Axios Finish Line: My miracle man

Axios Finish Line: My miracle man

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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

This article originally appeared in Axios Finish Line, our nightly newsletter on life, leadership and wellness. Sign up here.

Four years ago, a 14-year-old boy who had lost both parents dropped abruptly into our laps, Jim writes.

  • We knew Kelvin from years earlier, when he played soccer with our biological son. We had mostly lost contact.
  • Yet here he was, asking if we would take him in. Four days later, his uncle was at our door — a box with a birth certificate and other papers in hand, and Kelvin in tow.

Why it matters: Saturday is National Adoption Day, so I wanted to share our thoughts on taking the wild — and wildly unpredictable — leap of bringing a new member into our family.

  • A framework that helped me was thinking of it like a startup: You take a big risk few others try, brace for jarring ups and downs, lean on others — and recognize that failure is very possible, but not an option.

High risk, high reward: Kelvin was in a dark place when we met him — rarely at school, often in trouble. He struggled with behavioral issues, depression and volatility.

  • Kelvin — who is taking his first high school journalism class, and helped shape this story — said: “I was lost, insecure, sad, skipping school and making bad choices.”
  • But the flickers of a tender heart, a probing mind and genuine interest in others lit a path to hope.

The long view: During Kelvin’s three trips through in-patient treatment centers in three states, we often worried we were putting too much stress on our other two kids, and our marriage.

  • No one changes fast, especially a kid who feels unloved, unwanted, unknown. You have to brace yourself for very difficult moments and have faith the small things will one day make a big difference.
  • “I had never talked about my parents dying. I had to pretend it never happened,” Kelvin says. “It made me angry because I was keeping everything inside. So when it popped, it really popped.”

Get the fundamentals right: In starting and running two companies, I obsess about the foundational core being strong, then lean hard on it when tough times hit.

  • Adoption is similar. You need to have a clear set of boundaries and expectations, teach and live them yourself, and anchor to them tightly in chaos.

Love is your secret sauce: You need to say it and show it, relentlessly. You have to summon the truest form of unconditional love: Expect no reciprocation in the short term.

  • You need to imagine losing both parents, or feeling total abandonment. It makes love seem elusive, unattainable. The door to a happy, functional life only opens after one lets love in. And only then can one show it.
  • Often the anger, the drugs, the running away are simply cries for love someone doesn’t yet know how to experience. Cling to that.

Build a team: My wife, Autumn, and I might have buckled if we hadn’t put together a large network of friends and family — our other kids, who rose heroically to the moment; Kelvin’s biological extended family, who stayed involved; a wonderful therapist; and generous friends.

  • Kelvin says his world started to turn for the better on his 16th birthday, when his biological uncle, then us and then Kelvin himself offered tearful toasts to slow but steady progress. “It was the first time I felt true love,” Kelvin said. “I felt it was a resetting.”

Never lose hope: Kelvin just turned 18. He is getting good grades, is a star on his high school soccer team and behaves (mostly).

  • But most importantly, he feels and shows love. He confidently talks about his journey, brims with gratitude, and lights up a room with his kindness and cheer.

The big picture: There will be many twists and turns to this story. But this much is certain: Autumn, our other two kids and I all count adding Kelvin to our Family 5 as the best, most meaningful thing we ever did.

Here’s the biggest surprise: You often get more, grow more, feel more than the person you bring in. Even in the most painful moments, beautiful things are revealed.

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