Adopt or die

The official-looking envelope arrived in the postbox. I tore it open. I’d been waiting for it for more than 18 months. The piece of paper that I’d pulled out confirmed my pop status. It was an adoption order issued by the court declaring my status as Khwezi’s father – or in the adoption jargon: “According to the provisions of the Child Care Act 1983 (Act No. 74 of 1983), your adopted child is now regarded as if born to you.” In other words, Khwezi, who is five and a rich source of Pop Psychology material, is my son – finish en klaar!

At the beginning of 2008 I waited in a dusty office at the Children’s Court in Wynberg to file the adoption application. Before that I had been interviewed by a social worker who had compiled a report on whether I would be a fit and proper dad. She didn’t just take my word for it she had to have it confirmed by two upstanding members of the community.

I handed the application to the clerk – who couldn’t have looked more bored. All I had to do, she told me, was wait because now it was just a process of stamps being stamped and bureaucrats pushing paper. It would take six weeks. When I met the Shrink, she introduced me to Khwezi, who was one. They were a package, she explained. They had adopted each other when Khwezi was five months old. Her reason for adopting a child was simple: if everyone who could adopt a child adopts a child, there wouldn’t be any children without parents. When I became part of Khwezi’s life the only words he knew were car and bus. Soon Khwezi’s vocabulary grew to include other modes of transport – boat, train, lorry, airplane, heliqwaqwa – and me, dad. The circle became a triangle. Two years later the Shrink and I started to talk about having another child. She wanted another “readymade”. I proposed a “homemade”.

“It’s the genetic pull,” I explained. “It’s why we’re on Earth: to breed; to extend our family line! Who can argue with biology?” I asked. The Shrink, of course. And her argument consisted of just two words, “Oh, phuleeze!”

After we discussed the pros and cons of adopting versus the biological route I eventually came round to the Shrink’s view. It is more responsible to adopt a child who is looking for parents and it’s narcissistic to want the world populated with little Jonathans and little Shrinks. (A little Shrink? That’s not only narcissistic, it’s tautology.)

So, we marched off to Child Welfare to get forms, which we filled in one night after a candlelit dinner. The aim of filling in the forms is to get a child, which, I suppose, makes it a bit like the act of conception – although not as fun. However, after conceiving the readymade way you have to cut through the red tape, making the gestation period anything between a few minutes (if you’re a world famous pop star like Madonna) and for ever (if you’re just a normal pop like me).

There was, however, an unexpected turn of events. The day after we filled in the forms the Shrink discovered that she was, in fact, pregnant. There had been a readymade conception and a homemade conception. We decided that I would officially adopt Khwezi before our baby was born, which is why I found myself at the Children’s Court in Wynberg. As the months rolled by I made inquiries to find out the status of the application. Each time I was told that it was in Pretoria. Pretoria, I decided, was code for “stop interrupting my game of Spider Solitaire”.

I had hoped that the adoption would be finalized before our baby was born, but we heard nothing. Rachel bounced into our lives on 26 November and our triangle became a square. There was still no peep from Pretoria. I’d all but forgotten about the adoption process when the letter finally arrived this week – more than 18 months later. The adoption had gone through on 24 November – two days before Rachel’s birth.

I picked up the letter and wondered why I didn’t feel like jumping up and down for joy, cracking open a bottle of bubbly and smoking a cigar. And then Khwezi walked into the room. “Dad,” he said, “Raffy thinks you’re not stronger than the Green Guy, but I told him that you’re the strongest guy in the world.”

In that moment I knew why I didn’t feel particularly moved when I opened the envelope and read the letter. It wasn’t the fact that the adoption had taken so long to “process” and it wasn’t because the letter was written in cold, clinical officialese. I realized that the letter didn’t move me because Khwezi and I don’t need a piece of paper for us to know that he is my son and that I am his dad.

About Jonathan Ancer

I'm a journalist, cryptic crossword junkie, keen cyclist, Billy Bunter book collector and a Billy Bragg stalker. I love words and will post some of the columns I have written over the years on this blog. They include: View from the G-spot (my time as editor of a community newspaper in Grahamstown), Virgin Cyclist (the build up to my first Argus Cycle Tour), Pop psychology (my take on fatherhood) and Angry Utterances (10) (how crossword puzzles unlock the world's secrets and the meaning of life). Since leaving Independent Newspapers in September 2014 I have started freelancing and write a column for the Witness - The Diary of a Bumbling Hack. I've also become a podcast junkie and have produced a podcast biography series called Extraordinary Lives. Let me know what you think.
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