THE PARENTS: Tariem Burroughs, 37, and Nick Wood, 36, of West Philadelphia
THE CHILD: Finn Alexander Francis Burroughs-Wood, 7 1/2 months, adopted February 5, 2019
EVIDENCE OF THE PARENTHOOD LEARNING CURVE: At first, Finn (and his fathers) would be up for hours after a middle-of-the-night feeding. Later, Nick learned to bottle-feed in the dark and soothe the baby back to sleep in three minutes.
One vacuums; the other doesn’t. One crams his travel itinerary with dawn-to-dusk rounds of historic sites; the other is happy to lounge by the pool with a book.
But when it came to getting married, Nick and Tariem were secretly on the same page. Nick proposed first, in summer 2014, at the end of a day of whale-watching in Provincetown, Mass. But Tariem had already ordered rings etched with the latitude and longitude of their favorite spot in Rehoboth Beachm, Del.; he planned to pop the question a few months later.
The two were in their P-town hotel room, recapping highlights of the week. “Nick said, ‘There’s one thing we didn’t do.’ I said, ‘What’s that?’ And he said, ‘Would you marry me?’ ”
They blurted the news to the first person they saw that evening, a drag queen named Miss Coco Peru. And Tariem reciprocated the proposal just after Thanksgiving, on the beach in Rehoboth.
They’d been together for five years, ever since a mutual friend brought Tariem along to Nick’s 27th birthday party. Their first official date was at a Phillies game. And when Nick discovered that the South Philly house where he was supposed to be moving with friends wasn’t exactly habitable — you could see the second-floor bathtub through a break in the ceiling — it made sense for him to live in Tariem’s West Philly apartment.
“In most relationships, there are a lot of leaps of faith,” Tariem says. “I think that was the biggest one for us.”
They married in May 2015, at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church, with a reception at the Manayunk Brewery that captured two of the couple’s favorite things — good beer and live music. A friend who is a glassblower made custom flutes for a toast. They danced to “Feeling Good,” a mash-up of the Michael Bublé version (Tariem’s favorite) and the George Michael rendition (Nick’s choice).
Children were a foreign concept to Nick; he’s an only child and, as director of integrative medicine at an HIV/AIDS service provider in Sharon Hill, he works exclusively with adults. But Tariem had worked in childcare and attended graduate school with an administrator of Adoptions from the Heart. That path to parenthood felt right to both of them.
“We knew there were a lot of kids in the U.S. who need great homes, and we thought adoption would be more affordable” than surrogacy, Tariem says. As they moved through the process — the home study, the profile book, the workshops — Nick worried about his lack of experience with babies.
“I had other fears related to the uncertainties of the adoption process; would the child be affected in a way we are not equipped to handle?” At the same time, “I felt excited to take on a new challenge and step into that part of my life. And to have a grandchild for my mother.”
The men were open to a child of any race; they pointed out to adoption caseworkers that, no matter the ethnicity of their daughter or son, they were already an interracial family.
They were “on the books” — that is, with paperwork completed and profile book ready to show to birth parents — by November 2017. Then they waited — through two baby showers, one including a Quizzo-like game in which they answered guests’ questions: “How old will the kid be when you let them use a cellphone? Who’s going to be the most sad when they go to college?” At one point, they closed the door to the nursery — already set up with light-green walls, a crib, and music memorabilia — so they wouldn’t have to look at it each time they walked by.
The call came in June, two days after they returned from a trip to Spain, Morocco, and Portugal: A healthy baby boy, born three days earlier. Biracial. Just outside Atlantic City.
There was only one catch: the birth mother lacked medical insurance and needed $14,000 for hospital expenses. The couple didn’t have that kind of money, but Tariem encouraged the adoption agency to look into grants or other resources.
They were taking a friend on a brewery tour when the second call came: “Congratulations! You guys are going to be dads.” It was a Sunday. The following day, they signed stacks of paperwork. The day after that, they met their son.
Nick, ordinarily anxious about encounters with new people, fretted all the way to the hospital, where they planned to meet Finn’s birth mother. “I thought: She’s going to hate us. She’s going to change her mind. But we met her, we hugged her, and it was wonderful.”
The birth mother — a veteran of parenting who already had five children — showed them how to hold and feed the baby. Tariem recalls an infant who seemed small despite his 8 1/2-pound birth weight, a baby bundled like a burrito in hospital blankets. Nick recalls thinking: Don’t drop him.
“We said [to the birth mother], ‘Thank you. We’re so happy to have this opportunity to have Finn in our lives, and we hope we can raise him right,' ” Tariem recalls. And they readily agreed to the birth mother’s request that, in recognition of her own parents’ deafness, the men would make sure Finn learned sign language.
He came home on July 5, to one dad who obsessively checks his temperature and the car seat straps, another who is more laid-back and playful.
For Tariem, who is finishing his Ph.D. in sociology, being a parent is a nudge to “do what makes you happy.”