Parenting

Speaking Of Adoption

When I was a boy I used to listen, often, to a song that I loved….Cat Stevens’ ‘Father And Son.’  It meant something different to me at the time than it does now.  I suppose that’s the natural progression of time and growing. Back then it meant, for me, things that were missing in my relationship with my own father.  We were never close. He made many choices I didn’t understand, and didn’t try to explain them to me, and I didn’t know the questions to ask to try to understand things better. He was quiet, unexpressive. I am, to a large degree, very similar. I keep trying to recall what that felt like to me as a child and not replicate it.

My dad and I get along fine now that I am in my forties and he in his eighties.  We’ve expressed things we needed to say to one another while there was still time, and said our sorrys to one another.  It’s never too late to heal, I think.  I’ve healed with my dad.  I know many of the answers that I wanted to know ‘back when’. The others, well….I suppose I’ve forgotten what the questions were in the first place, or they simply no longer matter to me.

I am the youngest of three. My brother and sister were both adopted before I came along.  My sister found out that she was adopted on a school bus on her way to kindergarten when another child saw her wave to our mother, and said ‘That’s not your real mother, you know…you’re adopted.’  She carried a great deal of hurt, anxiety, and pain about being adopted.  It was something she had a great many questions about, and something she didn’t get many answers for.  It was something that plagued her most of her life.

My mother only could or was willing to answer just so much for her when she was growing up.  I suppose after years of threats being made to ‘go find her real family’….my mother feared saying much at all. Eventually my sister found, a few years before her death, that she had four biological siblings.  She also found that her biological mother had passed away about eight years prior to that.  She never met her biological father.  She got ‘some’ closure about the circumstances of her birth and adoption, but not enough, really, to satisfy more than 40 years of questions.

I have an adopted son.  There’s really, when you look at our family construct, no way to get around him knowing that he didn’t ‘come to us in the usual way’….and I’ve never made any effort to downplay his adoption at all.  I’ve been as up-front (age appropriately) as I can about it, and about the things I know of his biological mother and other family members.  As he gets older the questions have far more depth, and I am certain this will continue. I do know the ‘why’ of him being placed for adoption.  When he’s old enough, I can tell him that.  I can’t guarantee it will ‘help’ him.  I only hope I’ve given him enough ‘strength’ in life, and belief in and love of himself to hear the answer at the time.

The other night he asked me if I ever fought with my brother, or with my sister, when I was a kid.  I told him that my brother and I didn’t really fight much when we were kids, even if we weren’t all that close, but that I did fight with my sister.  He asked if she was mad at me because she was adopted and I wasn’t.  He knows that I am, although the youngest, a biological child and my siblings were both adopted. He’s overheard something along these lines between grown ups being said.  I decided that, rather than delve into the psyche of my sister, it was better to talk about ‘him’, and try to answer some of his questions, and I asked him how he felt about being adopted.

‘Happy.’ he said.

‘Not sad about anything?’ I asked.

‘No. I think about my mom a lot, but my family loves me, so that makes me happy.’

‘Good. And yes, this family loves you, very much.’

‘Did my mom give me away?’

‘Nope, she realized that she couldn’t keep you safe or give you all the things you should have in life, like a good home, and food, and clothes, and toys.  A judge said that it was better for you to live with an adoptive family, so she could always be sure you were with someone who could do those things for you and give you the things you deserve….the things that every kid deserves.’

‘Good. I want to be safe and have a nice home to live in. I’m glad she did that for me.’

I told him how glad I was to hear that.  He’s asked me before if his mom loved him, and I’ve answered, honestly, that I have never met his mom and therefore cannot speak for her or how she feels, but that I know I love him…that this family loves him.  I’ve told him that when he’s a little older, if he wants to try to meet his mom, to find her, I’ll try to help him all I can.

I also told him, the other night, that if he ever does feel sad about it, he can come talk to me all he wants. I told him I know that as he gets older, he may have questions about his mom, or other people in his birth family, and as much as I am able to answer him, I will.  I also told him that no matter what he should never think that to talk about them or ask about them will make me upset or sad, because I know it doesn’t mean he doesn’t love me, it’s just that he wants to know about them too, which is okay.

I know from growing up with someone who was adopted that there can be so many conflicted feelings that arise about being ‘unwanted’, about being ‘given up’…and in some cases why someone couldn’t conquer whatever demons they faced or circumstances they were in to take care of their child.  I know that you can try to do ‘things’ for your child to make them feel loved, or give them everything they ask for, or at the very least to show them the things they DO have, or DID have as a result of being adopted, and there’s always going to be an empty place there for some of them.

I listened to ‘Father and Son’ by Cat Stevens this afternoon again.  It’s what inspired me to write this post.  There’s so much to the words. It’s a ‘statement’ from the perspective of both, the father and the son. The lyrics are very poignant.

Father
It’s not time to make a change,
Just relax, take it easy.
You’re still young, that’s your fault,
There’s so much you have to know.
Find a girl, settle down,
If you want you can marry.
Look at me, I am old, but I’m happy.

I was once like you are now, and I know that it’s not easy,
To be calm when you’ve found something going on.
But take your time, think a lot,
Why, think of everything you’ve got.
For you will still be here tomorrow, but your dreams may not.

Son
How can I try to explain, when I do he turns away again.
It’s always been the same, same old story.
From the moment I could talk I was ordered to listen.
Now there’s a way and I know that I have to go away.
I know I have to go.

Father
It’s not time to make a change,
Just sit down, take it slowly.
You’re still young, that’s your fault,
There’s so much you have to go through.
Find a girl, settle down,
If you want you can marry.
Look at me, I am old, but I’m happy.
Son
All the times that I cried, keeping all the things I knew inside,
It’s hard, but it’s harder to ignore it.
If they were right, I’d agree, but it’s them They know not me.
Now there’s a way and I know that I have to go away.
I know I have to go.

I have, since I first encountered this song, gone from being the son to being the father.  I know that now it’s up to me to be the one who gives the answers instead of asking the questions. I am also an adoptive father.  I don’t, and can’t, know all the answers, but then again I don’t know all the questions my son might have, especially about being adopted. I can guess at many of them, I suppose. I’ve seen that side of what it’s like to be adopted.  I will never know what it ‘feels’ like.  Hopefully he can tell me that, at least from his perspective.

Childhood is such a challenging time. It’s like a constant assault of new information and experiences and feelings day after day.  People tell you where to go, what to do, what to eat, when to go to bed, when to get up, what to wear….everything.  There are a million questions you try to ask, and so often the answer is ‘just because’, or ‘because I said so.’  It doesn’t mean we aren’t listening, or don’t care. It means that sometimes adults just don’t know what the answer is.  We don’t know everything.  We try. Sometimes we succeed, sometimes we fail.  I try, as much as I can, to recall what it felt like to hear a non-answer to my question when I was young, and not do the same with my kids.  Especially about my son’s adoption.  I’ve also seen what getting no answers can do to an adopted child.

One day, like the ‘son’ in the song above, he’ll have to go his own way…..he’ll have to take the information I can give him, and the help I can give him, and make his own decision about what he does with it.  I don’t know, then, what he will find.  Perhaps great happiness and comfort…..perhaps great sorrow.  I just don’t know.

I do know that I’ll be here waiting and either support it if it’s good, or help him try to understand it if it’s not.  No matter what he finds out about the family that he was born into and what becomes/became of them. They are part of him, and he is part of them, and nothing will ever change that.  It’s not up to me to try to change that, or ignore it, or sugarcoat it.  It’s up to me to love him, raise him, and teach him the skills to cope with whatever he does find out about his birth family.

That’s my job.

I’m his father.

 

 

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