SAN DIEGO, California (CNN) — A boyhood wish finally came true. But Maurice Griffin had to wait until he was a man for it to happen.
At age 32, the California man was adopted Friday.
"It was the best day in my life," Griffin said after the proceeding in San Diego Juvenile Court. "I fought for 10 years and finally the day came."
Adopting the burly, muscular, mohawk-sporting man is Lisa Godbold, his one-time foster mother.
"I was just overwhelmed with emotion," Godbold added.
With a few pen strokes by Griffin, Godbold and Judge Richard Monroy, the adoption became official.
"This is going to be quite quick," the judge told mom and son, all seated at a table. "If you blink, you miss it."
Then son hugged mom. Mom cried.
"Congratulations to you both," the judge declared.
Then a deputy took a photograph of three of them, a tradition that the judge noted is always done with small children and their adoptive parents.
The story dates to the early 1980s, when Godbold and her husband saw Griffin at an orphanage near their Sacramento home.
The smiling child seemed to fit perfectly with their family: Godbold is white. Her late previous husband was black, and the couple had two children who were, like Griffin, biracial.
The couple took Griffin in as a foster child. He quickly bonded with their sons, Gideon and Spencer.
"We were best friends," Griffin said. "We'd run around, we did mischievous things and fun things. It was a good time."
He lived with the family as a foster child for four years, until he was 13. Then, just two months shy of being adopted by them, it all fell apart.
"I wanted to be treated like a real son," Griffin told CNN affiliate KSWB. "Their sons got spanked and I didn't."
So he innocently told a social worker that was what was going to happen.
"I told her they were going to be spanking me. She told her superiors and her superiors told her I had to be taken out," he told KSWB.
Family ripped apart
One day, foster care officials took Griffin away, saying he could not live with Godbold's family anymore.
"You can't spank foster children. Maurice very much wanted that," Godbold said. "We wanted him to feel like the rest of our kids. And there was a difference of opinion with some of the (child welfare) supervisors."
Godbold said she fought to keep Griffin and was told she could lose her biological children, too.
CNN contacted the state agency responsible for the case, but its officials would not comment because it's still considered a juvenile matter.
So Godbold had to let go. And as time moved on, Griffin says, he lost touch with what he felt was his only family.
"It was just an emptiness," he said. "I couldn't talk to anybody about it because nobody was there. I couldn't call somebody; there was just a void in me."
Griffin told KSWB that he acted out every chance he got in hopes the state would reunite him with the people he considered to be family.
He bounced from one foster home to another, never finding what he lost.
"I didn't let anybody get close to me again," Griffin said, holding back tears. "I hurt a lot of people. It was a rough road."
Searching for each other
Despite several obstacles, Griffin and Godbold never stopped searching for one another.
Godbold's husband died in 1998. She remarried and changed her last name, and moved.
But six years ago, Godbold found Griffin on social media. They communicated online and then one day she called him.
"She said, 'hey baby,' and I said I got to call you back," Griffin said, trying to explain how overwhelmed he was by the reunion.
As she entered the courtroom Friday, Godbold harbored fear that a surprise would halt the proceeding.
"I was actually really nervous before walking in, even though signing on the line was a formality," Godbold said. "I thought something might happen to keep it from becoming official today."
Griffin is an example of triumph in foster care.
"I'm a living example of it, that I have been through it," Griffin said. "I just never stopped. It will all work out."