Who Am I?
I don’t remember being told my dad was adopted; it seems like I just always knew but it was never talked about. Now, when I think of the times that my older brother and I bullied our younger brother with taunts of being adopted, I cringe.
Dad maintained a steadfast disinterest in his biological family. Even when he started down the long road of family tree research, he focussed many, many thousands of hours on finding out about his adoptive parents. My grandfather died before I was born but he was kind of a big deal in the paving and construction business, in his day. My grandmother lived to two weeks shy of her 100th birthday. She was a force to be reckoned with till the very moment of death. Just ask my dad who was, hands down, the most attentive and dutiful son ever.
Well, I have found my dad’s birth mother, my grandmother, and her family. I took up the genealogy torch when this thing called the internet suddenly made research ... less arduous. I caught the bug and started spending my own thousands of hours in the black hole of family tree building. I tried teaching the internet to Dad, but he wasn’t really getting it. He was comfortable with writing a query letter, stamping the envelope and walking to the mailbox to post it. And then, going about his life, until a response, similarly transmitted, arrived from somewhere else in the world.
Since finding out, I have manically researched everything I possibly can about MPF (her initials). And, yesterday, I visited the local archives, cemetery and public library to find out more. I desperately want to find a photo in hopes that I can see parts of myself in her. I do know that she was born in 1910, gave birth to my father in 1933 and signed him over to adoption in 1934. It seems that mother and son got to spend some time together. But, of course, in 1933, a single woman was not keeping a baby. It probably made matters worse for her that her father was mayor of the small rural town in which they lived.
It feels like all my life, I have grappled with “identity” and “belonging”. I know this is true for my dad, too. All that research spent on a family to whom he was not blood related and to whom he could have no ancestral connection. Science now tells us that our ancestors’ DNA – their experiences, traumas, feelings, and perceptions – is passed down to each of us. So, being adopted into a different clan, as it were, means not only does the adoptee miss out on the validation they need for who they are but their true, unrealized identity is piled upon by the norms of the adopted family’s ancestry. It would be hard to line up those two identities; hence, feeling like you don’t truly belong anywhere.
I do have photos of my dad’s biological grandparents and I was gratified to see the cleft chin shared by my dad, his grandfather and my younger brother. Proof, finally, that at least he wasn’t adopted. He is one of us after all.
I wish my dad were still alive so I could share this information with him. I like to think that it would have made a difference to him, to know where he came from and that he had family to whom he might have been able to relate because, goodness knows, we were not that family. When he was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, it spurred him to try to find his people, but the government in its, ahem, wisdom, denied his request. I’m sure he wished he knew who his mom was, the woman who carried him for nine months, gave birth to him, and then sent him on his way. I hope that there were tender moments of bonding before that time came. It takes a particular kind of courage for a mother to give over her child to strangers. It takes another kind of courage to be that child making his way through unfamiliar, uncharted territory, doing his best to trust and feel like he belongs. I like to think that this discovery would have brought my dad the ah ha moment of feeling whole, perhaps for the first time in his 75 years.