One’s Origins – Part Five

Welcome to Part Five. The genesis of the One’s Origin’s series was and remains the revelations of biological family members discovered through DNA testing and the accompanying smorgasbord of emotions. The inspiration to share this is, among other things, a longing to explore my many selfs (self-identification, self-awareness, self-acceptance, and self-disclosure).

At the end of Part Four I mentioned that in Part Five we would jump to the present time and examine the relationship between my youth and my future with what I am learning about my biological family. However, I would be leaving decades of events out that are instrumental to the impact this experience is having on me and why it has the impact it does. There remains no intent for this to evolve into a detail-laden autobiography; I don’t have enough street cred for that. However, as this series is about the experiences and emotions that are part and parcel with learning about my biological lineage, I believe the story would be incomplete without exploring the hell that was my adolescence – not only for me but for my family as well – followed by the journey back.

In Parts Three and Four I made assertions about visions I held for my future self as a child. These were real for sure. A significant part of what inspired these visions are, as we are learning, in my DNA. And that is no metaphor! The scientific community is aligned in the belief that there is a genetic component to talent and/or predispositions to particular interests. The clarity of those childhood self-visions was matched only by the utter lack of faith I had in myself to believe in and execute on them. Learning to understand the reasons for this lack of faith is one of my objectives for sharing this story. I wholly believe that at some level, nearly everyone can relate to such struggles.

Having abandoned music, I continued onward with life as your run of the mill high school student. Except! I was suffering immensely from the disconnection between who I was and who I was disallowing myself to become. I did not believe the dream I had had legs, and if it did, they surely weren’t my legs. This suffering is where I point my finger when reflecting where my life would soon go. It was brutally heart-breaking, for me and my family. As far as a vision of my future self of which I felt worthy, well, there wasn’t one I could identify.

In my mid-teens, I began innocuously as a kid with a rebellious edge. That edge would quickly get much sharper. And it would cut deep – especially those whom I loved and who loved me the most. I cannot recall the first time I experimented with substance use, but I know why. I wanted to escape the heartache I was feeling. My detour on this path had little to do with the substances themselves and was more about the reasons for them. Other than escape, the other reason was simply to do something wrong because I wanted the attention. Although I know this to be on the wrong side of healthy for any adjusted teenager, I also know this to be not uncommon – then and now. The manifestations are sometimes more extreme, but the underlying struggles are not new.

Relationships with childhood friends began to fracture. Eventually I got to a place where I was standing at the precipice of the point of no return. Along the way I had been to places and saw things I sometimes wish I never saw but it was very much for my benefit that I did. In the process I put my family through hell. Between the age of 17 and 19 (about 18 months or so) I was expelled from high school for disciplinary reasons and had minor run-ins with the legal system. Thankfully nothing was permanent. Most of my shenanigans occurred before my 18th birthday. The sacrifices my Mom and Dad made were beyond what I might imagine most people bargain for when they become parents. The worst of this is that, at the time, I almost resented this. I also developed a resentment for being a “good” kid. Always being told how “good’ I was in ways seemed patronizing. I could not take a compliment at face value.  In my first year of high school Spanish, my teacher reported to my parents that she never had a student catch on to the language so quickly, so I stopped being a good student. I was angry at the world and I wanted my right to be angry. How dare anyone interfere with that. My Mom and Dad interfered. I am at once terribly sorry they had to and immensely grateful they did. I am among the very lucky ones. I returned from depths the likes of which most do not. Their immeasurable love for me was instrumental. Every now and then I hear of the passing of people I knew back then who never did fully return.

My time spent there ruined any prospects for college. Just as well, I figured. Since I had no ‘normal’ ambition, college would have been a waste of time and money. Correction: I had ambition. I lacked confidence in that ambition.

In September of 1986, I was closer to the precipice than I had ever been, and it was time to move in one direction or the other. Go one way and I likely would not have made it beyond my 30th birthday – and that’s being optimistic. No matter how long life would care to keep me around, a rap sheet was certainly in my future even if only for nonviolent offenses. Go the other way and repairing the damage I had done at so many levels would be possible.

Also, in September 1986, my Mom had a brain aneurism, the likes of which the vast majority do not survive more than a few minutes of excruciating pain. If I may digress briefly, she not only survived with a long therapeutic road in many areas of treatment, she thrives today. At eighty-two, she sometimes jumps in to give thoughts and feedback on many of the blogs I write.

In the months preceding my Mom’s aneurism I had been cut from communication with my Mom and Dad. I stood at the foot of my Mom’s hospital bed next to my Dad. Within seconds my head dropped to his shoulder and I cried like I hadn’t cried since I was last in diapers. I apologized for everything. For the first time in a very long time I recognized something I had been denying. I needed them. Both of them – and Andrew too. Seeing my mother sedated and on a ventilator, opened my eyes to something far too often overlooked. Life is fragile as hell. It can break and be lost in the blink of an eye. My Mom’s mother (Mom-mom) asked me through tears, “Do you think she’ll make it?” I said without hesitation, “Dammit she better!”

At that moment, I made a decision with unshakable conviction; I was going to make the turn towards damage repair. As strange as this sounds, I credit my mom’s aneurysm for my course correction. Indeed, I believe her aneurism saved my life.

At the time I was working graveyard shift (does irony have no mercy?) at a convenience store. I immediately began making 360º changes in just about every corner of my life. Where I should not be, I evacuated. Where I should be, I charged ahead. It was not easy. I had to unwind relationships with some people who I realized only enabled my toxic lifestyle. Sometimes recovery feels as painful as the fall. But I knew I wanted to leave where I was leaving and go where I was going. Correction. I needed to! The details of the recovery in the immediate aftermath are outside the purpose of this blog series. Suffice it to say, it was neither easy nor swift. The experience of it all influenced my id in ways that remain with me today.

On a new road, it was time to find out just who the hell is Matt Gorman? I am going to sound a tad selfish here but to heck with the meaning of life, I am staying a little closer to home. What was the meaning of my life? This question emerged front and center over thirty years ago even though, as we saw in Part Four the answer had already revealed parts of itself nearly ten years earlier. Learning a few fascinating factoids about my genetic lineage gets credit for pointing me back in that direction – with sights on who I was as a child – to answer the question of who I am now. I guess I should not be surprised to see the overwhelming similarities. Why a four decades long detour was in the cards full of pain and struggle vexes me. I cannot deny it. But I cannot allow it to define me.

I now feel I am getting close to an answer I can truly embrace and not an answer to fit in with the expectations of others. Getting here thus far has been as improbable as it has been amusing. If you have a penchant for a blend of disbelief and humor, stick around. You’re in for a treat. Again, I am not claiming to possess extraordinary literary skills. Simply, I lived through it and I remain amused and at times in disbelief.

In Part Six I will share a tale of a young man traveling from a death taunting lifestyle to a livelihood supported by client paid expenses for dining as well as traveling the world over having tackled an engineering undergrad degree and an MBA. The insights gained along this journey provide clues to the answer of ‘What is the meaning of my life?’ As this is about origins, it does make for a provocative journey, the underlying essence with which I believe will resonate with many.

I hope to see you in Part Six.

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One’s Origins – Part Four

Hi and welcome to Part Four of my ancestral journey. Thanks for hanging out with me as I follow wherever this road of ancestral exploration leads. I hope you are having as much fun as I am.  In Part Three we had the three half-brothers together for the first time ever. I mentioned in Part Two and again in Part Three that my view on nurture vs. nature has evolved significantly due in large part to what I have come to learn about my paternal genealogy. I might go so far as to say these views are, in some ways, cementing.

But, before we dive into that, I must take us on another detour. This one will be brief, and I believe it is necessary and appropriate as it adds context for things to be discussed below and in later posts.

NinaDanMattMatthew

Image one: (Left to Right) Nina, Dan, yours truly, and Matthew

My biological father Lawrence had two brothers and no sisters. On the same weekend I met Dan when this whole wild ride really took off, I also met three cousins on my father’s side. Nina is daughter to one of my biological father’s brothers. Matthew is son to the other brother. So, my friends, meet two of my newly found cousins! This appears to be the tip of the iceberg. There are others and I verily look forward to meeting them soon.

Nina is a vocalist with an amazingly powerful singing voice. The first time I heard one of her recordings, her ability to belt blew me away. On her property in Northern California she is constructing from the ground up a full blown no holds barred recording studio. We learned in Part Three of half-brother Scott’s accomplishments as a life-long rock musician. Dan, I am told, can carry a tune, though I haven’t heard for myself yet. Cousin Matthew is an accomplished author and I recently learned that my biological father Lawrence was no stranger himself to the guitar and singing. There’s more! My biological father’s mother (my paternal grandmother) was self-taught on the piano and organ. She was also prolific in her writings. She did not vault to the echelons of renowned authors, but having read a bit of her work, she wrote with an eloquence that had the ability to enthrall. There are several sketches of hers that undeniably demonstrate her talents here as well. In addition to her writings, she also had a knack for art and appears to have possessed an untamable intellect. Is there a genetic component to music and art? Well, let’s take a trip back in time.

We’ll turn the clock back to the late 1970s through early 1980s. The impact music had on me as a child was enormous. Sure, nearly everyone enjoys listening to some genre of music or another. Me? I was enraptured by melody and rhythm across a spectrum of genres. Take this as a pun if you must, but music truly resonated with me – always has and still does.

When I was about 8 years old, I rescued from our attic an electric miniature organ that produced the windblown sounds of a pipe organ. I remember sitting at our kitchen table for hours hitting keys trying to learn combinations that were melodic and just sounded good together. I knew absolutely nothing about sheet music or even music notation. Yet, I was determined to make music. From that moment, I felt there was something for me in music.

Observing this, my parents, neither of whom are musically inclined, did not hesitate to swing for the fences and stretch the family dollar in buying for my thirteenth birthday a dual keyboard organ with electronic accompaniments. If you’ve watched the day-time gameshow The Price is Right, you’ve seen the way people react when their name is called to “Come on down! You’re the next contestant on The Price is Right!” Well, that was me being surprised with this gift. The emotional support my Mom and Dad provided me –

Matt at organ

Enthusiastic practice in the beginning.

and my brother Andrew – was second to none. Within no time at all, I was taking lessons and things were off to a great start. For a combination of reasons, it lasted no more than a couple of years. Two of these reasons are my attention challenges and the structure of lessons and practice. As a child with what would eventually become known as ADHD, the discipline of practice had its challenges. My Mom and Dad were and remain rock stars in their support of me and Andrew.

An additional reason for me giving up on music was in part because a classmate I befriended was, in my opinion, nothing short of a musical prodigy. At age 13 he was playing Bach and Beethoven among others to near perfection – or at least it was perfect to me. I allowed myself to be intimidated by how advanced he was and how elementary my playing was by comparison. It tears my heart apart today to look back now and realize that I thought I just was not good enough to be a musician.

Looking back, on my brief childhood career as a musician, I now recognize that I did have some success as a thirteen-year-old. I attended a Catholic grade school and the parish church was on the school grounds. Being a catholic school with a church meant we had our fair helpings of mid-week Mass services throughout the school year. In this church there was a choir loft with a large church organ. I, along with the friend mentioned above, were often called upon to play some of the traditional church hymns. I played the easy stuff; left hand playing chords while right hand played the melody. My virtuoso friend would tear it up with the more complicated works reading notes on both the treble and bass clefs. That always impressed and intimidated the daylights out of me.

During one of our annual large class church services I was to play one of the traditional favorite hymns. I sat on the bench of the organ waiting for the cantor (a classmate) to introduce the song. There was a mix-up in communication as she waited for me to begin playing and I waited for her introduction. Several seconds went by with silence in the church and before I knew it, the next part of the service was underway. The show must go on! I never got to play that one big piece in that one big service. This thirteen-year-old boy then ran to the bathroom, locked the door, sat in the corner of the room and sobbed uncontrollably for what felt like an hour. I blew my first opportunity to play a significant piece on the big stage – at least it was big in the mind of fledgling young dream-filled organ player. Looking back in retrospect, my reaction gives light to just how deeply important succeeding in music meant to me. My mistake was responding to that event as if it was my one and only chance to showcase myself as a musician when in fact it was only one of what could have become many if I had not let it upset and deflate me so much.

During my teens, I had unending visions of myself as a musical performer and I would spend hours in my room with loud music playing the air guitar and singing. This was not your run of the mill make believe to kill time. It was how I would purposely spend a lot of my time. It was the vision I held of myself. Where did this come from? With so much music and art woven into the fabric of my ancestry, I am convinced the answer to this question is revealing itself before my very eyes. I now find myself in the middle of a significant re-evaluation of my life and my relationship with music.

In Part Five I will share with you what all this means for me going forward. I will be inviting you to join me as I return to the path from which I veered forty years. ago. I am making up for lost time. In Part Two I closed with a reference to lyrics from Led Zeppelin’s iconic Stairway to Heaven, “There’s still time to change the road you’re on”. Forty years later, it’s time to put that notion to the test. After a twenty-five-year career in management consulting (the genesis of which I will share later) a career in music might be a bit beyond reach but it is a road that will become quite accustomed to my footprints.

I remain ever grateful to you for your company. See you soon.

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One’s Origins – Part Three

Hello and welcome back! In Part Two we came to learn of yet a third half-brother. We ended Part Two preparing ourselves to learn more about my biological father’s family and its influence on my views on nurture verses nature. I will explain why below but for now, what I have experienced since Part Two was published is worthy of its own part and the time for sharing it is now. Moreover, what I will share below in this part further fortifies my views on nature vs. nurture.

As I write this sentence, I am in the MGM Grand in Las Vegas the morning after meeting for the first time the third biological half-brother. Yesterday was April 5th and my 52nd birthday. It was also the first time that three grown men bonded by paternity would be together. God as my witness, it will not be the last. We are all familiar with the expression that “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas!” I promise you that for this experience, that rule will be defied with a vengeance. This will be a birthday I will never forget – not only because of the significance of this meeting of brothers, but because the level of over drive in which my heart and mind were operating. I don’t know if there is a psychosomatic or placebo-like component to all of this, but I believe I can safely speak for all three of us. It took no time at all for us to feel comfortable with one another. Does DNA do that? Does the belief in DNA do that? Or does the want for DNA to do that, do that? Who knows? It doesn’t matter. What matters is that we now know more about our bloodline to human history that hitherto we only knew existed, but had no knowledge of – and we share that bloodline with others.

3 bros and lawrence

Left to right: Yours truly, Dan (oldest), Scott (youngest). Guy in the photograph? That’s our father Lawrence.

Among the three of us, I am in the middle age-wise. The oldest, Dan (who I met first and of whom I spoke in Part Two) and I were both adopted. We both grew up with siblings in our adoptive families. The youngest of us three, Scott, who we met for the first time in Las Vegas (where he now lives) was raised by his biological mother as a single mother. He grew up without siblings. At one point in the night, I showed Dan and Scott a picture of my adopted brother, Andrew and me. Scott asked if we were close. I responded with the colloquialism “we’d take a bullet for each other.”

Later that evening Andrew came up again in conversation. Scott paused and then said, “You said you two would take a bullet for each other.” I nodded and he replied, “That’s pretty cool man.”  At that moment it hit me that he grew up without someone with whom to fortify a true lifelong bond. My emphatic response to him now was and remains this. “You now have brothers and while we just met, this experience binds us in a way that is no less meaningful or enduring.”

Dan and I grew up with our separate experiences of common working-class family struggles. Scott however shared with us that the environment of his youth had some rather rough edges. I must clearly distinguish that with my use of the word environment I am referring to the neighborhood comprising all that was outside the walls of his childhood home. As he talked about his mother and his relationship with her, there was no doubt that inside those walls was a home to a boy and his mother who was determined give her best and make the best of everything for her son. Scott holds his mother with love and reverence that is unconditional, unwavering and unending.

When I began communicating with him a few weeks before this first meeting, he requested that his relationship to us be kept on the down low, at least initially. He was thoughtfully concerned with how his mother would process the knowledge of other children from the same man with whom she had Scott. This request is not only understandable but also quite noble on his part. The events that led to his mother remaining a single parent will return us to Part Two and how it was to be that Dan and I would first meet at the gravesite of the man who was father to all three of us. I will share more about that in a future part of this series.

It fascinates me that I, along these two with whom I am genetically linked are so unique – no doubt due to the widely varying life experiences. Dan leads a life rich with honor and commitment as a family man. He and his wife Jenny are proud parents to five grown children. They also have five grandchildren. During our first meeting a month earlier, I learned about the richness of his faith and strength of his values and I was awestruck. Even through I’ve spent nearly the past thirty years in the white-collar working environment and have held senior roles and consulted with and for the highest echelon of the executive ranks, I am a little bit of a rebel at heart. I often march to my own drummer and I’ve been told that can be viewed as irresponsible or even selfish. I view it as what I truly believe it to be; an epic internal battle between who I think I am supposed to be and who I really am and desperately need the courage to be.

Dan is a highly principled human being and I am proud of him for that. Dan is the one who instigated this entire meeting of brothers. Without him, I cannot imagine how much more time would have elapsed before any of this would have happened, or if it would have happened at all. For that, I will be grateful to him for the rest of my life.

Preparing to meet Scott on this trip to Las Vegas, I learned, in part with Dan’s help, that Scott was a musician in Las Vegas. I found some pretty cool rockin’ pics on social media. Man! I gotta meet this guy. There is one component to meeting Scott that for me personally is ushering in an epic paradigm shift in the way I view myself looking both inward and outward. In spite of, or perhaps due to, the challenges with which Scott observed his mother struggle, he has made a life for himself as an accomplished rock musician and vocalist, and more important, he is good human being who is grounded. Here is where my paradigm shift begins. My relationship with music since I was about ten years old has been revived in the past few years and in Scott I came to know the man I once-upon-a-time hoped I would grow up to be. There is still a chance – when I grow up. He has amassed neither fame nor fortune, but he gets by. He has played with rock bands who were topping the charts in the 80s – my generation’s decade of music. Every generation has their own timespan for music that defines it. Many bands that my generation grew up listening to still do perform, be it in smaller venues. Learning that I am sharing blood with a guy in this scene is, well, that’s way cool bro! I can imagine the challenges in his life and the fortitude from emerging the stronger for it. I am quite proud of Scott. I need to stop here and visit this very important point. I now have two younger brothers and an older brother – one I’ve known and loved since the day he was brought home nearly 50 years ago. I am proud of all of them each in their own uniquely powerful way. I am grateful to God for each of them in my life.

On the second night of our weekend in Vegas we went to a bar where Scott knew the band. I am a country music fan and those of you who are with me on this might know of Toby Keith’s song “I Love This Bar”. The bar we went to is a chain inspired by this song. And the name of the bar? Yep, Love This Bar. We’ll see shortly why I now love that bar too.

Once the band was taking a break, I spoke with the lead guitarist to share our story with him and requested that he say a few words and maybe do a song about brothers. His response? “We know your brother. He’s back stage getting ready to take lead vocals on a couple songs with us.” Can I say it again? That’s way cool bro! Minutes later the band emerged, and the lead guitarist announces that they have a guest singer to help us rock out a little. Yeah, let’s do it! Scott begins by revealing to the crowd he recently turned fifty. He then made the following announcement:

“Tonight, I met two guys who kinda look like me, kinda act like me….. and we just found out that we have the same daddy. Our father seems to have been quite the rebel. This goes out to him.”

Scott on stage

Little bro channeling his inner Billy Idol. And doing it naturally.

With that, the band tore into the opening for Billy Idol’s Rebel Yell. Well how about this! Scott not only nails it but also is no stranger to working a stage.

I don’t want this one element of the whole experience of meeting these half-brothers to overshadow any other element. They are all important. This one just seems to have a slight edge in the ‘cool factor’ department.

It’s cool for the obvious reasons. But it’s especially so to me for a deeper reason. A reason that motivates me to ponder deeply about the balance of contributions from genetics and environment in determining who we are as individuals and the life we are meant for. For me this is what makes the nature vs. nurture dialogue so fascinating. I mentioned at the end of Part Two that we would be visiting this in Part Three. As I reviewed my completed first draft of this part including my reflections of nature vs. nurture my word count was way beyond my self-imposed upper limits. Moreover, I realized I was cutting out too much for the sake of brevity. So, in Part Four I will invite you back in time to visit me in my youth where we explore some interesting things. The good news is that most of the heavy lifting in getting that part organized is complete.

As always, I am humbled and honored to have you, the reader, here with me.

Thank you. See you soon!

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One’s Origins – Part Two

Welcome back. Thank you for being here. We concluded Part One of this series with me preparing for a trip with an evolution of purpose as rapid as it was unpredictable. This trip would open my eyes and world in ways I never imagined they ever would, or could, be opened. In Part One I quipped on “the most important flight I would ever miss”. In all of my twenty-five-year career as a business management consultant and the countless commutes by air for work and leisure, I have never missed a flight simply because I arrived at the airport late. Sure, I have missed layover flights due to airline delays and weather, but never have I missed a first leg simply because I was late… until now.

Rather than a play-by-play recap let us take a look at the highlight reel. We begin with me leaving earlier than necessary given normal traffic for the time of day with the goal of a preflight beverage. Of course, Murphy joins me, and he is packing his law and loaded for bear. With a perfecta of events and all my dark stars aligned, every imaginable obstacle that the universe could send my way, she did with fire and fury. For the grand finale, I missed the exit to the airport parking; an exit with which I am quite familiar as it is the lot I use whenever I park at the airport. How did this happen? I wish I had some elaborate explanation, but I don’t. I was simply distracted. (Damn ADD!). Perhaps it is defensible given what this weekend now had in store. All the same, this mistake put me into a juggernaut of traffic all the way to the next exit to turn around. It added over twenty minutes to my commute. Of all things for which one might budget extra commuting time, this is not typically among them simply because …. I mean …. what are the odds? …. except on that one day …. for that one trip …. my plans would fall prey to carelessness in concentration. The conspiracy between Murphy and the universe was taking me to task like never before.

I was traveling with a computer and a guitar, so luggage had to be checked. I also had a couple carry-on non-compliant items packed. By the time I got to the counter to check my bag I was five minutes (yes a mere five minutes) too late to check in a bag for my flight. Sans my checked bag, my TSA pre-check would have given me a near certain chance of getting to the gate to board on time. For the next hour I walked back and forth between terminals trying to find another option on any airline that night only to learn that no other options that evening existed, and that the following morning’s flight had only stand-by seating available.

The phrase ‘critical incident’ has many uses. In the area of lethal self-defense, it is used to characterize that which gives rise to extremely hyperactive vital signs in the immediate aftermath of employing lethal measures to defend one’s life or the life of others. Examples include rapid heart rate, body temperature imbalance (chills, sweats or both) and shorten of breath or even hyperventilation. I was beginning to realize that it was very likely that I might not be getting to California this particular weekend. I became instantly and deeply self-aware as I felt my body entering a state that is, without a whiff of hyperbole, exactly what I might expect to experience if I ever were to find myself involved in a critical incident.

Pricelessly because of my body’s responses I was completely incapacitated in trying to think clearly. I made several futile attempts to find options on my mobile device. It was as if I suddenly lost all understanding for how to use apps and the device itself. Even trying to make a phone call was utilizing every ounce of concentration on motor skills I could scrape together.

I am eternally grateful to the friend whom I was visiting and was the primary reason for my trip. She worked a miracle in finding a seat the following morning – on the same flight I was told by the ticket counter agent had only stand-by availability. And she did this while tending to her present obligations. The missed flight was booked on points and now I was shelling out a few hundred bucks on the new ticket. Nonetheless, I remain immensely grateful that it now looked like I would indeed be getting out there after all, even if seventeen hours later than planned.

Let us now pick up on my first full day in California. The gentleman who is my biological half-brother and I made plans to meet at the Santa Rosa Memorial Park where our father is buried. Next to him lies his mother (our biological paternal grandmother) and her husband, our father’s step-father. My half-brother lives between three and four hours north of Santa Rosa. He is on a project much closer and was staying in the vicinity for this weekend along with his wife. Recall from Part One the mega-coincidence that Santa Rosa is where the friend I was visiting was raised and still lives. Once I finally got to California, this first meeting of two half-brothers was unfolding (for me at least) as being conspicuously devoid of any discernible inconveniences. I weathered the storms of my two antagonists, Murphy and the universe, in getting my tail out there and they were finally both in retreat and they were releasing their prisoner – my peace of mind.

Although we had seen each other’s picture online, I confess even as we shook hands, I battled – probably out of instinct – with very faint feelings of denial that this was all actually happening, so I played it cool like we were two new business associates meeting for the first time.

When we first arrived, I inquired in the office about the location of the gravesite. It was a walk of only a few hundred feet, so we continued to chat until we located the gravestone. The deeper questions and getting to know one another was to wait until lunch about an hour later. Fortunately, we had both already seen photos of the gravestone because the region was just exiting an extended period of heavy rains and the gravestone was under roughly two inches of soil filled water. With a little bit of swiping and swishing side to side with my right hand and the engravings became legible. There, my half-brother and I stood six feet over the man who was father to us both. And on that day, the three of us, in form and spirit, were together for the first time ever after over fifty years had gone by.

The most unfortunate thing that kept this moment from reaching perfection was that we did not have the company of yet a third half-brother of whom we’ve learned through the same DNA testing service. Since returning home from this trip, I have made contact with this third half-brother who lives elsewhere in the country. For the time being, he has requested, for personal reasons he shared lightly, and I respect completely, that I not aggrandize anything further pertaining to his connections. He has expressed willingness to meet and I am grateful. I am looking at possible trips in the next couple months. I will NOT miss my airport parking exit next time!

At the cemetery, we also met, again for the first time, a first cousin who lives about twenty-five minutes south of Santa Rosa and whose father was brother to our father. Is that still a slight hint of disbelief or denial I sense? I asked myself. What more must I need to unequivocally accept as true that who I am with are indeed who they really are? Time. What I need is time. Time to process. The gravity of all this is not something any human mind can adjust to in short order. This is going to truly be a long-term process of subconscious recognition, conscious reflection and emotional reaction that will undoubtedly loop back and forth for the foreseeable future. It would also become what I believed to be, if I may come across as a little spiritual, an awakening.

As we wrap up part two, I wish to do something that might be a literary no-no. Since I am not seeing a Pulitzer in my future, I am going to color outside the lines. I’ve been doing that my whole life and as we’ll eventually learn, it appears to be in my DNA – and I do not say that metaphorically! Also, for those who are curious as to how DNA matches are stratified, this quick excursion might be of interest.

I mentioned my skepticism in Part One and its assuagement based on information I received from the gentleman who asserted he and I were half-brothers. I mistakenly forgot to share that which was the nail in the coffin for my skepticism.

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Centimorgans (cM) used to determine relationships.

In the DNA testing service I used, the relationship and confidence rankings are stratified by the shared DNA in centimorgans (cM). In the range of 1,450 – 2,050 cM the connection is grandparent, aunt, uncle, or half-sibling. The gentleman who contacted me matches with me on nearly 1,700 cM and the other half-brother mentioned above matches me on over 2,000 cM. In the mid 2000s of centimorgans, the likelihood of full siblings increases markedly. The half-brother scenario was becoming a reality. I intended to include this information in Part One and I thank you for bearing with me while I go back to share this small – but not trivial – detail.

In Part Three, I will share what I have come to learn about my biological family on my father’s side and its influence on my views on nurture verses nature. In so doing, I welcome you to join me as I reexamine my heart’s life-long desires and the commitment I have to scrutinize my life’s path hitherto. From the lyrics of Led Zeppelin’s iconic “Stairway to Heaven” to the words that adorn the pages of self-help books the world over, There’s still time to change the road you’re on. I know it’s easier said the than done. This might become my purpose.

I remain grateful for your company. I do hope you will stick around. We have much to learn and more people to meet. The adventure is only just beginning.

See you soon!

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One’s Origins – Part One

The word ‘adoption’ has the power to evoke a variety of emotions from trauma and pain, to joy and relief, to outright ambivalence. All visceral responses are valid for their own reasons. Here, I invite you to travel with me through a few of them. We won’t make any stops at ambivalence however, because, ….well, I know nothing of being ambivalent about the word ‘adoption’.

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April 1967: I am brought home for the first time flanked by Mom and Dad

I am adopted. In the Spring of 1967, those whom I would only ever know as Mom and Dad took me into their home. There I would find a place that would be prepared to raise me in an environment where no child would ever feel deprived of love. I was five days old and that home is the place to where my memory carries me – to this day – when I desire peace and warmth.

Meanwhile, my mother and father in the biological sense would remain a mystery for years to come. (For the purpose of distinction, I shall refer to my biological parents as ‘mother’ and ‘father’. I shall refer my adoptive parents as ‘Mom’ and ‘Dad’. There is no intention whatsoever to suggest that this distinction is hierarchical in anyway. Rather, these references are selected simply because I have lived my life referring to my adoptive parents as Mom and Dad.)

Very recently – and I do mean VERY recently! – I have come to learn a significant amount about my biological genealogy on my father’s side. This story is the beginning of what I hope unfolds to become an epic journey for me. I invite you to join me. I am sure I will be grateful for your support, even if I do not always show it. Throughout this journey, should I fail to make a heart or two skip a beat here and there, I will be a little bit surprised. Not because of an inflated sense of my ability to write, but rather because my own heart skipped a couple beats while writing this and I am kryptonite for emotions. Or so I have lived my life trying to convince myself of such nonsense.

My Mom and Dad have always been open with me and my brother about the fact that we were adopted. My brother and I are not biologically related. The man to whom I have always referred, with the utmost of endearment, as ‘brother’ set sail for life in the same boat by my side and I could have asked for no better sailing companion. I may never fully appreciate the magnitude of my Mom and Dad’s gratitude for the opportunity to adopt the two of us. I know that sounds about as self-aggrandizing as all get out, but from their point of view, they truly felt they could ask for nothing more than the two of us.

We would never go on to emulate the Cleaver household, as no family ever could. At our household the servings of tumult would be generous, and eventually overwhelming. We shall take a detour around the specifics here and visit that as a port of call in another post. For now, I shall only say with endless gratitude that the servings of tumult would eventually diminish to side dishes and then to mere garnishes. It was like a new beginning; a re-welcome into the family. Think about a couple who renews their vows.

Adoption papers

My adoption papers.

By the time I was 19 or 20 years old the mega-tumult was behind us. My Mom handed me a document that was in essence the legal papers from two decades earlier establishing me as their child in the eyes of the state. In that document I see things that suggest hints about my mother’s last name. This is not definitive, but a tidbit nonetheless should I seek to pursue further knowledge about my origins. Here again is, in my view, an extraordinary display of gratitude on the part of my Mom and Dad. They hold a very special place in their hearts for my mother as well as the mother of my brother, whom neither they nor we know. They would never discourage either my brother or me from searching for our mothers (or fathers) or engage in any activity that would honor them in some way.

This was around 1987 and at the time I did not take any meaningful steps to advance my understanding of my origins. Over the years I have made a few feeble attempts to launch a search. My understanding is that my home state of Pennsylvania is among the more restrictive in terms of privacy for all parties involved in an adoption. Since it was never a debilitating itch that fueled my curiosity, I would retreat anytime the climb became too steep.

Fast forward to 2015. Thanks to tremendous advances in the technologies around DNA fingerprinting, DNA testing services have been emerging on the market at a reasonable price point. Of course, the adoption curve of this new technology is no different than that of any emerging technology.  I believe I need to have a clarity checkpoint. I thought of footnoting this, but I feared the potential for ambiguity was too high. In this paragraph, I use the word ‘adoption’ in a manner completely unrelated to the topic of this post. Here, adoption refers to a popular graphical image used to illustrate the stratification of a market for new products or technologies. Most simply put, it is a bell curve – almost always displayed as normal or symmetric. Innovators and early adopters to one side, laggards and skeptics on the other, and a few gradations of the majority in the middle.

In early 2015 I submitted a DNA sample to one of the more popular services and had only to wait a few weeks to get my results. (There are few of these DNA testing services that dominate this space presently. Each have their critics and advocates. I have my own not-so-confluent, yet possibly ungrounded, opinions on a couple of them.) Back then, I saw little in the results giving me much, if any, encouragement that answers would be found here any time soon. I would log on every month or two and then eventually down to twice a year checking for messages and new DNA matches. In the first year or so, the closest I found was a couple people that were classified as somewhat or moderately confident of being a fourth or fifth cousin. That is not a lot with which to work.

Now fast forward to early 2019. I believe I logged onto my account once in 2018, and that was on Memorial Day weekend. In mid-February 2019 I logged on to see I had a couple new messages from other users. They were new to me although they had been sent over the past few months. The most recent one jumped out of the screen at me.

“I believe we could be brothers…”

Ok! You have my attention sir! I also noticed that the match list had a few additions to it since the previous Memorial Day. I saw three people who were classified as highly confident of being a sibling or first cousin. One of them is someone I recall having seen previously. Though it might be déjà vu since I cannot recall the DNA match rank being that high. Otherwise I would like to think I would have taken action or at least have remembered it.

A year earlier I had been the victim of identity theft. It took a few months to completely unwind the mess. Everything is clear and back to normal and my credit rating is safe and sound. I now have fraud alert protection for several years, but I digress. I share this because of its impact on the recalibration of my skepticism meter. Suffice it to say that I am wired to keep my excitement tamed until further confidences are established.

Back to mid-February, this gentleman who claims to be my brother begins to ask questions. I provide answers and I ask questions of my own. This goes back and forth, and we eventually migrate our conversation from the application’s messaging system to email. At this point I was still not ready to completely concede that all of this is on the up-and-up, so I initially provided the email address I use for online junk accounts that tend to yield a lot of spam.

Once email became our mode of communication, I received a few attachments with images of clippings and photos that began to dismiss any remaining skepticism onto which I held. I have since shared with him my proper personal email address.

I learned that on my father’s side the family roots hail from northern California in Santa Rosa. Over the span of a few days we made arrangements to meet two weekends hence. Before I was even aware that someone was trying to contact me, I already had a trip booked to Santa Rosa to visit a friend. This might well take the throne in the Guinness Book of World Records for the wildest coincidence ever. Remember, I live in Pennsylvania, on the eastern side of the state, nearly three thousand miles away. We confirmed the details, and everything was set. Now it was only a matter of a few days wait until I was to be on a plane to northern California. As we will see, this would become the most important flight I would ever miss.

In the Part Two, we will begin with the journey to the airport to meet the family I have always known I had but never truly believed I would ever meet in spite of often imagining what it would be like. I will share the emotions – expected and unexpected – that have and will run through me like water rushing through a valley in the immediate aftermath of a dam break. They will flow everywhere and there will likely be no stopping them.

As we draw this part to a close, I am curious as to whether any of you wonder about the impact all of this has had and is having on my Mom and Dad or on my adoptive brother; or on my relationship with them. Looking back at how open they are to everything surrounding our adoptions, it should come as no surprise that they have joined me hand-in-hand so to speak throughout this journey so far. There is still further to travel and they ain’t giving up their seats. I welcome you to save your seat as well. There is so much more to share that has yet to unfold. 2019 should be an adventure.

Thanks for your company. See you soon.

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For the Moment

Not too long ago I saw a clip from an interview with country music star Dierks Bentley. In this interview, he revealed that he still uses a flip phone as a mobile device. His reasoning is that being constantly connected to multiple mediums robs him of being ‘in the moment’ and he feels his creativity is sorely diminished. So, a simple means of communication only when communication is necessary is all he feels he needs. I can relate to the creativity comment. I am gaining some momentum with my guitar lessons and I find some forms of modern technology do take away from the ability to focus on tasks at hand – namely, creativity. Maybe I’ll get back into blogging. And maybe even a new song or two will emerge.

I’ve tried to do the one or two month social media (SoMe) detox or cleanse at times (to the relief of some :-). I did this by disabling accounts and making myself invisible and unfindable but not gone. Inevitably I return to the same old time stealing practices that ate more nonsense than not and is void of value for me.

When buried in a mobile device or almost any modern technology, you are always ‘there’, and never ‘here’.

The second half of 2018 starts today, July 1. So I am initiating a new SoMe approach. Kinda like a mid-year resolution. I am not exiting social media – and let me be frank, I am referring primarily to Facebook and Messenger. I am not leaving altogether – at least not now. I will be removing mobile apps thus cutting my 24/7 access to it from my phone. If my current phone was paid off, I’d look into a lesser smart phone. I will still check here and there every few days – Messenger also. But, it will be on a laptop and only when I permit myself a legitimate break from all of life’s ‘in-the-moment’ moments. And there are always an abundance of those moments so visits to SoMe will, by God’s grace, be few.

Ciao for now,


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Explaining Trump Support

Many wonder how the heck any sane person could ever vote for Donald Trump. I am not a fan but I do offer one possible explanation. Remember the debacle the U.S. got into when we tried to force democracy on a people in the Middle East starting over 10 years ago under the first Bush W administration? Well it was a debacle precisely because we jammed a new (and frankly not wanted by all) ideology down their thoughts.

The United States is in a similar boat today. Our national ideologies are generally routed in conservatism. Having liberalism jammed down the throats of people not in agreement or not prepared for it is the under-current for Trump support. He is a shitty candidate for the resistance but it’s all that this group has. 

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