happy family posing for the camera

In Praise of Family

My favorite television commercial begins with a young man telling his buddies that he is never going to get married.  It ends with the same, somewhat older man sitting on a sofa and watching over his sleeping wife and daughters as he declares that he is never going to let go.  Are families still an important component of society or is it time for us to just “let go” of this notion?

A young client taught me that families are more important and necessary today than ever before.  Mary (name has been changed to preserve confidentiality) walked into my office and asked if someone could help her get adopted.   I invited her to sit down and we discussed her case.

Mary was 16 years old and had lived most of her life in foster care.  She adored her present foster family and her foster family wanted to adopt her.  However, even though they had had minimal to no contact with her over the prior decade both of her very dysfunctional birth parents vehemently opposed the adoption.  Mary’s birth parents made it clear that they would not consent and would aggressively resist any attempt to proceed with her adoption.

Because of the intense, prolonged and painful emotions and grief associated with a contested adoption proceeding, my recommendation to Mary was that she should not pursue the adoption until she was 18 years old.  In Wyoming an 18 year old is a legal adult and as a legal adult, Mary’s birth parents would no longer have standing to object to her adoption.

Large tears began streaming down her face as she heard and received my counsel.  I suppose a year and a half seems like a lifetime to most teenagers.  She so desperately wanted to be legally joined to those that she had come to know and love as her family.  With a tremendous display of maturity and discipline Mary stood up, wiped her tears, shook my hand and told me that she would think about my suggestion.

It was a calm and peaceful Monday morning, approximately a year and a half later when I received an 8:00 a.m. phone call from Mary.  She asked me if I remembered her and, before I could answer, she told me that it was her 18th birthday and she wanted to know if I could get her adopted – – on her 18th birthday.  My initial instinct was to tell Mary that it was highly unlikely that I could complete her adoption in a day.  However, I vividly remembered her tear stained face when I last spoke with her. I decided that I would do my best to fulfill her birthday wish.

We scheduled an office appointment for 10:30 a.m. at which time the adoption petition and consents would be signed by Mary and her foster family.  Mary was delighted that I was willing to help her.  Upon the conclusion of my phone conversation with Mary, I took a deep breath and outlined in my mind what needed to be done.   I next called the court on the off chance I could find a judge who was willing and able to assist with Mary’s adoption request.

One of the judges had a busy day scheduled, but told me that he had spent most of the prior week breaking up families through divorce proceedings and he cherished the opportunity to put a family together.  He graciously rearranged his docket to accommodate Mary’s petition.  A court hearing was scheduled for 2:00 p.m. that afternoon.   The adoption pleadings were drafted, signed and filed in the morning.

At 1:30 p.m., Mary and her soon to be family came to my office, wearing their Sunday best.  We walked together to the courthouse.   It was a choice experience to participate in the hearing wherein Mary testified about her love of those who wanted her to become a legal member of their family.

The adoption decree was signed and entered at approximately 2:45 p.m.  Mary’s birthday wish was attained.   A large smile appeared on Mary’s face when the good judge signed the decree.  The serene smile was on her face for the remainder of the day.  I will never forget Mary’s divine birthday countenance.

Mary later met and married a wonderful young man and continues to embrace life as an integral part of a legally recognized family.   As you think about the notion of whether or not families are a critical component of today’s society, please reflect upon the angelic face of an 18 year old daughter of God who for the first time in her life had finally found and claimed her family.

Former UCLA Bruins football coach Henry (“Red”) Sanders first coined the phrase: “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.” This phrase was later used by Vince Lombardi.  With all due respect to coaches Sanders and Lombardi, Mary will tell you that family isn’t everything, family is the only thing.