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The following year started off as all the others did. School was going very well, and all his buddies continued to have him over for sleepovers and birthday parties. Even the two girls continued with this group and I think the parents were a lot more tolerant now. The Parker’s were some of Steven’s biggest fans and really helped out when needed. By now, Steven and I were a team, and nothing was going to split us up.

The first big change happened when at the end of September all the boys in the gymnastics group got a letter that coach Paul was leaving to take on a role as a full-time coach at the Calgary Gymnastics Club. Steven was upset at this since he had really taken to coach Paul over the past years.

I went in and talked with coach Paul congratulating him on his new position. He was a very friendly coach and it was evident from Steven’s irritation, that he and the boys on his team, loved him very much. Towards the end of the conversation he asked me if Steven would like to come with him to the CGC. He too was amazed at the growth in Steven’s gymnastics and figured that a club like this could really push him to the next level if that is what he wanted. He gave me a number to call to get more information.

The next day I called the club and talked with a lovely lady named Janelle. She gave me all the information I needed, so then it was time to talk with Steven about this possibility. I knew that one decision was going to be hard for Steven.

 We sat on the couch with Steven snuggling into me. I told him all the information about the club. He would have training 5 days a week from 4:30-6:00 pm after school. Coach Paul would continue to be his coach. However, it did mean he was going to have to give up his soccer. There was just no way this could fit into the plan. I also told him, that I was willing to resign from my pool job if he wanted to do this. He had a lot of questions about this, especially the soccer problem. Since there was no gymnastics on Saturday, he mostly wanted to know why he could not continue with his soccer. I told him that weekends were reserved for gymnastics competitions and while not every weekend, it was not fair to the soccer team for him to be away so much. He had to agree with me on that one point.

Steven thought it over for the next two days and decided it was what he wanted. He really liked the coach and was doing very well in his gymnastics. At soccer practice on Saturday he told the group of his decision and said goodbye to everyone. There were a lot of teary eyes. Steven had made some great friends over the past 3 years in soccer. As he walked away from the soccer field for the last time, I hugged him into me and told him I was proud of his actions and that I would continue to support him in any decision he made. While I think he perked up, it was still evident that he was not happy with having to leave his friends on the soccer team. There was a repeat performance when he told the Parkers about his decision. 

Saturday was also my last day at the pool as I had handed in my resignation a couple of weeks earlier. I handed in my uniform and said goodbye to everyone. They presented me with a card that had a year’s pass for two in it and hoped that Steven and I would continue to come and practice. As I stood outside my car, I stared for the last time at the garbage dumpster where this whole adventure had started. Once again, I looked to the sky and mouthed the words, “Thank-you.”

So now our schedule went something like this; school from 9:00-3:00, do homework in my room until it was time to leave, drive to the gymnastics club, practice from 4:30-6:00 and then home for dinner. After dinner it was finishing homework, exercise, sometimes off to the pool, and on Tuesdays and Thursdays it was off to the rec center for continued swimming lessons from 7:30-8:30.

By the time we got home, Steven wanted a snack, then he showered and got ready for bed. We finished any chores that needed completing before I sent him off to bed. This was the year that Steven had told me he thought he was too old to be tucked in. We said our goodnights in the living room ending with a big hug from each other. I still told him I loved him every night, kissed his forehead and hoped this was not going to change. Deep down inside I was hurting that my little Steven was growing up so fast, but overall, I could not be prouder. His now yearly medical checkup told me everything was fine. He was showing good growth and his body had begun to define itself with shoulders widening, pecs firming and becoming defined, a hard and muscled eight pack, and muscles over his body that showed the results of all the exercises we did and all the activities he was involved in. It was evident that Steven was much healthier now.

It was during the grade 5 year that Steven asked me about “The birds and the bees.” The first thing I did was ask him if he thought he was in puberty. In typical Steven fashion the response was direct and personal. “Dad, I am only 11 years old.” I told him that some boys started puberty as early as 10 years old. I then let him ask the questions and spent time in discussion with him as I answered the questions. I knew where it was all leading and was not holding anything back. Steven was smart enough and bright enough to handle what he wanted to know. I had purchased a book when he was younger about boys growing up and one of the chapters was on the changes during puberty so brought it out to assist with the teaching. In the end, he thanked me, and I reminded him that he could talk to me about this at any time. Over the next few years, we would have several additional discussions about this just to make sure that he was clear and informed.

It was the beginning of October that I got a call from Mac Redmann. What she told me had me on my guard almost immediately. Steven’s biological father had showed up and wanted to claim him back. Mac was adamant that I not let this even get started. He had just done a prison sentence for assault and battery and he had a record longer than most peoples arm. I was in shock as she told me all about him. She also told me that the law was very mixed up about this. While he was his biological father, the adoption process had been open for public scrutiny the entire time with no one coming forward prior to the final adoption. What would happen next was not really well defined. One thing for sure, it was back to court for me and Steven. I was very happy that Mac would be willing to take on the case on my behalf. At this point in the process I decided not to let Steven know. Unfortunately, I was not able to hold this for a long time as Mac wanted to meet with me and Steven as soon as possible. I talked with Steven the evening before we met with Mac.

Steven was in tears and extremely distressed almost immediately. It took me quite a long time, with lots of hugs and kisses to finally calm him down. While I had to be honest and tell him I was not sure of what the outcome would be, I was going to do everything to have him remain with me. As far as Steven was concerned, the man that was his biological father had ceased to exist over the past 9 years. He was most adamant that he should have a say in this.

The meeting with Mac was not much better.  She really had no answers, but she had a complete plan of action. It took us quite a while to cover everything that Steven had accomplished in the last four years with me. She was going to use this as a comparison to his first six years with only his mother, remembering that his father left very early in his life. 

We met a total of six times over the next four weeks and finally it was time for the hearing to take place. I was not very happy to see that the judge would be the same one we had during both the parental agreement and the adoption process. I thought in my mind that this could get both ugly and very drawn out. It turned out I did not need to worry so much. Mac had everything under control.

Steven and I got ready in the morning. I had him wearing his white shirt and tie with his sports coat, denims and dress shoes. He looked very handsome and I wanted to make sure that he showed off a completely different circumstance than what I presumed would be his father’s. I was correct in this. Syd Free showed up looking very unkempt and also hungover, although the latter was just a feeling with no specific evidence.

The judge asked the lawyer for the father to start the proceedings. Through his lawyer, he presented his case. It was a very short speech and I was surprised that it sounded like it was so ill prepared. He had no supporting evidence and no supporting witnesses to most of his claims. When the judge asked him about his criminal record, he was very evasive and put most of the blame on other people around him. I knew from experience that this would not sit well with the judge.

When it was our turn, Mac had the entire court room in a trance. She started off with the obvious – assigning of parental permissions when the mother was dying. She brought out the official documents that indicated this had been done under no duress or coercion as deposed by the mother herself, before she passed on. Since the passing of Steven’s mother came up, she also took the time to let the court know what had transpired at the funeral and how Steven had visited his mother’s grave many times a year to keep it clean, bring flowers and to talk with her about his growing up. Not a good defense, but a wonderful story.

Next it was on to his health. She identified Dr. Brian as his family physician, and also had Dr. Simon Morrison from the hospital present as she went thought his medical history and health records. She then asked the father and his lawyer if they had any questions for either of them. When there were none, she turned to the judge to ask if he had any questions. I could see what she was doing, and it was brilliant. There were no questions from either of them, so they sat down.

It was then that she pulled out the winning card. It was time to look at Steven’s intellectual and physical growth over the last 4 years. She had every one of Steven’s coaches and teachers from every year present. I think the trump card was when she asked every teacher if the father had attended any of the parent teacher conferences or interviews in the past 4 years of Steven’s life. They all answered the same, only Kevin Boothwell had ever come to any of Steven’s parent teacher conferences and he had never missed even one. Again, she asked the father and his lawyer and the judge if they had any further questions before moving on.

Lastly it was on to Steven’s accomplishments over the last 4 years. His many awards, his Gymnastics medals, the school awards, his swimming assessments and even his report cards were all produced with copies to the father and the judge. Once again, as the ever professional, she asked for questions from the father and his lawyer as well as the judge. None came.

The final summation involved Steven’s friends and colleagues. There must have been over 50 of them, all with their families, in the courtroom. While the father and his lawyer had had enough of this, Mac asked for, and received the courts indulgence. Steven was quite taken with all this. He was waving to each one as they were introduced and explanations about their affiliation with Steven were explained. I think he wanted to run up to each and either shake their hand or give them a hug, but he knew he had to remain with us at our part of the courtroom. There would be time for this after the hearing.

Since she knew it would come up, Mac even broached the subject of a single dad and a second job. There was nothing left out and no one asked any questions of this.

The judge then brought in Social Services and it was Madeline Small that came forward. I was surprised at her testimony since I knew from previous engagements, she was not really in favor of either my parental rights assignment or the adoption. However, she had obviously changed her tune for this hearing. With no uncertainty, Madeline expressed the Social Services view of having Steven released from the adoption to his real father. I made a mental note to thank her for this.

All this was taking its toll. It was now over 2 hours later, and Steven was getting a little antsy having to sit through it all. I gave him some money and asked the Parkers to take him out and get him something to drink. He was back in 15 minutes looking refreshed and relaxed.

It was at this time the judge was interrogating the father. He seemed to be most interested in the father’s motivation for this, 10 years after the birth of Steven and given his criminal background. Once again, I was surprised to see how little preparation Syd and his lawyer had made. Their arguments were weak, and the judge quickly saw through this.

Then the surprise came. The judge asked me, Mr. Free and Steven to join himself and the court reporter in his quarters. He has some things to discuss with the three of us. We all entered his quarters and while the reporter set herself up, we took our seats in front of the judge’s desk. He then told us what was going to happen. He made it clear to Steven’s biological father that there was no way on earth he was going to give custody back to him. Nothing he had seen this morning indicated that Steven would be better off with him. I cannot tell you how much of a relief both Steven and I showed with this statement. He then turned to Steven and asked if he wanted to see his dad on occasion? He explained to Steven that as part of the final judgement, he could include visitation rights. I decided to let Steven speak for himself. What he did surprised me. He looked over at his biological father and asked him, “If you came to see me what would we do? I don’t really know you and you do not know me. I do not remember, but it is obvious you left me when I was very young so you cannot say you loved me. My new dad has always shown me how much he loves me.” Steven just sat there looking at his real dad.

The response was short and specific, “What you say is true, but I was hoping it was not too late to get to know you.”

“It is far too late. I have a real life now. I have real friends and people who know me and that I really trust. I have others who are there for me when I need them. You have never been there for me.” By now there were tears coming from Steven’s eyes. I pulled him to me and wiped his face.

“This is all true. I have no response to this. Can we just try again? Just so I get to know you and you get to know me?”

The judge was listening intently to this interaction and at this point jumped in. He repeated his last question asking if Steven wanted time to see his dad. He also mentioned that it could be supervised with his new dad present at all times.

In a very gracious and polite tone and voice Steven answered, “No thank-you judge. Like Ms. Mac said in the court room. There is nothing I need or want from my real dad that my new dad is not already giving me.” I was shocked and the judge was humbled.

In one last attempt, the judge asked Mr. Free what his motivations really were. It was like he was getting a different vibe from him than the rest of us were. We were all dismissed and returned to the court room. Mac just looked at me and I nodded. I think she totally understood.

The judge then rendered his judgement. It was short and quick. He told everyone present that while the legal system generally regards parent’s rights as sacrosanct, in this case it was evident that Mr. Free had clearly decided to give them up. Steven was to remain with and named Steven Boothwell. 

Organized pandemonium then broke out. Everyone was either crying, wailing, cheering or clapping. Steven jumped up and gave me a big hug and kissed me on the cheek. I hugged him back equally and kissed him on the forehead and told him how proud I was of him and how much I loved him all the while we were being mobbed by all the kids in the courtroom. I let Steven down and it was quite the scene. 

Mac went over to the lawyer of Mr. Free who basically packed up and was preparing to quickly leave the courtroom. I found out later that she looked him square in the eyes and said to him – “Just try appealing that!” and then walked away not waiting for an answer.

I wanted a picture of everyone that was in the courtroom, so I asked one of the court attendants if he would take it. Everyone was in the picture either with hands up in victory or fists clench showing solidarity. As we left the court room, I could not believe what I was seeing. Hundreds of people were lining both sides of the hallway with posters and signs all in support of Steven and me. Tears welled up in my eyes as Steven and I, walking hand in hand, shook hands and tried to thank everyone there.

I did not realize all that Mac had done. She had even made arrangements with the Earl’s family restaurant that Steven and I frequented, to have snacks and food for a celebration after the hearing so we all ended up there for the next hour until a lot of people had to leave. I think every single employee came over to shake my hand and give Steven a hug. He was soaking all this up in his usual style. Finally, it was time for the two of us to go home only to find yet another surprise.

Someone had contacted my parents and they drove to my apartment and were waiting to greet the two of us. Steven ran up to his grandma and gave her a giant hug. He then repeated this with grandpa. We all went upstairs to my apartment. Steven and I changed out of our formal wear and then joined grandma and grandpa in the living room. Steven talked for the next hour on the hearing and did not leave out one detail. Later, my parents said they had to leave so we took them downstairs to their car and with Steven in my arms we both waved goodbye to them. I then got a really big hug from Steven. We decided to spend the rest of the day with just each other. Steven took a nap in the afternoon as I think this whole process had exhausted him. Tomorrow would be another day.

For a second time in his life, arrival at school was met with practically the whole school out on the lawn cheering us on. There was a huge banner hanging on the school that said, “We All Love You Steven and Mr. Boothwell.” Someone had brought a camera and got a picture of this with us in it. They had it framed and presented it to Steven and me later in the week. To say I was overwhelmed was an understatement. I had no idea Steven and I had such an impact on so many people.

Mac called about a week later to say she now had possession of all the papers signed, sealed, and completed. She would deliver them to me later today. I decided with all her help; it was time to thank her. Steven and I had planned on a night out at the Keg, so we invited Mac and her husband. I was pleased they graciously accepted. We had a great meal and a great time with all the staff, once again, ending the night with their rendition of “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow.” Tonight, I got to tuck Steven in after a prolonged hug and then even kissed him on the forehead and told him I loved him. He told me the same and when I went to my bedroom, I think the two of us fell asleep at the same time.

To end this for all time, I got a call from Mac three months later that Mr. Free had been arrested for an armed robbery. He had been convicted and since it was third time unlucky, he was sentenced to 35 years. That meant he would be totally out of the picture for ever now. I was greatly relieved. I decided not to talk with Steven about this.

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Harold Daw
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