I’ve never told anyone this…
So many conversations over the years have started with this statement, followed closely by either “I was abused when I was a kid” or “I was adopted” or both. Once I came out of the closet of abandonment and abuse and began to process the facts that I had been abandoned by birth parents, abused by guardians, and labeled “unadoptable” by the child welfare system, others began to entrust me with their stories.
I’m honored that so many people have shared their stories with me. For many, it’s the first and only time they’ve done so. Many seem to feel that any mention of birth parents is disrespectful to the family that adopted them. Some just don’t want to dredge up what they consider to be ancient, unchangeable history. I suspect that still others think the way I did for years—that if anyone knew that their birth parents didn’t want them, this person wouldn’t want them either. Whatever the reason, many will never publicly tell their stories, so I hope to tell some of their stories with discretion and respect.
One story that comes to mind was from an insurance company executive who approached me after a meeting and asked to speak with me privately. This man held an important position with an insurance company with which I worked, and he had been nothing but completely professional, so it took me off guard when he began with “I’ve never told anyone this . . . I was adopted.” He went on to say how his wife and kids didn’t know, friends didn’t know, no one in his life knew. His adoptive parents had passed on, leaving him, and now me, the sole holders of this precious information.
I wasn’t quite sure what to say, and I’m not sure that he wanted or expected me to say anything. I told him that I was honored and humbled that he had chosen to share his story with me. He went on to talk about how he had found out as a teenager that he was adopted only because there was some health scare that came up that lead to a conversation that tipped him off. His adoptive parents had been unwilling to have a conversation about this, much less answer any questions. The entire subject had been off limits. Now everyone who knew anything was gone, and he would never know who his birth parents were or the story surrounding their decision to live life without their son. For the first time since I’d known him, that entirely professional exterior had cracked, allowing me to see a wounded little boy who wondered what his mother and father looked like. He wondered if he had brothers and sisters in the world. He wondered if anyone on Earth could be a bone marrow or organ donor if ever he needed one.
As I listened, the children inside of us connected on a level that two people in business never would have. I understood, like few would, the loose ends that abandonment leaves with the child who is abandoned, regardless of what the reasons were or how life turned out. Both of us had attained personal and professional success. Both of us were happily married with families we loved, both of us had fulfilling careers, yet we both had the common ground of a vague sense that the roots of our family trees had been cut short and disconnected from an unknowable root system.
Shortly after this man opened that can of emotion, he put the lid back on it and never brought it out again. It was clear that the subject was never to be raised again. I’ve had many such encounters. I’ve often wondered what those of us who never reconnect with birth parents have missed. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it), I knew about my birth parents. I knew from pictures what they looked like; I saw my mother seven or eight times; I saw my father once each year on Christmas Eve up until my paternal grandfather died. Once he was gone, my father was no longer under pressure to maintain ties to me.
What my little knowledge of my imperfect parents clearly told me was that any possible reunification would not resemble what Hollywood would lead one to expect. Early on I gave up the fantasy of a “happily ever after,” made-for-TV movie. I wonder if I’m the fortunate one, or if the truly fortunate are those who can perpetually hold onto the fantasy of meeting their birth parents and being grafted into a wonderful family of now mature people who recognize that they were too young to properly care for their child, turning the precious one over to people who would delight in the child they ushered into the world. What do you think?