Building a family in White America — by Paul Barlin

I phoned the Los Angeles County Bureau of Adoptions. The switchboard operator asked me to please hold. Finally the director, Jessica Keebler, came on. “Yes, Mr. Barlin.”

“It’s been two years since we put in our application—”
“There are still no Jewish children available, Mr. Barlin.”

My impatience with the agency’s parochial guidelines blew. “We’ll take a child of any religion, any ethnic origin.” I was loud, angry, and demanding. “Any race, any color.” Heated, I waited for an answer.

Silence.

To repair the damage my anger might have done, I explained rapid fire. “Anne and I work with children of different races all the time. We wrote “Jewish child” on our application because you said that asking for a child of like religion would facilitate the process.” She still wasn’t talking. Had I blown our chances by yelling at her?

“You’ll take a child of any ethnic origin?”

“Yes, of course.”

“You’re not just saying that … to speed up the process.”

“No, we mean it.”

Because of Mrs. Keebler’s long silence, again I guessed that she didn’t believe me. But then I heard, “Would you and your wife be willing … to write that on your application?”

“Yes, of course … happy to.” I felt an abrupt change from anger to giddiness, as if the door I’d been pushing against for three years had suddenly opened and I had fallen through.

Another silence. I worried again that she had changed her mind. But then I heard, “Tomorrow morning?”

“That would be fine.”

“Nine-thirty? Ten?”

“Ten would work.”

“Uh … fine … good. I’ll see you then.”

“Thank you.”

Anne was setting out the plates, but she stopped as soon as I hung up. She was smiling. I could see that she enjoyed hearing me tell off the establishment.

But the abrupt change at the agency had dazed me. I was angered over having wasted the last two years because Keebler had automatically classed me with other Whites who wouldn’t consider a non-White child. They had me write “Jewish child” when I would have written “any child.” That Keebler could finally understand who I was and what I wanted relieved me. “Apparently,” I said to Anne, still uncertain as to whether it would happen, “she accepted it.”

Anne looked at me in disbelief. She had long gotten used to swimming upstream. She actually enjoyed the cynicism she experienced as she found herself always paddling against the current. It gave her a feeling of her uniqueness. She had expected that this time, too, they would say no to her.

“She did?” Anne asked. Her tone said, you must be kidding.

“No,” I said, then, “Yeah.”

“What did she say?”

“Come in tomorrow and write “any child” on your application.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, ten o’clock. You and me.”

Anne finally dropped her cynicism and got onboard. “Well, okay!” she said enthusiastically. Her triumphant grin said she could like being one with the powers that be.

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