Finding Family, The Adoption Story
I don’t know how old I was when I realized my father was adopted. It wasn’t hidden knowledge, nor was it brain surgery to deduct that a Germanic looking man would not be born into a family of Southern Italians. Fair and blue eyed, my father was adopted when he was three weeks old. It wasn’t that it was a taboo subject, but more a basic understanding that questions about my father’s adoption be avoided in front of my grandmother, so ya, taboo.
Because of this, his adoptive past turned into a Pandora’s Box, one I wanted to open, but not at the expense of my grandmother. I wasn’t searching for a family I wished I had; on the contrary, I don’t think I could have been blessed with a better set of grandparents. What I felt was a healthy curiosity and a sense of being disconnected from my gene pool. This wouldn’t be a betrayal, as my grandmother may have feared, it was information gathering. Throughout my childhood, I fantasized about where my father was from, who his parents were, why he was given away, what they looked like, what their medical history was, and what, if anything, there was to learn from the people who were my relatives.
I also had the occasional thought that one of my kids could end up marrying their first cousin. So there was that. Ick.
Not long after my grandmother passed away, I asked my grandfather about my father, and with as much description as he could recall, he shared his story about the day they drove from Massachusetts to Maine to collect their son. He described how frightened and excited, how fortunate and blessed they were that God had given them a child that they couldn’t have on their own. I think it gave my grandfather a sense of comfort to tell the adoption story because when I asked about the birth mother’s name, he knew it off the top of his head, like he’d been waiting for someone to ask. That day, I had been given enough information to begin a process that would take me 14 years to complete.
In 1994, before social media simplified finding folks on the internet, I manually gathered what information I could, writing down names and phone numbers of potential relatives. The only lead I had to go by was the birth mother’s name. I found the name through directory services and, without a practiced speech at the ready, braved up the courage and dialed the phone number. Busy signal. After a half hour of redialing, I placed the phone back on the receiver and told myself this was a sign, that it wasn’t meant to be and that maybe: I would inadvertently hurt someone by contacting them, my bio fam was psychotic, if he was given away, then “we” were given away for a reason, and maybe I should leave well enough alone. My interest in my gene pool had peaked and plummeted, and I tucked away my bio fam’s information, telling myself that someday, if the timing were right, I’d try again.
My inquisitive personality craves facts, making it impossible to let go of a project I’ve begun to research. Sometimes weird events happen that propel you to continue on, informing you that it’s not yet time to give up, that it’s okay to delve into the unknown, even if it feels murky and uncertain. Here’s the weird: My brother, who possesses a strong instinctual nature, was visiting my parents this past October. From what I understand, he was at the computer, and for no apparent reason, asked my father what his bio mom’s name was. When he Googled her, an obituary appeared explaining that she had died just two weeks earlier. Reading the blurb off the Internet caused me to Google further until I found another obituary, one with a photo. At first blush, I could see my father’s blue/gray eyes, square jaw, and wide smile. I studied her photo for quite some time, disappointment washing over me that time had run out, that I had missed the opportunity to meet her. I asked her what she wanted me to do with this new knowledge, and waited for that photo to speak to me.
And it did. The news of her death reignited my desire to find my biological family, and my super sleuth skills were set into action…
…okay, right here, I kind of want to boast about being all Sherlock Holmes with mad deductive reasoning, but FYI, anything can be found at the click of a mouse, provided you know where to hunt, and I’m a pretty good bird-dog.
The obituary told me who my relatives were. I wrote down the names of her living siblings and searched for other living relatives on all social media sites I was connected to, investigating anyone with the same surname as my biological grandmother. I looked for babies born the same month and year as my father, and queried local town halls asking where I could gain access to original birth certificates.
From what my grandfather told me, and from looking at the ages of the relatives I could find, I determined that my best bet would be to contact the biological aunt, who was somewhere in her late 70?s. My only hesitation was that she may not have been aware of my father or of the adoption, and that I would shock her. Or give her a heart attack. Or something awful would happen and a can of worms would open that I wouldn’t be able to close. It took another two weeks to dredge up the nerve, and if weren’t for the support of my best friend, Agnes, holding my hand (literally) I never would have found the courage.
Calling the sister of my biological grandmother felt like this: guarded, shaky, fearful, like I’d just sprinted down the street breathless and on caffeine, tongue tied, simultaneously projecting the best and worst outcomes.
Here’s what happened: The carefully planned out explanation that I had written down and rehearsed with Agnes didn’t matter. The aunt trusted that I was who I said I was, and before I could launch into an explanation of why I was calling, said to me, “I’ve been waiting for you.”
It was eerie, like in the movies: “I’ve been waiting all my life for you, what took you so long, finally, you’ve come to me.”
Do you have the chills yet?
My Great Aunt’s name was Janet, and she connected me to my father’s sister, Aunt Pat. I gave Pat my father’s phone number and within a couple of weeks, he met his two sisters for the first time. What he learned was that his mother loved him, his existence was known in the family, circumstances led her to give her son up for adoption, and that for the rest of her life, she mourned the loss of him.
A few weeks ago, I meet my Aunt Pat, Aunt Anne, and Cousin Mary. I was greeted with warmth and hugs. We shared photos and noted resemblances in features among relatives. At no time did it feel awkward or uncomfortable. Surreal, yes, but also a sense of connection to a long lost family.
Facts I discovered along the way: My maternal grandmother and my father’s bio mom were born on the same day of the same exact year. According to records, my biological great grandparents are buried in a cemetery with the same surname (Bruno) as my father’s adoptive parents. My father has two biological sisters; their first names combined equal my mother’s first and middle names (Patricia Ann), and my father and his biological sister were born a year apart and a day apart in the month of May.
I don’t believe in coincidence. I believe that if you pay attention, you’re directed to where you’re supposed to land. It’s the paying attention part that always foils us humans.
Was my brother unwittingly a channel for my biological grandmother? Did she get the ball rolling because she wanted to reunite her family? Did she speak to me through her photo, guiding me to make the calls I needed to make?
I believe she did.