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 adopted – As 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.