*As told to Natalie Brenner

What does it mean to be a dad via adoption? I don’t know what it means to not be dad via adoption because that is how I became a dad. Becoming a dad via adoption was not easy.

First, I had to navigate the emotional process which is different for everyone. It was different for me than it was for my wife in terms of experience and time.

From grieving infertility to mustering up the courage to investigate the adoption process there were a lot of ups and downs along the way. Then, once we started our adoption journey, there was the paperwork, doctors’ appointments, fingerprinting, verification of this, verification of that, fundraising, waiting and anticipating, travel, being matched, experiencing a failed match, being matched again, meeting the expectant parents, our son’s birth, waiting on ICPC, having an open adoption with our son’s birth family, and figuring out this whole parenthood thing along the way.

There are no words of advice, books or podcasts that can fully prepare you for the journey of adoption.

Similar to being a parent in general, you mostly figure out the adoption process as you go.

My wife and I will soon be navigating how we talk to our son about his adoption as he becomes age appropriate.

We have to be prepared for the hard questions he might ask as he grows up. We have to be fully aware of how and what we speak about our son’s birth family both in and out of his presence. We have to know when his birth family’s story is for them to tell and not us.

These things are all added on to the ‘typical’ parenting experiences.

I believe this whole process has changed me in ways I didn’t think possible. I learned things about myself I didn’t know. I believe I am more aware of my thoughts about people who are different than me and I think I am more sensitive about the words I use.

So I have been blessed tremendously by our journey to adoption beyond becoming a dad.

Now that I’ve been a dad for just over two years, I’ve learned being a dad via adoption, to me, means always thinking, “Am I doing this right? Am I parenting the way my son’s birth family hopes I will? What will my son think about me when he is old enough to know he is adopted?”

It also means receiving a lot of different comments, reactions, and questions from others when they learn I/we adopted our son. Comments like, “Good for you for adopting,” “You are such a blessing to your son,” or “Oh wow! I could never do that.”

I’ve also been asked questions such as, “Why did your son’s real family give him up for adoption,” “Is your son’s real dad in the picture,” or “Are you going to have kids of your own some day?”

I think many adoptive parents have heard these comments and questions in some form or another. They create a mixed bag of emotions.

Knowing how or when to respond is something I need to be conscious of all the time and probably for the rest of time. I think this is what makes being a dad via adoption “unique.” Unique, not better not worse, not more not less.

One of the fears I had when we first started the adoption process was I didn’t want our child’s identity to be that he/she is adopted.

Adoption is certainly something to be celebrated and talked about but I just didn’t want ‘adopted’ to be the first thing people thought about our child as he/she is so much more than how they came to be our child.

Recently, I have been having similar thoughts about my own identity. I don’t consider myself my son’s ‘adoptive dad.’ I don’t introduce myself that way and that’s not what my son’s birth certificate says. It’s not how I feel. We may not share any chromosomes but I’m his dad. I’m his real dad.

Like I believe most dads do, I love my son in ways I never thought possible. I have hopes and dreams for him. I want to protect him and provide for him. I want to be the best dad I can be for him. I want to be a good role model for him.

I want to leave the world a better place than I found it for him. I don’t know what it’s like to be a dad biologically and that’s okay because being a dad via adoption is amazing!

In conclusion, I have never felt I am a blessing to my son. He is a blessing to me that I did nothing to deserve. My life is infinitely better thanks to God who chose me to be a dad via adoption.

– Tyler, dad by adoption