Adoptive father Grant Withers is an interesting man. He appears entirely unhampered by generally accepted concepts of the "male" or "father" role.
Grant, 36, and his wife Michelle, 31, of Burnaby, made adoption their first choice when they decided to have children. "Passing on our genes was not a big priority for us. We were more interested in sharing our values and our lives with a child," says Grant. That decision puzzled other people. Here was a couple who didn’t even attempt to conceive a child. "I found myself having to explain our decision; after a while I got fed up with justifying why we had adopted. So many people think adoption is a second choice." He recalls one woman responding to their decision to adopt by offering to pray that the couple would conceive a child instead.
Grant admits to some anxiety about how easy it would be to bond with a non-biological child. Once he held his daughter in his arms, he knew that that was no longer an issue. "As soon as it happened, I felt it was the most natural thing in the world."
A happy couple with a strong, companionable relationship, Grant says they weren’t always sure they wanted children. "We talked about it a lot. But ultimately we knew how important our families had been to us and saw how much joy our parents and grandparents gained from being parents."
Having made their decision, Grant and Michelle applied to adopt a child from Haiti. At the same time they had signed up to adopt a local child. Grant admits that at first he felt slightly frustrated by the need for a homestudy, but soon realized that it was teaching him about his relationship, his philosophy of parenting and what he would like to pass on to a child. "The process can be frustrating—at first I expected the social worker to be going about checking for dust bunnies but, of course, it wasn’t about that. Although the process seems to be all about you, ultimately it’s about the child and their best interests."
With characteristic thoughtfulness, Grant did all he could to prepare for the adoption, particularly of a child of a different race. He read widely, started to acquire Haitian music and books, and attended meetings of the Afro-Canadian Adoption Network (ACAN).
Then, out of the blue, came a call from their social worker. A local couple had read their file and wanted them to parent their child. Ten days later, one-day-old Renee came home.
Just after this, Michelle came into the AFABC offices and with undiluted joy introduced staff to her daughter. She explained that her husband was planning to be a stay-at-home dad.
While a man being primary caregiver is no longer a revolutionary act, it is still unusual. We wanted to know more about how Grant was fairing.
Eight months later, he has settled into his new role as full-time father with ease. "Other people have suggested that I’ll miss work or that my mind will turn to jelly. I don’t think that will happen to me. I balance time as a parent with time for myself. I don’t anticipate ever working from nine to five again. This is the most important thing I’ve ever done in my life. When I’m with Renee, I don’t want to be anywhere else." When asked how he feels about being dependent on his wife’s income, he says, "We don’t measure things by dollar signs. We see what we are both doing as equally important."
Grant has tackled the openness issue with the same balanced approach he seems to apply to all the challenges he faces. He and Michelle met Renee’s birth parents before the birth. "We broached the subject of openness first," says Grant. "The birth parents were very respectful of our baby’s need to find her place. They don’t want to be in the picture right away, but we have sent them a letter and photographs of Renee. We gave Renee her birth mom’s first name as her middle name." Having met the birth parents, Grant has no problem with, and is not threatened by, the idea of greater birth family involvement in the future. The couple already tell Renee her adoption story.
It is rare to meet someone so entirely content with the choices they have made and the lifestyle that they have chosen. Grant reports that he and Michelle plan to make adoption their first choice again when they adopt a brother or sister for Renee.