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.

Living with Bias

I don’t even know what the first part of the conversation was about. I was not part of it. I was merely in the same room as the conversing parties, a member of my family and my friend’s husband. I am confident I could retrieve the conversation from my memory if I had to. I am also confident that it has been lost due to the fact that the parts of the conversation I do remember were so disturbing to me the earlier parts have been wiped out.

After a few minutes of conversation, family member says to friend’s husband “I cannot stand to see people of the same sex kissing or touching. That makes me sick. Don’t make me watch that.  It’s just wrong.”

I am startled and turn my head quickly towards family member.  A mixture of anger and embarrassment (at my family member’s beliefs and the way they were just expressed) causes my breathing to become rapid.  Others in the room also overhear the exchange and for a moment, all eyes are on my friend’s husband waiting for his response. Friend is clearly uncomfortable with where this conversation has gone to and seems to be struggling to respond.

A child comes bouncing into the room and the distraction is enough to derail the conversation.  I sit at the table fuming.  This family member knows my daughter identifies herself as a gay/queer femme woman.  I am offended for my child and for all LGBTQ people. I am annoyed my sons were in ear shot and that they are exposed to such homophobic views from their own gene pool. My mind reflects on the last time I had a conversation on this topic with a member of my family…

Familial Bias Scene 1
Family members and I were sitting at kitchen table discussing something having to do with the LGBTQ community.  During the conversation I offer up that my daughter identifies herself as gay (I use the word my family uses, not the word my daughter does).   I also remind them that my husband’s uncle was gay and that husbands’ father and said uncle owned several gay bars in our state. One of the family members stops the conversation abruptly and says:

“WAIT! What? What did you just say? [daughters amended name] is gay?”

“Yup.” I respond casually as I pour my diet coke into a glass.

“Well, is she REAAAALLLLLY or is she just, you know, experimenting?” family member asks.

I become annoyed and struggle to respond. Why does it have to be in question? Why isn’t it taken at face value?  I am angry at myself for opening that door. I know my families conservative, homophobic, jingoistic, racist, religious belief system all too well. The relationship I have with said gay daughter is actually a product of that belief system. I struggle to compose myself. I realize the question is causing more conflict than is likely warranted.

“Does it matter? I mean if she is experimenting or if she has her feet firmly planted in lesbian soil, does it matter?” I respond with the slightest hint of disgust at the question.

“Well, uh, um…I guess not” family member says in response. It is clear they backed down not because they suddenly feel it does not matter but rather they sense my irritation and are fearful of further reactions from me.

It is clear to me that it does matter – to them. It also clear they want to gossip on about it but they realize I am not going there.  Even if they, and friends of mine, find the need to do so.

Like the last time I met with a high school friend…

Friend Bias Scene 2
“Did you tell him she was gay?” friend asked.

Uncertain if I heard her correctly, I asked her to repeat herself.

“What? What did you say?” I asked.

“Rob. When you met with Rob, did you tell him that your daughter ended up gay?” she repeated.

Startled and annoyed by the use of the phrase “ended up” I find my thoughts swirling with equally balanced desires to be snarky and serious.  The use of words “ended up” seems to imply that her adoption caused it, that adoption did not make her better, but in the friends POV, it made her, well, gay.  I am not sure if I should be offended or if I should be offended for her adoptive parents.  I am definitely offended for my daughter.

“Uh, no. Why would I do that?” I asked. I decided I was going to poke back at her, stick my words deeply into her ignorance.

“Well, you know…” She pauses, awaiting my response.

“No, really, I don’t. Tell me why you think I should tell someone that the daughter I surrendered to adoption ended up gay? By the way, she prefers the word queer.” I respond.

I realize there is some anger to my voice. I work to control it. I don’t want her to become defensive in response to my tone. I briefly recall the moment I did share that fact with a family member wherein I was asked if my daughter was “experimenting”. I push away the anger from that conversation. I really want to explore this one.

“Queer, gay, lesbian, what is the difference? You know what I meant.” she offers.

“Yes, I knew what you meant but I wanted to be clear that she prefers queer.  If you ever meet her or another queer person, it might be considerate to use the vocabulary they do. You are Italian and never liked my dad calling you a Guinea Wop even when he claimed he was joking, right? ” I replied as I turned to grab my coffee.

“Whatever. I am still shocked she is gay. What did your entire family say when you told them?” she asks as she leans closer to me, her voice level lowering. It is as if she afraid someone around us will overhear a deviant conversation. Again, flash of memory from the conversation with my family member (who interestingly, does use the word queer but it is not meant quite the same way my daughter means it).

“I didn’t.  I don’t see the point. It’s a non issue for me. I am struggling to understand why you think I should have told Rob let alone my entire family.” I asked a second time. I realize I am intentionally poking at her. I want her to admit what she is, show her true colors.

“Oh, come on. YOUR family? YOUR parents?  Let’s put aside their religious beliefs, their conservative nature and perhaps point out that they have zero gay friends or family members.  Do they even KNOW gay people exist? I mean, I realize your dad had his token black friend that he felt made him not racist but homosexual? Oh, wait! Didn’t you hang out with a gay dude in high school? Wasn’t there some hubbub over that?” she responds laughing at the last sentence and her memory of me and my darling friend, Jim.

She is annoying me. She has now offended me, my daughter, my family (even if rightfully so) and one of the dearest friends I have ever had. May he rest in peace.  I remember why I did not like her much in high school.  I give second thoughts to having this conversation. I am not confident it is my job to educate the asshats of the world.

“Queer” I respond, again with a touch of annoyance to my voice. She is confused as my response did not match her last statement.

“It is irrelevant.” I continue. “I don’t believe it says anything overtly interesting about her or is any indication of her as a person or is anyone’s business. I am not implying that I know her as a person, but as a general rule, I prefer not to judge people for their lifestyle choices. You like to date black men. Do I introduce you as such? Do I say Hey, Mom, this is my friend hetero friend Sarah, she likes to date black men? And you know what they say once you go black… Do I say that?” I inquire.

“Ha ha ha. No, but the fact that I date black men is very different from being gay.” She insists.

“Really, how so?” I ask.

Sarah doesn’t respond to my question. I am confident my mentioning of her desire for black men has brought back all HER family bias towards her choice in men. She shrugs her shoulders, makes a rude comment about me and my “freaky views” and does a supreme job of deflecting the line of questioning.

I decide I am definitely not having coffee with her again.

My Position Present Day
I am going to put this on my blog and I am going to say this hopefully in a manner that my blog readers (and perhaps some day, my daughter) will understand. I am also hoping I am not offensive (as if my friends and family above haven’t already been offensive enough).

A majority of American society views reproductive, monogamous sex between men and woman as “good” and places any sexual acts and individuals who don’t fit into this normative view (queer, bi, trans, etc.) as “bad”.  Same sex couples and their needs are invisible. Individuals falling into the “bad” category are subject to bias, discrimination, and much worse.

As a result of this there is a part of me, immature as it may be, that does wish my daughter did not identify as queer. However, her identifying as such does not cause me to love her any less. Nor do I feel that her being queer means there is anything wrong with her or that it is something to be embarrassed by or ashamed of. My desire for her to lead a hetero-normative life is rooted in my desire, as her mother, for her to have an easy life. When you are different, life is not easy. When society views you as “bad”, life is not easy. I know. From the day she was born that is all I wanted for her life to be easy and rewarding and for her to be happy. I want to protect her from all the bad, ignorant, asshat people in the world (and at one point I was one of those bad people – at least society said I was).  The fact that I did not raise her, do not have a relationship with her, does not negate my desire for her life to be “easy” or my desire to protect her.

My daughter is not invisible — even if her original name was changed and is not present in my life physically. She is not bad or unseemly or a threat to society as a result of her gender identification and choice in partners. Again, I realize it is impossible to protect her, but that impossibility does not diminish the desire. It is instinctual for me, as her mother, to want to protect her.  Being a marginalized member of society myself (as a birthmother) I don’t want her to experience pain.

There is nothing wrong with my queer daughter. There is a great deal wrong with the society we both live in. The same society that told me she was better off without me tells her and her loved ones that society is better off without them.

I will never accept that.

I, for one, was never better off without her.

Sine Auctore

A Luddite friend of mine recently asked me about the practice of posting anonymously on blogs.  She expressed concern over the concept and if one could really be anonymous. My answer to her was “for the most part, no, not really”.  I then explained a few things to her as they relate to how I manage my blog and told her others may do similarly things.

This should not be construed as an endorsement for any of the tools or options I use rather it is intended to be a bit of an education for individuals who may post here or in the case of my friend, on other adoption blogs. I am by no means a security expert and ask that before making a decision on your own blog or site you do your own research and consult with a subject matter expert.

Leaving Your Real Name versus Anon. Are you really Anon?

That depends on a few things. Many blogs (my own included) require you to leave a name and an email address. The email address is not published or seen by anyone but me. (See my privacy policy for specific details). My blog software captures your email address and keeps it hidden inside my blog dashboard. Obviously, if you leave your real email but use Anon I will know it is you.  Even if I don’t know you personally, I could paste the email address you left into Google and see where else that email was used. This could help me trace you.

If you are being sneaky or have some legit reason to post as Anon you probably don’t want to put your real email if it is required.  You may also want to check to insure you are not logged into your blogger/Google accounts, and that your gravatar is not following you around.

Be warned leaving your name as Anon and a bogus email doing that will NOT stop the blog owner from being able to identify you.  Here is where IP addresses and stat counters come into play.

Stat Counters and Trackers

I have two different tracking pages installed on my blog. One is StatCounter and the other is JetPack.

StatCounter is a free web tracker that provides a configurable hit counter and real- time detailed web stats. By installing it on my blog (see the little blue box on the bottom left) I am able to track and review popular pages, entry pages, exit pages, came from, keyword analysis, recent keyword activity, search engine wars, visitor paths, visit length, returning visits, recent page load activity, recent visitor activity, country/state/city stats, recent visitor Google map, ISP stats, browser stats, and even operating system stats.  To be a little less technical, this means I can generally tell where you came from (city, state, country), how you got here (via Google search, using what keywords, what site referred you, etc), how long you stayed, what pages you looked at, what kind of computer and browser you use, how many times you have been here and your IP address.

StatCounter provides a lot of information and is pretty easy to use.  I have had it installed on nearly all blogs for many years. In my early days of blogging I used to check my stats like crazy. Back then, when the internet was new (LOL), I was interested in creating a following, obsessed with who found me and how, and worked to get my hits/views/etc. up. Today? Not so much. I don’t really blog anymore for a following, not sure if I ever did. Back then I was uber paranoid about WHO was reading me, why, and if they were people I knew. (I had some issues caused by my daughter’s father and his wife reading here, my daughters adoptive parents, etc.). Today?  I rarely think about who is reading or even why.  I don’t check StatCounter as much but I do continue to find it highly useful. Checking StatCounter requires me to log into that site and mull through reams of information.  I love the tool but reviewing it can be time consuming.

WordPress (the blog platform I am on) offers the plug-in called JetPack. JetPack is really easy to install to self-hosted WordPress sites. Once it is installed it’ll begin collecting information about your page views, which posts and pages are the most popular, where your traffic is coming from, and what people click on when they leave. The stats are easily viewed from within your WordPress dashboard. Since I am more often inside my blog dashboard, I tend to refer to JetPack stats more frequently. They give me a quick snapshot of what is happening on my blog. If something catches my eye (like a huge spike in readership) I will click over to StatCounter for more information. Visit this page on StatCounter for a description of their features.

Now back to that IP address

Every device connected to the Internet is assigned a unique number known as an Internet Protocol (IP) address. Since these numbers are usually assigned to internet service providers within region-based blocks, an IP address can be used to identify the region or country from which a computer is connecting to the Internet. An IP address can sometimes be used to show the user’s general location.  I say usually and sometimes because there are networks that make this a bit more challenging but again, geeky stuff for another time. Let me put it this way; it is sort of like your house # and address. It is where you live on the internet.  They look like this:

10.255.255.255

Every where you go, with every internet device you use, stat packages (like StatCounter referenced above) are grabbing that IP address and logging it (along with lots of other information about you as noted above).  Via the use of this IP address, I (and others) can track who came to our blog and when. StatCounter, like many other packages, even allows me to label known addresses.  So when my husband visits my blog from his work computer (which shows as the IP, the town, state, and his company URL) I  label that as Hubby – Work.  A quick review of my stats will tell me when a particular visit is my husband. I have also done this for blog readers resident in OH, CA, FL, IL and Europe. If I know where you live, I tend to label your IP.

If a troll from Europe were to post on my blog as Anon and leave a bogus email, I could scroll through my stats to see if their IP registered and if so, if it had ever registered before under a different name. This way I could match up a troll with a person I might actually know. (What a bummer that would be).  IP addresses can also be blocked.  Therefore, if I was getting harassed by someone (and I have been) I could enter a specific address in my blog software and block them from posting.  Because their IP address has been marked as spam or held for comment moderation. (I should note that the very first time a person posts here, their comment is held until I approve it. After you have been approved, it stays that way until I block you, if ever, in the future). IP addresses can also be shared – well, via email anyway. I and other blog readers have compared IP’s appearing on our blogs. Through this comparing, another mother and I were able to confirm her now adult child was reading my blog.

With all this in mind (and more) I told my Luddite friend that no, you aren’t ever really anonymous. (I realize I sound rather vague but there is this thing called IP masking that allows you to hide the IP address of your computer. There are also services that you can go to that will allow you to surf anonymously through them. Recall that person that visited me from hidemyass.com?

Now before you go assuming I am some sort of hacker or IP asshider myself, let me tell you my personal policy. 

If I don’t want someone to know I was on a site, I don’t go there.  Seriously, it is that easy. My belief is that if I need to hide myself or what I am doing or saying, I am probably thinking of saying or doing something nefarious. Why else would I want to hide my identity? I own my words and my beliefs. I stand behind them. I am not going to hide. I realize there are individuals who feel different, mothers who are still in the adoption closet, adoptees who want to talk about reunions without adoptive parents or first parents knowing. To those individuals, I would offer the cautionary statement that even your “story” or tone of voice can be identified by those of us who have been around adoption blogs.  Even the words you use can give you away.  Just something to think about.

Probably more important, haven’t all of us negatively impacted by adoption had our identity hidden long enough?  I just don’t work that way – at least not anymore. I never asked for anonymity in 1986. I certainly don’t want it now.