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The larger embrace: the Renzi family

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DBer Lucas Renzi serves up a little holiday tonic to remind us that some of us still do the right things. Elizabeth Kerr reports

Lucas Renzi’s house has very little in the way of an adult vibe. Furniture in the living room is pushed off to the sides in order to make room for a play space in the middle, a space surrounded by tidy storage containers chock full with Lego. One of the bedrooms is covered with judo matting for tossing bodies around (more on that later). Lucas’ workbench has been co-opted for the construction of a doll’s house. “Every room has been dedicated to the kids,” he says, with an astounding degree of understatement.

Lucas, trained in primary education, and his wife, banker Carli, wouldn’t have it any other way. After we settle in at the dining table – amazingly untouched by toddler hands – Lucas spins the story of how he and Carli came to be a family of five (maybe six one day). It’s the kind of story we could all use during the holidays, particularly this year’s holidays.

Five and counting

The story actually begins in the couple’s native Melbourne in 2000, when Carli was training with the Australian Olympic judo team (here comes the tossing) and Lucas, looking to take up a martial art, offered to be the team’s official punching bag as a way to train with his future wife. By 2008, the couple were talking about children, and right away agreed that they wanted two biological and two adopted. “That was always the plan,”Lucas says.

After competing in the 2012 Olympic Games, Carli decided to refocus on her career and the couple moved to Singapore, where they had their two biological children, Asha and Leo. Lucas happily took on the ‘Adam’ role in the family [it’s an old ’80s comic strip. Google it], taking jobs from call centre management to hospitality to make time for the kids.

Despite the fact that it’s 2019, Lucas’s choice to be a househusband still – still – raises eyebrows, but ask him if his unconventionality forced any reconsideration of gender roles and he’s quick to answer. “Not for me. I’ve always gravitated to this kind of role. Having a daughter has made me more focused on issues that impact women. I’m sure having an adopted child of colour will turn me on to issues that impact him. I come from a single-mum home… so my ideas of what a ‘normal’ man and woman should do have always been blurred.”

Is a partner competitive at judo on an international level an incentive? “Yes, having a wife that can beat me up helps,” he adds with a chuckle.

All kidding aside, Lucas and Carli took a step closer to two adoptions a couple of years ago. After relocating to Hong Kong in 2016, they dove into the adoption process and were matched with infant Kai in a remarkably quick three weeks after finalising their paperwork. According to Lucas, Carli wanted the kids closer together in age than not, and so,as of early 2020, Kai, Asha and Leo will be three, four and five. “It’s going to be pretty intense for about eight years when they’re almost independent,” Lucas cracks, again, in massively understated fashion.

Because they can

In addition to the ‘simple’ desire to give a child a permanent home, there are 101 reasons why individuals, couples and families choose to adopt, but adoption remains a bafflingly thorny subject.

Lucas is quick to point out how even casual language can be confusing and misleading for everyone – language that is ultimately not far from a slur. “Carli and I chose to adopt but we did not ‘choose’ our son – we ‘adopted’ him. Children don’t understand the legal permanence of adoption and the word ‘choose’ can be misinterpreted to imply that the adoptive parents could change their minds. Similarly, Kai is not a ‘gift’ because gifts can be given away. Importantly too, it’s an injustice to his story to label Kai as ‘lucky’ because it omits the trauma and loss he experienced before joining our family.”

So, what compelled the Renzis to adopt? As Lucas reasons, it was any combination of intangible factors, among them doing something to help others. “We decided we could give part of our incomes to a cause but that’s an inefficient use of my time. I could work for an NGO, and that might be fulfilling from a work perspective, but not from the relationship side. Fostering can be short-term. In the end it came back to, ‘We have enough love and enough wealth to give, so why not?’” he says with an easy shrug. “That’s the short and sweet of it. Because I can.”

About that fourth kid… That has been ‘backburnered’ for now, mostly at the suggestion of the agency the family worked with to adopt Kai. “They told us to give ourselves time – and they were right.”

For now, the five are leaning on Adoptive Families of Hong Kong for support and readying for sticky conversations about cultural identity, anger, race and a host of others, but that’s a long way off. “In my teaching experience, children don’t recognise those differences,” Lucas says. “They’re not conscious of it. Now that Leo and Asha are at kindergarten they mention their ‘peach-coloured’ skin and Kai’s being ‘brown.’ We work it into Duplo blocks, and I try to read as much about raising an interracial family as possible. We try to see doctors, for example, that are Indonesian, so Kai sees professionals. And being blind to colour is not helpful.”

For now, Lucas is content with being one of the few men on the playground, pretending he gets the comments about swollen ankles. It’s proof that Discovery Bay was the right choice. “It feels a lot like Singapore, and I really liked that experience,” he concludes. “I heard the saying about DB standing for ‘dogs and babies’ but I’m quite happy to be surrounded by dogs  and babies. It’s nice to have people around us with things in common.” Mostly in common anyway.

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