After the Game Revised

Chapter Thirty~Two

Sean was a little sleepy at breakfast the next morning, as I guessed that he had a poor sleep after learning about the complication with the hearing.

"Come here," I said as I hugged him in the foyer before he took off for the school bus. "You need an extra hug this morning. Stop worrying and let me take care of this," I said as I released him and handed him his backpack.

He gave me a weak smile and left. I closed the front door, went into the Den and called Ray to see what progress he was able to make.

"Typical stonewalling from his admin assistant. I announced myself as Judge Mueller, and told her I was representing you and Sean. I told her I wanted to know what the official story was behind the letter. She asked what court jurisdiction I presided in and when I told her I was a Small Claims Court Judge, she gave me the party line," he said.

"So you weren't able to get anywhere with her?" I asked.

"I didn't say that, Burgs. I told her to tell Helmut that he would be getting a document sent from my law office shortly after I hung up. Her tone changed a little when she realized I knew him and she filled in some more details."

"What law office? I thought you were retired?" I asked.

"I still have privileges at my old firm, and I had one of the juniors there draw up the document which outlines why the adoption hearing as scheduled should proceed," he explained.

"So you're sure that you're able to represent us, even though you're a judge?"

"There's no problem. Most Small Claims Court judges are practicing or retired lawyers. I only do it once a week to keep busy."

He went on to say that Steenhof hadn't responded to his motion, and that he didn't expect him to. He took the action to 'lay down the gauntlet' so-to-speak, and let him know that his determination was being challenged.

"I've had a chance to look over all the documents filed with his court, and quite frankly, this adoption is a slam-dunk. At the very least, if he persists, I can go after him about undue bias, because of his reluctance over your age and single-parent status. That's just not done anymore in Ontario, unless there is a grave concern, which in this case there is not."

He went on to say that he also had an ace in the hole that he wasn't going to reveal, unless he needed to use it. I felt a lot better, but I was still somewhat apprehensive about how this would play out the next day.

"You're going to get your son, so don't worry. If it doesn't happen tomorrow it won't be long after," he said reassuringly.

I told Sean I would pick him up after school, as we were going to go to the big box sports store to pick out a treadmill and get him some clothing. When I saw him come out the front door, he was walking alone.

As he came to the end of the sidewalk, I noticed that the three girls that were giving him problems were standing there talking. They turned, laughed and said something to him as he approached them. As he passed, he said something back and they stopped laughing. They were really angry as they called to him as he walked away. He just ignored them and continued walking.

When he got into the Lexus I asked him if they were still bothering him.

"Nope, not really," he said with a smile on his face.

"What did you say to them?" I asked.

"You don't really want to know, do you?" he said as he gave me a grin.

I just smiled at him and shook my head no. I guess he had figured out how to handle them. I was glad he did it on his own, as I knew from experience that it was better if kids handled their own problems themselves, rather than Mommy or Daddy always getting involved. Teachers called that the hover-parent syndrome, which was not something I was with my girls, nor was I going to become one now.

We managed to pick out a great treadmill at the sports store for an excellent price, along with the clothing Sean wanted. I noticed when he was trying on some of the items that the salesperson had given him, he was now fitting into a man's size Small. Scott was right, he was hitting a growth spurt.

We got home after 5 and made dinner. Afterwards, Dana came over with some of the food for the party the next day. She was going to prepare some of the dishes in our kitchen, as Sean wanted to help her. They had a great time together and Sean was a big help taking care of a lot of the food prep, as he learned how to make the dishes.

I could see that there was a very strong bond developing between Dana and Sean and I was certainly going to help strengthen that bond as much as possible. Except for his grandmother, Dana was one of the only positive female role models, along with Anne, that Sean had been exposed to in his life.

"You were a great Sous Chef, young man. Now get lots of sleep tonight, as you've got a big day tomorrow," she said as she hugged him and gave him a kiss on his cheek as she was leaving.

He went up to his room when she left, as he had some homework to do. I heard him upstairs start to get ready for bed about 9:30. I went up shortly before 10 to say goodnight to him.

He was sitting cross-legged on the bed and was just finishing up a text message as I came into his room.

"So how was Melissa?" I asked as I smiled at him and sat on the side of the bed.

"She said she wanted to be at the party, but she couldn't make it. She wished me good luck with everything tomorrow," he said as he crawled under the covers.

"Try to get some sleep tonight. Worrying never solved anything. I've got a good feeling that everything will work out tomorrow," I said as I smiled at him.

He wrapped his arm around Teddy and gave me a big smile.

"It's probably a good idea if you don't go to school tomorrow, as the hearing is at 1 o'clock," I said.

"I've got to go to school tomorrow. I've got a Science test, and I'm going to get back my writing assignment and math test from today," he said with concern in his voice.

I smiled to myself, as I thought about the 32 days of school he had missed before I found him at the rink. It was always amazing to me what a little success did to a student's self-esteem and attitude.

"Did I ever tell you I think you're a pretty cool kid?" I said as I tousled his hair.

He giggled, as he rolled onto his side.

I leaned down and kissed his forehead, said goodnight and tucked him in.

Friday morning I picked Sean up from school about 11, to take him back to get ready for the hearing. I was waiting for him to tell me about his results from his work, but he was a little preoccupied and not too chatty. Finally, I decided to break the silence.

"How were the marks?" I asked as we were almost at the townhouse.

"I got 94% on my Math and my Science test was a snap," he said.

"And the writing assignment?"

"I'm getting there. I got 71%."

I was pleased at his marks, but I was really happy at this reaction to the writing assignment mark. He was more positive about his result, even though I knew he wasn't satisfied with it. He was looking at it as the half-full glass, not the half-empty glass.

"Good stuff. Keep plugging away, and you'll be writing novels soon," I said as we both laughed.

We had some lunch when we got back, and then we got dressed. Sean hadn't had his suit on for a couple of weeks, and it was getting a little tight around the waist. I could also see that it would need to be lengthened soon, as he had grown upwards as well.

"Now let's go easy on the Axe cologne. We don't want girls swooning over you as you enter the courthouse," I said as I tried to lighten up the situation.

He gave me one of his looks, so I knew he wasn't too nervous about this afternoon.

When we got into the courthouse, Ray met us in the hallway outside the courtrooms. He was dressed in his robes and looked very distinguished.

"So this is the poor young man that's about to be doomed to an existence with the evil Burger," Ray said as he laughed and shook Sean's hand.

Sean gave a big smile, and I could see that they were going to hit it off very well.

"I need to talk to Sean alone for a few minutes before we go in. We'll be back shortly," Ray said as he put his arm around Sean's back and ushered him into a small room off the hallway.

I was a little concerned that I couldn't be with Sean, but Ray really didn't give me much choice in the matter. Just then Katharine, the CAS lawyer and Dominic Markucci arrived and we exchanged pleasantries.

"Where is Sean?" Katharine asked.

I told her that Ray had whisked him away to talk to him before we went into the courtroom. Just then, Ray and Sean appeared. They were both having a relaxed discussion as they approached.

"Burgs, I can't believe you've brainwashed this kid about the Leafs already. If the Judge finds out, he might charge you with child abuse," he said as everyone laughed.

Sean and Ray didn't share what went on in the room, so I was guessing it was Ray outlining what would happen in the proceedings. I really wished he had let me be part of that, and briefed me as well. I wasn't one that like being unprepared.

As we were talking, Carol and Katie entered into the hallway and joined us.

"Ray, you haven't seen my daughters for at least 10 years. This is Carol and Katie," I said as they shook hands with Ray.

"I can see they got their good looks from their mother," he said as he laughed.

"You always were the diplomat, Ray," I said, with a fake look of indignation.

We entered the courtroom, and took our seats at our table in front of the bench. As we were getting settled in, Peter Tallofsen and Phil Barnet sat down behind us in the courtroom. I was very surprised to see Peter and asked Ray if he had anything to do with his appearance.

"You never know when you'll need the Crown Attorney," he said in his typical cryptic manner.

I knew from many years of experience, that I wasn't going to get any more information than that, so I didn't pursue it.

Ray and I had a chance to chat very briefly with Phil and Peter as they were in the row directly behind our table. Ray hadn't seen Peter for some years, so they were catching up on things. Just as we were wrapping up our conversation, the bailiff announced that court was now in session as Judge Steenhof made his way to the bench from his chambers.

"We are very honoured this afternoon to have such a distinguished member of the Judiciary with us. Welcome to my courtroom, Mr. Mueller," he said in his very official-sounding voice.

"Thank you, your honour. It's been a long time since we've been in a courtroom together," Ray said as he bowed to acknowledge Judge Steenhof.

"Mr. Mueller, I'm aware of your motion to proceed with the adoption hearing today, but as I outlined in my letter sent to all the parties at the beginning of this week, I am not prepared to deal with that at this time. I also set out my reasons, which were numerous."

"Your honour, we are aware of your letter, and if you don't feel comfortable dealing with the adoption motion put before the court, then we are asking for a stay of these proceedings so that the case can be transferred to the Senior Justice of the Family Court in Toronto," Ray said very forcefully.

Judge Steenhof took off his glasses, paused and glared at Ray. It was obvious Ray had hit a nerve, and I hoped he knew what he was doing.

"I'll remind you, Mr. Mueller, that this is my court and I will deal with this case as I see fit. As a member of the Judiciary you should know that," he said with ice dripping from his voice.

"I realize that, your Honour, but I also realize that there is little legal justification for your reluctance. Many competent people have presented ample evidence to the court in written submissions to you that this adoption should take place today. As well, some of those people are here in this courtroom, such as Mr. Tallofsen, the Crown Attorney, Dr. Barnet, and the CAS team, who would gladly testify if given the chance. We're trying to avoid the unnecessary appeal process, since it's inevitable what the final result will be."

"Mr. Mueller, you are dangerously close to contempt," Judge Steenhof thundered.

"Your honour, please have the court reporter read back what part of my statement you find contemptuous," Ray said in a very calm voice as he stared at Steenhof.

The judge paused, and was turning red-faced, as he was getting very angry. Sean and I were looking at each other as we were really very concerned about the way this was turning out.

Finally, Judge Steenhof said, "Don't try those big city tricks in my court, counselor. In my chambers now!"

Ray turned to Sean and me and smiled, as he said, "Don't worry. I figured this might happen."

I was trying to figure out why pissing off the Judge and almost getting slapped in jail warranted a smile, but I figured Ray had a plan. He always had a plan..... I hoped.

Ray followed Judge Steenhof into his chambers and left all of us in the courtroom dazed and confused.

Phil leaned forward and said, "Did you say your friend was one of the top lawyers in Toronto? What the hell is he doing? I've never seen Steenhof so angry."

"Know any other good lawyers in case Ray doesn't make it out of his chambers?" I said trying to lighten things up.

Both of us realized at the same moment that Sean was nervously looking down at his hands on the table. He was very stressed at what was going on and was getting very anxious.

"Why don't Sean and I go out into the hall and get some fresh air," Phil said as he gave a reassuring smile to him.

They walked out of the courtroom with Phil's arm around Sean's back. I could see that Phil was chatting him up to take his mind off of what had just happened. I knew that Phil would be able to calm him down, and I was grateful for the gesture, as neither Sean nor I were thinking straight at the moment. Both Carol and Katie got up and joined them.

After about 10 minutes, the bailiff came into the court and asked for Peter to come into the chambers.

Peter got up and joined Ray and Judge Steenhof. By now, Sean, Carol, Katie and Phil had returned. Katharine also came over and sat down beside Sean and Me.

"What is going on?" I asked Katharine.

"I'm not sure. Usually, they go into chambers when there's something of a sensitive nature they don't want to discuss in open court," she said.

I turned to Sean and asked, "Are you OK, sport?"

He gave me a weak smile and said, "I'm OK."

Just then the bailiff came out again, and asked Phil to come into the chambers.

By now it had been 20 minutes since Ray and Judge Steenhof had initially left the courtroom. I was really getting anxious at the turn of events, as was Sean. I wasn't sure who was in a worse state, but both of us were trying to maintain a calm exterior.

Another 10 minutes passed, and Peter and Phil came back into the courtroom. The bailiff now called for Sean to come into the chambers. I had had enough, and I started rumbling about how this was a load of nonsense as I started to get up to go into the chambers with him. Katie and Carol both pulled me back down into my seat.

"Stay put, Dad. This isn't the hockey rink. Let Ray handle this," Katie said with a very serious look on her face, as her hand was still clutching onto my suit jacket material.

Peter and Phil saw what was happening, and came over to the table.

"Be patient, Al. I think things may work out OK. We can't say anything, as the judge gave us specific directions to remain silent until the proceedings are over," Peter said with a reassuring tone to his voice.

Sean made his way into the chambers with the bailiff. I was really pissed off at this point, and I said that I was going to go out into the hall to get some fresh air. The girls followed me and we sat down on one of the benches outside the courtroom.

"I know you're upset Dad, but we just have to be patient and let the experts do their jobs on our behalf," Carol said.

I knew she was right, and I was starting to cool down. Just then Ray came out into the hall and motioned for us to return. When I reached the table, Sean wasn't there.

"Where's Sean?" I asked Ray.

"Judge Steenhof is talking to him alone," he said without elaborating.

"Why?" I asked, very concerned.

Before he could answer, the door to the chambers opened and Sean came back to the table. He didn't seem too stressed, so I was hoping this was a good sign.

"What did he want, Sean?" I asked as he sat down next to me.

Before he could answer, Judge Steenhof came back to the bench.

"I've had a chance to review my position as to the motion for adoption that was put before the court. In consultation, and I use that term loosely, with the very distinguished experts assembled by Mr. Mueller, I am now almost ready to make my determination," he said with an authoritative tone to his voice.

"I've heard from Sean why he feels that this adoption motion should be granted. I must say he didn't mince words, and he left no doubt in my mind what he wanted," he said as he smiled at Sean.

I looked at Sean and saw that he was giving the Judge a big smile in return.

"Mr. Burger, the only thing left is for me to hear from you, the prospective father. Please tell the court why you want to adopt this young man."

I was caught off guard, and looked at Ray for guidance.

"Well, go on. I've never seen you at a loss for words," Ray said as he smiled at me.

I rose to my feet, and I could hear my heart thumping in my chest. I cleared my throat and said, "Quite frankly, I can't imagine my life without him. He's brought a lot of joy into my life, as well as my entire family's lives, in a very short time. He hasn't deserved the heartache and trauma he's had to endure in his 13 years on this earth, and I want the chance to provide a stable home environment to him based on love and respect. He's an engaging young man that given the chance will most certainly turn out to be a great adult."

I stopped, paused and finally said, "I'm not sure what else you want me to say, your Honour?"

The Judge looked at me and said, "You don't need to say anymore."

I sat down and put my hand on Sean's forearm as we smiled at each other.

"I'm now comfortable in making a ruling on the adoption motion put before me," Judge Steenhof said, as he looked at Ray and emphasized the word comfortable.

"It is this court's ruling that the motion be granted, and the minor child known as Sean Aiden McDonagh be released from the Crown Wardship of the Children's Aid Society into the permanent adoptive custody of Alan Burger."

I'm not sure what he said after that, as I was elated. Sean and I turned towards each other with big smiles on our faces. We came back down to earth long enough to hear Judge Steenhof give the last part of his ruling.

"I shall waive the usual 6-month waiting period for the change of last name, which Sean has requested. Therefore your son, Mr. Burger, will now be known as Sean Aiden Burger. Please accept my congratulations. Court is dismissed," he said with a big smile on his face as he left the bench.


Sean turned to me and said, "I've finally got a real Dad now."

"And I've finally got my son," I said as we hugged.

Please note, I have taken literary licence with the description of the proceedings. Some of the events would not take place as written in an Ontario Family Court.