My Birth Father's Legitimate Grief
A 17-year-old boy, in his October 1962 senior English class, casually jots down what he is daydreaming about on the front page of his high school
thesaurus. He writes down three dates: the current date, his birthday and his girlfriend's birthday.
Thirty four years later, in October of 1996, he is excitedly rummaging through high school
memorabilia to validate what was reconnecting for him in his heart and soul. Now 52 years old, he opens his high school thesaurus. There, written years earlier, is a confirmation, the three dates. He cannot believe what he is seeing, yet is relieved and ecstatic. He immediately rips the page out, writes an inscription on a note to put beside it, and laminates the page.
This piece, a page out of a thesaurus, is a symbol of my beginnings. The first date, in October 1962, is when my birth father learned he was going to be a father. It confirms for him that, even though he did not give birth
to me, he did remember me, and with the innocence of a 17-year-old, somehow muddled through with my birth mother and her pregnancy
at age 18.
Later that fall, the decision was made to relinquish me through a private agency in another state. It was thought to be one of the most reputable. My birth parents, aged 17 and 18, were a part of the big discussion; yet in 1962, the decision was a given, rather than a result of options explored fully.
My birth father and birth mother continued to date, and his adoptive mother played a large role in making sure that the plan was carried out, probably thinking all the while that she was minimizing pain and disruption in their young lives.
My birth father watched the reality unfold as my birth mother changed, physically and and psychologically, into a woman. By the time she was seven months pregnant, in March 1963, it was time for her to "go away." It was a brisk spring night, and my birth father remembers the sadness, and trying to be funny to lessen the pain that seemed imminent. He remembers feeling me kick and wiggle. For some reason, he was to take his mother and my birth mother to the train, and stayed in the car and waited for over an hour for the train to depart while his mother made arrangements in the train station.
Later, he would send me a watercolor portrait of this train station, etched on the back, "3/63..The End. 1096, The Beginning." In 1997 he would take me to the train station and reiterate that this is where he said goodbye to her, and to me.
My birth parents kept in contact for two months while she was away. He remembers his mother being lenient about the long distance phone calls. He remembers the changes in my birth mother's voice as the reality of womanhood and having a baby came closer. He felt a lot of regret that he was unable to meet and fulfill what he now knows were the responsibilities of a father and husband. Loss and permanent life changes were in the air.
One day in the middle of May, my father, an avid baseball player, went to play a game in the next town. He remembered getting a hit in a seven-inning game on a beautiful May afternoon. As he arrived home from the game at about 6:00 PM, on his eighteenth birthday, his mother greeted him with an announcement. Joy was the initial response, yet as it settled, the loss attached quickly to the reality of the announcement.
Congratulations! You are a father, and you have a baby girl.
Restless and confused, he left the house and went to a local tavern. He remembers listening to the Beatles, and trying to take in the event that had just occurred. He had a baby girl, and on his birthday. He too, like my birth mother, had taken a further push out of innocence into adulthood, that birthday.
The motions were made to complete his senior year, yet something had changed that would never be the same. The loss loomed, indescribable and not talked about. Resuming the relationship, yet forever changed, my birth parents were not prepared for the change or for the loss of someone they had both created. "The Baby" was talked about more before and less afterwards. The assumed plan was to resume life as it was, put "it" (ME) behind them. So they both tried to go forward, trying to grasp the illusion that this relinquishment and adoption plan was a one-time event. They gradually drifted apart, growing apart, unable to fill the void now open that they did not know how to work on, at that time.
My birth father now sees that he became more aloof to attaching, became more busy, and used a wall of anger to hide the vulnerable pain, loss and guilt he felt. He underachieved, yet kept highly active physically in various sports "to keep moving." He distanced himself in relationships in his younger years. He and his buddies took risks together and did everything they could at a high energy pace.
As he grew older he became an over-achiever, in some ways making up for the younger years. He has felt lonely at times and melancholy, knowing there were losses. He deeply buried these losses, but they would surface in the form of certain defenses to protect him from feeling the guilt and vulnerability of the pain.
When thoughts and concerns about me cropped up, he kept them to himself. He sensed that he even had less of a right to search for me, being the birth father. Once in the early '90s he remembers standing on the top of the Sears Tower, in Chicago, high above the clouds. He watched a lightning bolt hit a gasoline tank and watched it explode. Shortly before the explosion, he was looking out, close to where I was born, and thinking to himself that is where my baby was given up. He felt frozen in time for a moment, unable to go far into the thoughts of where I might be now. It was like not wanting to watch a fuzzy television screen for long. Two myths were very alive in the world where he was living. One, that relinquishment was to be a buried secret. Two, that the adoption was a one-time event.
These myths dissipated quickly, 33 years later, when he received a letter, wanting him to confirm his paternity to me, and requesting that he contact me, his 18th-birthday daughter. His intellect kept him cautious at first. Yet, when he realized who I was, later he would say, "Of course! You are part of me, I had nothing to fear."
He let the feelings that came up with this reconnection flow through the walls that had been built up. The guilt, and joy filled pain and relief all came to the surface. He expressed guilt in statements like, "Can you ever forgive me for letting you go?" and he confessed his insensitivity and ignorance of understanding what my birth mother had gone through.
Gratefulness came through strong in our reconnection, in knowing that the myths he had believed were not true. He did not have to keep his feelings about the pain of relinquishment buried any more, and he could see that my relinquishment and adoption were not one-time events.
During the honeymoon of our reunion, knowing our mutual sensitivity to loss, we established a conscious commitment to each other. The need to be together surfaced more than we imagined after we first met. We took great joy in simple events and just spending time together, like others born into and kept in their birth families
. In spending time together we established something that had been lost at that train station 34 years ago.
The most difficult goodbye was after the first visit. We both had allowed ourselves to prepare for the feelings because, even though the pain was great, we were finding an enormous amount of healing in all this honesty. The pain reflected the truth of our real story, the joy of our commonalities, and the merging of more family. We spent time, too, preparing for our post-reunion relationship, and setting the framework to never be disconnected again. And being a father, yes, he became protective quickly.
The gift my father has given to me, and that I hope to give back to him, is more of his truth. I want him to find the power of having more of his buried story. The chapters of being a birth father and of carrying the loss and love for his first-born have been revealed and are in the light now. I hope to reveal with him the chapters of his own relinquishment and adoption more fully, as we go forward on our journey together.