Full Frontal: An Adoption Story

I’m a hugger. I hug my family. I hug my friends. I even hug most of my clients. If it feels right, I do it.

My hugs are usually well received and reciprocated because life is freaking hard.
Each of us runs around, barreling through the day in a distracted, frazzled rush of commitments, schedules, and obligations and a hug is a sweet reminder of the simple goodness in this moment right now.

I mean, hugs are warm, fuzzy, and just make everyone happy, right?
As it turns out, not everyone is a fan.

I have come to realize that the cherished social hug that we all love so very, very much is more American than universal.

My German brother-in-law is the undisputed King of the side hug. With the fluidity of Baryshnikov, this dude maneuvers to the side hug with so much grace that it almost doesn’t feel awkward.. almost.
My brother-in-law just doesn’t understand our American, breast-to-chest, full frontal expression of casual affection. I suppose when you think of it that way, it actually does sound kind of pervy. He’s probably onto something…

I have a back wax client who I truly adore as a person. We have the best conversations about parenthood, life, politics and everything in between. In one session, we can reimagine the universe and solve all the world’s problems.
However he is also without a doubt, the most awkward front hugger ever.
At the start of every appointment, it never fails.
He comes in toward me with that hug..
strong, direct, full frontal, borderline intimate, and lingering just a bit too long.
I mean, you know when you hold onto a hug too long..
you know.

But the universe quickly balances in two words: back wax. Sometimes I enjoy my job more than I should 😉

If there is any justice in this world, that relationship is most likely penance for the most horrible, tragic, full frontal hug in all of history..
Given by me.
I like to refer to it as: that one time I accidentally tried to molest my child’s birth father.

Every international adoption story is unique. Many children and babies are abandoned but others are relinquished by their parent or parents to local, government officials and then taken to an orphanage.

When we finally received notice that our adoption case had been approved and we could return to East Africa to bring our baby home, we were also informed that during that trip we would have an opportunity to meet our daughter’s birth father.
My husband and I traveled together for our first trip aka the court trip. After 3 years in the adoption process and 11 years of marriage, we were finally, miraculously, a family of three. And she was absolutely perfect. Two and a half months later, my sister took the final journey with me.

On the day prior to gaining custody of our daughter, her birth father traveled to our guest house to meet me. He was brought by our adoption agency’s social worker and culture expert.
Oh my God, I was so nervous that morning. I couldn’t tell whether I needed to cry or throw up. There were so many emotions and so many worries.. My heart was exploding with the immense burden of being face-to-face with a parent who was losing his child to me. How do you even begin to receive approval for that? I can’t imagine the deluge of thoughts, memories, anxieties, and hopes that were flooding his mind.
And as completely ridiculous as this sounds, I genuinely wanted and needed him to like me.

As he walked up the front steps of our guesthouse, I begged my sister to sneak a peek because I was too terrified to look. Her response: “Oh my God, he’s so young.. like you should be adopting him too.”
I wanted to laugh and also die. Perfect. His first thought would probably be: “Great. Old, white lady. Figures.”
When he walked into the room, her words rang true. He was in his early 20’s. I was in my early 30’s. He was young, handsome, and sharply dressed. He also avoided eye contact with me. It may have been the intensity of the situation but it could have also been cultural.
He sat on one couch with the social worker/translator and I sat across on another couch beside my sister.
My heart was both full and empty as I held my carefully typed list of questions that I had so painstakingly authored for the past few weeks. Being in his presence made so many of them simply disappear from the page. I immediately felt embarrassed that I had actually considered asking such personal, probing memories from him. I had stupidly created a version of this story in my head and fantasized magic in this precise moment. I had clearly watched too many cheerfully edited YouTube adoption videos. There was too much loss in that room to feel anything but the heaviness of life, the burden and unfairness of opportunity, and the overwhelming gratitude for this man’s precious heart and faith. Here he sat, all options exhausted, helpless, and choosing to love his daughter enough to let her go.. Humbled doesn’t even begin.. guilty too.
All I really wanted was for him to know that we would take care of her and love her with our whole hearts for our whole lives. I promised him that she would know her story and would love him and her birth mother.
He smiled.
The last question I asked, “what are your hopes and dreams for her?”
His answer was “to be educated and to be many things..” He looked down at his lap after speaking and then placed his right hand on his heart and twice moved it toward me. His words once translated were “I give her to you.. she is yours.”

My heart was shattered. The room around us crumbled leaving only tears and indistinguishable emotions.
It was beyond magic… bigger. Real.
I looked over at the social worker and asked the only thing I could find the words to ask: Can I give him a hug?
He agreed and I approached him with every ounce of love and maternal kindness in my being.. and without a second thought, you know I went Full Frontal.
Full-Frontal, American, breast-to-chest on this poor, unsuspecting soul.
Good freaking God.

His body’s immediate response was a lightening speed bow with his head down and hips back. So now instead of the perfect moment of my all-American hug, his head was strangely in front of my chest, his face looking down at our feet, and the rest of his body was safely two feet away.
Naturally, living up to my crazy, old white lady reputation, I did the only thing I could think of: a quaint, nonthreatening, little “Granny-pat” to the back of his head.

I’m pretty sure the entire debaucle is caught on video but even after 5 years, I still can’t bring myself to watch it.

So yeah, like I said..
Penance. And well deserved.

I’m totally still a hugger though. It’s good stuff.. mostly 😉