Pretty much everyone knows I was adopted. Pretty much everyone knows it was never a big deal for me. I don’t remember not knowing about it, and it has always been just an accepted part of who and what I am. I have blue eyes, brown hair, and am adopted. I remember being confused when people would ask me if I wanted to try to find my “real mother” when I grew up. I had a “real mother” – the one who raised me, cared for me, taught me, sat up with me at night if I was sick, and who was always around when I needed her. Sure, as I was growing up we had our disagreements, but all kids butt heads with their parents from time to time. I was no different.
Up until I was about thirty, I had clearly defined attitudes regarding adoption. It thoroughly annoyed me that society seemed to perceive adoptees as somehow different. To be honest, much of this stereotype is fostered by adoptees themselves, many of whom use the fact of their adoption as a crutch, or an excuse to write off their own foibles and failures. I could never relate to the Primal Wound theory, or the Adopted Child Syndrome. In our society today we don’t take enough responsibility for ourselves. We are quick to blame anyone but ourselves. If we burn our mouth on our coffee, we sue Tim Hortons. If we drive while drunk and kill ourselves, our family sues the person who sold us the alcohol. So too, many adoptees blame all of their issues on the fact that they were “torn” away from their rightful mothers. I’ve heard everything excused by this – from poor relationship skills to lack of ability to hold down a job, and worse. I don’t buy it. I never bought it. I think we are largely products of our environment. Genetics may give us an affinity for certain traits or abilities – being musically inclined, being creative – but environment plays a huge role in who we eventually are, and how we view the world and our place in it.
With that outlook, it’s no wonder that I went through young adulthood with no interest whatsoever in who my birth parents might have been. Actually, on the few occasions I thought about it at all, it was always in relation to a birth mother, never a birth father. I don’t know why that was, but so it was. To be perfectly honest, if someone had shown up at my doorstep claiming to be a birth parent, I’d have sent them away. I truly believe that. I had no need for them, no reason for wanting any contact with them. If that sounds selfish, then yes, maybe it was. But it was also my life, and I was happy with it as it was.
Things changed a bit when I had children of my own. I became pregnant for the first time at 30, and my doctor suggested it might be a plan to apply for the non-identifying medical information regarding my birth family, to which I was entitled. She didn’t think there would be any actual medical need for it, but thought it would be good to have, just in case. So I applied. I was told it would take 12 – 18 months for my application to be processed, so I promptly forgot about the whole thing, and set about enjoying my lovely baby girl.
When she was about 9 months old, I finally received the information in the mail. Also enclosed in the package was a registration form for the Ontario Adoption Disclosure Registry. I laughed when I saw it, and was going to toss it in the garbage, but for some reason I just stuffed it in a drawer. When I read the information, I was simply blown away by the details revealed. Instead of just being an obscure entity who happened to have physically given birth to me, this birth mother started to take on a personality. She had a family, likes, dislikes, hobbies. She became real. Interestingly, there was not a single word regarding a birth father, but somehow, I don’t think I had expected there to be.
As a mother myself, I knew what it was like to carry a baby for nine months. I knew what it was like to give birth, and now I started wondering about this unknown woman. What had she gone through? How did she decide to give me up? Was it hard for her? And the clincher – Did she ever think of me and wonder what had become of me? That was a question I could answer. I knew I could set her mind at rest, I could tell her what had happened, I could let her know I was fine, and that I understood why she had done what she had, and that everything had worked out as it should.
Even so, it took me 3 more years to decide to actually fill out that registration form I had stuffed in a drawer. In January 1999 I submitted my application to the Ontario Adoption Disclosure Registry. The way this worked basically required both parties to register – adoptee, and birth parent. If both parties registered, they would be reunited. If not, well, they might get around to doing a search for you, but at that point the waiting list was five years long. So I submitted the form, and promptly put it out of my mind.
One month later I received a reply.
I remember wondering what on earth they were writing to me about. I saw the Consent For Disclosure of Information form, and couldn’t figure out why they were sending me that, because that only came once you’d been matched, or so I’d read. Then I read the enclosed letter. My birth mother had also registered, and they were ready to match us up. I was in shock. I honestly don’t think I had ever really expected it would happen. And as it turned out, it didn’t.
I replied immediately, but it took the agency a full year to actually track down my birth mother. Since she had registered, she had divorced, moved, remarried and moved again. And, though no one seemed to be able to find this, she had also died. One year after finding out that she had registered, I was told that she was dead. I was given her name, and last known address. I remember sitting in the office in the Children’s Aid building. I can clearly see the room, the couch, and I recall saying to the social worker that if they had called me in like that, it meant they were going to tell me she was either dead, in jail, or wanted nothing to do with me. It was when the worker told me she had already passed over that I suddenly realised why I had tried to find her. It wasn’t about me. I didn’t need anything. It was about her. It was about being able to set her mind at ease about what had happened to me. It was about being able to show her I had turned out fine, and telling her that I understood, and accepted what she had done. It broke my heart that I would never be able to tell her that.
They weren’t able to tell me if she’d married, or had other children, so I considered trying to do a search for other family members on my own. It took me a couple months to actually try though. I looked up her surname in the town she had lived in, and actually found someone! Again, it took me some time before I got up the courage to phone them. I remember saying to the man who answered the phone that this was going to sound like a very odd question, but was he any relation to the late HKA? I nearly fell off my chair when he said she was his aunt. He put me in touch with his mother, who had been married to my birth mother’s husband’s brother. She in turn gave me the name and phone number for my maternal grandfather, who was still living. It took several months before I had the courage to phone him, and it’s a conversation that will be etched in my memory as long as I live. Suffice it to say, he was delighted to hear from me, and said his prayers had been answered. All his life he had wondered what had become of me. He answered a lot of my questions, and had many of his own. We arranged to meet the following weekend and I took the children down with me to his home. That was the beginning of a wonderful relationship. He is a delightful old gentleman, and I am so privileged to have been able to meet him. I see him several times a year, and we talk on the phone occasionally. Not so much as to be intrusive on either of our parts, but enough to let one another know we care and are thinking of each other. Through him I have also met two aunts, my birth mother’s sisters, and have been astounded by the physical resemblance I have to one of them. He also confirmed that my birth father was the man whom my birth mother eventually married. He told me his name, and through information provided by the aunt I had originally contacted, I found out where he was living. But I didn’t contact him. Why? Good question. There were reasons why I should. First, I had learned that my children were his only blood grandchildren. He and my birth mother had never had any other biological children, but had adopted a son who, from all accounts, never planned on having kids. Also, this son had been told about me, so there was a good chance he would mention me to his father. Finally, it was really the ‘right’ thing to do, and I tend to try to do what is ‘right’.
However, I didn’t this time. I said it was because he had married again, and I couldn’t see his new wife welcoming an illegitimate child from his previous marriage. After some time had passed, I figured the son must have told him about me, and since he didn’t bother trying to contact me, that was that. But I think I just didn’t feel a strong enough need to find him and have contact.
Finally, after about 5 years, the inevitable happened. In Feb 2005 I received a phone call from my birth father’s wife. Again, that is a phone call that is etched in my memory. She said that my aunt had given my grandmother photos of me, and when they had been shown to my birth father, he knew he had to contact me. According to them, he had been told that I had been stillborn! He claimed to have never known that I had been surrendered for adoption! Many details of that first conversation are so clear in my mind, but there was one statement he made that sent chills down my spine and concerned me greatly. He said, and I quote, “I may not have been around for the first forty years, but I’m going to be a big part of your life from now on, perhaps more than you’d like me to be!” And he laughed.
We made arrangements to meet here the following week, and he came, along with his wife and mother, my grandmother. I quite liked all of them, but found our time together to be incredibly stressful, perhaps understandably so, and I’m sure they found it to be the same. They brought pictures and talked a lot about his life with my birth mother. He seemed more interested in what I was doing now, rather than in what had been. Two weeks later we went out to their house for dinner, and the pattern was set. All through that spring we got together every other week for something or other. It got to the point where we felt it was ‘expected’, and in a mild way, we started to resent that expectation. My husband only had Sundays off, and to have to spend every other one with people we hardly knew seemed like quite an imposition. Consider too, that neither of us were accustomed to having that regular contact even with our own parents! We were both close to our parents, and certainly spent time with them, but nothing like the level that seemed to be expected by my new-found ‘family’.
I actually did try to talk to my birth father about this once, but was blown off. He said that while it may not be what I was accustomed to, I’d just better get used to it, because that’s the way he was, and that’s how it was going to be. I was deeply offended by that. I truly didn’t see why I ‘had’ to do anything. It was about this time that other problems started to appear in the relationship. Right from the beginning I had requested that he not refer to himself as “Dad”, because to me, that name was reserved for my adoptive father, to whom I was very close, and whose death had shattered my world at age 27. Despite my requests, he continued to sign emails as “Dad”, and a couple times left messages on my answering machine beginning with “Hi, it’s Dad.” This bothered me. Also, I was beginning to learn just what topics were off-limits for conversations. He would phone me every Wed night about 8:30, and in the early days we would talk for about an hour. I learned that he didn’t want to hear anything about my life prior to his appearance in it. This was brought home to me very strongly at Father’s Day. I had made him a small scrapbook album, scanning pictures and memorabilia from my life. I had put a lot of effort into it, and was delighted with the results. When I gave it to him, he glanced at the first couple pages and set it to one side saying “It’s lovely, I’ll look at it later.” I was stunned. I had expressly gone out there early for our engagement in order that he would have time to at least look through it. I was quite hurt by this, and by the fact that he never mentioned the album again, until I asked him about it several weeks later.
I finally had enough. During May and June we ended up seeing one another every single weekend for about 7 weeks, and the final straw was Father’s Day. I had made a point of giving him his gift early, and seeing him the week before, stating that since my dad and Paul’s were both dead, Father’s Day for us was all about Paul, and that I would not be seeing my birth father on Father’s Day. I thought I had made myself pretty clear, but apparently not. He and his wife and mother came to town and showed up to visit.
After that, Paul and I discussed the situation. I was extremely uncomfortable with how I was being crowded. I felt I was being pushed into a relationship I didn’t want. It wasn’t that he was a nasty person, because he isn’t. He’s a nice man, but was just behaving in an overwhelming manner. I decided it was time to pull back. I made a point of not being available for the next few times he wanted to get together, and then once we got into fall, we got quite busy with various activities that curtailed the amount of time I had available to visit with him. However, the weekly phone calls continued, and I learned even more about my birth father.
In addition to not wanting to discuss anything about my life before him, he also shied away from any conversations involving my adoptive family. He also didn’t want to discuss anything that was remotely depressing or sad, unless it directly affected him. He was a master of changing subjects. If I touched on something he didn’t want to go near, he could change the subject so fast it would make your head spin. I got to a point where I would bring things up just to see how he would get out of them. Then religion became a non-discussable issue as well. He asked me once what religion I was. I gave my standard answer “I walk an earth based, Goddess centered spiritual path,” which generally confuses people so much they just drop the subject. Not him. He immediately said “So you’re a witch.” I was stunned at that leap, and said as much. He muttered something about that being fine with him, and changed the subject. To this day we have never talked about religion again. I found it interesting that I attended two Christian funerals/memorial services as part of the family, and was not asked if I would be uncomfortable. Of course, I wouldn’t be, but how was he to know that if it was never discussed? I think he just made the assumption that if I had a problem with it, I would say so.
With all the taboo topics, it became hard to find things to talk about. He would call, tell me how his week had been, and then he’d say “So how was your week? Same old, same old, I suppose.” I gave up trying to find things to talk about, and would usually just say “Yep, same old, same old,” and he would respond by going back to talking about things that had happened to him. The relationship was deteriorating, and I didn’t know what to do about it. He was a nice man, no question about that, but I just didn’t feel any kind of link with him. There was no connection of the type he so badly seemed to want. If it had been any other person, any other relationship, I’d have said, “You know what, this isn’t working out, I think we need to call it quits,” and we could go our separate ways, having been enriched for the contact we had had. But because he was my birth father, I felt a strong obligation to keep at it, to keep trying to make something work, but it kept getting harder. I found I wasn’t telling him much at all of what was going on in my life. I would talk a bit about the kids, but not about me. I started to almost dread the phone calls, knowing I wasn’t going to have anything to say. I think, and this is just my personal take on it, that he wanted me to be the daughter he never had. He saw my family, my husband, me as the stay at home mom, the two great kids, the perfect little Beaver Cleaver family, and he wanted some part of it. He wanted to feel that he’d somehow had a part in the production of that. And I was willing to let him, to a point, but he continually pushed that point until I pushed back.
Recently, the relationship has been very much on my mind. With the death of my grandmother, and the peculiar feelings that engendered, I have been trying to decide what to do about the relationship. Should I end it, break it off, cut contact, or should I just let it stagger on, with me being apprehensive about every encounter? I knew what I wanted, but I held off, not wanting to hurt him. I felt I ‘had’ to allow him access to my kids, his grandchildren; it was the ‘right’ thing to do, when what I truly wanted was to say, you know, we tried this, it isn’t working, I’m not happy, let’s go our separate ways. But I couldn’t bring myself to do it, primarily because, as I said, he IS a nice man, and I didn’t want to hurt him.
I blog. I use my blog as an outlet, a place where I can express what I feel, what I think, what’s upsetting me, what’s worrying me. Yes, I know people can read it, but generally, that isn’t a problem, because what I say is MY opinion, MY feelings, MY thoughts, and as such, it is personal to me. I seldom write anything hurtful, and when I do share something negative, it is usually regarding my feelings about a situation, as was the case with my birth father. I wrote openly about my concerns about the relationship, and about the feelings of obligation I was experiencing with regards to that relationship. It is something that had been preying upon me, and adding to the stress I was already under from other sources. Unfortunately, my birth father read my blog. I can honestly say this is not something I ever really anticipated happening. I have a link to my blog from my family website now. I had previously given my birth father the URL to that site, but he never bothered to visit it, and when I asked if he had, he openly said no, he hadn’t, but he would. So far as I know, he never did. However, it doesn’t matter how he came upon it, what matters, is that he found my open discussion of my feelings to be hurtful. I am sorry for that, it wasn’t my intention. He has also decided to sever all ties with my family, and will not be making any efforts to contact us in the future. I think I should be saddened by this. What saddens me, however, is that the relationship did not work out. Its demise, I feel, was inevitable. I am truly sorry it happened as it did, and that he was hurt by what he read, but I wouldn’t take back a single word I wrote. If we had had a better relationship, I might have been able to discuss my feelings with him, but I was rebuffed the time I tried and, subsequently, feelings were off limits for discussion. I do have to admit to an element of relief. I think deep down I knew I was going to have to take some action to deal with the relationship, and I was afraid to. In his email letting me know of his decision, he said that I could return to life as I knew it before he entered the picture. No, I can’t. I can’t go back to how it was before. But I can move on, a better, stronger person for the experience, and more knowledgeable about myself and my roots, and armed with the awareness and understanding I have gained.