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’.
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.
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.