There was heartache in the journey to his first Father's Day, but Kevin Moran braved the long wait, the setbacks, the unanswerable hurt. Just now he is beaming upon the happy ending: a blue-eyed baby boy clutching a Dr. Seuss book.

This is Matthew David, 5 months old, the son who made him a father. "People say they've never seen a kid giggle and laugh so much," Moran declares with perfect dadly wonder in the photo-adorned living room of his home near Columbia.

Moran and his wife, Kristen, struggled with infertility for six years but lost the battle and started all over again with adoption. The first one fell apart. But in January, they were blessed. Finally a child was born who became theirs.

Then Kevin Moran, 35, helped make adoption a little easier for the families who come next. Incredulous that his wife was denied the paid maternity leave routinely given to other new mothers, he fired off e-mails to lawmakers asking for help.

Partly as a result, Maryland will become one of the first states to mandate that employers give adoptive parents the same leave benefits that birth parents get. As of July 1, it could mean six or eight weeks of pay for parents who would otherwise get little or nothing.

"Unless you're independently wealthy, it makes a big difference," said Moran, an analyst for the U.S. Department of Defense.

The story of how it happened is a fitting one for Father's Day: men who want to be dads, children who need them, families making a larger difference in the world.

Those who adopt infants must pay $12,000 to $25,000 in fees and costs. Many are crushed to then learn they may get no paid leave from work, even at companies that are generous with biological parents. In many cases, leaves get cut short because families cannot afford long stretches without a paycheck.

David and Stephanie Bernstein, a Germantown couple who adopted a 7-month-old baby girl, Jia Li, in China, faced exactly that predicament. They left for Beijing May 7 and came back with their daughter May 24. Stephanie had to be back on the job June 14 -- meaning just three weeks at home with her baby.

Even then, her time off was mostly vacation. "If my wife had been pregnant rather than adopting, she would have been entitled to up to eight weeks leave in addition to her [vacation] leave," Bernstein said. "But because she was adopting she was given a week."

Tim and Gail Cornish, of Ellicott City, could not fathom having no intensive bonding time with their 10-month-old daughter when they brought her home from Russia June 4. But Gail had no paid parental leave after 18 years with a major department store. She took her vacation, then opted to go without pay.

"It's very important to connect so our daughter feels stability and she feels love and she knows who Mama and Daddy are now," Gail Cornish said.

The new Maryland law, which expires in three years to give legislators a chance to review its impact, is expected to have a relatively small effect on employers because experts say less than one-half of 1 percent of employees nationally adopt a child in a given year. The Maryland Chamber of Commerce supported the law, calling it "fair and equitable." Some companies already give adoption benefits voluntarily.

"It affects a very small number of people, but it has a great benefit to those who it does affect," said Mady Prowler, of the National Adoption Center in Philadelphia, which believes Maryland's law is the first in the nation. For companies, Prowler added: "It has a lot of goodwill attached to it, at minimal cost."

The new law affects all companies that give paid time off to biological parents, unless their benefits are managed in a special fund that falls under federal law, said Kathryn Rowe, an assistant attorney general in Maryland. How many companies operate that way is hard to tell, she said.

The push to change the law started with an e-mail missive that Kevin Moran sent Oct. 23, the day Kristen Moran, 34, came home from work with the news that she would get no paid leave when the baby they hoped to adopt arrived.

Kristen Moran had worked as a pediatric nurse for almost eight years at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore, watching fellow nurses get pregnant and go on leave. She never imagined that when her turn came, she would be denied.

But then she asked a supervisor, who checked with a personnel administrator, who told her no, all she would get was vacation.

Like that of many other employers, the hospital's official view is that it does not grant paid maternity leave to anyone but that biological mothers typically get six weeks off after routine deliveries, if doctors say they are medically unable to work -- which they always do. Adoptive parents are left to the mercy of federal law: unpaid leave of up to 12 weeks.

Never politically active, Moran sat at his computer the night his wife was turned down and became "the mad keyboard typist." He dashed off letters -- to Maryland's governor, lieutenant governor, his member of Congress and a state delegate with an elaborate Web page.

The state delegate took up his cause.

"To me, it resonated quickly," said Mark K. Shriver, a Democrat from Montgomery County and father of a 15-month-old. "It boils down to equity: Are both biological parents and adoptive parents treated the same? And the answer was no."

He added: "I don't know why it's the first in the country. It just seems to be common sense."

From there, everything happened quickly. The Morans went to Colorado for a long-awaited baby. There, Shriver's office called to say a bill would be drafted. At the same time, the hospital granted Kristen Moran's appeal for paid leave, making an exception to its rule and giving her four weeks. It was less than the standard six weeks but, "I was very happy," Kristen said.

Even so, Kevin Moran pushed ahead on the larger issue of equity. At the bill's first hearing, on March 23, the Morans gave the issue a human face. With Kristen sitting near and little Matthew in her arms, Kevin testified: "If you pass this law, every adoptive child will start their new life with their adoptive parents with the same advantage as `regular' children."

As the bill moved through the legislature, support waivered at times. But the Morans -- and the Bernsteins and Cornishes -- stepped in to write letters, send e-mails and urge friends to do the same, even though the bill would come too late to help the three families.

Shriver, the delegate, said they made a difference. "I would talk to senators who would say, `We've gotten the message. Call off the dogs.' "

Now, with the bill about to become law, Father's Day has a touch of meaning above even the long-imagined joy of having a child, Kevin Moran said. Just a year ago, there was no Matthew, no adoption, no thought about laws.

"This is something we feel like were giving back," he said. "It was hard for us to get out there. We're conservative, keep-to-ourselves kind of people. But this was important, and it's something that's going to affect other adoptive parents forever."

CAPTION: After Kevin and Kristen Moran adopted Matthew, Kevin Moran became instrumental in gaining leave benefits for adoptive parents in Maryland.

CAPTION: Stephanie Bernstein, pictured with daughter Jia Li and husband David, had to return to work three weeks after bringing the 7-month-old girl home from China on May 24.