Johnny shares his personal adoption story
Hi, I am Johnny. I’m a writer, an actor, a therapist, and an adoptive parent.
I decided to adopt by accident, really. I was in Uganda working on a documentary shoot and I met my son Odin. He was about three years old, and he was living in an orphanage in a small little village close to the border of Rwanda in the Congo where we went to visit him. He was sort of sick and malnourished, he had multi-colored snot running from his nose and there was mold growing on the children’s heads. Their skin was very ashy. He just climbed into my lap; I guess I fell in love with him in that moment.
I felt that he was my son, so I was like, “Oh, I should adopt him,” but I had no information. In my mind I thought, “It will be very easy.” I was very ignorant and very clueless about how to adopt, so I just followed the heart, if that makes sense. I think my biggest obstacle was figuring out how to do it.
A lot of it was tracking down the information and understanding how the Ugandan system worked. I applied to adopt him, and then I realized that I needed to live in Uganda for three years. So I thought, how do I figure that out, rather than just give up? Then I discovered their U.S. immigration recognized guardianship, and adoption was the same thing. So, I become his guardian in Uganda, and then I adopted him here in the U.S.
I was in Uganda for the first period of the adoption, working on the documentary. Then I went home to Los Angeles to figure out how to adopt him, and then back to Uganda to meet with the high court of Uganda to adopt him. I adopted him in 2006. It took me a while, nine months exactly, which was funny, in a symbolic way.
The most exciting part was when the high court of Uganda said, “I give you guardianship.” I remember I put him on my shoulders and he had these little stickers and he put a little star sticker on my forehead. It just felt very sweet, and it was a beautiful moment. I mean, as I said before, I felt he was my son. Almost like I had given birth to him, without, obviously, having physically given birth to him.
There’s been a lot of reaction to my adoption. I think my friends and family were a little shocked and surprised. And also, they probably thought that it would never happen. The law was the biggest obstacle, but I’m a big believer in that you can create anything in your life, it’s just figuring out how to do it and not giving up.
My adopted son Odin is eleven today. He’s doing great. He has no real memories of living in Uganda; it’s as if he’s always lived here. And he learned English within months. He loves basketball and all sports, and he’s a really good little actor, as well. It has been a wonderful joy to see the world through his eyes, like when he discovered his first ice cube, his first shower. He was in a very primitive place when I adopted him, but now he sees that he can create anything he wants.
He’s an American citizen, but he also has citizenship for Canada and Ireland. He’s been to Hawaii, Australia, Ireland, and all over the world. He loves his relatives and his cousins in Ireland. We can explore Uganda when he’s older, and at more of an age to understand his ancestry. I look forward to taking him back to Uganda then. Who knows, maybe he’ll go back and run Uganda. It’s lovely to see how confident he is.
I would recommend international adoption to anyone. I believe there are 34 million orphans there, so yes, I would say, wholeheartedly— do it. Now it’s seven years later and I can’t imagine not having him in my life. I’ve written a play about adoption, just to share the story. I adopted as a single man, so it’s also to let people know that it’s possible. And now people contact me all the time via Facebook or email asking me, “How did you adopt in Uganda?”
My best advice is not to give up. There will be obstacles. Just keep figuring out how to do it.