Reece’s Rainbow Report #17: Howard Family

“Too young.”
They try to tell us we're too young
Too young to really be in love
They say that love's a word
A word we've only heard
But can't begin to know the meaning of
~ Nat King Cole, “Too Young”
“Too young.” That’s what the judge pronounced from his Armenian courtroom when he looked at Caleb and Lisa Howard’s request to adopt Patrik, a 34-pound, paralyzed 12-year-old. At age 29, Lisa was legally not old enough to be this boy’s mother, he said. Besides, what sane person ― even an experienced mother and nurse, as Lisa was ― would want Patrik? 

Why would she and Caleb, an Air Force pilot, purposefully lock down the rest of their lives caring for a young man with several major diagnoses?
“The judge asked us pointed questions about why we wanted to adopt a child with special needs, almost sounding incredulous,” says Caleb. “It was a stressful, emotional day.”
Thankfully, the Howard’s lawyer stepped up to the plate. Wouldn’t it be better, he argued, for Patrik to have access to American medical care and the personalized attention of a family than to remain hidden in an Armenian orphanage? And Caleb was two years older than Lisa anyway. Wasn’t that good enough? 

Too young, too young, too young to begin to know the meaning of the word love…

For an agonizing two weeks, the Air Force couple waited for the judge’s decision, the words too young echoing. They knew that, in all likelihood, they were Patrik’s only shot at a family. With spina bifida, cerebral palsy, hydrocephalus and a host of gastrointestinal issues, he had watched for years as younger children in his orphanage got chosen over him. 
“Are you going to adopt me, too?” he would ask some of the adoptive parents from the floor through a translator. When they would apologetically shake their heads no, he would smile sadly. “That’s okay, I was just asking.” There was certainly no line of waiting families for Patrik, and he knew it. 

But that had changed when Lisa was surfing through social media one day in 2017. Another Air Force family who had adopted from Patrik’s orphanage was advocating for him. Lisa immediately noticed the boy’s strong resemblance to her own children. 

“Patrik looked like he could’ve been in our family all along,” Caleb says. “Looks aren’t everything and that wasn’t even within the criteria we were considering, but something about his picture and his story pulled on our hearts.”
They already had two young children, and Lisa was pregnant with their second daughter. They had long planned on adopting a child ― but could they add a son with so many “extras”? 

Indeed they could, and in November of 2018, Lisa and Caleb traveled to Yerevan to meet their new son. “I am not typically emotional, but my eyes filled with tears, and I was choked up with a flurry of conflicting emotions,” Caleb says. “Joy and sorrow, pride and pity, relief and anxiety, all seemed to well up inside me as we met Patrik.” 
That judge, however, threatened to halt the adoption in its tracks.
Too young, too young…
But then he said yes. So in May 2019, Patrik became a Howard, flying home to his new father’s Air Force base in California. Today, he’s a 15-year-old young man at their latest assignment in Ohio, looking wholly different than the “shell of a boy” the Howards first met. 

“Patrik has grown so much, has overcome several operations including major spine surgery and seems so bright and alive compared to the little boy we brought home,” Caleb says. 

Yet it hasn’t been a Hallmark movie. There have been what feels like a thousand surgeries and doctors visits trying to solve his mystery intestinal issues. Bonding has not always come easily, and Caleb and Lisa often struggle to untangle physical ailment from trauma behavior. Which is which? 

Still, there is no denying that Patrik knows which family he belongs to. 

“He has learned that we are family and where we go, he goes,” his father says. “He feels secure in our family, and he makes people smile wherever he goes.”

Next up on the docket: learning to drive his electric wheelchair, a task which his three siblings (ages nine, seven and five) are happy to coach and encourage. Patrik also sings loudly at church, happy to no longer wonder if someone wants him. 

Perhaps he will someday learn the final verse of Nat King Cole’s “Too Young:” 

And yet we're not too young to know
This love will last though years may go
And then some day they may recall
We were not too young at all
~ Nat King Cole, “Too Young”

“Watching Patrik’s joyful moments when he is most enjoying life is what makes it feel worth it,” Caleb says. 
“I think a lot of people would be better off if they had simple joy and faith like Patrik.” 
Crystal Kupper
Crystal Kupper is a freelance writer specializing in magazines and special projects. Since earning her journalism degree, she has written for clients such as Zondervan, Focus on the Family and the Salvation Army, among many others.