SPRING HILL — When Terry and Mike Breida adopted a 1-day-old boy 17 years ago, they didn’t know what to expect.
They didn’t know how their white families would react to their black son. They didn’t know if he would grow to resent the family that raised him. They didn’t even know if they’d get to keep him.
The Breidas just knew they felt incomplete, and they wanted the child they could not create.
“There was something missing in our lives,” Terry said.
The Breidas felt empty when relatives and friends got married and had children while they medically could not. They loved looking after the kids and buying them toy school buses, but they’d want to cry when it was time to go.
Ever since Terry started playing with dolls as a kid, she wanted to be a mother. Mike was retired after a viral meningitis outbreak damaged his brain a few years before, so he had nothing to do at home while his wife worked long shifts as a nurse.
They saved up the $8,500 adoption fee and made a book to share with prospective mothers about their home and families and careers. Three months later, the phone finally rang.
“What do you think about becoming a father today?” Terry asked her husband.
Mike darted to Target to buy a car seat and crib and bottles and clothes while Terry drove to the adoption agency to begin filling their void with a boy who would become one of Hernando County’s best football players.
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The Breidas didn’t know much about the child they could bring home. They knew his biological father was 6-foot-1, like Mike, and his mother was 5-1, like Terry. They knew his mom was 21, already raising 4- and 1-year-olds, and she said she was taken advantage of.
And both biological parents were black.
The waiting for a white infant stretched past two years. The Breidas decided early that their child’s race wasn’t that important. Terry had a black best friend growing up in Philadelphia, and Mike saw enough diversity in college not to care.
“When they brought Matt out, it was kinda hard to just say, ‘I can’t take him because he’s the ‘wrong’ (race),’ ” Mike said.
The agency gave the baby an outfit, a cap knitted by a volunteer, four bottles of formula, a handful of diapers and two blankets. The Breidas named him Matthew.
“Gift of God…” Terry said. “We just felt like there was something missing. After we got Matt, it was like, ‘Okay, this is what was missing.’ ”
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The Breidas didn’t know how others would react to their mixed-race family — including Mike’s old-fashioned father. But as soon as he took his first grandson in his arms, he never wanted to let him go, even as Matt burped milk stains onto his dark blue sweater.
Not everyone in their Hudson neighborhood was happy when they adopted Matt — or when they brought home Josh, also black and now 16, a year later — so the Breidas moved to Spring Hill, where the population is younger and more diverse.
About a month after Matt was born, his biological mother tried to get in touch with the Breidas through Adoptions by Choice during the 90-day window when she could fight to regain custody. But she never showed up, and Matt has never tried to find her. Matt only questioned the racial difference once, when he saw a black family at the mall and wondered why they looked darker than his parents.
“I accepted it…” Matt said. “They love me as if I’m their own son.”
Matt grew close with his father. They fell asleep on the sofa together watching cartoons. Matt was Mike’s co-pilot on the lawn mower and assistant mechanic when they worked on their cars. Mike used to play football and still loved to watch it, so the sport became a shared passion after Matt began playing at 6.
“That’s been basically his life,” Mike said.
Mike couldn’t run with his son because the brain damage wrecked his balance, and Terry’s arthritis put her in a wheelchair five years ago. So they supported him in other ways.
Mike served on his youth team’s board of directors, and a decal from the league still clings to a window of their white minivan. He and his wife watched from the front row as Nature Coast’s star running back led the North Suncoast with 1,600 rushing yards as a junior.
They’ve sat through rain and heat to watch him rush for 1,226 yards and 13 touchdowns this fall — second-most in Tampa Bay — and they’ll join him on the field during tonight’s senior night festivities in the Sharks’ must-win game against rival Hernando.
Though Terry and Mike think their son was born with great genes, Matt credits his parents for giving him the drive and tools to succeed.
When Matt needed workout equipment, they bought him a barbell for the living room. When the senior needed study guides for the ACT and SAT, they provided those, too. And when the two-star recruit landed offers from Toledo, Akron, Georgia Southern and others, they checked over the NCAA guidelines to make sure he’d be eligible for whatever comes next.
“They’ve done so much for me,” Matt said. “I can be one of those kids without a parent, without a family. That’s my motivation. I really want to achieve the best I can for them, make them proud and happy.”
Matt Baker can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @ MattHomeTeam.