Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Its in the Genes-Redux

Faithful readers of this blog may recall a post (It's in the Jeans) where I waxed nostalgic about my family and revealed that I was adopted. You should know that there is not a moment in my life when I wasn't aware of my adopted status. My parents thought it was fair for me to know from the beginning. No secrets, no whispered conversations, no big deal. Just a fact shared by millions of adoptees around the world. It was just one of those abstract bits that clog the neural network, like remembering the words to an old song, or recognizing a photo of a long departed movie star.

My adoptive parents loved me, sacrificed for me, worried, fretted, helped and cared deeply. I loved them, cared for them, handled their final affairs and was at their bedside in their last days and grieve for them still in my own way. Their family has always been my family. My childhood recollections are of tolerant grandfathers (both my grandmothers had passed by the time I was born), fishing and hunting trips, family holiday gatherings and never a whiff or suggestion that somehow I didn't belong. I have older sisters. Their kids are my nieces and nephews, and their kids kids are grand nieces and nephews, and one of them adopted. All cherished, all family--my family. So it was completely natural for me that when I married I 'adopted' this new set of relationships, enfolding all the love, heartache, challenges and joys that come with the shared human condition into my life experience.

But in some ways, I've been living a double life. I knew the names of my birth parents and that I had a sister, and as I grew older a few details were fleshed out by my parents. Not much really; in truth after the adoption, there wasn't any contact between the families. Its the way adoption was in the early '50's. No 'visitations' or open adoptions, especially of infants. It explains why my adoptive parents are shown on the birth certificate as my parents. I was a done deal before I was born. A mother in a distressed circumstance needed a home for a baby on the way. There was a hint of scandal in the air regarding my natural father (more on this perhaps, in a later post). My mother's father was a County Sheriff, my father a charter member of the Idaho State Police. They had lost a young child only two years earlier. Fate, kismet, call it what you will; arrangements were made in the way of small, rural towns far out west and I was born Robert Louis Pace. A member of the Pace/nee Davis family from the start, in every way but genetically. But occasionally, there was that moment of daydreaming when I wondered about that other family. That family that shared my genes, that maybe looked like me.

None of those daydreams every consumed a very big part of my thinking. I don't recall ever wondering if my life had been different if I had stayed with my genetic family, because the answer was self-evident. Of course it would; in the same way a left turn will take you someplace different than a right turn. It may be better or worse, but once embarked upon, the alternate will forever be unknown. My life was simply what it was and what I made of it. I had no burning passion to find my missing kin. I was busy living the moment before me, meeting the challenges of the day and reveling (when moments for reflection presented themselves) on the successes of the past. And yes, probably pissing and moaning about the mistakes as well.

My wife, to whom I have be married nearly half my days and who is more precious to me than the very breath of life, could not, however, imagine how I could have another family out there somewhere in the shrubbery and not be clamoring for more information about them. Early on she accepted that in the twilight of my parents life, I wished to spare them the spectacle of some tearful reunion which might leave them with some degree of angst or regret. They deserved my respect and gratitude for a job well done under difficult circumstances, and I aimed to give it to them.

As years passed, though, little tidbits would find their way into a file. A vacation trip through Idaho to show her my roots turned up puzzle pieces. We spent an hour or so in the tiny village where I was born looking for the hospital. Turns out, I was born in what is now the produce department of a Safeway store. The old hospital had been demolished, a shiny new one had replaced it and suddenly a sense of sand through the hourglass intruded upon my conciousness. A few more years passed as did my parents--and my excuses with them.

Still, I was happy with my family. Those other folks were probably nice enough. But they were just names on a page. Well, names and one photo. My Idaho trip had yielded a photo of my natural father taken a few weeks before I was born. While sharp and detailed, it was clearly not taken on one of his best days. I searched that face for traces of my own. My wife saw them, I couldn't see the forest for the trees, but I've always been bad at that sort of thing. The upshot is that while I understood these names were my family, they weren't really my living family. There were no memories of shared moments, no babysitting nieces, no baseball or football games. No connections. They were strangers, with whom I had nothing in common.

When I posted It's in the Jeans my wife came to me to tell me she had done a little research when I wasn't looking. Spouses can be sneaky that way. I had only been blogging for a little over a month, and had reluctanly opened a Facebook page only a week or so later. Social networking was something my grandkids did. As was texting, Tweeting, My Spacing, 12 Seconding and however many other killer apps about which I know or care nothing. My wife had done a little research: My father had an unusual family first name, my sister's was equally novel; this was information known to me already. Still, I had nothing in common with any of these people.

Until now. Two weeks before my son's wedding I received this response to an email I had sent a day earlier: "Yes Robert I am the W------ that is your sister. I have thought about you all my life, but never tried to find you as I didn't know if you wanted it. This is such a wonderful surprise. Our father's name was C------ and our mother's name is W-----. Please keep in contact." So much information in so few words. My natural father had passed. My natural mother was still living. My sister is out there, somewhere in the shrubbery. Except now she has email, and a Facebook page and reads my blog. Just by reading my blog she knows more about me that I about her. We are strangers still, but somewhere, somehow a starting point must be found, and for me it's still all about the adaptation to adoption. This time I try to adopt my genetic family. It remains to be seen if they are ready to adopt me. Time will tell if I can close this circle in my life, but for now, I suppose it's best to begin at the beginning.

Hi, sis. It's me, your brother Bob.


  1. Hi Bob. I read your blog and it brought tears to my eyes. When I read it to my husband, he had to laugh at the part about your wife "encouraging" you to look for your birth family as her feelings are the same as mine. I have been encouraging my husband to seek his brother. You see, my husband is your half brother, Wayne. And yes, you two do look alike. I cannot think of a better time of year for a connection to family. So much to be thankful for.....
    Laurel Olmsted

  2. Hi Bob. Found your blog through Todd and facebook. My Mum does family trees and histories. Can of Worms. Skeletons. Secrets. Three reasons to hesitate but from what I read of you on this blog you eat that type of fear for breakfast. Reach out....it might be soft and fluffy :)