No Hypothetical Here

I heard through the blogging grapevine some time ago that another blogger (that I am not friends with nor do I read) went on a rampage about the fact I discussed my daughters queer lifestyle here on my blog. Since I am not friendly with this individual, I had no idea. Reportedly, this individual felt that my daughters queer lifestyle is information I should keep quiet, or private, or avoid, or something. I don’t know. I don’t care.  It says more about the blogger’s views on homosexuality and lifestyle than it does about me and my views on gays, queers, my daughter or anything remotely related.

This recent post on HuffPo reminded me of my daughter and that blogger who is offended I discuss my daughters sexuality. This dad describes many of my feelings, far better than I can (or apparently did in this post or even this one).  I am in complete agreement with points 1 and 2.  These points extend not only to my daughter but to my sons (and step sons as well).

Dear Hypothetically Gay Son

Not Lost in Translation

I have taken a lot of heat over the years from various adoption effected parties when it comes to that name thing.  I have mothers tell me I am wrong to call my daughter by her amended name as it erases her original identity. I have had adoptees tell me I am wrong to call her by her original name as it erases her only “real” identity. I have had adoptive parents tell me they “bought” the right to name the child what they please and that my daughter’s original name went by the wayside once the check was cashed (yes, they actually said this to me). Those same adoptive parents tell me I am disrespecting the “wonderful” people who raised my daughter. (How do I know they are wonderful? I have never met them. More importantly, how do they?).

I will admit the name thing flummoxed me for a few years.  Until I found my daughter, I referred to her by her given, original name, Amber Lyn.  It is all I knew.  Once I found her and learned her amended name, I did my best to refer to her by that. In my own head I would do this quick translation of Amber to [name].  I would force myself to write her amended name when I wrote the few emails I wrote to her.  It was odd. Felt like I was learning a new language. You know that feeling you get in your head when you are searching for a word in a different language?  For me it’s a buzzing, clicking, scanning type of sound. My throat constricts, my eyeballs will look up to the right, and I might even utter words like “uhhhhhhh” while the disc in my head spin in its drive and finds the proper term. I studied Spanish for eight years yet after that I did not use it regularly.  I know the words but it takes me some time, in my head, to say, translate what I would say to what a Spanish speaking person might say. Same thing, sort of.

As the years went by and I was exposed to this or that argument for or against using an adoptees original name, it became more natural for me to say [amended name].  For me, personally, the most compelling reason to absorb this is that this name is what my daughter identifies with.  To establish a relationship with her, I felt strongly, I needed to speak the language that is spoken in her adoption country – not mine.  Her language, to my knowledge, does not include the words Amber Lyn. Were I to utter those words to her, refer to her by that name in any way, I am confident she would have shut down immediately. So I adapted.

Others did not. My mother (as I have ranted about here) did not. Well, she may have, but only recently and I am not sure if that was a permanent change or a temporary slip.  My best friend, she does not acknowledge her as [amended name] either. Some of you dear blog readers and friends of mine?  You don’t either.

I realize this is because many of you don’t know her amended name. Some do. Most don’t.  Most of you refer to her as “daughter” or “my daughter”. A few, more so recently than ever before, say Amber.

I don’t like it. 

Relax. I aint hollerin’ atcha.  I am not upset.  I merely stating that I don’t like it for reasons I mention above. I fear it invalidates my daughters only known existence and if she were to read it here she would bristle. I don’t want her to bristle. I fear she bristles too much where I am concerned.

Beyond that, there is a deeper, more personal reason I don’t like it when others refer to her as Amber.

For me, personally, every time I hear someone refer to her by her birth name I feel it as an emotional slap in my purty lil face. It is a linguistic backhand of the lies I bought into, the fantasy I created contrasted against the reality of who and what I found in reunion. 

Adoption promised me an uber-perfect child would be found upon reunion and there was never any doubt in my mind that I would find her.  It was who and what I found that was the surprise. My adoption caseworker planted the seeds in this wilted garden of hope by telling me all about waivers of confidentiality and registries while simultaneously reinforcing the notion of this fabulous, much better off life she would have.   There is shadow stuff at work here in that the system set my daughter and I up as polar opposites and I bought into it.  I was dark and evil and nasty and festering and if she stayed with me she would be the new and not necessarily improved version of the horrible nastiness. She would inherit the added pus-filled benefit of being labeled a bastard.  If surrendered to adoption however, she would avoid that putrid nastiness (about now you should hear angels sing and see a bright light…you might even see unicorns and fairies).  I surrendered my daughter fully and utterly convinced that I was the scum of the earth and that closed stranger adoption would avoid such a future for my child. She deserved not only better than things. She deserved a better mother than the one someone elses god had granted her.

During the period she was lost to me (1986 – 2005) I found comfort in the beauty of this perfect, glowing, highly educated, utterly beautiful, super kind, peace loving Ghandi-esque child that adoption was nurturing in some far away fairy filled land. This fantasy child was named Amber Lyn. She was going to welcome me upon reunion, introduce me to her adoptive family, be happy to have brothers and more.  (Yes, I know my Kool-Aid is showing.) Adoption promised me this and I took the fantasy image and ran with it. I had to. What alternative did I have? What other information was provided to me via closed adoption to prove me wrong?

I did not find a perfect child (no such thing exists, IMO). I found my child, now an adult, as the closed stranger adoption had raised her. I am not suggesting she is flawed, or imperfect or unlovable or a disappointment to me. I am suggesting she is human and that my thinking was magical. The problem lay in my gullibility and my own thought processes and all the attributes I assigned to my ghost child named Amber Lyn. I crafted this person, this image, in response to my trauma. It was how I survived. I clung to this vision of her (and incidentally, clung to this version of myself as the horrible nasty). It was not until my pseudo-cyber reunion that I began to see the true light.  I saw her as she was (at least partially, since I was not permitted to be in her presence, and do not proclaim to know even the slightest bit of who she is in real life) and what adoption had actually provided. I also started to see myself not as the horrible nasty but as something other, something better.

I agree and understand that my daughter is named Amber and also named [amended name]. I also agree that my thinking was flawed and that I have had to adjust to that. I also agree that she MAY be some of the things I envisioned in my fantasy. She might not even object to some sort of use of her original name. Until I meet her, if I meet her, I don’t know for sure. I can only go on what I have…and I don’t have Amber.  I don’t know what I have but it is not the fantasy I called Amber.

I am not suggesting you cease referring to her as Amber.  I will grant you the same respect I do others. Speak your language and perhaps, someday in the future, we will understand each other. In the meantime, I keep on translating.

Reading Becoming Patrick: A Memoir

Becoming Patrick: A Memoir

It was a combination of the excellent writing and gut wrenching honesty that impressed me most. I will admit to being triggered approximately five times to the point that I started to cry and had to put the book down.  This is not a bad thing and it should not cast a negative reflection on the author or his story. Quite the contrary, it should show the rawness of the story and the incredible writing skills of the author. He got it. He gets it and he does so not only due to his adopted status but his ability to convey that in compelling, gripping words that enable the general public to get it as well.

The book I am referring to is titled Becoming Patrick: A Memoir and was written by adult adoptee, author, artist Patrick McMahon. I have met Patrick twice over the years. Our contact has been minimal and frankly I am not certain he would even remember meeting me.  In both cases, our contact was limited to an introduction, a smile, or standing around in the same conference space.  This lack of conversation is likely rooted in my introverted, socially anxious personality that abhors crowds and the requirement for idle chit chat. I much prefer intimate gatherings with intellectual discussion. I have also followed Patrick online due to his adoption themed greeting cards and his activism. We are “friends” on Facebook.

Patrick announced the availability of his book a few weeks back. Upon learning of it, I immediately downloaded it to my iPad Kindle app.  I read it from the first page to the last in a matter of a few hours.  Below are my thoughts, in no particular order. I wish I could formulate a professional review of sorts.  Quite frankly, when it comes to adoption themed books, I am usually at a loss for words.  The stories tend to hit me so deeply I am sent into an emotional tizzy that takes me some time to come out of. Until I come out of the emotional death spiral, I am unable to articulate clearly. As such, I ask that you (and Patrick) accept the limited commentary below. I may update it in the future.

Spoiler Alert: Finally if you intend to read the book, you may want to avoid my commentary below.

The Writing – The writing overall was stellar. The story wove together very well and it was easy to feel like you knew Patrick personally and were there with him. I particularly enjoyed his descriptive inclusions of his life, his daily happenings, friends and “sub plots” going on in his life (like job loss, financial challenges, love life and more). The inclusion of these items made him far more human to me and the overall story much more emotionally impacting. I really enjoyed simple things like his description of his long hair, getting his ear pierced. It was at this point in the book I scampered over to Facebook to check out if he still had long hair and piercing.  I squealed with delight when I saw an older picture of him with this long haired look. He wears it well (although I must admit to a personal affinity for men with long hair).

Honesty – Patrick was very honest in sharing his feelings.  I felt he provided a realistic view of his compassion for his first mother and family of origin and his conflict with them. He clearly took issues with some parts of the story (like his first mothers surrender of not one but three children to adoption). I really appreciated this fact as in other adoption memoirs I have read (Ithaka for example) I was left feeling as if the author was not being sincere. Something was either being sugar coated or completely avoided.  Patrick did neither. He did not paint a good or bad picture of his first family or even his adoptive family. He painted a very real picture complete with alcoholism in both families, job loss, and abuse.

Letters – The sharing of the text of the letters sent between him and his mother Barb was much appreciated. Again, this aspect provided a very human, real touch to it.  Surely he could have alluded to them but instead he included them word for word. As a result, I got a good feel for Patrick, Barb and the joys and challenges associated with their reunion.

Photos – I found myself wanting to see photos of his families once I got about a third of the way into the story. I am so glad he included these at the end! (I must admit I crept his Facebook to see if any were there!). Again, the ability to put real human faces with the characters I read about further humanized them all for me. I believe this is so critical in adoption (one reason I use my real face and name in adoption circles). Adoption does a nasty job of dehumanizing the family of origin and the adoptees.  Photos help make us real.

Chicago – I had no idea till I read the book that Patrick was born and surrendered in Chicago. This is likely one of the major reasons for my triggering. I knew so many of the places he referenced. I walked, even lived on, streets he talks about in the book (Ravensood). My roommate worked at Illinois Masonic. I saw a therapist there less than three months post surrender. The constant references to Chicago, Illinois, Illinois adoption organizations and search resources sent me spiraling backward into the dark abyss of my own painful past. It never ceases to amazes me that I can be sent back there so easily. No matter how far I think I have come, how good I feel I am doing dealing with adoption trauma, a certain word or memory can erase all the progress and take me right back to May 19, 1986 when I handed my daughter over to strangers with the blessing and admiration of society.

Ambivalence – I found myself feeling rather ambivalent about his first mother. Like Patrick I found myself rather disturbed by the information that she surrendered three children to adoption.  I do not want to sound judgmental. I know it is not uncommon for mothers to become pregnant soon after relinquishment; I could not wrap my brain around three surrenders. What must that do to a mother’s soul? I know what one did to mine. Three? I am confident I would have killed myself. That being said, part of me liked his first mother. She appeared very open, self aware and considerate, particularly as someone who was completely surprised at being found and totally unprepared to deal with reunion. Her first comments were harsh but she seemed to realize and restate that later on.  She did not seem to be too pushy (as many mothers often are in reunion) and seemed to genuinely try to be considerate of Patrick, his feelings and his adoptive family. If Patrick was trying to illustrate his own conflict with her, I must tell him he succeeded. I liked Barb but felt unsettled by some parts of her.

Gay and adoptedAs I have written about here, I learned, via the internet that my daughter identifies as queer. Having Patrick write about his own experience of coming out, living as both a gay man and adopted person, struck me very deeply. This was another point when I put the book down.  To read about Patrick’s fear of being rejected by his first family for being gay brought tears to me eyes.  I was so glad to see it was a non issue for his first mother (as it is for me).  His anxiety and fear of rejection was palpable to me.  I sat and thought at length about my own daughter and wondered how she came out to her adoptive parents, wondered if she is aware that I am aware of her sexual orientation, wondered what kinds of conversations, if any, we might have about it in the future. I greatly appreciated Patrick sharing this very personal but oh so important aspect of himself and his reunion.  Kudos to Barb for her acceptance. (Random data point: I have reunited several alternative lifestyle adoptees with mothers.  None of them faced rejected upon sharing that news.)

I encourage all to read Patrick’s memoir.  You can get it on Amazon and other locations. While I read the ebook, I intend to buy the hard copy to add to my collection. I also intend to TALK to Patrick the next time we occupy the same conference space.