To Love A Stranger Pyramid Image.

Eric Cooper and Sandy Gabelt
© Copyright 1999 by Eric Cooper and Sandy Gabelt

Shuffling down the airport ramp in a pair of baggy jeans, a little unsure as he scanned the faces of waiting strangers, my son Jason entered my life. Wearing a Seattle Mariners ball cap with the stub of his one-way ticket sticking from his pocket, his eyes met mine, locked and we knew. The recognition was uncanny. His walk, the cut of his shoulders, his expressions ... yes, this was my son.

After a disastrous marriage that ended 14 years ago, I had received full custody of my 1-1/2 yr. old son, but lost custody of the 4 month old, because his mother swore in court he was not mine. Being Type O, a blood test wouldn't have proven much, and I received a direct order from my Army Commander to turn the child over with no further rights or responsibilities. Confused and bitterly angry, I followed orders and spent the next fourteen years convincing myself that I had one son.

I have loved and cared for, and sometimes fought an uphill battle to raise the child, instill values and help him build a future for himself. We have been together almost every day of his life but are very different in our personalities and preferences. He is a video game junkie, has different taste in TV shows and music, and his mechanical aptitude and interest are non-existent. Logic is a foreign word to him and his sense of humor seems to be strangely absent. On the plus side, he's bright in areas where he is interested, a good looking boy, quite artistic, good manners, and can be very charming. He has never heard from his mother, which is unfortunate, but considering her problems it's probably best. Oddly enough though, he seems to exhibit more of her traits than mine.

I learned that the boy I had to give up as an infant had spent most of his life in foster care and his mother's parental rights were being terminated. What if she had lied? What if my son was never able to meet the brother he so often wondered about? If I questioned the edict now, would I be opening a can of worms that would consume me? I had to be sure though, so I sent a letter stating the situation and indicating that I wanted DNA testing done. About a week later I received a reply from a social worker. As I slit the envelope open, a picture fell onto the table, the picture of a teenaged boy in a baseball uniform. I looked closely at the picture and said, "Where did they get a picture of me? I never played ball for any pizza parlor." I stared at my face in the picture then turned it over and it said "Jason, age 14" on the back. Silently, the tears welled in my eyes as I realized that that one lie had cost this boy and me 14 years together. The anger, frustration, and sadness all mingled as I sat in solitude in that same chair until 4 a.m., wondering how I could offer unconditional love to this virtual stranger, a young man already, whom I had not seen since he was 4 months old.

After our somewhat awkward meeting at the airport, we began the task of catching up on the lost years. Within hours I could feel him relaxing, and he made the comment, "I can tell already, I'm going to like this." In the months that followed, we discovered so many similarities that it's been almost uncanny. He loves fishing, camping, sports, animals, the same TV programs, etc. He has the same kind of manual dexterity and, though he has never been exposed much to anything mechanical, he's interested, watching and learning. His sense of humor is quick and creative and a little outrageous like mine, and he can even wiggle his ears (not a great accomplishment, granted, but I can, too). I find it fascinating that the son who never met me is more like me than the one I tried to "mold" ... the one who has tried to emulate me since he was a toddler.

The brothers are getting along as brothers will, enjoying each other one moment, teasing and tormenting the next (establishing the pecking order), but they'll sort it out. They are each unique individuals, consisting of a genetic mix that is a roll of the dice.

As I reflect on the torment of that evening when I first realized Jason really was mine, I remembered vividly having to give him up. I felt like part of me had been ripped away. Now I am complete again. And as for my greatest fear ... can I offer unconditional love to a stranger? Probably not, but this is no stranger ... THIS IS MY SON.

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