Friday, June 21, 2013

I will never stop searching for my father

"The Force will be with you... always."  -- Obi-Wan Konobi

I was talking to other adoptee friends of mine who are in reunion with their birth fathers and realized that birth fathers as a whole are invisible.  And once found, if they are decent men, they have a hard time coming out of that invisibility, because they feel guilty for not being there for us in the beginning of our lives.  They feel like failures or ashamed for not supporting us financially, emotionally and otherwise.

The media has always glamorized the idea of adoption but alongside that comes the stigma of being a “bastard” for not knowing who your father is and/or being abandoned by your biological father.  Society has many ways to band-aid the problem of being a bastard (adoption, step-parents, and mentoring uncles or grandfathers), but the reality is there are many of us walking around as adults still not knowing the men who created us.

I found this conversation from Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, when Princess Leia realizes she is Darth Vader’s daughter: 

On a footbridge in the Ewoks village:

    LEIA Luke, tell me. What's troubling you?
    LUKE Vader is, on this moon.
    LEIA (alarmed) How do you know?
    LUKE I felt his presence. He's come for me. He can feel when I'm near. That's why I have to go. (facing her) As long as I stay, I'm endangering the group and our mission here. (beat) I have to face him.
    Leia is distraught, confused.
    LEIA Why?
    Luke moves close and his manner is gentle. And very calm.
    LUKE He's my father.
    LEIA Your father?
    LUKE There's more. It won't be easy for you to hear it, but you must. If I don't make it back, you're the only hope for the Alliance.
    Leia is very disturbed by this. She moves away, as if to deny it.
    LEIA Luke, don't talk that way. You have a power I--I don't understand and could never have.
    LUKE You're wrong, Leia. You have that power too. In time you'll learn to use it as I have. The Force is strong in my family. My father has it...I have sister has it.
    Leia stares into his eyes. What she sees there frightens her. But she doesn't draw away. She begins to understand.
LUKE Yes. It's you Leia.
    LEIA I know. Somehow...I've always known.

How I watched this series without ever realizing Darth Vader was Leia’s father is a mystery to me; however, I am living with the same predicament.  I have been told my father is Darth Vader (no not literally, but figuratively).

I was not “worthy” or “kept” because of who my father was.  He was a nobody to my birth mother.  Or he was a somebody so big that she cannot speak of it to this day.  He was probably handsome, but she describes him in ugly terms.  He probably came from a decent family, but she describes him as a criminal. Whoever he is, he is half of me and I am half of him.
I know many people could care less about family trees, “sperm donors” and deadbeat dads because they love the man who was there for them, biology or not.    But to me, that is a whole other issue unrelated to WHO the man is.  There is a difference between knowledge and relationship.

Why do I want to know who my father is when I had another father? 

My human adoptive father failed me as a parent.  Even so, I don’t expect my biological parent to replace him.  At middle age, I don’t need a father so much as I need to be loved and embraced by “my people”.  My people, for the most part, encompass the chosen people in my life that I allow into my circle.   I don’t really “need” more people in my circle; however if my father were a good man, and he had a loving family who embraced me, I would embrace them.  Otherwise, I would embrace information, knowledge, a culture, food, history and knowing myself in a deeper way. 

Why do you want to know somebody who didn’t fight for you or support you?

Because I carry half of his dna.  He carries my son’s dark eyes, my heritage that has been lost to me up until this point in my life.  He carries stories of his own birth, upbringing and tales of the Depression that many older folks tell.  He could potentially fill me in where the Native American ancestors met with those leaving Spain and arriving in America. He has my family medical history.  I can learn of the difficulties he experienced as a minority in this society and show me a whole culture I missed out on growing up white. He personally does not need to do any of these things, but knowledge of who he is, will provide me with the opportunity to learn new things about myself and the missing people from my family.

I don’t know he didn’t fight for me.  I don’t know that his mother (my grandmother) didn’t want me.  I don’t know anything because one person who carried me in her womb, does not want me to know. 

I will never stop searching.  The Force is with me and always will be.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

A Father's Day story about Open Adoption

As an adoptive parent in a "kinship adoption" arrangement as the professionals call it, the words "open adoption" and "closed adoption" weren't thrown around at the time our petition was filed.  Since we knew very well our daughter's original mother, there was not much thought about whether it would be an open adoption.  It was open from the start due to circumstances.

However, as we all all know, "the best laid plans of mice and men" don't always pan out.  Our adoption was no different.  Little did we know, what we believed was the kinship adoption arrangement for our family turned out to be something entirely different. 

Our daughter came straight home to us from the hospital.  We had anticipated the original family member changing her mind and were prepared for that.  There was no foster care and no adoption agency.  There was no involvement of Child Protective Services, other than a one-time home study.  (I remember the home study was very brief as the social worker was sick and she came on my son's birthday:  February 15th.  I had to ask her to look at the nursery.  She briefly spoke with the original mother, us and then left quickly).  At the hearing, she was feeling better and seemed in good spirits and was really happy we were adopting as was the Judge that day.

There was minimal Court involvement other than the normal processing of the petition and a hearing date set six months later.  Ohio courts give preference to close family members.  I remember the Judge asking us if we understood that from here on out, we would be the parents and be responsible for the child's welfare from now on.  Absolutely we realized it.  We welcomed it.
The gavel the Judge gave us at the final adoption hearing minus the pink bow

Our adoption was a far cry different experience than what my adoptive mother tells me hers was. My mother entered into a mysterious process in the 1960s where secrets were the norm.  In a 2005 relative adoption, there was a background check but no real "digging" into our family history, like in my parent's adoption of me.  We didn't need references.  They did.  We didn't jump through many hoops at all.  My parents had to jump high if they wanted to adopt myself and my brother.  Some would say that the closed adoption hoops of yesteryear were not enough.  With tales of mentally ill adoptive mothers running rampid in the closed adoptee rooms on Facebook, many believe not enough was done in closed adoption to ensure the safety of adoptees. 

In a kinship adoption, one could argue that just because people are blood, does not mean the child is safe.  When you are a blood, biological family, the government does not interfere into your parenting unless there is a report of neglect or abuse. I do think there are two sides to the issue.  Adoptive families are treated with suspician if they want to adopt and blood families are not.  That is a double standard for sure.  However, I do think it is appropriate for the Courts and the law to value blood relationships and make it easier for kin to keep their own within the family.  Children deserve to know and live with their biological family, if possible, and some Courts/laws make it easier for that to happen. (Mind you, other laws make it harder -- especially for putative fathers).

So as I mentioned, there was no talk of closed versus open adoption when we adopted our daughter.  It was just assumed that because we are family, it was open.  But open in the traditional sense was not to be in our case.  We have not heard from our daughter's original mother in over 7 years.  Not a word.  Yes, our daughter knows her name, has pictures, etc (I write about that here).  But visitation, letters, cards, phone calls?  It has never happened.

My husband and I have very mixed feelings about the lack of communication, especially because of how it affects our daughter.  Due to circumstances that I cannot divulge, on the one hand, it is a blessing she moved away.  However, our daughter wants to meet her original mother.  A picture may be worth a thousand words, but it's not enough according to our daughter.  We never imagined that our daughter would one day never remember her own mother, as she was a baby when her mother left.

We do not control this.  For whatever reason, Mary's* (not her real name) birth mother felt she could not be in relationship post-adoption. We have moved on and accepted that this is just how it is.

On the paternal end of this kinship adoption, we have the elusive original father.  I had one phone conversation with him prior to the filing of the adoption petition.  He gave us his blessing to go forward with the adoption.  He said he had a college scholarship.  He went into the navy and I made a brief effort to communicate with his father but heard nothing.

Fast forward 6 years.  I log in to Facebook and I receive a message from my daughter's original father.  He is interested in meeting her and wants us to come to his wedding.  (here is where the best laid plans start slapping us in the face).

We intended to have our daughter's mother in her life full-time but we never intended to have our daughter's father in her life as we assumed he was not interested.

As my daughters says, "It must be opposite day!"

So we were invited to the original father's wedding.  We were shocked and surprised but we had some time to get used to the idea.  We didn't go to the actual wedding, but we did decide to go to the reception.  Our daughter got all dressed up and as we walked in, we introduced ourselves to our daughter's paternal grandfather.  The look on his face was shock.  (I think he thought we crashed the reception).

When he realized we were invited, he graciously invited us to sit at the family table and introduced us to every one of the family.  We were overwhelmed with gratitude.  We secretly expected to be the outcasts there and hoped at best, to not be stared at.  Oh, we were stared at throughout the whole reception but in an interested, kind way.   Our daughter met her paternal grandmother who looks exactly like her.  Her first cousin was practically her twin.  All these genetic relatives in one place who resembled our daughter.  It was simply amazing that we were sitting there amongst all of them who had flown in from around the country.  I took lots of pictures because I literally did not know if we (or she) would ever seen any of them again. 

That was 2011 and we are two years into "open adoption".  The original father and his wonderful wife have done their best to forge a relationship, even though they live out of state.  There are cards, gifts, and pictures/and videos exchanged.  We have built up enough trust to allow them to take her on day outings.  We are working toward actual vacations.  We feel blessed and thrilled that our daughter's "other daddy" cares about her.  He has opened his heart to her and that makes us so happy.

As a mother who never knew where she came from until middle adulthood and who never had a close relationship with her father, it absolutely warms my heart to see my daughter making TWO Father's Day cards and loving two fathers.

 As I was sweeping our sun room Friday night, I overheard my husband (who was sitting at the fire pit with the other dad) telling him that he would be honored if our daughter called him "Dad".

I am convinced God really does have a sense of humor.

Happy Father's Day to all dads everywhere!