When you’re a funny guy, you hope to raise a child who shares your sense of humor.
Delmar Johnson, a Winter Garden dad, feels like he won the jackpot with his 4-year-old daughter, Hadley, who he and his wife, Jamie, adopted at birth.
He said she is his buddy and a real daddy’s girl. And Hadley’s love for her father runs just as deep.
She said her daddy is the best daddy in the world.
“He throws me up in the air, and we go in the water,” Hadley said.
She rides with him on Starbucks coffee runs, and she can recite his order for him if asked: Skinny Cinnamon Dolce Latte.
She’s got me wrapped around her finger,” Johnson said. “She went to the NICU when she was born, and there’s a picture of her holding my finger the day after she was born. And ever since, she’s has had me wrapped around her finger.”
Becoming a father has changed Johnson in so many ways, he said. Priorities certainly have shifted.
“It’s completed me,” he said of fatherhood. “Next to Jesus and Jamie, it’s the greatest gift I’ve ever been given. She’s my whole world, and it’s changed my view of the world for so many reasons, especially the times we’re living in now.”
Raising children can be challenging — even more so when you are a white couple who had adopted a black child.
“Jamie and I talk about this all the time, seeing life through her eyes,” Johnson said. “If you’d asked me five years ago if there was racism in America, ‘Oh, no, everything is great.’ But now, seeing everything through Hadley’s eyes, with everything going on. It’s a totally different world, a totally different perspective, but there’s a long way to go. She’s growing up in a white family, but she’s black. The world sees her as African-American.”
She has asked the typical questions, such as, “Why is my skin brown and yours is white?” Johnson’s reply: “That’s the way God made us.”
Hadley always has accepted that.
“She’s taught me so much,” Johnson said. “Being a girl dad is just amazing. She’s taught me how important life is, because her birth mom chose life, and I’ve always been thankful for that.
… It seems like just yesterday we brought her home from the hospital, and she’s about to go to kindergarten.”
The Johnsons are experts at making memories with their time spent together as a family and their frequent trips to the beach. Johnson said he hopes Hadley remembers her childhood as a loving and safe and fun one.
“I want her to remember just how much her family loves her,” he said. “Playing in the carport during quarantine for a crazy two months.”
Church is important for the Johnsons, who frequently attend the First United Methodist Church of Winter Garden.
“She can recite the Lord’s Prayer without any help,” Johnson said. “I joke that I’m winning as a parent because she can recite the Lord’s Prayer and she knows the FSU fight song. Those are two of my proud accomplishments.
“And the other day, she rode her bike on two wheels,” he said. “I’ve done some cool things — I’ve worked for two governors, I’ve been to the White House — and the most exciting thing in my life is watching my daughter take off on that bike on two wheels.”
Fatherhood is full of surprises. Johnson said he had no idea of the number of Band-Aids that are used in the house, nor did he realize how important they are to a little girl.
“She keeps me humble,” he said.
The Johnsons were at the hospital when Hadley was born, having been matched with the birth mother about two weeks prior to delivery.
“We have an open relationship with her birth mom,” Johnson said. “We text photos, and we get together a couple times a year. It’s a very healthy relationship. … I thank God every day.”
Johnson said he and his wife see part of their ministry is to teach people about transracial adoption.
There are many reasons why Hadley’s daddy is the best. Just ask her. She said her daddy takes her to Chick-fil-A, he plays Trolls in Trouble and Go Fish with her (she always wins), and he likes to read to her Jimmy Fallon’s children’s book “Your Baby’s First Word Will Be DADA.”
Johnson takes pride in knowing his daughter’s first word was, indeed, “Dada.”
He plays dress-up with Hadley, and she likes to wear her Tiana dress while he puts on a frog costume so they can be the characters in Disney’s “The Princess and the Frog.”
“I even dress up my doggie,” Hadley said. “I have lots of costumes. I can put on a cape.”
In the next breath, she said, “I’m gonna kiss the frog,” and she hops up and gives her daddy a kiss.
Hadley had a quick answer when she was asked what Daddy lets her do that Mommy doesn’t: “Jump on the bed.”
And with that she was off to ride her scooter around the carport — her Princess Anna gown flowing behind her — getting in some last-minute fun before an afternoon rainstorm forced the family indoors.
“A father-daughter relationship is so special,” Johnson said. “I think it’s so important, and I think so many times these days fathers discount their role in their lives. How she sees the world is going to be dictated a lot by my involvement … and I want to set the bar very high for the guy she someday wants to marry.”
Community Editor Amy Quesinberry was born at the old West Orange Memorial Hospital and raised in Winter Garden. Aside from earning her journalism degree from the University of Georgia, she hasn’t strayed too far from her hometown and her three-mile bubble. She grew up reading The Winter Garden Times and knew in the eighth grade she wanted to write for her community newspaper. She has been part of the writing and editing team since 1990.