Share on Facebook | More Articlesby Anastasia Beaverhausen
Published 04/06/2010 at 6:15am | Views: 5296
I love Facebook. I've been on it for a few years now, and I've found lots of people from my past there. My college roommate, friends from high school, even my very best friend in the whole world from when I was in kindergarten. Doesn't every Facebook user have similar stories? Well, here's one not everyone might share: I found my birthfather on Facebook a few weeks ago. At least I think it is him. You see, I was adopted at birth in a closed adoption (as most adoptions tended to be back in the beginning of the 1970s) so I am not certain I've found the right person, and there's a chance I may never know for sure.
When I was in my mid-twenties, I took the few pieces of information my parents had about my birthfamily, all of which related solely to my birthmother's side, and I searched and found her. We've been in "reunion" for well over a decade and a half now. While my parents were always up front with me regarding my origin story and gave me all the information they had, which they'd saved in a file for me -- I cannot recall a time in my life when I didn't know I was adopted -- they do not know that I know my birthmother. It is a secret I've kept from them and will continue to keep from them because that is how it must be. (Please do not ask me for an explanation why; I have my reasons and you'll just have to trust me on this one.)
And why shouldn't it be a secret? So much of adoption involves secrecy, or at least did until recently. My birthmother told me that when her father picked her up at the hospital when she was discharged following my birth that he turned to her as she climbed into the car and said "We will never speak of this again." And they didn't, she said, not for over twenty years.
It is a secret that causes me now to not know if, in fact, the man I found on Facebook is my biological father. My birthmother had three children after me and parented them all, and while she told them of my existence -- the baby she'd given birth to as a teenager and given away -- a year before I found her, she never told them the identity of my birthfather. Indeed, she told me she isn't certain that he ever knew she was pregnant, or that he was the father. The story surrounding my conception that I'd always known, the story that her parents told my parents back before I was born when the adoption was being arranged, was one of a high school romance gone awry. Nothing terribly shocking, even for back in those days, and these days the same story drives the plotline of just about every episode of MTV's 16 and Pregnant. That was my birthmother at the start of the Seventies, sixteen and pregnant. When I first found her, I asked her about my birthfather -- were they still in touch? Did she know where he was? Were they actually still together? -- and she told me a very different version of the conception story than my biological grandparents had told. Her version involved nonconsensual intercourse and then, upon discovering she was pregnant, being sequestered away in a different town with relatives, hidden away until after I was born. She told me that she refused to name him on my original birth certificate (not that I have a copy of this, of course) and that she never actually told him directly, herself, what had resulted from their involvement.
She went on to tell me he was older than she was, married with children already at the time I was conceived, and that subsequently, he divorced and married for a second and third time, having children with each of his three wives. By her reckoning, I have at least nine or ten half-siblings on his side of the family (in addition to her other three children). She never told her children about my paternity because they all still live in the same, smallish town, and her kids went to school with his kids from his second marriage. At times over the years, she's said things about how she suspects he does, in fact, know I exist. He is (or was) a police officer in their town, and she told me how from time to time he'd pull her over "for no reason" and other forms of subtle harassment and intimidation. It was because of treatment like this over the years, along with the fact that it was -- I was -- a secret, and that they live in a small town where everyone knows everyone, that she asked me never to contact him.
So, I haven't. I have his name, and my birthmother let slip the names of a few of his children over the years, and that's it. Once, when we were on the phone as I sat in my office and she was telling me about how he'd pulled her over "for kicks" on her way home the previous week, I looked him up online on one of those White Pages websites that were more abundant back in the pre-Google era. I read her his name, his wife's name and their address and she was shocked. This was back before home computers and internet use were quite so common, so finding information like that about someone could be genuinely surprising. She asked me again at that point to never contact him. I assured her I hadn't, nor had I any intention to do so. She grew very upset that I'd pulled up his information, that I knew what apparently was his (then) current address. She didn't speak to me again for over a year after that phone call. Since that conversation, I've never mentioned him again to her, as there doesn't seem to be any point.
When I first found my birthmother, I was searching out of curiosity. I didn't fault her for placing me for adoption. I felt then -- and still do -- that my adoptive family is my family. I wasn't looking for a replacement for my adoptive parents or my adoptive family. I just wanted to know my genealogy, my ethnic background, my medical history. I was equally curious about the other half of my genes, which is something my birthmother seemed frustrated with and even angry about right from the start. She promised me, back in the first few months of our reunion, that she could and would get medical history information about his family for me. She mentioned in passing that she knew two of his children by two different wives had some sort of "brain problem" that led to them each being hospitalized, but then assured me "they both wound up being fine after they got out of the hospital" and told me that since she was friends with one of his ex-wives (told you, small town) that she could get details for me. She never did. (She also expressed outrage over the fact that neither I nor my parents were ever given a copy of my original birth certificate, and said she would get me a copy. She never did that, either.)
So, here I am, now on the verge of middle age, still with the same questions and wondering the same things that I did when I was barely an adult. Every so often, curiosity overcomes me and I turn to Google, to MySpace, now to Facebook. It was on Facebook the other day that I found the man with the same name I was given, living in the same area, and (I deduced from scrutinizing his profile picture) in the right age range. Playing Facebook Detective, I've clicked on all of his Facebook friends who have the same last name. If I am right and this is my birthfather, then surely some of those other people are my half-siblings, or nieces and nephews or cousins. I searched the tiny thumbnails for hints of a resemblance, though it has long been clear to me that physically, I take after my birthmother's side of the gene pool. (Pictures of my birthmother laid next to pictures of me from the same age are almost impossible to tell apart, we looked so similar. It wasn't until the tween years that our appearances diverged, but still, we definitely look very closely related, as obviously we are.)
The thing I find most intriguing about this man who might have contributed to half my DNA is that in his picture, he is holding a guitar. I've always been a music lover, having a talent and passion for instruments and voice. One of my biggest disappointments when I first spoke to my birthmother was over how very little we had in common. She had no interest in music, or books, or languages -- any of the things I thought surely I inherited from somewhere. (I have siblings who are my parents' biological children, so I've grown up seeing the "nature" part of the nature/nurture debate -- while they attempted to instill equally in all of us a love for various things, I was the "musical" one whereas my siblings both took after our extremely athletic parents and were stellar "jocks" throughout their school careers. Likewise, both of our parents are talented artists and my siblings were too, whereas unless it involves photography, my art skills have always been dismal and in fact have now been surpassed by my grade school child.) I have a passion for learning, for travel, for the arts, for volunteering and community service. My birthmother and her entire family share none of these. She reported they all were unimpressive students; I was a brain (this surprised her a great deal, actually, to hear that I was a "smart" kid who began reading precociously early, who aced the SATs and made honor roll throughout school with very little effort). No one in her immediate family went on past high school, if they even graduated from high school; I couldn't wait to get to college. I devour books of all genres; she finds reading dull. I've traveled fairly extensively; she's never had a passport. And so on it went, leaving me with a firm belief that I must have inherited these passions, these talents, from my birthfather.
And then to learn he was not, in fact, some high school boy who'd gotten carried away with his girlfriend. To hear he was a louse, evil, a criminal masquerading as a lawman, this shook me. My birthmother has spoken often over the years, freely and vindictively, of his bad character, of rumors in town about misdeeds with other underage girls, how things were swept under the carpet because of his position. How could I want to contact such an individual? How could someone so horrible be someone I had anything or would want anything in common with? I've wrestled with that conundrum over the years, and that thought -- that he is not in any way an honorable person -- paired with my promise to my birthmother, has prevented me from reaching out.
But still, I wonder. I wonder about him, about the other half of my missing genetic family tree. Over the years, I've had reason to wonder and even at times to doubt the veracity of my birthmother's version of events. I Google, looking for mention of him -- he'd be close to retirement age, if not retired already -- in local papers, or mention of his supposed misdeeds finally coming to light. I've found little, beyond his name and address, until now, until my recent turn at Facebook Detective-ing.
There is a strong likelihood that this man, with coloring similar to mine, holding a guitar and rocking out in his profile picture, is the right man. "Send Message" calls to me, there by his picture. "Add Friend" it suggests, by his name and all the others he is linked to with the same name. (I won't go so far as to "Poke" him, because that would just be weird, right?)
Should I? Would I? Dare I? Could I? Who has the right to make the final determination in a case like this, a case of adoption and secrecy and obscuration? Do I, as the adoptee, have the final say in contacting him? I've already caused disruption to my birthmother's life. Though she welcomed my contact and was happy to be found, who is to say this time things would go the same way? If he is a bad human being, as my birthmother has always claimed, do I want to jab my stick into a proverbial hornet's nest? Would he respect the boundaries I have set, the secrets that I keep? Would he appreciate being contacted, would his family mind? Does he even know I exist?
Over the years, I've thought of ways to contact him that would be less forward, more circumspect. Contact via letter through a third party. A PO box not in my hometown. Using an alias. All of these more to protect me, protect my family (birth and adoptive), than to protect him and his. What do I want from him? The same thing I wanted (and still have only incompletely) from my birthmother -- genealogy, background, medical history. I've long since resigned myself to the fact that I will forever have to put "Unknown" on medical forms, but still, I dream of knowing.
That's what I want, in the end. I want to know. To know my biological history as well as I do my adoptive family's history. Is that reason enough? Does that trump my birthmother's request that I never contact him? He's not getting any younger -- how long do I wait? Do I wait until it is too late, until all I have is an obituary? Is knowing enough of a reason to contact him, to potentially change his family forever by making contact? Would he just deny me altogether? Would he strike out in retribution at my birthmother and her family the way she swears he would? Would he strike out at me and mine?
I reckon at this point I never will know. Despite the tenuousness of the relationship I've had over the years since reuniting with my birthmother and her family, I wouldn't want them hurt, wouldn't want them to suffer for my choices. (Even though it could be argued that this choice was never one I asked for, but was forced upon me by the very act of my birth.) Moreover, I wouldn't want my parents to learn of my reunion in such a way, if in fact my birthfather is all about evil and retribution the way my birthmother claims him to be. I have my own secrets with my own reasons as a consequence of my adoption, too, after all.
The joys of being an adoptee of the closed adoption era. This, incidentally, is why I believe everyone should have access to their original birth certificate and why I do not believe in closed adoptions as a general rule.
What do you think readers? Should I give up on my quest to know and just live my life? Close the door on the possibility? Should I content myself with my internet detective work, with the possibility that I've now seen a picture of the man whose genetic material makes up half of me?