Archive for April, 2009

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My Life, So far, as a Late-Discovery Adoptee.

April 25, 2009

In late 2006 it all started simply enough, as I requested my birth certificate from my mother. I bugged her for weeks to send it to me. She kept saying she’d look for it, and that she was not sure she had it anymore. In reality, she knew where it was; locked securely in my sister’s safe! I was 41 years old then, and needed my birth certificate for a US Passport application. I have a close friend, my college buddy Kevin, who lives in Canada. I visit him as often as I can. However, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security planned new passport requirements at that time that were to take effect by 2008. Either I get the required paperwork; or Ontario, Canada would no longer be my personal retreat.

Eventually, after weeks of requesting my paperwork, Mom called Mary Anne (my wife) at work. It was in spring 2007, a few days before my 42nd birthday. Mom is in tears, and spills her guts about my adoption story to my wife over the phone. Mary Anne comes home from work early to tell me. As it turns out, Mom did a lot of calling before she told Mary Anne. Mom called my Aunt Ethel, my in-laws, my sister Cindy, and my brother Denny for advice. Aunt Ethel, who was the best aunt in the world, told her that, “Jeff’s a lot smarter then you’ve ever given him credit for, and surely Jeff probably figured it out long before now.”

I had, sort of, but was denied the truth when I asked. Time to time from my teen years through college I’d occasionally suggest it to them, or joke about how “I must be adopted because….” Finally, when I confronted them seriously, my dad blew up at me, and my mom was speechless. This occurred during the summer of 1986. I was away at college at the time. Both parents denied it, dad told me I should speak to a pastor or a counselor because obviously I “had gone off the deep end”. They made it very clear to me that I was their son and that I never should bring this up again. Mom also made it clear that I had hurt them very much by questioning our relationship. I felt very guilty for bringing up the matter on that serious of a level. I hated myself at that time for having upset them; especially my dad. He had a long history of heart disease, and I grew up knowing he could die at any moment.

However, there was a lifetime of evidence to support my belief: Kids at school, on the bus, and at church who teased and bullied me and called me “Foster child”, lack of a quilt from my paternal grandmother (she handmade one for each of her grandchildren *except* me), the exclusion of my name from the Hancock family bible (a bible over 200 years old with detailed names and relation), and finally a faded Polaroid snapshot that said “Jeff, our foster child” on the back. When I mentioned the photograph, mom was quick to defend it by saying, “it says ‘faster’ because you grew so much faster than Cindy or Denny.” Dad separately offered the explanation, “That’s Karen’s handwriting, and she probably meant it because you liked hanging around her when you were a toddler.” Karen was my brother’s first wife who died in 1981. In all honesty, I didn’t know her that well. I doubt I hung around her at all, as my brother and his family were overseas at the time that picture of me, a Polaroid, was taken.

I had no choice but take my folks at their word. Dad died in 1990 of cancer. He took the secret to his grave. He wanted for me to never know. It was his way of protecting me. He never wanted for me to feel not-a-part of his life or family, even though other family members never fully have accepted me. Ironically, I remember being rather annoyed with my mom when she flat out refused to allow an autopsy following dad’s death. At the time my wife was 6 months pregnant with our first child. I was very scared that there may be something genetic in association with dad’s leukemia. I kept trying to explain to her why I felt I needed to know the exact cause. Now I understand why it didn’t matter.

Following the settling of Dad’s funeral, items dad wished to be split between my “siblings” and my self were to be distributed. It was fairly slim pickings compared to most as my family was always very poor in wealth. Still, dad’s final wishes were for all three of his children to receive personal items that he cherished. Long story short, my brother blessed himself with what few items he was entitled to as well as the one or two things dad wanted me to have. I was really hurt and very disappointed in my family when I took a daytrip down to mom’s to retrieve my possessions and found empty spaces where those possession were supposed to be. Mom assured me that because my brother is a pastor he would never knowingly steal from me. Yeah, right! My sister got dad’s car; she has never even had a driver’s license. My brother received dad’s guns, fishing equipment, table saw, roto-tiller, and hand-tools. I felt very ill that day. Mary Anne was with me, and reveled to me later that afternoon, “Jeff, I never believed everything you always said about your family not including you or respecting you. Now I have really seen it. You’ve been right all along!”

Forward back to spring 2007; mom was very upset upon having to reveal this deeply buried family secret. We drove for 2 hours for a visit so that she could give me my birth certificate and adoption paperwork. Also, she had several plumbing issues, so I spent Good Friday 2007 crawling around under her sink replacing several yucky pipes. As we walked in the house I could tell how upset mom was. I was still in a state of shock myself. I couldn’t talk about it all with her then. I still cannot speak to her about my adoption even now. I did make an honest attempt to communicate with my mom through a letter following that Good Friday. I sought only to sooth her for being upset over finally revealing my adoption. Before I knew it the entire family was at my throat. At a time when I had a grave need for the understanding and support of my adoptive family, and at a time when I felt my mother needed to hear that things were okay, they put me in my place for being a bad son.

In my letter I simply explained that I felt as though I never fit in, and that I was nothing like either sibling. I mentioned Cindy’s alcohol abuse and Denny’s extreme Christian fundamentalism (he’s an Evangelical pastor). I mentioned how I’ve never felt a desire or need for alcohol, nor have I ever felt comfortable in such an extremely evangelical environment as my brother is a pastor within. I mentioned how our family has two sides; those who immerse themselves in substance and alcohol abuse and those who immerse themselves in religion. Both life choices run rampant on either side of my family; there is no halfway measure between these two extremes. Bear in mind I in no way criticized either of my siblings, I only mentioned I have always felt different from everyone in our family; a feeling that I never really belonged.

My sister opened up the letter before Mom could, and read its contents. Both she and mom immediately became infuriated with me. The letter was taken completely out of context, and thrown back into my face. My sister was convinced I wrote it to get back at them for the decades of lies or for the hardships her drinking brought upon our family. She in turn convinced mom that was my intent. They stopped speaking to me for weeks. I went from having one family, to learning I have two, but ending up with none. 2007 sucked.

Everyone else I shared the letter with thought it was beautiful and should have made mom realize how much she is loved by me. Surprisingly, my brother stepped up to the plate, and told them they were wrong. Although he didn’t read the letter, he felt it was wrong for our sister to have and that clearly I was only attempting to nurture. He also admitted to never taking any steps to have a relationship with me due to the 20-year age difference between us, and that now he feels a bit guilty. Not guilty enough to ever call or send a birthday card, but at least he knows through Mom that I’m still alive.

It wasn’t until Christmas 2007 that my sister spoke to me again. Before Mom’s revelation Cindy used to call us two or three times a week just to talk. Since discovery I have had a million thoughts race through my head. Sometimes I feel grief, as if someone died, yet I don’t know who. I get angry sometimes, other times I’m depressed. Part of me wishes I’d been adopted by someone else, even though I miss my dad, and appreciate at least having a home as a child.

I don’t feel as though I know who I am anymore. I am so different from everyone else in my family. I’m always wondering if there is anyone out there anywhere who may be anything at all like me. I fear my birth family won’t want to know me, or they may be dead, or I may be a product of incest or rape. Sometimes I feel like a total idiot. Everyone in my home town knew of my adoption except me. I feel betrayed, lied to, and taken for granted. I’m a very different person post-discovery. I was happy with the person I was before mom’s revelation. I have no legitimate way to describe who I am sitting here all this time later.

At the same time, so many more things make sense to me now. Odd little experiences over the years that now appear crystal clear. From 1975-1982 my sister was married to a horrible and abusive man. He was not only an alcoholic, but he was a mean drunk. On more than one occasion, while living together in our parent’s home, he referred to me as “The Living Abortion.” Even this sorry excuse of a human being was privy to my adoption story.

As time continues to pass, I occasionally remember more details from my years being raised. I can understand comments made to me by the mean children at school and on the bus so many years ago. Comments, questions, and peculiar things they said to me at church, family picnics, and around town. Also, why I was never accepted or included in family plans, or invited to join clubs or groups in school or especially at church; I was raised in a very strict and evangelical faith. I know now why during my childhood and teen years I felt people were always watching me, waiting for me to make some terrible life decision. It was because they really were expecting me to!

Before 2007 I never fully understood the stigma of adopted children in an evangelical culture. My dear friend Lori, an adoptee, explained this to me a few years ago. I felt I knew how she felt growing up, yet I didn’t feel connected to her suffering. Now I see how society enjoys looking upon us as bastards produced through sin. How we’re destined to go the same path as those alleged “sinners” who produced us. I had no reason at the time to suspect anything, as I knew I *wasn’t* adopted because my “parents” said so! At the same time my inner soul did not agree with society, or the Christian preaching on adoptee pre-destiny. Now as an adult, people I long ago left behind in my mom’s church are stunned that I am not a druggie, alcoholic, father to countless unplanned pregnancies, or convicted criminal in spite of a) being adopted, and/or b) abandoning the evangelical/fundamentalist way of worship some 20+years ago.

Beyond my late-discovery, I now fully understand the saying “life changing event”. I haven’t been able to describe just *who* I am anymore. I have only two known blood relative; our two sons. I fear for their futures not having the privilege of knowing their heritage or medical history. Family tree assignments in their classrooms will have many more branchless limbs on my half than their mother’s side.

Before discovery, I was prescribed only seasonal allergy medications. Presently I am now on 11 different medications in addition to allergy prescriptions. I cannot sleep at night; I cannot stay awake during the day. I have anxiety attacks and I have depression. I can’t concentrate on common tasks now. Events I used to love I no longer choose to participate in. My diet and eating patterns are erratic. I take pills for anxiety, depression, sleep disorders, blood sugar levels, cholesterol levels, and aches and pains that I never felt before. I haven’t had a complete night’s sleep in months. I feel detached from everyone, including my wife and kids.

On that miserable day the family secret was told I began my search within an hour of discovery. Countless months have now passed, and I have no more idea today than I did then as to who I am. My non-id is non-existent; so I’ve been told by those in authority. Many aliases were used to disguise adoptive families, birth/first mothers, and most of all; Bastards. Those aliases coupled with court sealed records make the likelihood of a biological reunion very slim. While my search is stalled, I have put my energies into assisting others search and into advocacy for unsealed records.

Providing adult adoptees access to his or her original birth certificate is the right thing to do. Like most Americans, I had no idea that adoptees are denied this civil liberty until my own story unfolded. This is a violation of our rights. We deserve to know just “who” we are.

Several months have elapsed since my discovery. I am grateful for the friends I can share stories and experiences with on MySpace and Facebook. I am grateful to my wife, her family, and our kids for their understanding. I’m grateful to my support group in Rochester, NY. I’m grateful for my wife and kids. I am also grateful for the many search angels who help us bastards in so many ways. I’m also grateful to that nameless, faceless person who gave me away in 1965, for whatever her reason in signing me away. I think of her everyday. I hope to find her, meet her, and thank her someday face-to-face despite the odds of reunion.

By Jeffrey A. Hancock; Late-Discovery-Adoptee
Born 4-18-1965 somewhere in Buffalo, New York

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