When Stan and Marilyn Rowland married 20 years ago, Stan became stepfather to Marilyn’s son, Jonathan “Jonny” Goddard, who was 14 at the time.

“Step” remained a part of the father-son relationship status for 20 years. That changed on Sept. 27, when Stan adopted Goddard, 34, in a brief ceremony at the Deschutes County Courthouse in front a small group of friends and family.

Although rare, adult adoptions hold great significance to the parents and children involved in them. The Rowlands are in their 60s — but it’s never too late for the joy and togetherness adoption has brought their family, Marilyn said. That’s why she wants others to know adult adoption is an option.

In the minutes leading up to his adoption ceremony, a beaming Goddard radiated excitement.

“I’ve been waiting for this my whole life,” he said.

Decision to adopt

Before the Rowlands married, Stan and Marilyn had each been through a rocky first marriage.

When entering a second marriage, “You’re kind of trying to get a good lay of the land. (Adoption) never really came up too much in conversation,” Stan said.

“We were both kind of leery,” Marilyn said. “We wanted it to be a long-term relationship. Neither of us ever wanted to go through a divorce again.”

In her memory, “Stan wasn’t prepared to (adopt) at that time. And after about 17 years, he said, ‘You know, I think I need to adopt Jonny.’ I’m just going, ‘What? … Well, that’s awesome.’”

Marilyn was 32 when Goddard was born with cognitive and developmental disabilities.

As a single mother, “I did not have a father figure for him,” she said. “His birth father lived elsewhere. He wasn’t interested in being a father. And that was OK, you know. I didn’t have to share him, would be the best way to put it.”

Stan said the positive effect it would have on Goddard cemented his decision to adopt now.

“I think with him, that connection is pretty important,” he said. “It’s kind of the concept, that I-chose-you type of thing. … I don’t think this is very common that this would happen, but because of his special needs, and because of the relationship — he doesn’t have another father in his life.”

Meeting Stan

Goddard was 11 when Stan Rowland came into their lives. In fact, Goddard is partially credited for bringing his parents together. After Stan began attending Eastmont Church in east Bend, where the mother and son also attended services, Goddard approached him.

“Jonathan was doing some kind of a walk-a-thon, or some kind of running-for-money thing. He handed me a slip for sponsorship, or so much a lap,” Stan said. “Honestly, I looked at it, and didn’t know him or her or anything, and I just kind of wrote down an amount I felt comfortable with. And then, Marilyn came back and said, ‘Are you sure you want to do that?’ That’s kind of how we started talking.”

The two took their courtship slowly. Marilyn’s first marriage, in her early 20s, had lasted only a few years, and Stan’s had produced two sons, Ross and Coby, who lived in the Roseburg area with their mother. They were young men by the time Marilyn and Stan married in September 1999.

Stan bonded with his new stepson through activities and sports such as golf and baseball.

“He really liked sports, and when I first connected with him, he loved baseball,” Stan said. “I could throw the baseball to him all day long, and he would hit it. And he was very loving, and very liking attention, of course. And swimming, he’d like someone to watch and see how he’s doing, give him a little confirmation, that type of thing.”

Today, Goddard is well known around Bend, partially through his job as a courtesy clerk bagger at Newport Avenue Market, and he continues to be active in basketball, golf and swimming through Special Olympics. He recently made The Bulletin Sports page for a rare accomplishment, a hole in one. It wasn’t his first.

“I got two holes in one,” he said.

Goddard has volunteered at the High Desert Museum for nearly 20 years. He’s there every Tuesday.

“I take care of the otters,” he said. “I get to tell people about them, and just tell them, ‘Don’t throw any stuff in there,’ because that’s bad.”

The otters are so familiar with Goddard, they can recognize his voice, Marilyn said.

“Yeah, they know my voice,” he agreed.

Gary Loddo, who attended the adoption ceremony, works with Goddard through Integrity Encompassed. The Bend company’s staff pairs with people who have disabilities, helping them with everyday affairs and getting out in the community for activities.

Loddo describes Goddard as “totally sociable.”

“He’s like a complete social butterfly,” Loddo said. “I’ll go out to Red Robin with him, and it would always make me laugh the amount of people he knows. Everyone will come and go, ‘Hey, Jonny.’”

Goddard’s mother can attest to his high friend count.

“He’s on Facebook a lot,” she said. “How many friends do you have now?”

“I think 3,204,” Goddard said.

A father in his life

“I think if he wasn’t special needs, it might not be a big deal,” Stan said of adopting Goddard. “Like, for my other two boys, they probably would’ve went on with life, and no big deal.”

Both of his biological sons gave him their blessing when he told them about adopting Goddard, he said.

“They were very supportive of it. There was no way they’d say, ‘That’s not a good idea.’”

Although they made the decision to adopt a couple of years ago, the Rowlands put it off a little longer while they grieved over the death of Marilyn’s mother and others in the family. Eventually, they connected with attorney Kristen Larson of Hansen & Larson LLC in Bend.

“We were really pleasantly surprised to learn it was not a difficult process,” Marilyn said. “Larson … did a phenomenal job, and it was less than $1,000 for the entire process. She took care of all the processing and everything.”

According to Larson, adopting an adult is a simple process compared to adopting a child.

“It’s pretty easy,” Larson said. “We don’t need to give notices to the biological parents or go through all of the background checks and everything that we do with a child adoption, so it’s a much more streamlined process,” Larson said. “But I really don’t do very many at all.”

She handles only one to two adult adoptions per year, as opposed to five to 10 child adoptions. Once a stepparent and adult stepchild decide on adoption, the process moves along quickly.

From the time of filing the petition to the time of completing it can go quickly.

“We can do that in days,” Larson said. “The actual ceremony is optional. That doesn’t make it official — it’s when the judge signs it.”

Choosing a courthouse ceremony, as the Rowlands did, can add a month or two to the wait, depending on how backed up the court is.

The ceremony

Deschutes County Circuit Court Judge Stephen P. Forte performed the adoption in front of a small crowd: Goddard’s grandfather Charles “Winn” Goddard, longtime family friend Tom (“Uncle Tommy”) Byram, Blaine Braden, the lead pastor at Eastmont Church, and Loddo of Integrity Encompassed.

The ceremony was short and sweet, about a minute and a half, with the judge standing in front of Goddard and Stan, who were sitting at a table in the front of the courtroom.

When the judge was through, he said to Stan, “Congratulations, it’s a boy!” and, turning to Goddard, said, “Congratulations, it’s a dad!”

An assistant then emptied a sack of stuffed animals on the table in front of them, an adoption tradition, even for adult adoptions. Goddard, smiling from ear to ear through most of the proceedings, chose a frog wearing a Christmas stocking cap.

When Marilyn told an acquaintance at a Special Olympics program about the adoption, the woman almost wept. That’s been a typical reaction to the news, she said. It speaks to why she’d like more people to know adult adoption is available.

“I don’t think a lot of people know that that’s available to them,” she said. “I remember talking to a man at a Bend Elks Game who had said that he raised his stepdaughters from the time that they were 3 and 4 years old. Their birth father was not a part of their lives, but he would not let them be adopted by him. … I said, ‘She’s 21 (now). You can ask her. If she doesn’t want to do it, that’s OK, but she’s got to feel loved to know that you want to.’”

She wholeheartedly recommends adult adoption.

“That’s one of the reasons we really felt that this was a great story, because we’ve seen heartache from people who would love to have that kind of relationship with their kids,” she said. “There are families that just don’t know this is available to them. It doesn’t have to be a special needs adult.”

— Reporter: 541-383-0349, djasper@bendbulletin.com