Monthly Archives: December 2013

Christmas: The Memories and the Questions

Christmas always conjures up memories of Christmases past. This year for the first time, I also wondered about the holiday scene in the home of my first family.

I never knew my biological family so I have no idea how they spent the holidays. Last year was the year I became an enlightened adoptee. I uncovered facts about my birth mother, Lillian, and her four other children, my three half brothers and half sister.  I never knew they existed until a few months ago.

What a discovery! Each time I talked to a relative or friend of the family, I learned something new about my mother or siblings. Every time I turned up a new detail, no matter how small, I felt a sense of satisfaction.  A picture of this family began to form in my mind.

Of course, some of the facts were painful. Only two of my siblings are still living and Lillian is also gone.  Twice divorced, my mother was only 48 years old when she died of breast cancer 30 years ago.

As I’ve written before, we lived parallel lives 35 miles apart in the Chicago area. My adoptive family never crossed paths with my biological family.

I grew up with my parents, Claire and Bob, and sister, Melissa, in a working-class neighborhood of modest bungalows on Chicago’s southwest side. Melissa and I never knew we were not our parents’ biological daughters but we knew something was different. None of the other kids our age had parents old enough to be their grandparents.

I remember nice, quiet Christmases, just the four of us at home. We always had artificial trees. The one I remember the most was a silver tree, which we put up in the living room and covered with ornaments and garland. Claire painstakingly set up a Christmas village under the tree, with decorative villagers, ice skaters, animals and other characters on a bed of white tissue paper. Bob put colorful lights up in the front windows of our bungalow.

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Feelart/Freedigitalphotos.net

We opened our presents on Christmas Eve. Once in a while, we would attend midnight mass but more often, we went to church on Christmas morning. Christmas was one of the few times we ate dinner in the dining room, which was packed with formal dark mahogany furniture, with a chandelier over the table. Baked ham or kielbasa often appeared on the holiday table. It wasn’t fancy but it was always tasty. My parents were not drinkers but they made an exception on Christmas. They served Mogen David at the table in fancy crystal goblets.

Thirty-five miles away, my biological family celebrated Christmas in a modest house in Northbrook. I have faded photos of Lillian with her children standing in front of a green Christmas tree decorated with shiny ornaments and silver tinsel. How noisy must it have been on Christmas day in a house with four excited kids! I imagine it was a little rowdier in Northbrook than it was on the southwest side. All those boys! I never had brothers. What would it have been like to grow up with boys? They were a tight-knit bunch of hard-playing kids, according to my sister, Sissy, who was a tomboy back then.

What was it like in their house on Christmas? Was it chaotic? Fun? Messy? What did they fight about? What did they have for dinner? My imagination will have to make up for my not having been there.

I cherish what I have, the memories of Christmas in Chicago with Claire, Bob and my wonderful sister, Melissa. Blood and genes did not tie us together. The powerful and loving bonds were formed over years of living together and sharing good times, bad times and thousands of ordinary moments.

Adoptee Rejection — It Hurts Like Hell

I cringe every time I hear about an adoptee who is rejected by her biological family.

For all the happy Hollywood-worthy reunions, there are many sad stories of adoptees who get the cold shoulder from their bio families. This comes after many spend months, even years, looking for relatives. I don’t know how frequently it happens but anecdotally, I hear the depressing stories on a fairly regular basis.

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

It’s a shame. How can people be so cavalier toward their own flesh and blood? We are not black sheep. Many adoptees just want to fill in the missing pieces in our history. We want names, faces and a few anecdotes. We are not looking to turn somebody else’s life upside down.

Fellow blogger Claudia Corrigan D’Arcy attempts to explain why birth mothers in particular turn away their long lost children. I imagine for a birth mother it must be like opening an old wound.

Adoptees are outsiders. We didn’t grow up with our biological families. Without that experience, we approach our kin as strangers. We are at a disadvantage. Relatives may associate us with a dirty secret from the past, the child who was given up for adoption, the child who was not supposed to re-appear ever again.

Of course, that’s baloney in the 21st century. Anyone with Internet access can dig up facts and faces from their past. It’s hard to hide in today’s world.

Personally, I don’t need a warm and fuzzy reunion filled with hugs, kisses and tears. My yet-to-be-found paternal relatives don’t have to welcome me with open arms or even send me a card at Christmas. Just answer my questions, please.

Adoptees go through life with questions about identity, relationships, family history,  medical history….so many questions and so little information.

Being adopted can be a challenge. In families with biological and adopted children, the adoptees sometimes are treated like second-class citizens. Fortunately, my parents bent over backwards to treat Melissa and me, their adopted girls, the same.

Some adoptees struggle with depression and low self-esteem. Given all these challenges, adopted adults don’t need to be treated like garbage by their newly found blood relatives.

I am fortunate. Since I began searching for family this year, I have not encountered any jerks among my kin. I’ve had friendly phone conversations with my half sister, Sissy, and her daughter, my niece (or half-niece), Chrissy.  They’ve answered my questions and shared stories about my birth mother, Lillian. They’ve welcomed me. We have even found things to laugh about, not easy to do considering all the pain in our family.

But knowing how common rejection is gives me pause. I hesitate to pursue my bio dad’s family too aggressively. I don’t want the door to be slammed in my face and I don’t want to go where I don’t belong. Now I understand why adoptees don’t bother to search for their kin.

I’ve made a promise. If some adoptee searching for family calls me out of the blue, I will take the call, be nice and answer questions as best as I can. After all, I’ve made those calls and know how difficult they are to make.

Who the hell needs rejection anyway? What purpose does it serve?

New Cousins

I took a DNA test to find blood relatives who might know my biological father’s identity.

me and my DNA
Me and my DNA

I am an adoptee on a mission. I’ve written about the mystery man before, the father who really wasn’t a father to me. I don’t need (or want) to meet bio dad. In fact, the thought of meeting him actually scares me. But I would like some answers. What’s his name, what did he do for a living, does he have a family, do I have other brothers and sisters? How did he meet Lillian, my birth mother? I wonder if he and I look anything alike. Photos along withfacts would be great.

I’ve talked to a handful of people who were close to Lillian, hoping they would know who my father was but nobody knows (or they’re not saying). Finding my bio dad is like locating an available New York taxi in a downpour. Still, I am giving it my best shot.

Well, I got my DNA test results and I am a little disappointed. None of the more than 600 matches are close relatives. There are no siblings or half siblings. I have cousins, hundreds of cousins, but they’re not exactly kissing cousins if you know what I mean. There’s not a single first cousin on my list of matches. The closest relatives are second cousins and many are even more distant on the family tree.

I knew a DNA test was a long shot. Taking the test was quick and painless.  Interpreting the results is time consuming and hard.

Using Family Tree DNA’s chromosome browser feature,  I try to separate the cousins on my maternal side from those on my father’s side. I have emailed a few of my DNA matches to introduce myself and delicately inquire about the nature of our relationship. I don’t use the “A” word (adopted) unless I know I’m talking to another adoptee. As my fellow adoptees know, that word makes some people nervous.

Three of my cousins got back to me and wouldn’t you know? They’re all from Lillian’s side of the family. Two are genealogy buffs. Shannon and I have exchanged several friendly emails. She’s shared many interesting stories about how our Irish ancestors scraped by and filled me in on the diseases that run in our family. That’s  valuable information. I like Shannon and hope we meet in person some day.

In a few hours, Sharon managed to put together a family tree for me. How did she do it so quickly? I was awed by her skill. Thanks to Shannon and Sharon, I know quite a bit about my ancestors on Lillian’s side of the family.

I shared the family tree with another cousin, Duane, who used it to create a tree of his own. Duane and I have gotten friendly. We’re both adopted, close in age and on similar missions. Duane and I are seeking answers to questions about our birth parents.

Two cousins never responded to my emails. I believe they are from my father’s side of the family. Wouldn’t you know?

I thought about calling one of them. He is a few years younger than me and looks friendly enough on his Facebook page. Most important, this guy is one of my closest DNA matches, and he has taken a Y-DNA test. Perhaps he knows who my father is. Maybe he is also adopted? Since he hasn’t responded to emails, would he be more receptive to a phone call?

For adoptees who have taken DNA tests, what would you do in my situation?  Have you called any of your matches directly? Is it taboo to call a match who doesn’t respond to emails?

I feel discouraged. I am no closer to answering the big question hanging over me: Who is my father.

This is hard work. I need encouragement so I am re-reading Richard Hill’s excellent book, “Finding Family”  for motivation and tips. An adoptee, Hill used DNA tests and old-fashioned detective work to learn the identity of his father.

I take comfort knowing it took Hill many years to dig up the truth. That could be my future, too.  I have a lot of spade work ahead of me.