What Adoption Means: Dream Life

“What Adoption Means to Me” – Post #6

I received this message from a fellow professional in child welfare.  She shared with me about her father’s adoption story. When I first read it, I got stuck on the words “dream life”.  It reminded me that adoptive parents need to be mindful of how incredible the memory is as it pertains to memories of biological families.

After reading her father’s story, I am thankful that adoption is more openly spoken about these days than they once were.  No child should ever have to feel that he or she cannot speak or wonder about biological family.  Also, I think it is pretty amazing that adoption is the profession that his daughter chose.

“My dad was adopted when he was about three years old. He says that he remembered bits and pieces of his biological family but always wondered if he was dreaming.  He would wake in the mornings sometimes, and ask his mom if they ever lived on a farm with lots of animals, or if he ever had an older brother. He would ask those questions about this “dream life” as he describes it because the details were so fuzzy and confusing to him. It was almost as if he remembered this life with a family but he couldn’t quite remember all the details.

When my dad was 18 years old, his parents sat him down.  “It was time to tell him the truth”, they said. They explained that he was adopted at three years old because his biological parents had died. They said that there wasn’t always good medical care for people who lived out in the country, so when the couple fell ill, there was no way to save them. His parents told him that he indeed did have an older brother who had been adopted by a family in another state, who needed an older child to help on their farm. He was also told that he had several, older half-siblings that lived close to his hometown.

As you can imagine, my dad was devastated. He was sent into such a state of shock and felt that he was right all along: He was different, and not only was he different, he wasn’t someone who deserved the truth about who he was or where he came from. He was not given this information about his adoption or his biological family from day one or even when he asked specific questions about his “dream life”; he was lied to and the truth was withheld.

My dad was very ashamed for years about his adoption story. I think in most part because of the secrecy behind it all. When I was about 10 years old, my mom told me that my dad was adopted. I will always remember that moment as I was trying to make sense of what adoption meant. I asked my mom, “So are you saying that Grandma and Grandpa aren’t dad’s real parents?” My mom immediately snapped, “Don’t EVER say that again!”

There was no explanation of why that question should not be asked, but I knew that something must be really wrong to ask questions about adoption.  I didn’t ask my dad or my mom questions about his adoption for a very long time.

When I went off to college, I found my calling in life: social work; and more specifically working with children who need forever families. Adoption was my calling. I remember the phone call when I told my parents about my dreams and what I wanted to do most in life, which was to help find every child a forever family. The conversation was met with lots of skepticism, especially from my dad.

I started learning everything I could about adoption. I also started asking my dad questions about his story because I wanted to better understand my dad’s thoughts and feelings regarding his history. At first, he was hesitant to share with me. My dad is a very strong man, and I think sometimes men are nervous to talk to others because they might display weakness. However, once my dad started to open up about his past, he started to realize that he had a lot of questions himself. He researched and found that he had one older half-sibling that lived not too far away.

My mom reached out to her and they spoke on the phone. That half-sibling cried tears of joy to know that her baby brother had been adopted by a wonderful family. She said she’d always wondered what happened to him. She later wrote my dad a letter that he still keeps in his bedside table. In the letter, she wrote that she was about sixteen-years-old when their parents died. She said that she had offered to raise him and his older brother but the authorities had said that she was too young.

The children were taken to an orphanage at the time and placed for adoption. She said that she tried to keep in contact but was told by well-meaning social workers that it was not appropriate for her to keep in touch with them; that she needed to let them live their own lives, and that communication from her would only confuse them and cause problems. Because of this, she cut off all communication and lost track of where they were.

My dad still has not met his half-siblings face to face, though they have written letters and talked on the phone. He has now seen pictures of his birth parents. It is crazy because I look exactly like his birth mom. When we saw those pictures and realized the resemblance in his birth mother and me, I think it was hard on him at first because the loss was so real, but now, I think it is comforting that we look so much alike because it is like a piece of his birth story still lives on.

My dad has also met his older brother who was adopted by an out-of-state family. That reunion was pretty amazing because they look so much alike and have the same mannerisms, though they were raised by different families.

Though my dad’s story has not come to a perfect ending, he has at least found some comfort and closure in knowing his story. He is still very private about his adoption history but I find that he is opening up more and more. He will call to ask me questions about adoption or give me advice, which is great since this is my profession. Plus, I love my dad and his history is my history, and I think it is important know the truth. My dad still hasn’t talked much to his mom about the adoption (his dad has since passed on). He says that he doesn’t want to hurt her by asking too many questions. Like many people, my grandparents struggled with infertility, so adopting my dad was an answer to their prayers. They raised him as if he had been born to them and gave him unconditional love. So he tries to be very respectful of his parents as he has sought answers regarding his history.”

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