Remembering Adoption Memoirist, Craig Steffen
(To be read at “The Annual Remembrance of Craig Steffen” 6/25/17)
I had to talk myself into coming today because I didn’t feel like I truly belonged (it’s an adoptee thing). As I wrestled with it in my mind, I realized, if I don’t share this story at Craig’s remembrance, there would be nobody to tell this story to as Craig and I did not have any mutual friends nor did we know each other’s families (which then led to the thought . . . post this at your blog!).
I knew Craig just barely a year, meeting him the summer of 2015 at The Bellbrook Library at a book signing. A former co-worker of mine, an author herself, known as the City Skipper Gal, had interviewed Craig and written an article about Craig and posted it on my Facebook wall as she intuited correctly that Craig and I had a lot in common since we were both adopted and enjoyed writing. The City Skipper Gal had seen my adoption-related blog posts come across her Facebook feed for many years and by 2015 she had also interviewed me for an anthology I edited and published that year titled, “The Adoptee Survival Guide: Adoptees ShareTheir Wisdom and Tools”. I signed and brought along a copy of my book to give to Craig as a gift because I somehow knew before meeting him that our meeting would be important. My husband Mark had also come across an article about Craig and his book signing in the newspaper and got the message that Craig would become important in some way in our lives but he never mentioned seeing the article to me (until later), because I had already announced my intention to attend the book signing in Bellbrook.
At the library, I listened to Craig speak but for the life of me, I cannot recall a single word he said. I was too excited that there was another adoptee that lived in my community who understood the issues and wasn’t afraid to put his story out there. I introduced myself to Craig and (his wife) Cindy, introduced them to my daughter, and purchased Craig’s book, which he signed and I have right here with me today. I took the book home and devoured every nugget of it, feeling like I knew Craig without actually knowing him.
Most of my adoption-related colleagues were people I had connected with on-line and were spread out across the U.S. and some in other countries, very few who lived in Ohio, but none at that time who were adoption authors living in the Dayton community. I realized quickly that Craig was not connected to this same group of adoption-related people and I immediately thought his book and his knowledge would be a perfect match for this adoption community that I had been so fortunate to become a part of.
When Craig and I met, he had recently submitted to speak at the American Adoption Conference but was not selected, which may have been a blessing in disguise, because the Congress has been in some turmoil as of late and many in the community have stopped attending its annual conferences. Somehow, and I’m not sure how we came up with the idea, we both decided to submit our talks together to Montclair University/St. John’s biennial adoption conference, Myth and Reality in Adoption: Transforming Practice Through Lessons Learned held June of 2016. What is unique about these particular universities is that they are progressive in their thinking about adoption – moving away from the “rainbows and unicorns” of the past and thinking more critically about the institution of adoption and how it affects those it claims to help: adoptees.
I learned Craig was an experienced pro at speaking at other types of conferences. I was not. I had never spoken at a conference. I knew a bunch of people via anthologies and support groups within the adoption community and Craig did not. So we decided that tog
ether, we could be a good sell for the conference. We met for breakfast at the Golden Nugget Pancake House to discuss our topics. Craig had come up with this (brilliant in my mind) topic on metanarratives in adoption that, until he explained this concept, had never really occurred to me before in the way he presented it. My topic was on the adoptee voice. We submitted our proposals and waited.
It wasn't until early 2016 that we were notified we were accepted to speak. We really hardly knew one another and so I told Craig that if Cindy wanted to come along to New Jersey, I completely understood. My husband Mark assured me that he had no concerns about me going on a four day trip with a guy I barely knew (he's supportive and knew that this conference was very important to me). As many of you know, I learned Craig does not fly. So, he drove the whole way to New Jersey and I was his passenger. Like I discovered the few times we met in 2015, during the trip, Craig was easy to talk to, a great listener, non-judgmental, kind and generous (He insisted a couple times to pay for my food). A funny thing he shared with me post-conference on the return trip, was that he was trying to be gluten-free. I asked him why he ate all that bread at the conference. He replied, "I didn't want to be high maintenance." I laughed.
Our rooms were located on the Mt. Clair, New Jersey campus and it was under renovation. We had to walk everywhere and we kept getting lost. The inside joke was I told Craig “he was gifted” every time we would get lost. He may have thought it was a joke but I do believe Craig was gifted in many ways, but he was too humble to admit it. The conference was an amazing experience. Craig, myself and a few other adopted people we met sat up late into the wee hours talking about our searches for our birth parents and our reunion experiences. One of those adoptees was adoptee blogger, Daniel Drennan, who had just returned to the U.S. after living in his home country, Lebanon. His stories were fascinating. When Craig dropped me back off at my house in Dayton, Ohio, in the wee hours of Sunday June 12th, 2016, I did not realize that would be the last time I would see him.
|Article about Craig in Xenia Gazette|
Earlier in 2016, I had invited Craig to be part of my search team as I am currently still seeking my biological father. There are around 40 people in a secret Facebook group that brainstorm and seek information leading to the discovery of who this mystery man is. One morning in February of 2016, Craig and I met at Panera Bread to go over the remaining details of the conference; however, our conversation diverged into my search. He knew by then the many years of searching I had done, the many secrets being guarded in my birth family, the many roadblocks to my search. He knew I was in every DNA database awaiting a close match to set me on the path to my paternal birth family. One of my searchers had recently found a good father candidate who had been an exchange student from Colombia that fit the name and description of my father and looked a lot like my son, Matthew. I felt like this was the closest I had ever gotten to any answers but without scientific proof, it only meant more wondering. Craig came up with the idea to anonymously send an Ancestry DNA kit to this potential sibling of mine living in Massachusetts. He knew I was strapped for money at that time, so he paid for it, had it shipped to his house, repackaged it, mailed it to Massachusetts with the hopes that our target tester, who was a genealogy fan, would think that Ancestry sent her a free DNA kit. It worked! A couple months later, in May of 2016, this tester, a very public blogger, posted her DNA results. Sadly, she and I were not a match.
Even today as I write this with tears in my eyes, I am thankful to Craig for helping me to be able to move on from that stuck place during the winter of 2016. I needed that closure and he was willing to go the extra mile to do something kind for someone he really didn’t know very well. He knew exactly how I felt not knowing who my father was and he also knew what a joy it was to develop a relationship with not only the man who created him, but his other paternal family members. Craig's love for his birth family, among his many other passions, are described in his beautifully-written obituary.
Losing Craig means something personal to each and every person who loved him. I had lots of ideas and plans for working with Craig in the adoption world in the future. We had planned to submit to speak together at the Indiana Adoptee Network Conference that was held this year in Bloomington, IN. I went alone in April, revised the talk we did in New Jersey, brought along his book, shared about him in my talk and it was very well received. It still would have been preferable to have him there in the flesh. I was so looking forward to introducing him to so many cool people in the adoption community.
He had so much to give to the future of adoption and his leaving us prematurely is a huge loss to the adoption community. I am thankful that Craig was able to finish his memoir because I have no doubt that his words will live on in the hearts and minds of not only his friends and family, but in the hearts and minds of adopted people for generations to come.
If you have not read his memoir, I urge you to do so. Craig was a unique human and I am eternally grateful that our paths crossed towards the end of his journey on earth. To his friends and family: please accept my heartfelt sympathies for your loss and thank you for including me in Craig's Remembrance.
"We Journey Forward Without Fear." -- Craig Steffen