I remember that day very clearly. An excited call from my partner, Leon, saying “We have got a child”. I went into panic mode. I had made my position very clear, both to him and into Social Welfare. I wasn’t going to have just any child thrown at me. I wanted to be sure that I could “bond” with the child first – not that I had the vaguest idea of what that might mean.
So I went to see this child, which they thought would be right for us. He was lying quietly in his cot at the far end of the room, sucking his finger. I looked at him. He looked at me. After a while, I put out my finger and he took hold of it. And at that moment – that instant – I knew that this child was mine. I knew that I was his father and he would be my son.
When we adopted our children, the legal wording of the adoption order was, for me at least, very important. It said that this child was now “as if born to you”. The ancestors of that child (and the state) for whatever reason, handed him over to me and my partner. Our children were not “abandoned”. They were consciously and lovingly handed over. Those children are now mine - “as if born to me”. These two black boys now have two white fathers.
And it happened quite naturally, fairly early on, when I was asked by one of them about the identity of an old white lady in my photograph album, that I explained that she was my mother. “Your grandmother”, I explained, “she died a long time ago”. And we moved on to the next set of pictures. “And that is your Aunt, and that is your cousin…” and so it went.
Both the children refer to Leon’s parents, who are much more to them than pictures in an album - as “Granny” and “Grandpa”. And Leon’s parents make no distinction between our children and the children which his brother has produced biologically. Our ancestors are now the children’s ancestors. They have no others.
Of course besides anything else, the question of culture has also come up fairly frequently. Just because of the fact that these children happen to be black and me white, do I need to start doing a course in gumboot dancing? Should I rush off and get myself circumcised? Should I have a regular supply of Mopani worms in the house to make them feel secure? This is as crazy as it is bizarre and it reveals, I am afraid, just how far we are away from a really non-racial society, where colour is the least significant thing about a person.
No, we are not there yet. And yes, I have no objection to “exposing” my children to cultures other than my own. I also have no illusions about the difficult path they will need to tread. They need to be secure, not in some fantasy culture from somewhere else, but in their own skin, for who they are. And force-feeding them Mopani worms will not make it easier for them. It may make it a whole lot worse.