Share on Facebook | More Articlesby Jeffrey A. Hancock
Published 07/07/2010 at 10:19pm | Views: 3762
March 28, 2010 marked a rather unorthodox event for me. It's the three-year anniversary of the day in 2007 when I learned I was adopted. I was 41 years old at the time. On that day I became unknown to myself. I became an adoptee who could no longer claim to know his heredity, family health history, ancestry, or much of anything else.
Those who know me best are aware that I'm not a traditional-style blogger. My last blog was nearly three years ago when I chose to share my adoption story. Now as I approach the three-year anniversary of my discovery, I feel the need to again put pen to paper.
Since my initial essay, not much has changed in my search for family; they and I are unknown. After three years of waiting I still have no non-ID information from the social service agency that placed me. My files cannot be located. I know of many adoptees who are told the same thing, though in my case I do happen to trust the person who is facilitating my records inquiry. While other adoptees have been told their records were destroyed in a fire, flood, famine, or clerical error, my facilitator admits to being totally overwhelmed by the high demands placed on her. She works alone, managing the entire DSS for all current placements. She handles every home visit, foster parent interview, PINS case, and court appearance alone. Occasionally if she can schedule 30 to 60 minutes of open time, she searches for my records. The records are not archived, but rather stored in piles on the floor. Some of these files have not been seen or touched by human contact in over 50 years. Essentially I am still at the mercy of the original case worker from the 1960s: her lack of ethics and her incompetence.
My records, along with many others, were corrupted back in the 1960s. Case workers at that time swept over every footprint that our past intended to leave behind. Aliases were assigned to each party involved in the foster care and adoption procedure. Aliases were also given to bastards and first families alike. Birthdays were not recorded. Rather than reporting that "Father worked as a machinist at the Schmidt Ball Bearing Factory" it may state "Father: Industrial." Older adoptive siblings may be reported with no ages or genders assigned. They may also be reported "unknown."
For lack of the ability to search, I've been more of a casual observer of the adoption process. Besides observing, I've become dedicated to our fight for legal change to the broken legislation process that 46 American states work under. I think this blog will be more about my observations than my work with the lobby. I've observed quite a bit, and I want to share these observations.
One observation from today: It's very frustrating for me to now be approaching 45 years of age, and have no idea of who I am, why I'm here, where I come from, when the decision was made to give me away, and what of it all. Lately I have been more retrospective than looking to the future. I've been examining the gory little details surrounding my adoption and my eventual discovery of it.
Some thoughts I have on my adoptive family include the way I was referred to as a kid, though I did not pick up on the significance of it at the time. One example that never occurred to me in childhood was how my dad's side of the family referred to me. Typically I was known only as "Herm's boy." I have no memory of anyone in dad's family referring to me by name. I thought nothing of it 30 to 40 years ago. Now I'm thinking it meant that I was an acquired possession. I was owned by my parents; not nurtured, but the personal property of Herman Hancock. My paternal side of the family regarded me as property; a commodity that in theory could be returned or exchanged for another model. In reflection, I see them as tolerating me, but never accepting me.
In my first blog I cited how I was overlooked by my paternal grandmother in being granted the same perks my "cousins" received just for being related to her. How my name was conspicuously missing from the list of names in the "Hancock Family Bible," how never had a quilt made for me by "Gram" as she did for all of my cousins, and how I sensed from a very early age that I fit in with none of them. Today those feelings of being ostracized, unaccepted, and ignored are stronger than ever. Many little incidents from many years ago now haunt me. How could I have been so naive, unsuspicious, gullible, and easy to fleece? Why was I not smart enough to see it coming back then? I should have fought harder the times that I sought the truth from my parents.
Overwhelming evidence supported my theory, the hunch I always had that I was from another clan. Children on the school bus calling me "foster kid" were a fair indication that I *might* have been adopted. These were the same children whose mothers frequented the Hancock household as guests of my mom's weekly tete-a-tete. In a simple get-together the darkest and deepest neighborhood secrets were divulged. How could any of them *not* know I was a foster placement considering how I *could* have been plucked away at any moment to become part of another clan? Accordingly, I now know that the entire gossip tribunal of Gowanda's Broadway Road was well aware of "That Foster Kid" throughout my budding years. Again, why was I denied the truth by my own "flesh and blood" while creepy little shits on the bus got away with name calling, physical harassment, and old-school bullying? What sucks, too, is that I fought them and stood up for myself as being my parents' son. After all, my parents would know the truth of whether I were their son or not, so why question what they told me?
Bullying and torment didn't end at the bus stop. It continued in church and Sunday school. My parents intended to raise me to become a "God-fearing Free Methodist." This faith was practiced on both sides of my family going way back to the Free Methodist indoctrination of 1866.
I practiced their faith like Hell for over 20 years before I resigned, hanging my head in shame. It was only recently that my mom divulged the teeny bit of truth that my first mom was Catholic. According to the case worker, my first mom wanted more than anything for me to be raised by a traditional Catholic family. How then did I land in the one Protestant denomination most geared towards Catholic intolerance? Free Methodism believes, among other things, that Catholics are idol worshipers. Instilled into each youngster forced into attending Sunday school at the Gowanda Free Methodist Church were fanciful facts nearly akin to "Catholics devour their young." Like the cultish "children of the corn," we must have surmised that was the reason why Catholics have such large families.
"Vindicated" is the best word to describe how I feel now knowing that I am indeed adopted, and not part of either the Hancock or the Gowanda Free Methodist tribes! Upon graduation from a Free Methodist college, I eventually went to work as a teacher for the Catholic Diocese. 23 years later, I still work for them. It feels right, at least the friendship parts. I'm not too keen on their doctrine with regard to the inequality offered to women leaders of that faith. I'm also not crazy about some corrupted priests are nothing more than pedophiles waiting to be caught, only to later receive the pope's blessing and forgiveness. However, through well over two decades of employment in Catholic schools I have met countless friends, families, children, and coworkers who accept me for who I am. That is far, far more than I can ever say with regard to Free Methodism.
I had an insight a few months ago regarding an incident that occurred in 1990 while Dad fought for his life in the hospital. I traveled a few hours to my parents' home on my day off to mow their yard. It had sat unattended for several weeks, and resembled more an untamed plain than the lawn I once played on. Somehow Dad's sister, my aunt, knew I was there and drove over. While waving her cane at me, she screamed for me to shut off the mower. When I walked over to her, she continued screaming. Her comments were harsh. She berated my conduct as an adult. She called me names like "sinner" and "heretic." Insinuations were directed at me for being "evil" because I had quit Free Methodism "and went to work for the Catholics." She ended by telling me I was one of Gods' worse sinners, and that it was even more sinful because I didn't even know it. Now I know she meant that adoptees are indeed of the devil. (After all of these years I now understand why and where that "666" carved in my forehead came from!)
Here's another observation, this one less spiritual in nature. My dad passed away from cancer in 1990. Prior to his death, dad had been ill for many years from a bad heart. From the time I was a child until his death in 1990, I was vigilant; I knew that dad could die at any minute. My sister ("the imp") made it a priority to remind me of that every day for over 20 years. The day following his death I traveled first to the hospice in Buffalo to gather up mom and her luggage. From there we traveled to our home. We were to begin making arrangements at the funeral home and wait for more family traveling in from out of town.
It was at the funeral home that something struck me as unusual. As mom and I were drafting the obituary and signing off on Dad, my brother pulled into town from his long journey from out of state and rushed into the undertaker's office. As I was placing the finishing touches on the obituary, my brother ripped away the pen from my hand and took over. I felt snubbed. He had always having been an alpha-male type of guy, so I dismissed it as typical behavior for him. Now I look back and see it differently. I currently see it as dad's "real" son guaranteeing his own birthright by saving the Hancock legacy from the "Foster Kid." This obituary, the final legacy for dad, incorrectly listed him as a US Navy veteran of WW2. Wouldn't you think that a "real son" would have known what branch of service his father served in? The old man talked about his U.S. Army and his war every day of his life. I might have been a "Foster Kid," but at least I knew what branch of the service he'd served in!
Being slighted by family is nothing new to anyone, whether you're adopted or not. However, a new level of indignation emerged when my brother, 20 years my senior, thumped me away from creating an obituary, and then followed up by stealing what our dad had decided I should receive from his estate. Seventeen years later, when I discovered my adoption, that same brother, to his credit, advocated for our sister to cut her shit and start speaking to me again. (We'll get back to her story in a little bit.) I actually appreciated my brother's efforts a little bit that day -- until he referred to himself as an "adoptive parent." Decades earlier, my brother had remarried quickly after his first wife passed away. His second wife had a 12-year-old son from her first marriage. At age 21, her son chose to change his last name to our name because he had known his own dad for only two years before his death and felt my brother was now 100% his dad. My brother calling himself an "adoptive parent" is no more accurate than saying "Free Methodism is God's only true faith."
One more observation I've made pertains to friendship. The friends I had before discovery act differently now. Most have appeared to back away from me. Old college friends and work buddies act disappointed in me for fighting hard to attain equality as a human being. Most non-adopted do not understand how it feels to have no idea who you are. They do not understand how it feels to be treated by society as a castaway, a second-class citizen. They accuse us of being ungrateful for the upbringing we received, yet by the same token they take for granted the unquestionable rights they have at receiving their original birth certificates.
Old friends as well as total strangers have told me to be grateful I wasn't aborted. Some old friends have told me that I do not deserve my birth certificate; after all, I should consider myself "lucky for being taken in by someone." One old friend told me I was abandoned for a reason, and that reason was my birth mother's business, not mine. Some old friends promised to support my lobby for change and to assist in my search, only to later retract. They withdrew over the usual myths, lies, and falsehoods surrounding non-existing promises of confidentiality. Other old friends lie, unable to admit they are against our cause because I "might not have all of the facts."
I had a great, if not hilarious observation quite a few months ago. It was a memory from my wife's and my wedding day in 1989. I had a co-worker and dear friend named Willola. She's African-American, and slightly older than my mom. We were close and hung out together constantly. We actually had the kind of friendship you'd dream of having with your own mother. I loved her just as much as, maybe even more than, any "blood" relative. In the receiving line Willola met my parents for the very first time. She introduced herself by saying heartily, "I'm Jeff's other mother!"
My parents' immediate responses were expressions of horror on their faces. Both were momentarily pale and Dad fell out of his usual character; he had absolutely nothing to say in reply! It makes perfectly clear sense to me now. For a second or two they both thought Willola was my BIRTH MOM and had tracked me down on my wedding day! I don't know which shocked them more: my birth mom finding me on my wedding day, or that my birth mom is African-American? While remembering this event recently, in light of the new knowledge of my adoption, I couldn't stop laughing. As much as I love Willola, there is no way she could be my birth mom. Willola was the only African-American at our wedding, and though she was wearing the exact same dress as my mother-in-law, that's where any other potential blood relationship ended.
Now three years post-discovery, I have many more questions than answers. There are far too many "unknowns" in my life, while not nearly enough things I know to create any sort of balance between the two. I have taken into consideration that maybe I'm to never receive my own information. Maybe I'm involved in all of this only for the purpose of supporting others? It could be my first-family is already dead. It has happened to friends of mine in search for reunion. I admit to this being my largest fear. Perhaps my first family simply gave up on me? Maybe they commenced on a search the day I turned 18 and gave up? Maybe someone called my parents house while I was in college during the 1980's, and dad hung up on them? He did that to one of my best female friends from college on the premise that men and women can't be "just friends" after one of them becomes engaged. Am I to lobby for equal access only to receive it, and late be denied when my records can't be found? What if NYS retaliates for my activism by losing or destroying my files "by accident"? Sure, some of these thoughts seem excessive or unrealistic. Then again, do they really?
For my post-discovery friends to consider: How could my parents and family be so arrogant as to convince themselves that I would never learn of my adoption? Certainly Dad chose to keep it hidden from me at every cost. For 17 years following his death my mom retained his wish for my denial. What would spur a parent to do such a thing? When challenged with my persistent request for my birth certificate, mom only relented when I told her I would need to request a new copy from NYS. Had none of this ever been brought up, still to this day I am convinced I would still be kept in secrecy.
Not learning I'm adopted when I was younger was shameful. However, imagine if I had not learned three years ago. I would never have met all of the amazing and wonderful friends I know today. Friends from the New York State Unsealed Initiative Project, the Adoptee Rights Coalition, from Yahoo groups, and from my local search and support group would be "unknown" to me today. "Unknown," as I remain to myself three years after learning this capricious knowledge, I cannot state enough how fortunate and blessed I truly am to know each of you.