Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Six parents, a daughter and one special day

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"DID you cry?" a newsroom colleague asked on Monday.

"No," I answered, trying not to start. "Not on Saturday."

It wasn't until Sunday that I allowed myself to feel the sense of loss that comes with giving away one's daughter.

Someone else had taken my place as the man most responsible for caring for and loving her.

It was days later before I understood the feeling on another level.

That's how her two young birth parents must have felt about the newborn they gave away.

What were the chances they would ever see her again?

Let alone be at her wedding.

* * *

My daughter, Erin Elizabeth, was married last Saturday at The Pavilion Gallery in Assiniboine Park.

Erin is my only daughter.

But, as you might have gathered, I am not her only father.

"They say a daughter marries her father," I said after I'd walked her down the aisle and she and her husband, Ryan Kangas, had exchanged vows.

"Well," I told the 120 family members and friends who really didn't need any reminding, "Erin has three fathers."

One birth father, one stepfather, and me, the one who was blessed to have adopted and raised her.

But in a way, I suggested, in marrying Ryan, Erin had managed to marry parts of all of us.

Ryan is a teacher, like her stepfather.

He is six-foot-three, like her adoptive father.

And he's handsome, like her birth father.

At that point in my speech I asked Matt Slobod, who was standing near the back of the room, to raise his hand so everyone could see him.

As Erin's birth father bashfully complied, Erin's birth mother, Rita Altrogge, was sitting at a nearby table with her husband, Paul, and their four children.

Just as there were three fathers at the wedding, there were three mothers.

The birth parents who never married -- Matt and Rita -- had travelled from Edmonton with their respective spouses and children to be there for the wedding.

There was something surreal, Rita and I agreed later, about having everyone there.

The parents of birth, adoption, divorce and remarriage, brought together by one person they all loved.

It was like being at a football game without a program.

Or drifting and dancing through a dreamscape.

What it felt most like, was being on a movie set.

Six parents and a wedding, maybe.

My first wife, Shelley, and I had been living in Edmonton on Oct. 14, 1977 when Erin was born. Eleven days later, we drove to a social-services office above a mall in west Edmonton, where I was allowed to be the first one to cradle her in my arms.

It was the happiest day of my life, I told the wedding crowd.

And undoubtedly the saddest day in the lives of the young mother and father who gave her life and then, to their lifelong regret, gave her away.

It wasn't until 18 years later, after I located Rita and Matt in Edmonton, that they saw their baby girl again.

This time as a vibrant young woman who had Matt's blond looks and Rita's laughing nature.

Later, outside on the Pavilion balcony that overlooks the main entrance to the park, Rita talked about how every time Erin has come back to Edmonton to go skiing with Matt and his wife, Jan, and to visit her and her husband, Paul, she's always had the same reaction.

"I cry for a week after she leaves," Rita said.

When they were children, I told Erin and her younger adopted brother, Ian, that their mothers always thought about them on their birthdays.

Later, my wife, Athina, told me something Rita's husband, Paul, had confided to her. That Erin's otherwise effervescent birth mother had turned uncharacteristically quiet every Oct. 14 when her missing daughter was growing up and she didn't know where the baby she had named Elizabeth was on her birthday.

Or how she was doing.

When Matt got up to speak, there was an eloquence and a presence about him that suggested he would have been a natural in the pulpit if he had chosen to complete his divinity studies.

He spoke about seeing Erin in the hospital as a baby and thinking that he would never see her again. About the joy of getting to know her over the 10 years since they were reunited. And he talked about how grateful he was for the gift he had been given in being welcomed back into her life.

There are those, of course, who will wonder why I helped Erin find her birth parents.

The answer is quite simple, really.

It was Erin's choice and my duty and joy.

There are those who might also wonder why Erin would feel so comfortable in inviting Matt and Rita to her wedding.

That's simple too.

Because they are two of the six parents who love her.

As I've told my only daughter many times, you can never have enough people who love you in this world.

And now she has one more.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 29, 2005 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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