Robert Klose crouched down to look into the eyes of a scrawny 5-year-old with wary eyes who clutched the hand of the director of the Ukrainian orphanage where he lived.
Klose, who lives in Orono, pulled a toy car from his pocket, cranked it back on the floor, then released it. Without saying a word, they both watched the car zoom across the floor. For the first time in the orphanage director’s memory, the boy’s face broke into a smile, and he giggled, welcoming the stranger who would soon be his father.
This is just one moment captured in Klose’s new book, “Adopting Anton,” which chronicles the arduous process of adopting his second child from Ukraine as a single father in 2001.
The memoir, published in August, is somewhat of a sequel to Klose’s first book, “Adopting Alyosha,” that describes his journey of adopting his older son — a 7-year-old from Russia — in 1993 after the fall of the Soviet Union.
Today, Alyosha has no memories of his life there and doesn’t miss his birth country at all, Klose said. Anton, on the other hand, identifies strongly with his Ukrainian roots and is following the ongoing war between Ukraine and Russia closely.
“Anton has a real sense of being Ukrainian,” Klose said. “He doesn’t harbor animosity toward Russia. He is more dumbfounded about why they’d want to [invade Ukraine], and part of that may be his sensitivity toward his brother.”
While Klose said he had no issue beginning the adoption process in the U.S., which required extensive paperwork, interviews and obtaining government documents, the challenge of adopting a child as a single father began the moment he stepped foot in Ukraine.
“The countries that have these children are rooted in tradition, so they can’t get their minds around why a man would want to have a child if he’s not married,” Klose said.
Klose, who teaches at the University of Maine Honors College, said he knew in his 20s that he wanted children, regardless of whether he had a partner. At 33, he finally decided to take the leap and begin the lengthy adoption process.
After Klose met Anton and had his heart set on taking him home to Maine, he first had to face a local judge to approve the adoption, but the judge wouldn’t allow it.
“In Russia and Ukraine, American concepts of fair play, justice, responsibility and appealing to a higher power have absolutely no meaning,” he said. “Everything revolves around the personalities you’re dealing with.”
Klose’s Ukrainian advocates, including the orphanage director, a pediatrician and translator, spoke on Klose’s behalf and brought the judge candy, flowers and vodka until she finally agreed to see him.
The judge asked him who would perform duties typically done by women in Ukraine, such as cooking and meeting with the child’s teachers. Klose had to explain that fathers also perform these tasks in the U.S.
After more challenges that left him wondering whether he’d be able to take Anton out of the country, Klose said he was finally able to bring his new son home to join Alyosha.
Klose said the trio settled into their new life together, though each of the boys felt frustrated while learning English and occasionally had bouts of homesickness — which could usually be solved by a trip to Pat’s Pizza.
“The pizza cure is underrated,” he said.
Now 37, Alyosha did a tour of duty in the U.S. Coast Guard. Today, he lives in Florida, where he’s undergoing advanced diving training.
Anton, 26, lives in Orono and is working at the University of Maine’s facilities department after earning his associate’s degree in law enforcement.
“I have no regrets,” Klose said. “My sons are the two best things I’ve ever done in my life.”