NOTE: November is National Adoption Awareness Month. We at the LPGA support and honor those families built around the blessings of adoption.
You learn so much about yourself in the process. When my wife and I decided to adopt our daughter, Liza, from China, we convinced ourselves that we knew it all. After five biological sons, who are now between the ages of 24 and 34, what more did we need to know? But the moment the orphanage worker handed us our daughter, we realized that we knew almost nothing.
For starters, the joys of parenthood that befall every parent are magnified when you hold your adopted child for the first time. Perhaps it’s the double-whammy of both gaining a child and rescuing a child. Or maybe it’s the joy of holding our girl after two years of waiting, mountains of paperwork, social-worker visits, and compounding layers of stress. But the feeling is different in a wonderful way.
Then there are the unexpected attributes. Within months, we realized that we had a strong-willed, dynamic and outgoing child who had compassionate instincts and would also throw a fit on you in a heartbeat. As we engaged with the broader community of adoptive parents, particularly of girls from China, we realized that this was a common trait.
I asked one of the other moms one day, “Why is that? Why are all these girls so strong and savvy?”
Her answer floored me. “Because the weak ones die before we can get them,” she said.
It was a couple of years before we realized how much Liza loved golf. I took her out with me to hit a few balls here and there before heading to the pool, where she showed a deft level of athleticism. My sons never wanted to play golf. With them, I traveled to every dirty baseball field in the South, cheering when appropriate and trying not to facepalm when parents yelled horrible things at teenaged umpires. So, you can imagine how I felt the afternoon Liza climbed into my lap and said, “Daddy, can we please go hit golf balls?”
In the 16 years since, I’ve never said no to that request.
Which brings us to another family, the Solesbees, who adopted their daughter, Autumn, through the North Carolina foster care system.
“I originally was the golfer in the family,” Donnie Solesbee said. “I grew up playing golf. I was an only child. My dad introduced me to golf when I was about 10 and I became a pretty good junior golfer and ended up working as a golf pro for a while out of college. But my dad and I always had that bond.
“When Autumn came to meet us for the first time, we would do weekend visits and we were just looking for a good place to introduce her to my dad, who was going to be her grandfather. Topgolf was a great place to do that. So that was really our only intention at the beginning. It was a great place to meet, five minutes from his house. But she loved it. So, we hit some balls and then had lunch and then (Autumn) asked if we could go back and hit more.”
Two years later, Autumn has won a trove of U.S. Kids Golf events and has become a social media sensation with a jaw-dropping swing, a spunky personality, and a story that inspired the LPGA to feature the Solesbees in our #DriveOn campaign.
“Now we have this person who came into our life, with a father and son who love golf, and she loves golf too,” Donnie said. “We’ve thought about that a lot, because Autumn, when she was in foster care and it became a situation where she was going to be permanently adopted to a forever family, there were several different families that were very interested in adopting Autumn. I'm sure that they would have been wonderful families. But you have no idea if golf would have been a part of that. So, it's just kind of interesting how it worked out because she just absolutely loves golf.
“Now that she's a part of our family, we find ourselves doing exactly what I did as a child. My mom didn't play but she would always go ride in the golf cart. Jamie (Autumn’s mother) does the same thing. We spend time out at the golf course. So, from a family standpoint, that's what (golf has) given us.”
My sons are a gift. They have blessed us with 10 beautiful grandchildren so far. My oldest is a mathematician and data-analytics specialist. Another son is studying to become a chemical engineer. One teaches religion at a private high school, another is on a career path at Chick-fil-A, and one is working to become a college history professor. I couldn’t be prouder. But I had to go to the other side of the world to get a child who is just like me.
Liza and I play often. She is on the Rollins College women’s golf team and beats me more often than I care to admit. She also outdrives me by 20 to 30 yards. But you won’t find me complaining. No matter where the game takes her, I know that I have a golf partner for the rest of my life.
That story is not unique.
“I'm the main golfer in the family until Autumn and now I'm Autumn's dad,” Donnie said. “That's my title: Autumn's dad. I'm amazed by Autumn every day and I watch her confidence grow with golf. And I love the opportunity we have to spend time as a family through golf. I think we wanted to share our story because if there's someone out there who's thinking about adoption and they're nervous about it, at least they can look at our story and say, ‘Look how they came together as a family and how they spend their time.’ I'm just happy that we get to share that. I hope that people really love Autumn’s story as much as we do.
“She has been in our life for a little over two years now. We met her October 11th of 2019. I was in my late forties at that time. I just turned 50 this past year. I would say that I was meant to be a dad my entire life. I just didn't know it. That, honestly, is what I've learned about myself. And it's been the most rewarding, unbelievable experience that I could ever, ever imagine.”