Monday, February 15, 2016

Secrets: The Reason I Still Don't Know Who My Father is at Age 50

We like to associate secrets with the bygone era of closed adoption; however, closed adoption still exists today and secrets have always been with us and will continue to be in the future so long as records can be legally hidden from adopted people.

I want to talk about how and why secrets are harmful to adoptees and give you specific examples from my own life.  Then I will turn this blog over to others who have been affected by secrets in their own journeys.  If you have a story you want to share at this blog, please email it to me.

2016 is the year I decided that I would solve the mystery of who my father is. I knew I could not do this by myself.  One of my greatest challenges during the search has been that I do not live close enough to the area of my conception to do research at the library.  There are many resources at the library that you cannot get on-line.

I do; however, have an active search team of friends who care and other adopted people who have experience searching who have all volunteered to help me put together a profile of my father. I have a TON of information, much of it conflicting.  The adoption agency has provided me with one story, friends and family another, almost completely different version, and then we have what the DNA says.

I dream about this stuff quite a bit.  Combing through my DNA matches, trying to understand the motivations of people who lie and/or hide things (a stretch for me, I must admit), and all at the same time getting so emotionally overwhelmed at times, all I can do is just cry.

On top of trying to sort through all of this conflicting information is the thought that keeps popping in my head .. . .why keep a 50 year old secret?

Secrets are harmful to our health and those around us.  Lying to people close to you and asking others to lie on your behalf is damaging to relationships, but it is a common thing when we are dealing with closed adoption.  We all know that secrets are harmful to the secret keeper, but sometimes we forget that secrets are most harmful to those that the secret is about:  the adopted person

This week, my hero of a husband, contacted  a person (let's call her Fran) to ask her some details about my father.  Fran met my father and knows all the details of how my parents met.  Fran even has an adoptee in her close family circle. Yet, Fran refuses to reveal the secret out of loyalty to the one who created the secret.  

Fran was not the least bit interested in how this secret has affected my life at all.  She didn't ask, but she made lots of assumptions about me.  She assumed (didn't ask) I had a great family growing up and that I should be grateful.  She told my husband how much my mother loved me (guilt?).  She told my husband that it's better to leave things in the past.  She denied the information she had already provided in a previous conversation.  In sum, Fran felt compelled to enable the secret keeper and have no concern for how this secret affected me and my family.  And this is typical treatment toward people whom others keep secrets about.

Fran never asked, but I would like to share with you how these secrets are harmful to me and to other adoptees who are searching for truth.  People (and family members) often wonder why I question everything and rarely take anything at face value.  Could it be that my very beginnings are such a deep, dark cover-up, that I was set up for never being able to take information at face value? To trust that people will tell me the truth?  Talk about a shaky trust foundation! It's a good thing that I have the type of personality where I want and choose to believe others except when their are red flags waving everywhere I turn (like in my search).  

My efforts to determine who my father is/was has brought me to a whole other level of understanding human nature and our need to protect ourselves at all costs -- even when the threat may no longer be real.  I believe that, in my own case, the threat is this:  my father was never told about me.

I see this as a failure on the part of the adoption agency for not a) getting my father's name and b) notifying him of my existence.  Had the agency done its job in an ethical way back in 1966, the secret would not have ever been viable.  It would have died an early death and shame may have had a chance to dissolve and healing may have taken its place.

I did not create this situation; however, I experience the consequences of it daily.

The secret being kept about my father effects my very identity about who I am, which in turn effects everyone around me.  That is not to say that I am not a fully functional, happy adult because I am; however, I am a person with a hole inside of me who is forced to walk around begging complete strangers for any scrap of information they might throw my way.  It's a very difficult position to be in the line of fire, when you had no involvement in the secret whatsoever.  Some people get really angry when you start digging up a past they want to keep buried, not ever giving a thought to how it effects you, in the process. It's no wonder some adoptees throw up their hands and give up.  

This secret effects my father and his entire family.  Imagine being a 76 year old man just being told you have a 50 year old daughter?  Imagine the betrayal you would feel learning that the mother of your child kept this from you for 50 years.  All those lost years with a member of the family that you knew nothing about.  

Another effect of this 50-year-old secret is my future health care. I cannot look out for conditions I know nothing about; so withholding the secret of my father affects my future health decisions and those of my son and his future children.  One of my husband's family members has been struggling with the effects of diabetes. I have often wondered if diabetes is in my future.  Most people can look around them at their relatives and decide pretty quickly if they are likely to become diabetic.  I don't have that luxury. 

Withholding the secret about my father affects the genealogy of my family and the secret is then passed down after my death to my son, who will then need to spend a lot of time, money and energy (as I have) trying to track down the truth -- a much harder proposition after everybody is dead. Trust me, the last thing I want is for my son to inherit this burden.  He did not create this mess and doesn't deserve it.

To date, I have spent several thousand dollars in search fees, DNA testing and transportation costs. I'm sure the time my friends and family have spent searching in terms of hours cannot even begin to be estimated -- but it would be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars if not for the generosity of the people who understand how secrets effect lives and choose to put their energy into helping others, once their own mystery is solved (and in some cases, their mystery can never be solved when it is an international adoption). 

The people I am referring to are called search angels in the adoption community.  I could write an entire blog about my gratitude and awe for the search angels around me who know how this feels, who understand, and feel compelled to act.  

Having a secret kept about you is deeply painful.  Until you have lived it, it is hard to grasp. I can tell you this, though, the fact that my parentage is still a secret after half a century, fuels me forward to never, ever give up. 

I am thoroughly convinced that if my searchers cannot solve this mystery, that DNA will eventually. 

I just hope I am still alive to see that day.


  1. Comment I accidentally deleted:

    daughter of an adoptee has left a new comment on your post "Secrets: The Reason I Still Don't Know Who My Fat...":

    It's hard putting the pieces of you together to be complete, whole, fully functional, UN-distracted and 'ok', when so much of you feels 'illegal' or 'against the law'!

    This practice of closed records is generational mutilation. The amount of time and energy spent on trying to somehow find the truth, which is all any of us want, is draining, it's diverting from other needs and purposes, and shaming! What crime have we committed?

  2. Good morning, a birthmother who relinquished a daughter in 1961 and at the risk of some on-line bashing, I feel compelled to possibly shed some light on the "withholding" or "long kept secret." As a first time reader of your blog, I do not know your history re reunion with your birthmother. I can only speak for myself.

    In 1999, I found my daughter. With great excitement, anticipation and trepidation, I made contact via a letter as my way of introduction. A week after she received it, she called. I was thrilled and scared...hearing her voice after 37 years and barely able to breathe and speak. As it turned out, she did not know she was adopted. Although we talked for an hour and a half those 16 and a half years ago, we have never met. She turned her rage over the secret and the truth, against me...understandably...rather than the secret-keepers who had denied her her truth for 37 years. I have tried my best to honor her request for minimal or no communication, sending a card or note every few years to let her know my heart is still open with love and understanding.

    By now you are probably wondering "what is her point?" During our one and only phone conversation, she eventually asked me about her birthfather. At the time, I told her that I didn't feel comfortable discussing it until we finally met.

    The truth is...I am not certain who her father is and will never be until and unless she has a DNA test done. I became overwhelmed with shame that I naively wasn't expecting until the question arose. It has taken me all these years, birthmother/adoptee support groups and therapy to speak my truth without shame. You see, when I got pregnant, I was a college student...parties, drinking, wanting to experience "free love."

    Not only was there the shame of unwed pregnancy, there was the shame of not knowing. That is why the father doesn't know....I don't know. If my daughter and I ever have further communication, I will tell her that truth, request a DNA and inform her father. Whoever he is, chances are, after 54 years, he won't even remember me. But both my daughter and he deserve the gift of knowing.

    All that to say, Lynn, whatever you're birthmother's or her confidants' true reasons may be, until they share they will not be free. Even if she isn't sure, or he was married at the time, or your father is a man of note, ultimately the truth might be freeing to all.

    May the Universe provide you truth, acceptance, peace....


    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Carolyn, thank you for bravely sharing your story. I am so sorry your daughter took out her rage and pain on you. It's so disheartening when I hear of people who grow up never being told they were adopted. Late Discovery Adoptee is the term for adoptees who learn of their adoption in adulthood. It's like the foundation of your whole life has been ripped out from under you. I am sorry you got caught in that crossfire.

    In my own personal situation, my father is known by others who refuse to tell me. I have known many adoptees whose mothers did not truly know and all of them have been compassionate toward their mothers. DNA testing is $99.00 now. I encourage you to test at Ancestry and if/when your daughter goes seeking her roots, your DNA will already be there to help her know which side is maternal and which is side is paternal. I wish you the best,

  4. Wonderfully written expressing what so many adoptees feel. Thank you. No more secrets. ##DNAgamechanger

  5. I am writing from a little different perspective. I have a brother who was adopted. The State where he was relinquished is the same state where I live (Oregon). They have open adoption records. I did all the necessary things to be allowed to be on a "list" to be contacted by my brother if he should choose to put himself on that registry. He had not done that, so I stepped up (more paperwork and $$) and paid the state to locate and contact him for me. At that point, I was told that there was no proof in all my documents that he and I shared the same father. (Apparently they really should not have put me on that registry to begin with, but all my info matched his info....) What I can only guess that means is that his mother (not the same mother I have) put the "father" as being her husband. (She may have done that because she was advised that her husband was legally the father.) This woman is still living, but denies that she gave birth or relinquished my brother. I, too, do not understand the perceived need for this secret after 50 years. I firmly believe that we all deserve to know who we are related to. My brother could have a daughter who could be get together with my son, and they would never know they are 1st cousins! Secrets and LIES are usually self serving. I love DNA advances, and how this science has and is solving crimes. I fully believe that it will also be the answer to family searches. If you have not watched "Finding Your Roots" on PBS, I encourage you to watch the recent episode that featured L.L.Cool J. I won't spoil it for you, but it is an amazing story! I do hope that you get your search questions answered soon.

    I don't know how to "comment as" on any of these choices except anonymous, sorry.

    1. Thank you for your comments. I love Finding Your Roots! The adoption registry system is a way to block adoptees' progress in learning about their roots. The registries and closed records laws will eventually become obsolete, thanks to DNA testing.

  6. Here's a question -- to the best of my knowledge, there are no "secrets" in any of my family (parents, aunts, uncles, siblings etc). I know I am not adopted, and none of my siblings are (I'm the oldest of 5). I've considered getting a DNA test, if it might help others -- but I don't know that there are any others to be helped, and I'm not sure I want to spend the money just for my own benefit.

    Any advice?



    1. Thank you for asking, Kathy! Taking an Ancestry DNA test for $99.00 could potentially help many families (then transferring your results to Gedmatch). When you test at Ancestry, the software program connects your cousins to each other and by exploring the trees of these cousins, you can determine how you are related. These databases existed for genealogy enthusiasts -- not necessarily for adopted people -- however, they are helping family members who have been separated by adoption. Many people have no idea they have an adoptee in their family until taking on of these tests. It could potentially be a great grandparent and that line does not connect after the DNA test has been taken. Once you take the test, I recommend joining DNA Detectives on Facebook, where you will discover a whole new world of genetic genealogy and the fascinating and inspiring stories told there daily. I hope you decide to test!

  7. Incidentally -- I really appreciate all the blogs you adult adoptees write! I would read more birth-parent blogs if I could find them to read.) I've learned a LOT from them; they have totally changed my perception of adoption! I have two (now young adult) adopted nephews, and an adopted granddaughter (4 1/2).

  8. Thank you Kathy, for your willingness to see a different side of adoption! That is why I write -- to educate. Namaste!

  9. And thank you for your encouragement -- I just ordered my DNA test.