A Father-Son Moment on an Ethiopian Balcony

Editor’s note: Five and one-half months ago, Josh submitted this post as a dedication to a turning point in his life of Fatherhood.  Last week we submitted a post on “Five Questions to Ask Yourself” about adopting and/or fostering a child.  We’re re-submitting this piece as a human experience complement to those questions.  ~ RDK

by Josh Bottomly

Staring down at my adopted son’s new visa and passport for the first time, I did a double take when I noticed something very odd.  The bold print read:  Tesfamariam Josh.  I asked Tafesse, our Ethiopian driver, if there had been some kind of misprint or mistake.  Tefesse grinned and then explained:  “In Ethiopia, a child’s last name is his father’s first name,” Tefasse explained.  It’s our tradition.”  I looked over at Amy in confusion.  “So my name would be Josh Roc,” I asked Tafesse, “and Amy’s would be Amy Glen?” Tafesse nodded and said, “In our culture, naming one’s child is a sacred act.  It’s a blood ritual.  It denotes a very special bond.”

Later that night, I woke up around 4:30 a.m. to Silas’ whimper.  Since it was my turn to take the night shift, I gathered Silas up in my arms and took him out onto the hotel patio, the only “cry proof” place in the hotel.

As I scanned my eyes across the city streets hushed under a blanket of fog and mist, I rocked Silas in my arms and sang quietly over him.  Suddenly, an image surfaced and bobbed on the wake of my mind.  It was of a photograph of my father and I, now yellow and faded with time.  In the photo, I was scrunched up close to my dad like a koala bear.  I must have been no older than Silas.  Dad and I were at the beach, both wearing lemon-colored swim shorts.  The sun reflected against our pale white thighs, and because of the sunhat on my tiny head, it was hard to see my freckled face or any of the tufts of my reddish-blond hair.  Dad’s face unforgettably was contorting and howling like a wolf as ten pounds of squirmy flesh scratched up against his chest hairs, sending tickle bumps through his body.

Dad looked young in the photo, younger than the current me, perhaps in his mid-twenties.  He was already balding, although his years in the Air Force compensated:  his body was sculpted like the ivory statue of a Greek Olympian.  Notably, from Dad’s posture, the Pacific winds must have been whipping up around him, because his right shoulder tilted slightly away from the ocean, protecting me from the spray of the surf and flying sand pebbles.

On the back of the photograph, my Mom had written out a short caption.  The words were now hard to decipher.  1976.  Josh and Roc.  Josh’s 1sttrip to the ocean.

Silas suddenly interrupted my nostalgic thoughts.  Staring up at me with mist and sleep gathered in his eyes, I rubbed the back of his head, which bobbled a bit in my palms.  A sudden draft of mountain air whipped against my body.  I felt goose bumps on the parts of my body that were exposed.  I suddenly realized that all I was wearing were my boxer briefs.

Silas, however, was tucked under layers of blankets, and as I smiled and kissed his cheek, pulling him closer to my body, it suddenly began to settle in on me:  Thirty years ago, I was my father’s son.  That day, I was Silas’ father.

As the sun began to form like a ribbon on the mountain’s ridges, I realized many things.  I realized that I was in it for the long haul now.  There would be a rash of midnight feedings, along with skinned elbows, broken bones, raging puberty, growing pains, natural curiosity, appetite-losing crushes, appetite-losing breakups, thrills of victory, agonies of defeat, doubts and questions, dreams and fears, and longings.  For a moment, this protracted list caused my blood to freeze.  I suddenly wondered if I would be for Silas half of what my father was for me.  I wondered if I would fail Silas more often than I would succeed him.  I wondered if Silas would ever come to spite me and want his “real father.”  But then, strangely, Tafesse’s words returned to me about the sacredness of naming a son after the father.  It suddenly resonated within me: from this point on, Silas’ life and my life would forever be intertwined, like branches to a tree that shared the same plot of soil and the same ball of roots.

During the adoption period, I had secretly wondered if the reality of being a father of an adopted child would feel like weight and if I would break under the pressure of it all.  Surprisingly, I felt the opposite.  In that moment, with Silas in my arms, I was air, light, and wind.

For the next hour, I walked around the hotel patio in circles.  In the other room, Amy slept soundly.  After a while, Silas fell back to sleep, and as his little heart softly pattered against my chest, I felt the heartspace between my rib cages suddenly expanding, growing, and crackling as I realized what Tafesse had pronounced in the car: Silas was more than just my “adopted son.”

From this day forward,

Silas was my name.

He was my family.

He was my blood.

And that would never change.



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