Adoption Story – Michael and Tayler Wood Alaska

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As we walked along the rocky shore of remote Montigue Island collecting dinosaur fossils, a small hand took mine. Little eight-year old Tayler started crying. He reached, and I picked him up. He was crying so hard my shoulder was soon soaked. “What’s wrong?” I asked him. After a lot of sobbing, he said, “Will you please adopt me? But you would have to take my brother, too. We come as a pair.” 

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My sons and I spend a fair amount of time driving the Alcan, a ten-day trip to Alaska. We operate a charter business in Prince William Sound, carrying hundreds of customers each season on our boat (the JaxMax) to fish, whale watch and view glaciers calving. The scenery is beautiful, and the fish plentiful. Of course, we always have at least one Labrador aboard.

Ten years of rising at 5 am, knowing I would not return to port until late that evening. Ten years of some of the hardest work I’ve ever performed. Ten years of little sleep, chewing coffee grounds to stay awake. And it all became worth it when Tayler asked me to be their dad.

The Story

I awoke one stormy morning and looked out my 11th floor window at the harbor below. The wind was howling, and rain was driving sideways. I knew I had booked a grandfather and his two children that had driven a long way to fish. The other charter boats had all cancelled for weather. How easy it would have been to cancel this trip and sleep all day, but kids expecting to fish…I couldn’t let them down. I had to at least meet them and give them the option of staying in close to shore, where it wouldn’t be as rough. 

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At the coffee shop, I met Mike, who would become one of my best friends. He had two very small boys with him, Michael and Tayler. I explained that I would take them out if they were willing, and that I had seen early sign of Silver Salmon yesterday, just twelve miles out. ‘We’re here to fish,” said their Pops. “Let’s give it a go.” Within a few minutes we were navigating out of the protected harbor, beating into the waves towards our fishing grounds. The boys, having consumed Red Bull, snack cakes and candy bars were soon throwing up. Shortly we were pulling in some of the first Silver Salmon of the season. They were huge and put up a terrific fight. Mike navigated several into the net, and helped each boy catch his limit. Their Pops was tough and wasn’t going to let them miss out on this experience, sick or not. The boys fell asleep with Ford (our black Labrador) on the way back to harbor. It was a terrific day. Mike inquired about our advertised Marine Camp Out. I explained this was an overnight trip where we took the boat inside an island passage, anchored near a waterfall, cooked our catch and watched bear. “I sure wish I could afford that,” said Mike. “These boys would love it.” I helped pack their fish in a cooler, and we said our goodbyes. 

Over the next few days I couldn’t get them off my mind. I knew absolutely nothing about their story – only that their Pops had been so attentive to the boys and seemed to love them a great deal. There was something special about them. I called him. “Mike, if you want to bring the boys on a marine campout, meet me on Thursday at six, and I’ll take you out. No charge.” Their Pops gratefully accepted.

July 2nd we headed out of the harbor with beautiful weather for our marine campout. After a couple hours underway, we pulled the boat into the salt water narrows leading inside Culross Island. Motoring slowly and navigating around boulders in the dark, we eventually reached the point where the narrow river opened into a huge bay in the middle of the mountainous island. I anchored the boat as close to the waterfall as I could. (Makes for great sleeping). The boys came on deck and helped me prepare the fish they caught, along with huge Prawn, on the boat grill. The bright Halogen deck light illuminated happy faces. After a great meal, we watched “Flight of the Navigator” and turned in way after midnight. 

Around 6 am I felt the breath of someone very close. I opened my eyes. Tayler had a huge smile on his face, and he gave me a hug. We went onto the back deck and prepared breakfast, the boys still in their pajamas. The coffee pot began gurgling, promising renewed life for an exhausted captain. There’s nothing quite like being anchored up in a remote place that beautiful, early in the morning, with coffee perking. 

After breakfast, we headed out through the narrows in a wild, cascading super low tide that literally sucked the boat out of the island. The boys stood at a window, watching the trees and boulders flash by. 90 miles later, we anchored and took the skiff to uninhabited Montigue Island, which had risen 65 feet during the massive 1964 earthquake. This rise exposed a time long gone – and dinosaur fossils from 450 million years ago. Petrified Trilobites littered the shore. A Japanese ship wreck from the 60s was there as well, its rusting hull giving evidence of time gone by. Brown bear roamed in the woods, just a scant 100 feet from us. Mike had a pistol strapped to him that said he was serious about living, and we all felt safe. Ford jumped in and out of the pounding surf, fetching pieces of driftwood and having the time of his life. 


Then it happened. Tayler asked me to adopt them. 

I didn’t know what to say. I held this 50-pound boy as he cried and glanced at his Pops. He looked shocked. 

On the way back to Whittier the boys fell asleep, and Mike gave me the story. The boys were from New Mexico, where they had lived through some very hard times. He and their Gamma had been taking care of them for two years but needed to find them a home. “Tayler asked you a question,” said Mike. “You need to give him an answer. Are you interested in adopting them?” “Of course!” I replied. “Don’t you want to think about it?” queried Mike. “No,” I said. “There’s nothing to think about.”

Arriving in Whittier, we tied the boat up and awoke the boys. After a brief visit in our apartment where we watched huge fireworks explode just outside our bay window, they headed out to visit a relative. Mike encouraged me to come to his home in Wasilla and take the boys on a couple of outings. They were going back to New Mexico to see their mom and great-grandmother (known as GG) in a couple of weeks, and he wanted me to get to know them. “Sounds good,” I replied. See you later Michael and Tyler.” “It’s Tayler, Tayler T A Y L E R.” said their Pops. “You are going to need to know that.”

Bobby my middle son and I picked the boys up twice and went to a couple of swimming pools before their departure to New Mexico. We had a great time. I called Gail to let her know I may return to Charlotte with two living beings. “What are you coming back with?” she asked. “Two boys.” I replied. “Oh,” she said. “I thought you were bringing back two more dogs!”

Back in Charlotte, my oldest son and his family suffered a crushing tree blow to their home, rendering it useless. They were living with us temporarily, two toddler boys TJ and Harrison, with a third on the way. Seven of us in the house. Bobby and I had returned for Christmas. It was actually great having all of us together. Perhaps they felt differently, but I loved it. Soon destiny would see to that I add two more children into a packed house. 

December 23rd I received a call from Michael and Tayler’s GG in New Mexico. She said the boys talked about me constantly and had asked her to call me. Tayler gave her my business card. She asked if the boys could come visit me. “Of course,” I said. “How about I fly down in February and pick them up?” “I was thinking more like now,” she said. 

Five days later, December 28th – Quite low on funds, I was very appreciative of our Labrador customers Gil and Paula Guilliams, who donated air miles for me to fly to Odessa, Texas and pick up the boys. I will be forever grateful. 

A year later, after exhaustive home studies and background checks, we went to court in Palmer, Alaska for the adoption hearing. Their Pops and Gamma were there. I can’t thank them enough for their support. The hearing was fun. The judge explained that court was usually a very negative place, but that adoptions like these were a light moment within the court. It was great fun, with lots of light hearted moments and hilarity when the boys answered the judge’s questions. They were so fortunate to have the support of every family member, including their mom, who reluctantly and with heavy heart signed the consent. She loved them dearly but wanted them to be in a better place. After the hearing, Tayler asked me if I wanted to know when he decided I would be his dad. “The moment I met you. I knew you were the one,” he said.

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Every night around 3 am I heard Tayler’s small feet padding down the hallway towards our bedroom. He would pull back the blankets, kiss me on the cheek, and return to his bed. He told me he had lost so many dads in his life, and he wasn’t going to take a chance on me getting away. The boys finally dragged a mattress into our room, where they’ve slept ever since. Tayler later told me he had to work up the courage to ask me to be adopted. I asked him what was so scary. “Well,” he replied, “You’re a boat captain and an airline captain, and you have really big hands. I knew you would spank us when we misbehaved.” I asked him if he planned on misbehaving. “I’m a child, Dad, of course I’m going to misbehave!”

These boys walked into a totally unknown situation. How scary that must have been. What courage it took for them to pioneer their own adoption into the hands of a man they knew wouldn’t hesitate to discipline. 

I think back daily on the what ifs. Had I cancelled the trip, had the weather been worse, had I not offered a marine campout, had they booked fishing with a different charter captain, had Tayler not asked me to adopt them, I would never have known the boys. What a small sliver of chance we all walk upon.

I feel like the luckiest man alive. Our first litter, two boys now 39 and 40, along with four wonderful grandchildren (more about that in the next newsletter – they are a story all on their own!) and now Michael and Tayler. Thank God for that small sliver provided. To be the answer to a little boy’s prayer fills my soul in a way money never could.

This story has an even more bizarre part to it – a part that started 18 years before the boys were even born – that I’m convinced aligned the stars for success. Perhaps I’ll share that part in the future. It’s almost too bizarre to believe, and this writing is already a healthy chapter.

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We no longer have our seagoing boat. A new Honda engine developed a fatal flaw, and our middle son was due to go into another brain surgery. The boat had to go. One of these days, I will find a way to purchase another boat, and you can bring your family on board for an unforgettable Alaskan trip. Bring your Lab. 

Wishing you happiness and success,

Capt. Tripp Wood

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