Inside Willie Garson's Tough and Powerful Journey to Becoming the 'Best Dad Ever'
While the world knew him as Carrie Bradshaw's best friend Stanford Blatch, Willie Garson was also a beloved father to his son Nathen.
Garson met Nathen as a vivacious 7-year-old while attending a Los Angeles adoption fair in October 2008. "He was balancing himself on a curb, and I was like, 'That's my kid,' " Garson previously told PEOPLE. "I knew it right then."
After more than a year of screenings and paperwork, Nathen was officially deemed Garson's son in January 2010. He told PEOPLE in March of that year that he was on cloud nine following the adoption finalization.
"It couldn't have gone any better," he said.
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In a perfect world, Garson imagined he would get married and start a family. But three years before he found Nathen, he said he realized he was no closer to finding the woman of his dreams. "I just reached a point of 'What am I waiting for?' " he said. "I don't care if I ever get married, but if I never have a kid?"
Garson contacted the Alliance for Children's Rights, a kids' advocacy group in L.A., and the Westside Children's Center, who guided him through the adoption process. "Most people want infants, but I fell in love with Nathen," he said.
Nathen moved into Garson's home in February 2009, and when the adoption was finalized in January, they celebrated at famed Hollywood eatery Musso & Frank Grill. "We wore suits and we split a steak, and Manny the waiter did magic tricks," Garson said.
When he was in third grade, Nathen raved about his dad to PEOPLE: "I like to play with Willie on the Wii and give him kisses and hugs. He is the best dad ever."
A few years later, Garson said in PEOPLE's 2014 Father's Day special that "Nathen has made me want to branch out and do more."
"When I first became a dad to Nathen, everything had such newness to it. But we both wanted this adoption, and we worked things out together because we are partners in this," he said. "I don't know what I would have done with a newborn... But I do wish I'd met him sooner, because I enjoy him so much. His sense of humor is a carbon copy of mine. I have to be careful about some things I say, because I will hear it right back at me an hour later. He's like a sponge."
Garson continued, "As he becomes a teen, it's going to be like, 'Dad, leave me alone!' For now he doesn't mind me being around."
Garson died on Tuesday afternoon at age 57 following a short illness, PEOPLE confirmed. Garson had been suffering from pancreatic cancer, and was surrounded by family at the time of his death.
After news of Garson's death broke on Tuesday, Nathen shared a heartbreaking tribute to his dad on Instagram, calling him "the toughest and funniest and smartest person I've known."
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"I love you so much papa. Rest In Peace and I'm so glad you got to share all your adventures with me and were able to accomplish so much," Nathen wrote alongside a carousel of photos of Garson. "I'm so proud of you."
"I will always love you, but I think it's time for you to go on an adventure of your own," Nathen continued. "You'll always be with me. Love you more than you will ever know and I'm glad you can be at peace now. You always were the toughest and funniest and smartest person I've known. I'm glad you shared you're [sic] love with me. I'll never forget it or lose it ❤️😘."