When I was young, I heard claims from my family that the Jacques line was a genetic pool that had a longevity leak. There were few Jacques men left, and the ones that had children seemed to always have female offspring, so the fate of the Jacques line would likely end with me. As the fates would play their seemingly cruel game, I never had children of my own blood. My male cousin had girls, and failed relationships put a period to that sentence. My female cousins produced a couple of males, yet one would not produce genetically even though he found his love, and the other was blessed only with female children. My first marriage proved pregnancy to be problematic, yet the relationship was also troubled. By the time I found my life with a woman who would change my life in so many ways, producing blood offspring was something I had already figured not my lot – and that fact found no ill within me. Would that fact bring me to a depressed living knowing I could never have children of my own? If the production of my loins determined my life, then maybe. Yet that is not what life is about, to me. Life is about passing on your entire code – both physical and otherwise. The truth of what I call my kids became much clearer in the last year.
I have been "Mr. J" for many years, and in many forms, yet it's my kids in our local high school, and those I attend college with, that solidify an important revelation. My wife’s children accepted me into their family years ago, and they became more of my own children than the biological father that discarded them when they were young. My kids at the high school affected me so deeply, they inspired me to become a better person to pursue higher educational excellence. Still, my heart aches not being able to see them achieve and grow into the amazing kids that I see in each of them.
A neighbor boy has been a part of our family since before I joined them. He was even called the blonde-son and was a part of many activities we had as a family. When his own parents caused him distress, we would often have a third child in the house for a brief time. Through scouting, which he got my son involved in, we had many adventures learning about self-sufficiency. We found the same interests in science-fiction fandom, card games, and movies. When his own father fell to his genetic tendencies of addiction, the pain and anger in his eyes brought pain and anger in his father’s; yet pain and sadness to mine when I could offer nothing but an ear to listen. My heart soars when he calls me Dad, and my heart aches when that same darkness clouds over his life.
Had I been blessed with my own kids, I sincerely doubt I would have been lucky enough to have been able to "adopt" one of the strongest women a few years ago; and I would have never had been so lucky to become a grandpa to my Little Noah. Each trip to NYC for surgery or a checkup enacts the father/grandfather encoding within my genetics as if they were my own. They truly are like my own and I miss them daily.
A troubled young man, taken away from our high school in handcuffs in front of me, cried out for my forgiveness. Later, he would be thrown away by the man who had chosen to be that child’s ladder out of darkness. When the job became too rough, too caustic for that self-proclaimed father, he quit a young man as if it were a job he could move on from by the stroke of a pen. That young man made a connection with me because I understood something clearly behind his silent screams, and those unheard by those entrusted to his care. I have written about this young man before. Yet, still, my heart aches as if he were my own.
My son’s friend who had returned from Middle East military service came home to a family that, for whatever reason, decided to throw him out for their own egotistical reasons. He was more than welcomed into our home, in its chaotic state, for as long as he needed to find his own way – days or months, or years. For his own benefit, he found that ability rather quickly and is now looking at prosperity on his own. It was too like when our daughter left for her own life – now thousands of miles away on the other side of the world. My heart ached for him then, and when he left, as if he were my own.
I sat at the funeral of the father of one of my son’s best friends this Easter weekend, and looked out at the crowd. From that back row, I could see the kids I taught and the group of kids that accepted me into “boys night” escapades at movies and gaming excursions. They all faced the understanding of mortality while supporting their friend. The young soldier, now civilian, looking to find a new life. The immigrant son making his own unique mark on life and society. A dutiful son whose own mother uses him more as a utility than allowing him to be the dutiful man he shows to the rest of the world. An intelligent and young engineer flying high straight out of losing his own father too young. A computer geek looking to find a career, like me so many years ago. An anxious young lady, my friend’s chosen partner, fighting the anxieties that have plagued her for years; not too unlike those that I have been forced to overcome. An exuberant young woman tackling the Big City giving me a congenial hug, wanting to hear how things had been, yet setting and time were not our companions to share our stories. So many others looking on as their friend in the front row faced grief too early, and too unexpectedly, in a life that he had yet to understand. I sat there with my tearing wife, looking at these youths look on not knowing what to do or say. They all defaulted to their own humorous tendencies that allow them to cope, bring them closer in the face of death; yet they were together. One young lady, caring for the young man who had lost his father too soon, brushed away the lint on his pristinely cared-for blazer just like my own partner does; preening me from that which is no longer needed. Time called us to celebrate more life that day; yet, my heart ached for each of them as if they were my own.
That young man who has lost his father knows he always has a place with us in our home. He told me just a couple of nights after his own father passed, “I want you to know that you really are like a second set of parents.” The kids who accept me as a friend, and not as their friend’s Dad. The young veteran who relies on my wife and me more than his own blood. That wild, young man – wherever he is now – seeking my forgiveness when he had done nothing wrong in my eyes. A neighbor boy who calls me Dad, not caring if he ever sees his own again. The student of life who digitally reaches out to me now and then for advice, calling me “old man” when he sees me in public. A friend of my wife and I at college who sees us as her college parents. All of them and more are close to my heart as if they were my own.
I could be anchored down knowing that I have no biological children of my own – yet we debate how my step-son is too much like me to not be my biological son. What would that anchor do but not allow me to sail on the clouds when someone calls me Dad or seeks advice from me instead of their own parents? When they need a home from the chaos in their world? When their own father leaves them too early? When they call out over an unknown medium for strength and seeking some wisdom to acquire an ability to persevere? What kind of parent would I be to all of them, when they need me if I held to something so trivial as biology. I tell all of them, “My kids are my kids, now and forever. When you hurt, I hurt. When you rejoice, I glow. When you need me, I am there. Family is more than blood and biology. My kids are my kids.” My wife and I realized when I was thinking of that troubled young man, that I couldn’t have children of my own because there were so many others that needed me in their lives. I could rely only on biology, yet I am so blessed with so many kids. They are all my kids as if they were my own.