Father's Privilege

Nothing speechy or pony-related or political here to see. Mushy stuff. Move along.

Seven years ago today, Katrina and I sat in an oppressively humid, noisy room in the Civil Affairs Ministry in Wuhan and waited impatiently to meet our youngest, Elaina.


Here's what I wrote then:

As with most of the babies, she cried lustily, upset by the crowd, the noise, the unfamiliar Western faces (and odors), and the grasp of unfamiliar people — and, no doubt, by longing for her foster mother. I took her next, and calmed her down a little by singing to her.

Let me tell you, you have to be pretty damned upset to be calmed down by my singing.

She fell asleep in my arms on the bus back to the hotel.

I understand the confusion but you're out of luck there, kiddo.

I understand the confusion but you're out of luck there, kiddo.

Elaina's personality quickly asserted itself. Now, seven years later, she is razor-sharp, mouthy, and utterly fearless.

When my parents took me water-skiing here when I was 7, I cried.  This is how Elaina reacted at 7.

When my parents took me water-skiing here when I was 7, I cried. This is how Elaina reacted at 7.

Most people don't get it when I explain that it grates on me for people to say "how lucky she was for you to adopt her." In fact, every day I feel utterly unworthy of the privilege of raising this child, and my others. I wish I could remember which writer said this: the adoption was an act of mercy, but the recipient of the mercy was us, not her.

Last 5 posts by Ken White


  1. Philosopherva says

    My mother said when she called my father at work to ask him if he wanted to adopt a child (I had not yet been born), it was the fastest yes he ever gave. You are so fortunate to be able to adopt. What a gift.

  2. says

    Wife and I are trying to adopt but we've been having difficulty because we own a 15-month-old pit bull. If anyone knows any good, flexible adoption agencies in Phoenix metro, feel free to share.

    In the meantime, we're looking to get our dog certified as a Canine Good Citizen and planning to get her DNA-tested in case she's not TOO much of a pit bull for whoever it is who makes these decisions. Any other helpful suggestions welcome.

    ("Get rid of the dog" is not a helpful suggestion, it's a last resort.)

  3. Sami says

    Thank you for posting this.

    No, seriously – I was depressed and miserable this morning, and your pictures of Elaina and that gigawatt smile just radiate joy from my computer screen.

  4. Marvin says

    Our daughter is now 27. Went to the agency in Japan. Told it would take 6 months. Dropped my wife at home and got back to work. Agency called and ask if we could take a liitle girl born yesterday. 15 minutes. The day she left the hospital we took her home. Very abridged tale. I could go for hours.

  5. Dan Weber says

    I was going to say "who is that guy in the photo?" but the URL beat me to it. :)

    Thanks for the wonderful post.

  6. Anon says

    Fierce little girls are awesome. You are lucky, as is Elaina. Enjoy her now and forever, even when she is 22, as is my fierce little girl. And keep blogging. I read it all.

  7. sorrykb says

    That's a great smile. … And your daughter's cute too. :-)

    I'm with Sami on this. A bit of unfiltered joy is most welcome.

  8. Mark says

    I suspect most parent's feel a little unworthy, and always a lot under-prepared. At least, the good ones.

    Does she want a pony for her birthday? :-)

  9. En Passant says

    Now, seven years later, she is razor-sharp, mouthy, and utterly fearless. … the recipient of the mercy was us, not her.

    Until, of course, she learns to play accordion and goes to law school. Then we'll see how much mercy you get when she laughs even more than when learning to water ski.

    How is it even possible to pack so much adorableness into one kid?

  10. lazlo says

    Adopted my lovely daughter from Vietnam in 2001 just after she turned two – yes, as parents, WE were and are lucky. Last summer I was on a Hong Kong-O'Hare flight – got on the plane, girding for the 15 hours, and realized that it was a plane full of parents with adopted children returning to the US – the kids and babies looking slightly puzzled but not unhappy, the new parents ecstatic but nervous, me remembering going through that, talking to a couple of the adoptive parents on the ride….maybe the only 15-hour flight I was ever on that seemed too short because it was so joyous. Congratulations to you and your daughter and family!

  11. Myk says

    @Thad It may be worth mentioning to the agencies that you have a Golden Retriever with some birth defects that can, under certain lighting conditions (esp. daylight or incandescent light) make him look a little pit bull-y.

  12. Josh says

    She's beautiful. I can't say the same for your shirt.

    Seriously though, enjoy each other. And the force of her personality in that last photo is awesome. She's going to continue to do wonders for you.

  13. Mike H. says

    Thank you for this. I enjoy your occasional adoption posts. We adopted our son as an infant and having him in our lives has blessed our lives immeasurably.

  14. Grifter says

    Dammit, Ken, I mean, I like your posts but why the heck are there onions here? (That's what it is, right?)

  15. R says

    My mother, aunt, and uncle all had better lives because my grandparents could adopt them. Lately friends have had wonderful domestic open adoptions. There's a lot of love in this world that needs to be shared.

  16. wolfefan says

    I always appreciate your adoption and child posts. I am an adopted child, and feel lucky to have had the parents who adopted me as well as the birth mother who recognized that she could not raise me. It was a different time – 55 years ago – and to cover her absence during pregnancy she told people that she had been institutionalized in the state hospital in Cincinnati. I know that my parents feel lucky and blessed, but they are more humble than they have a right to be. I am sure that my birth mother had mixed feelings, but I hope she knew at some level that although I never met her I love her and am grateful to her.

  17. Walter says

    Dude, your daughter is like a smiley face made flesh. And thank you for making us feel some of the joy vicariously.

  18. says

    Years ago I was flying into Des Moines to visit my folks. Walking back from the gate wee saw a family greeting an asian baby they'd adopted; Mother, Father, and several children. Each child was a different shade/ethnicity and they were all clearly happy/noisy/secure. Great!

    Why can't it be that BOTH of you are lucky?

  19. JeffDG says

    My daughter was born 11 years ago today, so I'm in the same frame of mind of celebrating the anniversary of meeting her! It is the greatest privilege I have known in my life to have her call me "Dad"

  20. I Was Anonymous says

    The real question, of course, is ,,, Has she asked you for a pony yet? And if she has, what was your (horrified) response?

  21. Hoare says

    "Let me tell you, you have to be pretty damned upset to be calmed down by my singing."

    When I start to hum all that ever comes out is "Smoke on the Water" or "Radar Love".
    but they both work!

  22. Pseudonym says

    I am so glad to see the love and appreciation you have for your daughter! It resonates especially, since we just dropped our wonderful daughter off at college, leaving the nest empty. It's very exciting, but man, it hurts.

    My late mother used to say that the only thing sadder than having your children grow up would be not having them grow up …

  23. Timothy says

    This made me very happy, Ken!

    My D.A.D. (Daddy Acquired Daughter or vice versa) day is July 21st.

  24. Wancy says

    Parenthood (no matter how attained) is a privilege that has two effects:
    1) Those who have achieved it would never relinquish it
    2) Those who have chosen to avoid it would never understand it

    Congrats, friend, daughters are fearsome and awesome creatures.

  25. Allen says

    Ooof, I just got back from visiting the boys in college. They're both going to school in San Diego. For some strange reason the Little Feat song "Dixie Chicken" keeps running through my mind. "My money flowed like wine…" I wouldn't change it for the world.

  26. I Was Anonymous says

    Seriously, Ken. Congratulations. As the father of two (now-grownup) daughters, I can tell you that you are in for a great ride… especially as she hits her teens ([insert evil laughter here]).

    But, no matter how old she gets, she will ALWAYS be Daddy's Little Girl, and that is something to revel in.

  27. Fasolt says

    A late comment to the post, but I just saw this quote, and it could not be more appropriate:

    And though she be but little, she is fierce.–Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream", Act 3, Scene 2.

    Click here for the quote in context.