going to stay?” kind of tests, they were quick and happy to join the team and embrace us as their parents. Will now smiles so much and connects so easily that our pastor calls him, “The Mayor.”

I was afraid that they might be too “fragile”, but Will is the most athletic kid in our family, maybe in our state. He has had a six pack since he was three years old, and he is a beast on the soccer field and basketball court. I’m convinced that sport photo buttons were invented by adoptive dads like me who want to make sure everyone knows that WILL #10 is MY KID! I can’t handle the thought that they might mistakenly credit some Asian dad on the sidelines.

Sometimes they play sports.  Sometimes they play video games.  Sometimes they play video games about sports.

Sometimes they play sports. Sometimes they play video games. Sometimes they play video games about sports.

Sam constantly wants to wrestle (or “wessow” as he says… frequently while flexing his four-year-old biceps to show how strong he is.) I came in last night from work to see all three of our shirtless boys rolling around in the center of the family room yelling, “Do you give? Do you give now?”

I was afraid they might be “different,” but they are 100% BOY… and I have nacho cheese stains on the X-Box controllers to prove it.

These boys are kind and smart and happy and strong and fun. Just like Adam. Just like me (or at least the best possible version of me.)

From Reluctant Adopters to Passionate Dads – Our Role in Adopting Boys

And so I leave you with this thought. Recognizing that women frequently are driving the adoption journey (as I talked in a previous blog post on “reluctant husbands”), what if the glut of boys in Chinese orphanages is partially because adoptive dads in the cue aren’t fighting for them? What if the future adoptive dads of the world need to be a bit bolder, a bit less reluctant, not just in whether or not to adopt… but in whether or not to adopt BOYS.

What happens when you check the “boy” box on the list.

What happens when you check the “boy” box on the list.

So if you’re debating, I encourage you to check the “boy” box on your special needs checklist. In being open to a son, you may be opening your life to a future best friend… or even three of them.


8 responses to “The Lost Boys of China”

  1. Lisa Conklin says:

    WOW!!! Thanks for this post, we have committed to adopting our first son after bringing home 4 girls, and this was so timely for us.

  2. Cathy Ponakala says:

    What an amazing post! Thank you for sharing!

  3. Jessica says:

    Thank you so much for writing this blog post!!! We had our son from the Philippines and when we announced we’d be adopting from Vietnam, everyone asked if we’d be trying for a girl, no we could very well have another boy, which we did. So for sure when we announced we’d be adopting from China, we’d most definitely be adopting a little girl. In fact rumours were started that we were going specifically for a girl even though those words had never been spoken by either my husband or I. So in less than 1 yr we were home with our beautiful 20 month old BOY! And I’d bring home another in a heart beat if that is God’s will.

    This post was just awesome…someone’s gotta fight for the boys!

  4. Kerri Gorecki says:

    I loved this post! It is sad that so many children are passed over and wait for families simply because of their gender. We have been blessed with nine children…four of which are the most amazing boys from China!

  5. Cathy Andry says:

    Mike, this was, as are all of your articles, so brilliantly and authentically written. This article, perhaps more than any other, which is hard to say since every piece you’ve written has been so valuable, is most likely the most important adoption piece out there right now…you may very well have helped one more…two more…a dozen more…more…boys find a place in someone’s heart and home. Thank you for speaking up for the lost, and dare I say forgotten, boys of China. God Bless You and Your Boys…and your entire family that I so dearly love…

  6. One of the best perspective posts on this issue I’ve ever read

  7. Donna Schwartz says:

    We have a wonderful little boy from China and couldn’t love him more. He’s adorable and every bit as loveable as our four girls (adopted from China as well). People need to give boys a chance they are wonderful and I’m head over heels in love with my son. Don’t knock it until you have tried it! PS don’t tell the girls but there are things about boy that are more fun than a girl : )

  8. Eva Harp says:

    I read this blog for the first time the day this was published. My husband and I knew we were called to adopt a boy but had ruled out China because “they only have girls”. Thank you for your post! Then next morning I called Lifeline Childerns Services. Our sweet boy has been home for six months. He is a joy and we are thankful God directed us to your post.

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