I was legally adopted as an adult.
But in order to get there, we have to go back to the beginning. A year after I was born, my mother and biological father divorced. She filed for a restraining order and shortly after that, he went to jail. I’ve only seen him once since.
I was raised by my mother and grandmother—they did a fantastic job. I played at least a season of every sport under the sun: baseball, hockey, football, soccer, gymnastics, swimming. I also loved to sing and dance—so they encouraged me to do theatre (which would eventually introduce me to my wife and God). That’s a story for another time. Life was good.
Then my mom met Mark.
Mark was a good man with a strong sense of humor and even stronger work ethics. I liked Mark. He was kind to me, my mother and grandmother. He had two children from a previous marriage who were really nice, too. My mom and Mark ended up getting married when I was nine. She took his last name and asked if I wanted to change my last name as well. I remember thinking, “I don’t need to. I’m happy with the one I’ve got”. On paper, everything looked like it should be going really well.
There’s this thing that happens sometimes when you are forced to start sharing the person you love with someone else. It’s like when you order a french fry and your significant other asks to have a few. “WHY DIDN’T YOU JUST ORDER YOUR OWN?!” Yeah, just like that. Only it was my mom. And not a french fry.
Even though they were married, it felt weird to call him “dad”. Just saying that word made my lip curl. People told me these things would take time, but I was convinced I would never call him that. To me, he was just “Mark,” my stepdad.
“Mark—can I go to my friend’s house?”
“Mark—what’s for dinner?”
“Mark—are you tired of me asking questions?”
“Mark—why is your name ‘Mark’?”
It was a rough start… and middle. It seemed like the more time I spent with him and his kids, the more I pushed them away. He hated when I disrespected my mom. When she and I would argue, he would discipline me for talking back to her. He had all the right in the world to do so—I just didn’t like it. We would fight. We would scream. We would throw each other’s things on the front yard and threaten to move out. Yeah, we were THAT family.
He did his best to bond with me. I remember one Saturday, he asked if I wanted to take a ride to Home Depot with him—you know, to do “guy stuff”. I said “sure” and ran out to his truck ahead of him. Before he came out, I found a can of Lysol in the garage. I thought it would be funny to pour it on his seat so that he would be surprised when he got in and sat down. So I did. I emptied the can on his seat. Not a spritz. Not a light misting. I doused his seat with the cleaning product. I tried to hide my smile as he opened the door and sat down.
His butt was immediately drenched… and his face immediately red. I don’t remember the exact words he used, but it sounded like the dad from “A Christmas Story” while working on the furnace…
“FUDGET JEEPER CRANKEN TOFFLE! MATT. WHY?! Why?! I try to do something nice with you and THIS is what you do?!”
Yeah… my version of “bonding” and his were slightly different. Talk about an awkward (and damp) ride to The Home Depot.
Eventually, things stabilized. Once I realized he wasn’t going anywhere, anytime soon, I began to look for ways to repair our relationship. I still called him “Mark” and I had kept my old last name… but the fighting subsided and we started becoming friends. He helped me work on school projects. He told me to get my butt to school when I wasn’t “feeling well”. He helped me fix my car. He taught me how to be responsible with my finances and relationships.
And then, everything changed in 2011.
One weekend, our church, Crossroads, had a series called “A Place at the Table”. It was about how God, our loving father, adopts us into his Kingdom when we accept Jesus. We take on His name, his identity, and his inheritance. There’s always a place at the table when you’re adopted into God’s family. You don’t need to prove it, earn it or worry about it being revoked. I always wrestled with this concept of God being like a father because my biological dad was never in the picture. I could wrap my mind around this idea of God being a king… but a father? A father who spends time with his kids? A father who wants good things for his family? A father who actually wants a relationship with me?
It hit me like a ton of bricks.
I couldn’t understand God as a father because I wasn’t even recognizing my own stepdad as a father. This man, Mark, had been taking care of my family for over 15 years. He had been challenging me, rooting for me, loving me, disciplining me, growing me and providing for me. If that isn’t a father, I don’t know what is.
I knew what I had to do.
I can remember working up the courage to ask him. I was nervous. What if he said, “no”? What if it didn’t really matter to him? I spent some time asking God for the confidence and the right timing. And when I was ready, I walked into the kitchen, stood in front of him, took a deep breath and said:
“Dad, will you adopt me?”
… …… ……….. ……………
“Yes, son. I’d love to.”
… …… ……….. ……………
HUGE SIGH OF RELIEF
All of the worry. All of the doubt. It faded away. The words were awkward to say: “Dad, will you adopt me?” It didn’t come out easily. It was a conscious choice I had to make—but it was worth it. Like new muscle being built.
I didn’t want to just get a legal name change. I wanted to have the opportunity to declare before others that this man is my father and I am his son. In doing so, not only would my last name change, but it would impact my wife, our children and our children’s children for generations to come.
So we went to the courthouse on January 10th, 2012 and filed for a “Legal Adoption of an Adult”… which, apparently, is a thing. After testifying before the court all the ways this man acted as my father and I, his son, the judge granted the adoption and signed the papers.
I haven’t called my dad “Mark” ever since.
Through all of this, I have a deeper understanding of how God loves his children as a father. How he cares for us through invitation, forgiveness, discipline, and encouragement. My dad and I are continuing to build our relationship. We co-led a mission trip to India. We visited South Africa to care for the poor. We were both baptized and started leading small groups in our community. He is a great dad and has taught me how to be the same.
I have an amazing wife and three little girls. My greatest goal is for them to see Jesus in the way that I love them, their mother, and everyone else around us. It’s my job to make sure they see a healthy version of a father here on Earth so they can better understand their Father in heaven.
No family is perfect—God knows we’re far from it. But we have a Dad that always provides for us. It’s up to us if we want to accept our place at the table.
Happy Father’s Day, dad!Written by Matt Castleman on