Photo of Kai sitting in raft, glaring at me.

Father of year, I put my daughter onto a river that was raging at record levels. She survived.

There are those who think families happen by chance

A mystery their whole life through

But we had a voice and we had a choice

We were working and waiting for you

— John McCutcheon, Happy Adoption Day!

In the days before Father’s Day each year, I and a couple of hundred other dads gather in a beautiful, juju-juiced spot in the Colorado mountains and get a unique immersion in fatherhood.

We all adopted Korean children in the last few years and we bring our families together to Snow Mountain Ranch for the annual Korean Heritage Camp. Some of us have biological kids too. But all of us made a choice to adopt, and that gives us a different perspective on fatherhood.

Before our kids entered our lives, there were the social worker home visits, the child developmental classes, and emergency medical training to prove we were parent material. Then a judge had to seal the deal. The day our kid arrived into our family, a planned addition, a being from another origin — on that day we created a family by design.

Not that we’re perfect. I had to suspend this post between sentences No. 4 and 5 to go look for the girl who was supposed to be at the camp high school party but was AWOL. I wasn’t panicked, though, because I know her. Like any teen with incomplete brain, she will do stupid or silly things. But not bad. Not yet. She turned up, having taken a detour to a carnival before the big kids party.

During this three-day camp, us dads send our sons and daughters into days full of exploration and cultural experience, with other kids of designed families. We come together at meals to tell stories in which the kids are the stars. We listen to each other, ears tuned to the fatherly technique that each of us used in our kid’s adventure.

We aren’t the typical American dad. We aren’t any better than the typical American dad. But we have a vantage point unlike the typical American dad. Perhaps better than the average dad, we know:

We make a choice each day on what it means to be a dad. Maybe because we made that first big choice to adopt, the daily choices are sweeter.

Families don’t just happen. Well, they do, but they can be so much more flavorful when you stop to savor them.

Dads are a fraternity. We learn a lot from each other, whether we admit it or not.

Our kids notice. My daughter just peeked around the corner to see if I’m still on station to make sure she and others don’t escape the party again. She grinned and trotted back to her friends. Just checking.

Tomorrow, she will walk five paces behind me. But she will keep me in sight.

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