Three weeks ago, I received word from a Peruvian cousin Claudia who I am connected to via Facebook that my father is dead. “He now enjoys the presence of God” she stated. She sent kind wishes to my family.
As I processed this information over several days, in between crying on and off, the doubting part of me said, “Is it really true?”
Could it be a ruse so I will go away?
I know that this sounds ridiculous to anyone who grew up with their biological family and has always known the identity of their parents. But it doesn’t sound crazy to those of us who are adopted.
As my friend Pam says, “Let me stand in front of his grave!”
My relationship to my father is not considered equal to those who are raised by their fathers. Our relationship has not been socially sanctioned or acknowledged by those in authority. There are no records to prove our relationship. Some consider it a non-relationship because of my being legally adopted.
However, I am here to tell you that I consider him my father in all ways, irrespective of the fact that I had another father who adopted me. I have two fathers.
I can’t drive to my father’s house to see for myself if it’s true. He lives in another country. There is no obituary and I have no idea if there was a funeral. I have no photos of the paternal grandmother and aunt that I supposedly resemble.
This is a glimpse of what it is like to be part of a family but not enjoy the benefits of being truly part of a family.
This is what it is like for some of us who are adopted and lose a parent that we never got to meet.
This is disenfranchised grief.
The grief is valid…even if others do not agree.
Antonio was alive for a year and a half after I learned his identity through Ancestry DNA. He knew I was claiming to be his daughter. Did he accept it as truth?
I don’t know.
People frequently ask me if he remembered my mother. They ask, “Did he know she was pregnant and gave you up for adoption?”
I have no idea.
There were suggestions by one family member that his memory was not good. It’s possible he had dementia and was not the same guy I heard giving a lecture titled, “In Search of Identity” in the 1980s. The recording I found in a Canadian library is the most important piece of my father that I have.
Within that recording he asks, “What does it mean to be a Peruvian?” I have asked myself that same question many times since learning of my Latin-American background.
A big part of my grief is accepting that I may never hear the true story about my parents' relationship.
I will never hear my father tell his side of the story.
One evening in an online genealogy group, I was sharing some of the research I had found about my father. A woman I did not know asked in a judgmental tone, “Does your father know you are looking at all of these records?” I was taken aback. Without missing a beat, I replied, “I would tell him if he would call me back!”
Truth is, she was putting me in my place. Traditionally, genealogy focuses only on the deceased. What I heard in her voice was a familiar bias toward adoptees who research living people. People have been using public records since before the internet to research others. But wearing my adoptee hat, I am treated differently.
Genetic genealogy requires that living people be researched in order to determine parentage. People sometimes view us as doing something wrong when we are just trying to learn where we come from.
When you are the only adopted person in a room full of genealogists, they sometimes look at you with a suspicious eye. The family secret. The whistle blower. The one who causes trouble in their bio families.
Don’t get me wrong, most genealogists are the first people to help an adoptee – yet when an adoptee pops up in their own bio families, THAT is the true test of equality.
Will you help an adoptee if YOUR beloved grandfather is their bio dad? And the adoptee was conceived during your grandparents’ marriage? Puts a whole new reality check into the mix, eh?
Now that my father is gone, I am now LEGIT doing genealogy.
I have made my tree public. No more hiding in the shadows.
My grief is still beating below the surface during the recent happy times of being with my adoption community in Indianapolis, watching my daughter begin her junior year of high school and looking forward to the changing leaves and cooler weather.
I remind myself (and you) that it’s o.k. to grieve for someone you never met.
Grief means we are capable of deep caring and love.
Even if others do not acknowledge the pain is real.