So, I really wanted to write a post about virginity and teaching kids sex ed and how virginity matters in all that and I may still write that post but: Harriet J. over at Fugitivus, which is one of Gayle's favorite places on the internets, has been posting about adoption. And she made a point that adoptions, really, start because something is already fucked-up and wrong, because if something wasn't, then there would be no need to find a new family for this child. And starting from there, that makes adoption hard; but because of that origin or despite that origin or contrary to everyone's best efforts, adoption can turn out all fucked-up and wrong in the end, too. In my family, it was fucked-up all the way through.
My father was adopted. My grandmother became pregnant and nearly died when she miscarried, and the doctors told her she would never be able to give birth without killing herself. Adoption was her only option, and my grandparents took it. My father was adopted right from the hospital into a family that was a nightmare. He was an only child in a verbally and physically abusive home. My grandmother made my father her confidante (even about sexual matters) and best friend against his father, and his father used him to berate and abuse his mother. My grandmother tried twice to commit suicide while my father was still young due to the continued verbal abuse from my grandfather (she would try again when I was 15; she told my parents not to tell me why she was in the hospital, but they told me anyway. Going to see her in the hospital, where she attempted to spin out a lie, especially at a time when I had just had my bipolar disorder kick in and was having my own suicidal thoughts now, was beyond surreal). My grandparents showed my father no affection, no love, but used him as a pawn in their continual battles with each other. At some point, he just shut down emotionally, snapped shut, locked, and has never really emerged again.
Through all of this, there was a shame in the family surrounding my father's adoption, and so my grandparents, while obliquely referencing it against each other (and this was only clear in hindsight), never told my father growing up. They lied to my father; they told him how much he looked like various relatives, told him stories about his birth. They finally admitted to my father he was adopted the night before he married my mother at 25 years old.
My father looks shell-shocked and lost in all the wedding photos. This is not a surprise.
I was told casually, as if I didn't really need to know. My family already had deep ruptures into it, with the grandparents whom I loved dearly and who helped raise me feuding with my father's parents, my mother eventually refusing to speak to or see my father's parents after my grandfather told her over dinner (while I was sitting there at 12) to "shove hot sand up her ass and pound it," and we all acknowledged how fucked up and crazy my grandparents were even though my dad tried to assume the mantle of his familial duties. He was a very grudgingly dutiful son, even though his adopted parents had left wounds so deep in him they would never heal. He was their only son, after all. But when my mother casually tossed out there, after I had said I hoped I didn't inherit their insanity (and I am not using this term breezily; there was real mental illness in that house), that that would be impossible since my father was adopted, I blew up at her. WHAT???? I shouted. WHY HAVEN'T YOU TOLD ME THIS???? I have had to listen to them tell me all about how much I take after their family and look like people in their family and all kinds of crap, I told her. How can he be adopted?
My mother told me not to yell, they had told me this when I was like 5, I had just forgotten (oh, ok then, mom). And because they were crazy and they wanted to maintain the fiction my father wasn't adopted because they found it shameful, they had also continued the lie to me. And that's when my mama told me they only told my father the night before their wedding.
Which just added a whole new wrinkle in trying to understand my father. My father is a closed book, a locked box. He has a hard time opening up to anyone, showing affection, expressing love. Whenever anything gets difficult, he shuts down, like there is a switch in him, and walks away. The only person in his life he has ever been affectionate to, expressed love to, really, is me. He is a hard person to know. But the idea that he had no family, no background, no lineage behind him made him seem even more unknowable to me. It made him feel even farther away.
So I said, well, let's find his family. Let's see if I have relatives! My family is small, as my dad is an only child, and I am an only child, and my mom has one brother but his family lived out in Utah and they had converted to Mormonism and that is something my Jewish grandparents never forgave (there are several Grand Canyon-sized rifts in my family). So I was excited about this - my father had always had this fucked-up, crazy family we wanted nothing to do with. Maybe he had a biological family that was not! Maybe we could have family that could act like family! I was enchanted with this idea, at 12 or so. And my father said: NO. NO WAY IN HELL. Because, he said, he had already had a terrible enough time with one family; he wasn't going to walk into the hell that could be waiting in another.
And that was that. Over time, I heard a little about, at least, the stories around my father's adoption, but whether those stories were told to my grandparents about the birth parents by the folks who orchestrated the adoption, or whether my grandparents continued lying and just told those things to my father, and whether those things were ever true at any point, we'll never know. But, supposedly, his biological mother was Jewish, and that somehow mattered, because she had wanted her son to be adopted into a Jewish family (once again, who knows if there's any kernel of truth in here). She was a nurse, unmarried, and had an affair with my father's biological father, who was a doctor, and who was married to another woman, in the hospital in which they both worked. We don't think the father was Jewish (or, at least, probably not, if we go by the last name test). My father's bio-mom got pregnant in 1947 as a very young, single lady, soooo . . . we can surmise there was probably quite some shame around that. But she had the baby and then put the baby up for adoption after the man with whom she'd been lovers refused to leave his wife or acknowledge the baby. I, truly, cannot even imagine all the heartbreak went into this story. I only know all the heartbreak that came out of it.
So, my father refused to find any new family, and forbade me from looking, because I think there was a real sadness, or anger, that he had been given up into such an incredibly abusive life. It hurt him, and that hurt was deep and palpable and he carried it around and you could feel it bleeding into him. But my mother and I respected that, and there were just weird conjectures, as I was growing up, when it turned out I didn't look anything like my mother's side of the family, nor even my father (a friend recently met my parents, and after an evening with them, asked me, "Are you absolutely sure you are not adopted?"). Because, well, whose nose did I end up getting? Must be someone unknown on dad's side of the family. Where did everything about how my body is put together come from? No one we knew, must be the phantom biological family I had inherited it from.
And so on. It was never a big issue in our family's life, or my life, I guess, and it never demanded attention, but it was a constant, low hum, sometimes completely inaudible for periods of time. But, you know, time went on, I ignored my grandparents' wacky comments about who I took after in their family, and I avoided them as much as possible, and my dad did too, while still trying to maintain the minimum requirements he had to fulfill so as not to be a "bad son," and about four years ago, right before I moved back stateside from Morocco, both my father's parents died. I only got back for the funerals (and how my dad emotionally dealt with that or how he processed that is anyone's guess). This meant, also, that I then had to fly down with my dad to Florida to go deal with the condo my grandparents had been living in and pack up all their shit and try to sell the condo and wrap everything up with the estate.
So, we flew down, and we were both in a fairly decent mood about the whole mess that awaited us. And: there was a mess. But there were also some really cool old newspapers that we found amongst the stored belongings, and my grandfather's old Navy papers and the U.S. Navy manual from like 1938, and that was pretty fucking interesting, and a bunch of other kinda neat historical-type things. And while we were going through all their papers, I stumbled upon the original adoption papers. I read them before I showed my dad. There were the names, of his biomother, signed, and his biofather, who had submitted a statement stating that he refused to acknowledge or support this baby. And maybe that was legally required to allow the adoption to go forward, I don't know. But it was there. It still said what it said. My father's biological father had refused to acknowledge or support him, and signed his name to that. I handed it over to my father, who had just lost the parents who had abused him, and he read it, and the pain and feelings of abandonment and loss were so palpable and thick in the room we might have choked on it.
I asked for the papers, to see if I could hunt down this family. My father said sure, whatever, take them, I don't care. So I took them, but a couple weeks after we returned from Florida, before I had yet to do any searching, my father said he wanted them back. He would look himself. So I returned them, but he never did look. I think he had had enough of family. That had never gone well for him.
It doesn't bother me, really, that I don't know much about my father's family. I am bothered, still, by the abuse my father had to endure, the lies he was told about his adoption, the amount of shame he was meant to feel for being adopted. I don't know how he feels about it; I don't think there will ever be a day is ever able to tell anyone how he feels. I was so close to my mother's parents, and their family, and was raised by my good Jewish grandparents to understand Yiddish when I was little and I heard tales of the Old Country and all about family later killed in the Holocaust and about the pogroms, which my grandmother remembers fleeing, and so I have these really deep roots and place to fit myself into history. I am not bereft; I am grounded somewhere. But with my father, I feel like I am the first generation in my family. After having a family that did not or would not keep him, and then a family that was abusive and unloving, I feel like my father starts at a zero. Without history, without roots; I know that's how he feels. And in being a family, in having love, in being raised in an environment where care and concern are involved, I am only the first generation on that side of the family. And I must start again, here.
Because of physiological reasons, I most likely cannot give birth and have my own biological child; I am also not sure I ever want a child. But I know if I do have one, and choose to adopt, or foster, I hope that that child will not have to start again at zero. I know that an tremendous amount of baggage goes into an adoption, but I am hoping to continue the generations of love and caring and kindness. I don't want to be the first and last generation on my father's side. If I do have a child, I want to continue that perhaps messy, definitely complicated line of family. Because, in the end, that's the best that I can do, provide love, and care, and acknowledge that maybe the adoption started because something was wrong, but I can hopefully raise my child in such a way, while fighting for a world wherein that adoption would never be necessary, so it doesn't have to end up all wrong, too.