Welcome back to Blogville, I’m so glad you decided to visit. Won’t you join me in a cup of green tea as I reflect about my 4.5 parents. Put your feet up and travel this journey with me.
So, obviously, I was created by a birth father. I called him my first father, as purely by genetics he was my biological father. What was his role? Well, firstly, to have had a role he would have had to have been notified of the pregnancy. For some reason, known only to my birth mother and her family, he was never told. Perhaps she could not find him as he travelled a great deal in his career, or perhaps she was afraid to look. As I was growing up, an adopted kid, my birth father was relegated to a fantasy role in my young life. He was my knight in shining armour who would have let me ride my bike down the big sixth avenue hill, he would have let me hang out with my friends uptown, I mean, he would have let me do all the things my father would not let me do! I know that my birth father’s other kids are laughing out loud right now because he actually parented them, and they probably disagree with 90-100% of what I just said. Hey, he was my ‘fantasy’ dad ok? Don’t burst my bubble with reality please (ha ha).
I think that birth fathers have a bit of a challenging role in adoption. Often, the birth mother does not, or cannot, identify the birth father. Sometimes men will give false information about themselves to birth mothers. Other times there may have been an issue of consent in terms of the child’s conception. Sometimes birth mothers do not want people to know that they had a relationship with that particular man based on his reputation, not hers. Sometimes birth mothers will refuse to identify the birth father to protect him, or on the other hand, to prevent him from exercising his parental rights and disrupting an adoption plan. These are but a few examples of how birth fathers may be excluded in adoption planning based on the birth mother’s disclosure of information.
In my case, my birth father was not informed of the pregnancy. At first I would think, ‘oh the poor guy, imagine not knowing you have a child out there in the world’. Then I would think, ‘how can I even search for him, perhaps disrupt his life when he does not even know I exist, how fair is that’? But then, I began to think about how there might be medical information I should be aware of. I began to think about the possibility I might be his only child and that he might even be happy to know I exist. Self-doubt began taking over. What if he wasn’t happy to learn I was his child? What if my existence hurt his current relationship, if he was in one? What if he denied that he is my birth father? I remember one day looking at my dad and wondering if my birth father was better than him, or worse than him? Then I realized, they were both just dads, doing the best they could for their children (if he had any others). That is when I decided my birth father had a right to know I existed, for better or for worse.
Speaking of the right to know I existed, my birth mother definitely knew. She not only knew I existed but that my birth half-sister existed as well. Imagine her fear. I really cannot fathom how she went through those two pregnancies unwed, in the 1950s, in a small Northern Ontario community. As I understand it, her pregnancy for my sister went pretty much unnoticed. As it turns out, my birth mother’s mother was pregnant at almost the same time as our birth mother, so I have a birth uncle born around June and my sister was born in September. Oh I am sure there were rumours, as there tended to be in those days. Plus, my birth mother’s family were recent immigrants to Canada and to their community so they already stood out. Imagine their fear of my birth mother’s pregnancy for my sister being discovered in a time when a family name was never supposed to be shamed? My sister was born and whisked away to live out her adoption plan and our birth mother’s life went on. Then, just about two and a quarter years later, my birth mother became pregnant with me. Hiding that first pregnancy successfully would have been nothing short of a miracle, hiding her pregnancy with me? Impossible. So off she went to ‘nursing school’ or some such cover story as was common in the 1950s and this young woman found herself in a home for ‘unwed mothers’ overseen by Catholic nuns. If you have ever done any research on homes for unwed mothers in the 1950s, you know that this would not have been a pleasant experience. However, it would appear that having a second pregnancy in a small northern Ontario community would have been much, much worse.
In between my birth and my move to my adoptive parents, there were foster parents, ergo the .5 in my title of 4.5 parents. Foster parents are a selfless breed of people who only want to help children in need of a family. Well, for the most part anyway. Following my discharge from the hospital, I had an emergency placement with my first foster family. There is no expectation that an emergency placement will last longer than an overnight or a weekend, and I was no exception. A day or two in an emergency foster home and then I was moved to another foster family. After approximately 20 days I was moved to a third foster family. Though my record does not contain specific details, just know that I was moved quickly, and with a horrific diaper rash from my chest to my knees and sores on the back of my head. My third set of foster parents were first-timers but dedicated and devoted parents to their biological children and then, to me. The love and care I received in this family shines through every typed word on the pages of my disclosure documents. In fact, my foster family put in a request to make me a permanent family member but they were told that they could not adopt me because they could have biological children and it was the agency’s practice that, when free for adoption, infants went to families who could not have children ‘of their own’. So, after seven months of love and care in my third foster family, I was moved to my adoptive family; my mom, my dad, and my brother.
My dad was a typical 1950s father. He was a railway man and a volunteer firefighter. I remember watching the volunteer department’s fire practice demonstrations both in awe of what my dad could do and in fear that he might get hurt. I never saw my dad in action at an actual fire as he always told my brother and I that we should stay away because, “Rubberneckers might get in the way of the firefighters or their equipment, and someone might die.” My dad was always just my dad. Its funny how I had accepted that my dad adopted my brother and I as a natural course of events when we each needed a family. I had never questioned how he felt about not having biological children, or how the adoption journey was for him. I think, as a society, we have always done and will always accept that men mostly just accept any children that come with a mother. Or in our case, children who were in need of both a mother and a father. Often, when I was upset with my dad, or felt hard done by, my thoughts would drift to my birth father who, if he had gone ahead and had other kids, I believed must be undoubtedly more understanding, more fair, and well, simply put, a far more lenient (but fantasy) father. (Only my paternal half-siblings can know that truth.)
My mom was anything but typical, but she was also a 1950s parent. She worked part-time and then full-time. She took care of my brother and me with all our homework, supported all of our 1950s gender specific activities; Brownies and figure skating for me, Cubs and hockey for my brother. There she was, sewing on earned badges, or designing and sewing figure skating costumes. You could sometimes find her at the arena, usually knitting while she watched my brother play hockey. She cooked and cleaned but I never saw her pick up a snow shovel or push a lawn mower, and she sure took pride in her flower garden and in the vegetable garden in our backyard. My mom was never afraid of blood and could handle all the cuts and bruises of our childhoods without flinching. Unlike with my dad, I never really fantasized about a mother that would do things differently. I wonder if I just thought that all moms were the same.
So, all that to say that these are the people who shaped me, for better or for worse, and contributed to the person I am today. Perhaps this blog will lead you to look up the “Nature-Nurture Controversy” and consider whether I was more a product of nurturing or of inherited/genetic traits. You might need a stronger cup of tea, or at least a fresh one, as you try to solve that puzzle!
As ever, I would love for you to share your comments. If you prefer a less public forum to do so please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. See you next time, thanks for reading.