With Mary

Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Search Part 7: Finding Birthdad!

What are you going to do about your father? My birth relatives asked me. 

Truthfully, I had not really considered him over the years. My total focus was on meeting my birthmom, not the man who probably skated off into the sunset scot-free.  But now, Mom K gave me his name. Now I had some idea of the man.  In my imagination, not all of it was endearing, but much of it was. For instance, many of my Aunts knew him and thought he was a terrific guy, potentially a "great catch." He and his buddies visited their home frequently and were always jovial, singing raucous Irish songs and carrying on.  Apparently, my maternal grandfather really enjoyed birthdad as well, saying that he "came from good Catholic stock." Still, part of me felt that reaching out to b-dad might be disloyal to mom. After all, on paper it appeared that he left her in the lurch, even attempting not cover a few expenses owed to Catholic Charities for prenatal care.  Hard to believe that women in the sixties actually had to pay to place their babies for adoption. Reconciling the disparate depictions of this man took some soul-searching.  Finally decided that if I were truthful with myself and others about the importance of unearthing medical and genealogical information for my children, then I needed to overcome my ambivalence and reach out. Little did I know the depth of joy and self-discovery that would come from our reunion. Though I new his name and occupation, it took awhile to find him.

Before I asked my case worker to send a letter, naturally, I did some Internet research on this guy. I knew he was a dentist, but no one knew where he currently lived.  A young dentist sharing his name came up on all of my Google searches, as did the CEO of Boeing. Louise, my best friend from college, finally cracked the case and found his name and picture in a dental association publication in California. He was listed as the editor. From there, I found his wife and daughter on Facebook.  They appeared so happy and beautiful!  His wife's profile picture included b-dad.  See below. Ironically, when I showed the picture to my children and asked them to name the person, they said Granddaddy (my husband's father)!  Yes, my b-dad looks VERY much like my father-in-law.  Wonder what Stanford Professor Robert Sapolsky would think! Admittedly, I made a few assumptions about b-dad based on his profession and appearance:  conservative, Lexus owner, country club go-er, Republican. Boy, was I wrong!

The day after receiving my certified letter via Catholic Charities, b-dad phoned in. Well, I certainly didn't expect such a speedy response or any response for that matter. Once he confirmed that the whole situation was legit and not just one of those "send me money from Africa" hoaxes, he told my case worker that he would like contact and that I should call him. Call him?  Really?  Just jump right in there, huh?  No emailing for months, getting to know each other slowly, just jump right in? 

With clammy fingers, I dialed his number. The most hilarious voice message rang in my ears! It sounded exactly like my voicemail, a sing-songy, chirpy tone. Weird...in a good way. He called me back a few minutes later and we were "off to the races." 

Without the benefit of long email exchanges, our first conversations were quite interesting!  B-dad just dove right in with all sorts of personal questions:  "Are you a single mom?"  "Do you have a mental illness?"  Somehow I was not offended.  Surprised, yes.  Caught off guard, yes. Offended, no. After those questions,something clicked and I thought, "Okay, looks like no questions are off limits here!" So I shot a few back at him.  Actually, I barely needed to ask anything.  He was an unfiltered, open book.
After sharing a few intimate details of the courtship between mom and him, I shook my head like, "Is he really telling me this?  Do I really need to know this? TMI Dad!"

His side of the story did cast the slightest bit of doubt regarding paternity. If he wasn't convinced of back then, why would he be convinced now? Both of us could see a resemblance in the photos we shared, but I wasn't 100% convinced. Yes, b-dad emailed and chatted as if nothing were amiss, but I needed proof. After a couple of weeks, I suggested we take a paternity test to which he happily agreed! We each took the test, then he and his amazing wife took a trip overseas for three weeks. More waiting! I would have an answer in June, just weeks before a giant reunion with birthmom's family. I knew there would be questions and I wanted to talk about b-dad as my dad with total confidence. The results came in THE NIGHT before the reunion. Yes, I was sweating bullets!

Coming up: The Results are In

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Love of Two Mothers

What was going through my birth Mother's mind on Mother's Day 1968? Hidden away from the world in her sister's attic did she realize the joy her pain would bring to another family just a few months away? My birth Mom K loved me enough to entrust my upbringing to another family and my adoptive mom loved me enough make her proud!

Mom J- who raised me- took her mothering very seriously, but with a 1960's sensibility. Free to Be You and Me was before our time.  Instead, Mom J looked to Jaqueline Kennedy for inspiration. Mrs. Kennedy was young, stylish, well educated, cultured, and Catholic. Mom J was about the same age, stylish (think Sofia Loren), intelligent, and Catholic too. Yet, growing up with a first generation traditional Italian father meant Mom missed out on cultural events and higher education.  He flatly refused to help any of his daughters attend college. A woman's place was in the home. Thankfully, Mom poured her ambition out on us, making sure we attended cultural events and earned college degrees.

Seemed like every weekend, Mom was dragging us to some art opening, festival, botanical garden, or ballet.  My brothers and I would groan and beg not go, but there is no arguing with Mom J.  Period. One out of the three of us would pout the entire time, lag behind, and make scowling faces for the family photos meant to document Mom's efforts in raising us right. Her efforts paid off. My younger brother has a master's degree in percussion and composition. My oldest brother studied design and architecture. I paint. Whether we liked it or not, Mom had our best interests in mind constantly.

When Dad got a promotion and moved us back to Pennsylvania from New Jersey, Mom insisted that they buy a modest house in a nice neighborhood known for excellent schools. He wanted to move back to where they grew up, but Mom would not hear of it. She wanted more for us. Ever heard the old fashioned saying, "Behind every successful man is a powerful woman?" That was mom. Mom entertained Dad's business colleagues with flair and grace, insisted he push hard to move up the corporate ladder, yet never be late for dinner. Supper hit the table at six o'clock not matter what (still does). Mom was regimented, which kept her organized and us in line!

Obviously, Mom J loved us, but it was not mush gushy love.  Instead, deeds proved her love. Did she get us to church every week?  Check. That was love. Did she keep us clean, well-fed, and educated? Check. That was love. Did she take us to an art exhibit? Check. Love. This 1960's parenting mentality taught me essential life skills like how to manage a household, throw an amazing dinner party, write a thank you note, and show respect for others. She was constantly preparing us to be model citizens in the "real world." As a parent of two, I commend what she accomplished. She has a tightly knit family of three well-educated children and many grandchildren who love and even like each other! A true gift.

Mom J set an exceptionally high standard for herself and her children and I wonder if she realizes on some level that her great joy came out of the expense of another. I like to think that our success is her way of thanking our original moms. As promised, she raised us right.

On this Mother's Day, I am eternally grateful to know and love both of my mothers. One who gave me life and who's courageous act brought so much joy to my mom and dad. The other who taught me how to "be" in the world. I am blessed to wake each day, continuing to learn lessons from both of these powerful, intelligent, passionate, and talented mothers.

Mom J, me, and Mom's Italian Dad

Friday, May 2, 2014

Reunion Reflections 1: My Drive Drove Off!

During an interview with my first running coach years six years ago, he asked me "Why do you want to race?"

"To win, of course!" was my quick reply.

Now my competitive spirit seems to be on vacation and has been since reuniting with my birth family. I still enjoy my runs, especially with my girlfriends, but my super intense "crush my competition"self is no where to be found. Sure, other issues like my new job or age may be at play, but how does meeting my birth family weigh in?  Naturally, running gave me plenty of time to ponder this question.

As an adopted child with an active imagination, I could not help but think that someone could be watching me.  Birth mom could be anywhere, watching me grow up.  What if she suddenly appeared? Or what if I recognized her while out running errands, after all, I was told that her family may live nearby. In my little kid brain, I needed be ready.  I needed to be perfect.  I needed to be great.

Now that I think about, life was my stage.  I always had an imaginary audience as I danced around the living room in my purple tutu. Somewhere in my subconscious, I was always preparing to meet my birth mom and I did not want to disappoint her. My adopted mom saw my "all-the-world's-my-stage" tendency and kept me far away from a passion that could have taken me to scary, far away places as an adult. Since the real stage was out, I took up sports.

To my delight, Dad called me the Athlete of the Family. My brothers were not sporty, so within our household I was finally "great" at something. I tried everything: gymnastics, tennis, swimming, softball, basketball.  In high school I finally settled on running, focusing on sprints and later cross country.  I got as far as "pretty good." Good enough to be part of the State Cross Country Championship team as a senior. Good enough not to disappointment someone watching me from a far...maybe.

Fast forward a few decades, and there I sat interviewing a running a coach, still striving for greatness or massive improvement anyway.  I needed an outlet for my competitive spirit after my son was born, plus I had unfinished business to take care of on the track.  What if I had tried harder in high school?  What if I had really focused and trained hard.  Could I have been number one or two on the team instead of four or five?  Could I have gotten better scholarship offers?  I needed to know.  Someone could be watching me.  I needed to be ready!

I got in great shape and ran some decent times.  Not great times (in my opinion), but good enough to win an award or two.  I'm still striving to run under twenty minutes in a 5K.  Or am I? Again, since happily reuniting with my birth mom and family, the goal is just not as motivating to me. Why?  I think I may have just figured it out.

My true moment of greatness, my true dream is now realized.

Birth mom no lingers in my imagination. She is actually here, cheering on all of my good enough moments because- guess what- our reunion is so miraculous that good enough is actually GREAT.