A Two-Hour Adoption

People on Plane

By Mark Vermilion

On a flight from Denver to Dallas a few months ago, I sat next to Kenny, a high-school junior from Westminster, Colorado. Kenny was very talkative, and I soon found out he was on his first-ever flight.

He was a little nervous, which was probably at least part of the reason why he was so talkative.

He passionately spoke about his love for Harry Potter books and movies—as well as popular dystopian books and movies like The Hunger Games and Divergent (his favorite). I soon realized that I would have to steer the conversation if we were going to talk about anything other than popular books and movies.

I did, and over the next 30 minutes or so, I learned that Kenny lived with his mother and older sister. His father left when Kenny was just three years old, and he hardly knows him.

I was saddened that Kenny had to grow up without a father. I prayed under my breath that God would show me if there’s anything He wanted me to do for Kenny. A thought came to my mind, and as the flight lulled into its second hour, I acted on it.

I made a bold request of my travel companion.

“Kenny, I’m the father of five kids,” I started, “And I’ve been traveling away from them a lot recently. So, I have a really strange favor to ask you.”

“Yeah, sure,” Kenny replied.

“Well, I really miss my kids a lot, and I wondered if you’d let me talk to you like I talk to them. Kinda like you’re my son.”

The next few moments were a little awkward—for both of us. I’m sure another passenger listening in would’ve thought I was a stalker.

“Uh, okay, I guess,” Kenny stammered, a little unsure of what to say.

I clarified my request. “If I were sitting next to my son right now, I would ask him how he’s doing. I would ask him if there’s anything he needs. I would ask him if he needs to talk about anything. You know, if he needs any advice from his dad.

“Are you cool with that?” I asked.

“Sure, yeah, okay,” Kenny replied a little more confidently.

“Okay, so how are your doing?” I asked playfully. My playful tone seemed to put him at ease.

For the next hour Kenny played along and shared about struggles with his girlfriend (she’s very jealous and insecure), struggles with fitting in at school (did I mention that he’s really into Harry Potter?), struggles with his mom (she’s very controlling), and struggles with one of his teachers (who told Kenny he needs to get rid of his plans to be a musician).

I listened, counseled, asked questions, and encouraged.

At one point, Kenny told me he’s been working on his grades because he wants to go to college.

“No one in my family has ever gone to college,” Kenny proclaimed. “I would be the first.”

“Kenny, that’s great!” I blurted. “I’m a college professor, and I think you would do great in college! You’re articulate, thoughtful, and intelligent. If you work at it, you can do it!”

Kenny had a lot of questions about schools, majors, financial aid, and how college is different than high school. He was getting very excited as I walked him through the basics.

Then suddenly, his demeanor changed. “Maybe I shouldn’t get my hopes up,” he muttered. “I mean, my GPA is still a little low, and my mom doesn’t even have enough money to get her car fixed. There’s no way she can pay for school?”

“That’s just it,” I countered. “You can get lots of financial aid! I have a friend who works in financial aid. He could help you, if you’d like.”

“Totally. That would be great!”

As the flight descended into Dallas, I realized my time with Kenny was coming to a fast close.

“Kenny, it may sound a little corny, but I want you to know that I’m really proud of you,” I said in a fatherly way.

“You’re a great guy with a great future ahead of you—especially if you really go after a college education. It will open so many more opportunities for you. You really can do this.”

The plane pulled up at the gate, and we exchanged contact information as we gathered our luggage.

“It was pretty cool to have a dad for a few hours,” Kenny said with the same warm smile that had been growing on me the whole trip.

“You can call me if you ever miss your kids again,” he added.

I smiled and nodded. “Totally! That would be great!”