Saturday, February 18, 2017
I grew up not resembling anyone I knew, let alone anyone in my family. I always smiled when someone told me I looked like an O’Connell or a Shanahan. “You look just like your dad,” I‘ve heard many times in my life. I don’t at all. He has black hair and blue eyes, with ancestry from the south of Ireland. I have olive skin, light brown eyes and hair (at least what’s left of it). I’ve been described as looking Mediterranean or Eastern European. Recently, I saw a Coptic priest from Lebanon; we could have been brothers. Because I speak Spanish fairly well, I’m sometimes mistaken for Puerto Rican or Colombian.
I suppose not looking like someone or having a clear sense of ethnicity has left me feeling unanchored at times. That changed when my son Devin was born. He was the first person I ever knew who was related to me by blood. Knowing that we shared DNA was less important than looking into his face and seeing myself. I was annoyed when people said he looked like his mother, which of course he did. But he looked like me too. Couldn’t they see what I saw? Was I seeing something that wasn’t there? No, he has his mom’s complexion and light hair, but he’s got my eyes. He got something else from me. It’s not physical, but part of his essence. His first report card from kindergarten referred to him as impish, that’s a quality we share. He’s got so much of me, and an equal share of his mom.
When Daniel came along I saw myself even more in his physical appearance. Still, for the first few years of his life, people said he looked like Ellen. More than once I dug out a photo album from my childhood to confirm for myself, and to prove to others, how much he resembled me. We share a smile…the poor kid will need braces for sure. He can fit a silver dollar between his two front teeth, as I could at his age. But it’s not just the structure of his teeth, it is the warmth and joy of that smile that we have in common.
Seeing myself in my children makes me feel connected in a way I didn’t before. This isn’t about love. I love my parents as much as any un-adopted child, and I know I could love an adopted child as much as I love Devin and Daniel. Rather, this connection is about feeling more completely human. Maybe parenthood does that to everyone. But I sense that as an adopted person, it strikes me in a different way. I now “see” myself as part of a bloodline. From my perspective it begins with me and will hopefully continue for generations to come. Of course, this bloodline not only has a future but is the result of two bloodlines with a history. That’s something I want to learn more about.
Monday, January 23, 2017
As long as I remember I have known that I was adopted. There was no traumatic “after-school special” moment when the secret was revealed throwing my life into chaos. Instead, my parents normalized it very early in my life, so I felt free to discuss it and think about how they came to adopt me. I had this vision that they entered a large warehouse lined with rows of bassinets. Boys were in blue on one side, girls on the other side in pink. They strolled up and down the aisles eyeing each infant. Then they came to me and instantly knew I was the one, the perfect baby boy.
So you can imagine my disappointment when I finally learned how I was chosen. My parents, who had adopted my sister 15 months before me, simply called the social worker to say they wanted another baby. “Boy or girl?” she asked. “You decide,” they responded. Although my parents didn’t “pick me”, they always made it clear that they wanted me. I have always felt loved, but I have also wondered about the circumstances of my birth and why my birth mother decided not to keep me.
I was adopted through Catholic Charities in Boston in 1967. Back then it wasn’t uncommon for an unmarried teenage girl who became pregnant to be sent a way for a few months to give birth. With Catholic girls the story was that she was discerning religious life and went to spend time in a convent. I was born in St. Margaret’s Hospital in Dorchester, MA. Through a little research I learned that St. Mary's Home for Unwed Mothers was across the street from that hospital in those days. Did my birth mother pass through this place?
I don't know if my birth mother was Catholic or a teenager. She could have been a 40 year old Jewish woman. The one thing I've been told is that my ancestry is French, Italian, Hungarian, and Polish. My red-headed freckle-faced mom says I'm Irish by association. It will be interesting to see what basic facts I can find, what they term "non-identifying information". I downloaded the forms from Catholic Charities today to start the process. For me that's the way to begin, small safe steps.
Sunday, January 15, 2017
It’s Thanksgiving morning and I’ve just finished making pies, a skill I learned from my mother. Growing up I was her kitchen assistant. I’d chop onions, celery, and carrots; peel potatoes and set the table. Eventually, I became the baker of pies and the carver of turkey. Even during my challenging teen years, when at times we could barely speak a civil word, we worked well side by side in the kitchen on Thanksgiving. As I grew older my mother would make us a pitcher of Bloody Marys to sip while we prepared the family feast. These are warm memories, but the daily struggles, laughter, and love of family are what helped make me a fairly well-adjusted and content man. I have much to be thankful for.
So I begin this a bit conflicted. Nothing is missing from my life. I love my parents. They are my mother and my father. This is not about them. It’s about me and some people I haven’t met, maybe never will meet.
I’m still not sure I want to search for my biological parents. Well at least I’m not sure I want to find them. I don’t want to complicate my life or someone else’s. I don’t want to hurt anyone and I don’t want to be hurt. So what do I want? Answers I suppose. I want to know something more about myself. That’s an odd thought, needing to find strangers to gain insight into oneself. But each of us is a complex mix of nurture and nature. I’m aware of the influence my parents have had on me. From my mom I get my desire to establish a scheduled routine. My dad helped me to know that it’s okay to share my feelings with others. These are some of the effects of nurturing by my parents. My nature, that’s another question.
Back in the summer of 1966 a man and a woman “got together”. The result was a baby boy who inherited the genes, blood, and history of these people and the families into which they were born. How could I not be curious about these ingredients that help make me who I am?