“Life of the Party”

Adoption kismet paired my moody, socially awkward self with an upbeat, sociable son who volunteers to wear his school mascot costume, runs for student council, and is unfazed by the thought of speaking in front of his whole school. Every day I am awed (and exhausted).

an adoptive father looks back on his socialy awkward school days, in contrast to his sociable, outgoing son (as his school mascot)

My 10-year-old son, Jayden, and I were on our way home from “Meet the Teachers” at his school. I had been volunteering and he’d wandered off with friends, so I asked him what he had done while we were separated.

“Well, I was talking with a bunch of my friends and some new people to see if they’d vote for me for student council president. Then I joined the yearbook team. Then, I volunteered to wear the school’s mascot outfit on special events. Oh, I also signed up for flag duty and safety patrol, where I get to open car doors in the carpool lane at morning drop off.”

“Buddy, we were only separated for a half hour!!” I said. “After all that, will you even have time to go to class?!”

As continued walking home, I thought about my own experience entering fifth grade. From kindergarten through fourth grade, I’d gone to a private school where I had to wear a uniform every day. Fifth grade was my first experience picking my own clothes. The school social scene didn’t go well throughout middle school and, if I’m being honest, high school. I had trouble making friends except for the kids like me, whose deepest thoughts were deciding which Metallica t-shirt to wear on class picture day.

author Billy Cuchens' high school junior yearbook photo

This was definitely the right Metallica shirt to wear my junior year…right?

Furthermore, I couldn’t have imagined running for student council, as both winning and losing would have seemed like equally terrifying scenarios. If I won, I’d be in way over my head: I’d have a ton of work to do, no idea how to do it, and have to work with other students I had nothing in common with—specifically, students who made good grades. If I lost, I’d suffer the embarrassment of losing, which would have led to only one inevitable next step…crawling into a hole and dying.

“So, tell me about running for student council president,” I said to Jayden as we walked home. “Do you think you can win?”

“Sure,” he said. “A bunch of my friends said they’d vote for me. I just have to come up with a good speech.”

“You have to give a speech?!” I said. “To who?”

He shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know. I guess the whole school.”

“Buddy, are you nervous about talking in front of a big crowd?” I asked him.

“Meh. Not really.” He answered so casually, as if talking to a few hundred of his peers was nothing. Meanwhile, to this day, the thought of talking to a group of 10 or more people makes my feet sweat. For that matter, the thought of Jayden talking to a few hundred people was making my feet sweat.


In It Together, After All

When you’re raising kids through adoption, it’s funny to see how their characters develop—specifically, their traits that are the complete opposites of yours. Jayden is easygoing, upbeat, and sociable. Everywhere he goes, he’s up for anything with whoever’s there. He’s inherited none of my melancholy, moody, rebellious, socially awkward personality.

It boggled my mind to think how far I had come in life…that the same dude who spent most of his school years wearing all black, watching television, and getting into trouble would one day grow up and convince five different case workers to approve him to be a father.

By the time we got home, Jayden had asked me for countless fun things: If we could go out for milkshakes, if we could watch a TV show before bedtime, if we could get donuts before school the next morning, if we could go play football tomorrow after school. True to his life-of-the-party personality, my son was looking for the next party. Meanwhile, I was done. I may have had those same gimmies when I was 10, but I’m a dad now and there are only so many times I can say “no” or “I don’t know.” So when we got home, I had him get ready for bed.

After I’d told him good night, I realized everything he’d asked for had one thing in common—there was a “we” in it. He’s always asking me to hang out with him. Of all my kids, he’s the one most likely to ask me what I’m doing and then take an interest in my response. If I’m making dinner, he’ll ask to help. If I’m fixing something around the house, he’ll ask how me to explain what I’m doing. If I’m working out, he tries to mimic what I’m doing. Maybe the one thing we have in common is that we love hanging out together? If so, that’s good enough for me.

POSTSCRIPT: Since this piece was written, Jayden’s school held its elections—and he was voted class president!

BILLY CUCHENS is the father of five through transracial foster and domestic newborn adoption. He lives with his family in Texas.

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