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There is a scene in the film Good Will Hunting in which the title character and his therapist are discussing their individual experiences with abusive fathers.
Sean: My father was an alcoholic, mean drunk. He’d come home hammered, looking to wail on someone. So I’d provoke him so he wouldn’t go after my mother and little brother. The interesting nights were when he’d wear his rings.
Will: Mine would lay out a wrench, a belt, and a stick on the table and he’d just say, ‘choose’.
Sean: I gotta go with the belt there.
Will: I always chose the wrench.
Sean: [incredulous] Why?
Will: Because [expletive] him, that’s why!
This attitude — the willingnesss to suffer any degree of hardship, self-inflicted or otherwise, so long as it denies authority or control to another — describes what we adoptive families often call “attachment issues.” It’s not something we often discuss in public, and get weary of explaining to misguided family members and friends, much less strangers (my wife wrote a book on this issue – send me a message if it interests you).
The clinical term for the most serious form of this is Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), a wordy way of describing a child who intentionally does things he/she knows will get them into trouble at home; things like urinating in Sunday school chairs (for attention), skipping numbers when counting out loud (for correction) or refusing to correctly pronounce certain words like “please” or “Daddy” because… because [expletive] him, that’s why.
Many of us have a romanticized notion of adoption. We think of Dickens, or The Little Princess: stories with sweet children desperate for good homes who become models of cheer once rescued from their orphan worlds. Rarely do we hear about the multitude of manipulation techniques employed by these children, skills honed within the dark corners of terrible institutions, and the back rooms of sleazy “uncles” in soiled trailers. Reality is messy, and often breaks one’s heart.
I was therefore surprised when, after bringing home two special-needs children from Eastern Europe, we were thrust into this world. Don’t get me wrong, we were prepared for the potential. But having a fully stocked earthquake survival kit doesn’t make the disaster any more welcome. I’d read books about what to expect, had prayed many hours over said expectations, and was ready to believe the best.
I still do, by the way. God can heal all wounds, restore all wrongs, and bring about transformation in a moment. This is what we parents living in the tall grass of post-adoption exile cling to: the hope that one day — sooner rather than later — love will indeed prevail, and that these children will set aside their apprehensions, and embrace a joy they’ve been denied by circumstance, and have rejected by choice.
Image Credit: Flickr user Dario F. DeJesus.