Wilton columnist looks to the story of his adoption
This year has marked the 15th anniversary of the “View from Glen Hill” column. Here’s the first column I wrote, for Father’s Day; it appeared under the headline, “When the secret of adoption is finally revealed.”
My good friend Tony Kahn said to me, “Joanne and I just saw the movie ‘Antwone Fisher’ on video, and, Steve, you’ve got to see it!” I now understand why.
You see, like Mr. Fisher, I was adopted and went to seek out my birth family. But unlike him, I went in my mid-50s, not my mid-20s, and was thankfully not the subject of child abuse as he was.
I went then because my adoptive mother first told me I was adopted when I was 50. Somehow, I think she thought that telling me would destroy our relationship. Quite the contrary, I told her that that was the most beautiful thing anyone could have done for me.
She then went on to explain that my adoptive father had urged her to agree to let me be told on numerous occasions from various graduation times to my wedding day, but all of those occasions passed without that disclosure. Dad died suddenly and unexpectedly when I was 30 with the secret still undisclosed. So my mother bore the secret for another 20 years before telling me.
Why? I think it has to do with how adoption was viewed in the first half of the 20th century. My parents were both born around the turn of that century, and I was their first child. I was adopted by them 10 months after my birth when I was living in a children’s home.
Because it was clear that this “issue” of adoption had been a giant one for my mother for 50 years, I did nothing to search out my birth family until after she died. The very helpful Pennsylvania courts, after establishing that my birth parents were dead, released my birth and adoption records to me. And so I began my own odyssey of birth-family discovery.
As a result, I met my only surviving half-sister, 20 years older than I [who sadly died shortly after this column first appeared]. When I came to visit her in Pittsburgh, she had assembled almost the whole family much like the banquet scene in “Antwone Fisher.” I found a thoroughly delightful family headed by this wonderful lady and her equally wonderful husband.
So, there’s my new-family story except for one other very important point: what I learned about my birth parents. My birth mother was a very decent woman who confronted a difficult problem —me —with endearing ambivalence about whether to give me up. My birth father was a distinguished physician and surgeon in Pittsburgh who served in the Army Medical Corps with distinction during World War II. Sadly, he was not much of a father. Quite the contrary, he subjected my half-brother (who became a Korean War veteran and then a high school teacher) to really bad emotional abuse. He seems to have put considerable pressure on my birth mother to give me up completely, and after visiting me multiple times at the children’s home, she finally did so. My birth father sought to get me moved as far from Pittsburgh as state child-welfare authorities would allow, and that turned out to be Philadelphia.
And what a stroke of good fortune that was! My real father was a remarkably talented person who had a love of all things that extended to animals and plants as well as to people — God’s whole created order — and he cared for them all. He taught me what the love of God is all about. My parents sacrificed for the education of my adopted sister and me, but most especially they did their best to give us their love. That was an extraordinary gift. No parents are perfect, but they offered my sister and me very different lives from what would likely have been otherwise.
As I look at friends here who have adopted children, I see the same cherishing. However, they are rightly proud and feel no need to be secretive as my mother, from another age, felt compelled to be. And that is surely a change for the good!
At this holiday season, it’s especially poignant to revisit these memories and also to express my gratitude to my readers, the editors, and this newspaper for your support and critiques through these very happy 15 years of expressing myself here. Happy Holidays!