A good portion of you probably don’t know this because I don’t advertise it, but exactly 11 years ago today, my life changed forever.
Shortly before lunch on October 22, 2008, I stood before Judge Dixie Park, sobbing like a baby, barely able to mutter a word, as I officially adopted Gavin. He didn’t understand what was going on, but Lizze and I certainly did.
For those who don’t know, Gavin is Lizze’s son from her first marriage. I’ve been raising him as my own since he was just over a year old. Every year I share the letter I wrote the judge, explaining who I was, who Gavin was, and why I wanted to adopt him.
I’ll let the letter speak for itself. Have a great night.. ☺
October 22, 2008
Judge Dixie Park,
You have asked the question, Why do I want to adopt Gavin?
This should be very simple to answer, but it is not. There is so much going on in our lives that I do not really know how to answer this question anymore. In truth, I have been working on this letter for quite some time. There is so much joy and pain involved in writing this. I wanted to take my time and do right by Gavin, so here it goes.
Let me start by introducing myself, I am Rob Gorski. I am almost 30 years old today. I am a husband of 5 years to my amazing wife Lizze and a father to my two miracle babies, Elliott Richard (2 years) and Emmett John (7 weeks). I met Lizze a few months before September 11, 2001. I was at the tail end of paramedic school and about to suffer a major, life-changing back injury. We met each other while walking our dogs at the park. There was a connection right away. We waited a while before I met Gavin.
The first time I met him was at Meldrum’s, a restaurant in Massillon. I met them there for dinner. Gavin and I bonded instantly. This was uncommon for him as he was very shy. While we sat there coloring and waiting for our food, he spilled an entire glass of ice-cold lemonade on my lap. Lizze thought for sure I was gone after that. I never really told her, but that was the moment I fell in love with her. We were married about two years later.
Since the day I met Gavin, I have taken responsibility for every aspect of his life. Not because I had to, but because I wanted to. Lizze and I have raised him together since then.
What does it mean to be a father?
I would like to introduce you to Gavin now. Gavin is eight years and seven months today. He is a sweet, compassionate, loving, and selfless little boy whom I’ve had the privilege of raising as my own since he was about 1 1/2 years old. Gavin loves to build with his Legos and draw his comic books. Gavin has been through more in his short time on this Earth than most people will in a lifetime. He has been in the middle of a tug of war for almost eight years. We have fought very hard to shield him from this, ensure his best interests, and get him the help he needs, which most recently included a DNA case in Stark County Family Court against Gavin’s biological father and paternal grandmother, which was triggered by Gavin’s doctors.
Gavin was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome in 2005 by Dr. Lee Reynolds and Akron Children’s Hospital. Asperger’s is a form of Autism. Gavin has also been diagnosed with PTSD, ADHD, OCD, and Sensory Integration Disorder. Recently we have been treating him for bipolar disorder as well. Every day is literally a struggle to survive.
Gavin is emotionally about three years of age. We live in a world where Gavin “melts down” over everything. As he gets bigger and stronger, he is getting much more difficult to manage. Words cannot describe how difficult this summer has been. He was extremely difficult to manage and has more recently become very violent. Gavin hurts himself when he gets angry or frustrated. He is very dangerous to be around when he is raging. We have built our lives around Gavin’s needs.
Meeting Gavin’s needs requires great sacrifice from all of us. We have involved every available means of support in order to meet his needs. This is extremely difficult to do because what’s best for Gavin is rarely what’s best for Emmett and Elliott. Finding a balance that allows us to keep everyone safe is very challenging.
We have once again begun discussing a residential treatment program for medical stabilization with his doctors because we have to ensure the safety of everyone in the house, including Gavin. When things are out of his control, he panics and lashes out, but he would never hurt anyone on purpose. That being said, when he lashes out and melts down, anyone and anything in his path will be collateral damage. We have been working with Dr. Patti Milsap –Linger and Dr. Reynolds (for years) to try to stabilize him.
For several years we were taking Gavin to 5 or 6 appointments per week. His Doctors have told us many times that we have done everything that we can possibly do for him. They constantly reassure us and help us get up back up when things get really bad, and we begin to doubt ourselves. We have found a very delicate balance in our lives that has allowed us to tread water. This balance has required great sacrifice on our part. Gavin can rarely be taken anywhere because of his behaviors. We need multiple babysitters if Lizze and I ever leave to go anywhere (which rarely happens).
He has no real friends because he cannot connect with other children and because it isn’t safe for them. He struggles with most social situations and really struggles with expressing himself. We do our best to provide him with a safe environment wherever he goes. We do all of this and more for him while still keeping the best interests of our other 2 children at the forefront of our minds. Things are extremely difficult, but we pull together as a family, and we push forward because no one gets left behind. Elliott, in many ways, has become Gavin’s “big brother”.
We have worked so hard to give Gavin a chance to live a quality life and reach his potential. We have found him a great school. He attends Summit Academy here in Canton. Every one of the teachers and staff is an angel. They have made such a difference in his life as well as our own. Lizze and I are very active in the school as she is the president of the PTA.
All of this has helped manage the situation, but as terrible as it sounds, the Gavin we knew died many years ago. What is left is a little boy who is lost in his own imagination. A little boy who rarely makes any real connections with anyone. A child who struggles in every aspect of his life. We no longer live in the same place at the same time, if that makes sense.
I cannot begin to describe the pain of losing a child to Autism. I catch myself thinking back to when he was little. I tried to remember if there was something I had missed. Have I failed him? What could I have done differently? I always come to the same wish. I wish I could go back to when he was 2 or 3, and I took him fishing for the first time at Price Park. He caught a blue gill all by himself. He was so proud and so happy that day.
That is the day I always return to. That was one of the best and worst days of my life, all at the same time. It was great because we had so much fun and I was so proud of him. We were connected that day. We were in the same place at the same time. It was the worst day because that was the last day I can remember we had like that. He began slipping away after that (although we were not sure why at the time).
I wish I could go back and make that day last just a little while longer. I wish I had known that would be one of the last times we would have to spend together in that place. That place where we were connected, and he knew I loved him. I wish I could have said goodbye. It seemed like the next day, I woke up, and everything was different. I am really struggling to write this because I try not to think about those days because I cannot stop crying. It hurts to cry anymore. I miss him so much.
Even though I live with him every day, we don’t connect the same way anymore. Gavin likes to spend his time alone in his room working on his Lego inventions with his imaginary friends. That seems to make him happy. We are told that Gavin does not perceive things like we do. I often wonder if he knows how much we love him. We tell him all the time, but I do not think he gets it. We constantly worry about his future. We worry about everything.
Probably the most difficult part about this whole thing is we know he is still in there. Every once in a while, we get a glimpse of him. It’s like he’s trapped inside the fog, but sometimes he fights his way through, and we get our little boy back. These glimpses last only a few moments, and before you realize it, they are gone. Patti (Dr. Milsap) calls it the Swiss cheese effect. Sometimes all the holes line up, and we can see through. We live for those moments. They are few and far between.
I love Gavin for who he is and mourn for who he was. I would never try to change him to fit a mold. I try to guide him through his journey as safely as possible. I have been there for him through everything. I have been there for all the nightmares, meltdowns, and injuries. I have also been there for all the little victories like brushing his teeth and getting himself dressed for school. I was there for all his karate awards and school plays. I have been to all his appointments and picked him up from school every day. I have made sure the tooth fairy does not forget to visit. I make sure he has clothes to wear, food to eat, and a roof over his head. I make sure that the spaghetti sauce does not have any “specks” in it because I know he will not eat it if he sees “specks” of seasoning.
I make sure our house is as safe for him as possible. I gave up my career so I could work out of my house because Gavin requires Lizze and me both to be there. I sold most of my possessions so I could give him what he needed. I have made countless sacrifices in my life so I could meet his needs better and be there for him. I live each and every day in constant physical pain because of my back injury, but I push through it because my wife and children need me to. We have gone bankrupt in the process. The only help we ever receive is from our families and Gavin’s amazing doctors and teachers.
These people amaze us because they don’t have to get into the trenches with us, but they do anyway because Gavin has touched their lives. We have received no help from his biological father. Gavin’s father is an alcoholic and a drug addict. He has shown up to court in Stark County twice over the legal limit and has 2 DUIs. He has yet, to our knowledge, completed any drug and alcohol counseling and or treatment. He also did not complete his DNA case plan after almost two years. This is why Jobs and Families finally moved to terminate their involvement (because of his lack of cooperation).
We voluntarily chose to enter into an agreement with his father and grandmother. This agreement put Gavin’s doctor’s in charge of their visitation (specifically Dr. Pattie). This legally binding agreement is on file in Stark County.
This will be my second adoption attempt. The first time Judge Park granted the adoption. It was appealed and overturned. We then went to the state supreme court only to lose again.
The Ohio Supreme Court did not hear our case, thereby upholding the ruling of the Fifth District Court of Appeals. Gavin’s father and paternal grandmother fought feverishly to get the adoption overturned and succeeded in taking it away. But here we are, almost four years have gone by, and not a single child support payment has been made. In fact, they have not had any type of contact with Gavin in well over a year.
Lizze and Dr. Pattie decided to move their supervised visits to the Massillon YWCA because it was a better fit for Gavin and his special needs. It was more of a therapeutic environment, and they would help Gavin’s biological father and paternal grandmother learn how to interact with Gavin appropriately. They refused to show up at the visits as a “matter of principle” because they did not believe they needed to be supervised. They allowed pride and principle to separate them from Gavin. Nick then received his 2nd DUI, went to jail, and the visits stopped altogether. At no time did we ever discourage them from seeing him or him from wanting to see them. To this day, Gavin’s father still has yet to set up his visits at the Massillon YWCA.
We have recently been drug into court in Muskingum County to face contempt charges claiming we were “not allowing Pam (Gavin’s paternal grandmother) to exercise her visitation”. We have been following the Stark County Court Order to the letter (an order we all – myself, my wife, Gavin’s biological father, and paternal grandmother – agreed to follow and signed).
We were found in contempt for doing so by Muskingum County court, and my wife now faces jail time if she does not turn him over. We have the full support of all Gavin’s doctors in pursuing this adoption again. Our lives are so fragile, and Gavin’s is even more so. All we want is to be a family and move on as best we can.
Granting this adoption will allow us to do just that, move on and live as a family. Fundamentally nothing will change because I am the only father figure he has ever known. I am the one he goes to when he is scared. I am the one that shields him from all of this needless court drama.
I have seen him through all the broken promises and missed visits. We have made up countless excuses for why his biological father and grandmother will not come to see him. All while ensuring Gavin that it’s not his fault. We tell him they have “homework” to do before they see him at the new visitation. For a while, he would ask us why they weren’t doing their homework.
Eventually, he stopped asking and now rarely ever mentions them anymore. Believe it or not, that’s heartbreaking for me as a father. God has given him many challenges in life already, he doesn’t need this one.
Nothing will change the fact that I am his father, even though he calls me his “Robby.” I have never encouraged him to call me dad because that’s just a name and it means nothing. I know what he means when he calls me “his Robby.” No matter what happens, I will still be here doing the same things I have been doing for seven years, along with my wife. I will never be one of those who abandon him, never.
I will be here waiting patiently for the next time Gavin finds his way through the fog. I will try to reach out and grab his hand and hold on to him for that moment because it is so precious. I will try very hard to remember to ask him if he’s happy if he knows we love him and how lucky we are to have him. I just need to know he is happy with his life, that he knows how much I love him and how proud I am to be a part of his life.
I want him to know if there was a way I could take all of this away from him, I would. Sadly, I know I cannot take this burden from him, but I will walk by his side through his entire journey. I absolutely believe that if anyone can rise above these difficulties, it will be Gavin, and I will be here for him no matter what happens.
I humbly ask please grant Gavin and me this adoption and help me to put this all behind us. Please help me give Gavin the stability and consistency that he so desperately needs and deserves. Please help us give him a fighting chance.