Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

This year, I'm so thankful for the blessings of my little family!

Wishing you and yours a very Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

My adoption story part 2: My Birthfather

After meeting my b1rthm0ther and learning the details of her relationship with my b1rthfather Karl, I honestly thought I would never be able to find anyone from his side of my family.  You see, my b1rthfather was not a U.S. citizen.  He grew up in Bermuda.  And when my b1rthm0ther's pregnancy with me was confirmed, Karl vanished, never to be seen or heard from again.

Occasionally I "googled" his name or looked through Bermuda's on-line white pages but I couldn't find him, or anyone with his last name.  My only option was to hire a private investigator and that seemed so risky.  Plus, I had mixed feelings about meeting someone who took off at the news of my existence.  

Since I was more than satisfied with what I had learned about my biological roots from Alice, I let go of the possibility of ever finding Karl.  Until one afternoon two years ago when curiosity got the best of me.  

On that day, I was reading a memoir by a man who spent part of his childhood in Bermuda.  My mind drifted to Karl and out of nowhere, I thought,  "I wonder if he's on Facebook."  I opened up my laptop and entered his name in to the Facebook search page.  A handful of Karl ____'s came up, none listed in Bermuda.  I copied a picture of one who seemed about the right age and sent it to Alice.  "Nope," she said.  "Not him."  I searched again on Facebook, this time entering his name plus the country of Bermuda.  A Joseph ____ popped up.  Younger than me.  A relative perhaps?  The only way to find out was to contact him.  Nervously, I sent Joseph a message through Facebook.  Not wanting to give away all of my cards, I simply introduced myself as a someone doing genealogical research on a Karl ____ who grew up in the region of _____, Bermuda, and asked if he might be related to him.

Joseph replied within a few hours.  Yes, he knew who Karl was...Karl was the younger brother of his father Eric and why did I want to know?

I nearly fell out of my chair.  

I knew that Karl had an older brother named Eric.  I had found my cousin Joe and was one step closer to finding my b1rthfather.

Joe was reluctant to share more information with me until he knew my identity.  I was hesitant to reveal too much, fearing that the door might close forever.  I finally emailed Joe my phone number, and asked him to pass it along to Karl.

About two hours later, the phone rang.  It was Joe. "Before I can tell you about Karl, I need to know who you are."  Reluctantly, with no remaining options, I confessed, "I'm his son."  

"There has been a rumor in the family about you for years," he replied, recalling a time as a child when he walked in on his parents (or grandparents, I can't remember for sure) and heard them talking about a child that Karl might've had.  

Sadly, Joe told me that Karl had died of a drug overdose in the early 70s.  Based on what little I knew about him, I wasn't entirely surprised.  Tragically, I only have two surviving biological family members from my birthfather's side of the family, my cousin Joe and my aunt Allison, the daughter of my grandfather from his second marriage.  She is actually a few years younger than me.  

Through a later phone call with Allison, I learned that my grandfather passed away only a few months prior to my contacting the family.  He lived to age 90 and spent much of his life, including his last few years, in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.  I spent 5 years living in Miami so we actually didn't live too far from each other during those years.  Allison put me in touch with her mother (my "step-grandmother" for lack of words) who was the only remaining family member who knew Karl.  She told me everything she remembered about him.  I learned where he went after his disappearance and what happened in the remaining years of his life.    since he was in their wedding, she had a picture of him somewhere.  (see below).  I also learned that my grandfather played football for the University of Florida and was a great ballroom dancer.  (So, which of these two abilities did he pass along to me...sigh...the dancing.  The redhead loves this about me but man I wish I had a decent arm for throwing a football!).

It is saddens me to look at the pictures below and see a smiling, happy young man who made a series of selfish self-destructive choices that eventually led to his untimely death.  The blessing of adoption always involves a loss of some sort.  Like all adoptees, I have things to be thankful for and things to grieve.  My sons will be no different but hopefully, by navigating my own adoption journey, I will better equipped to guide them through theirs.

Ultimately, this journey into my past has made me grateful.  Grateful to have reunited with both sides of my family tree, grateful to have met welcoming family members on both sides, grateful for the family that raised me, and grateful to God for his hand in all of it.  I have much to be thankful for this holiday season.

Karl at my grandfather's wedding.  I have his wavy hair and complexion.

The wedding party of my grandfather's second marriage.  Karl is next to last on the right.

Monday, November 7, 2011

My adoption story

(Since November is national adoption month, Brian is sharing part of his own adoption story of reuniting with his b1rthm0ther in the hopes that this will give you some perspective on one adoptee's experience of meeting his b10logical family).

Seven years ago, I found myself standing before an aisle full of Mother's Day cards at the local Hallmark store. This would be a Mother's day like no other. As a present for Mother's day, I had flown my Mom down to Miami for the weekend (where I was living at the time). My life was undergoing a major alteration and in the midst of this transition, I needed to her to know that her place in my life would remain unchanged. I hoped the weekend in Miami would help ease any anxiety she might be feeling.

Mom hadn't arrived yet and I was looking for the right card. But this card wasn't for her. I'd already purchased her card. This card was for someone else. Someone I had known about my entire life but had never met. This one was for my b1rthm0ther.

Several months earlier, after resisting years of gentle encouragement from my Mom (whom I was convinced was watching way too many positive adoption reunion stories on Oprah), I finally got my nerve up and contacted the archives unit of the Children's Home Society of Florida, my adoption agency.

Thirty seven years earlier, my a nineteen year old b1rthm0ther found herself with an unexpected pregnancy. At the insistence of her mother, she left her home in Connecticut and moved in with her cousins in Tarpon Springs, FL until I was born. She gave birth to me that summer on June 10th. Seventeen days later, on June 27th, I was adopted by a young couple in Clearwater, FL.
Betty, my adoption caseworker, conducted the search for my b1rthm0ther. I thought it would take months or even years to find her.

She located her in about two hours.

"She sounds really nice. You've got four siblings, five nieces and nephews, and one more on the way."

I hung up the phone in shock. Brothers.  Another sister. More nieces and nephews. It was almost too much to absorb. My mysterious past suddenly came into focus. My life-long questions began to have answers.

A few agonizing months later, in March of 2004, I received my first letter and photo from Alice, my b1rthm0ther. I learned about my "half" siblings: three brothers and a sister (who later insisted that we drop the "half"). That April, we spoke on the phone and heard each other's voice for the first time.

We met that summer on June 27th at the duck pond near her home in Connecticut. Ironically, it was the same day I was adopted into the Owen family thirty-seven years prior. Her husband Hank, (not my b1rthfather) was with her. He walked up to me, threw his arms around me, and with his thick New England accent, said, "Welcome to da family!" I gave Alice a big hug, not realizing that this was the first time she had ever held me. She feared not being able to go through with the adoption process had she held me as an infant.

Though there is much, much more I could share, suffice it to say that my reunion with Alice and her side of my b10logical family has been a postive one. Honestly, my reunion story is so positive that at times, it feels like I won the "adoption lottery."  Sadly, not every adoptee's reunion story is as positive as mine.  My adopted Mom has been a great support through it all and Mother's Day hasn't been the same since.

Seven years after our reunion, Alice (now Grandma Alice to my boys) and I still keep in touch and see each other from time to time.  I was honored to have her at my wedding four years ago where I received something I thought would never be possible.  A photo of my wife and I standing between my moms.  It still seems unbelievable at times.

Me and my Moms at my wedding in June of 2007 (Mom on left, Alice on right)

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Got questions about adoption?

Hey friends. A rare post from Brian.

November is national adoption month and I'm wondering if any of our blog readers are considering adoption or are just curious about our decision to pursue international adoption.  If you've got a question about adoption in general or our specific choice to adopt internationally, leave a question in the comments and I'll try to answer it.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Unexpected Blessings of International Adoption

When we were preparing to adopt across cultural lines, part of our training included watching some videos. One of these videos talked about the importance of not just trying to keep your kids tied to their culture of origin, but for the entire family to become a little bit (in our case) Ethiopian.

It's a tall order, and one which I hope I'm successful in filling. One thing that I really love about our church is their annual "Nations Sunday" in which there is a focus on world missions. On this particular Sunday each year, many of the world's flags are paraded in during a special procession and the entire congregation is invited to dress in clothing from other nations. For our family, it is a natural opportunity to celebrate our sons' Ethiopian heritage and for them to wear their special outfits we bought them when we were there adopting them.

Our family

One unexpected blessing of becoming "a little bit Ethiopian" is that I've become much bolder in introducing myself to people if I suspect they may be Ethiopian (or from any other African country, for that matter). Consequently, I've made friends with some wonderful women, one of whom has become particularly dear to me. Her name is Sophia, and I met her last year on Nations Sunday. She is a beautiful woman--both inside and out--and last year, she was wearing a gorgeous dress from her native Kenya. I introduced myself to her and we've been friends ever since. She is also the mother of two little boys.

About six months ago, she traveled to her homeland for a visit and returned with a surprise gift for me...a beautiful pink dress!!! It is a Ghanian style dress, and this year's Nations Sunday was my first opportunity to wear it. I love it, and most of all, I loved that my boys could see how proud I was to wear a beautiful African was a celebration of them as much as it was a chance for me to feel pretty!

Sophia (left), her two sons, and her aunt.

I'm so grateful for the ways our adoption of Jeremy and Zachary has opened my eyes and my heart to people and experiences I might not have otherwise known.

Our family was asked to be part of the flag procession this past Sunday, and when I saw the Ethiopian flag, I found myself dashing over and saying, "May I carry that flag? It's my sons' country!" I couldn't have felt more proud and somehow unworthy at the same time. I'm so blessed and humbled, too, to be a little bit Ethiopian.