Posts Tagged ‘late-discovery’

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This is why we protest.

November 4, 2015

It’s Your Life

By Jeff Hancock

I was not always an adoptee rights activist. Prior to my adoption discovery as a 41-year-old man I was quite happy as just another member of the human race. It was not until I learned that I was adopted that I also discovered that I am a victim of discrimination. Like millions of other adult adoptees, I am denied access to my Original Birth Certificate (OBC). The following essay is intended to reveal why the Adoptee Rights cause is important and why state governments need to restore our access to our Original Birth Certificates.

The concept is quite simple: We seek only to own what the non-adopted people have. We want to own our identities. We want to be just like everyone else.

Some people want their OBC’s so they can find and reunite with their birth families. Other adoptees want to discover their heritage, ancestry, or faith. Adoptees hope to learn our medical history. Others just simply want to own it. These are all good things, but none are the basis for what we fight for. The foundation of our cause is our quest to be equal to non-adopted citizens. Without our OBC’s we are not equal.

American culture places a great amount of shame upon adopted people. Also shamed are the mother’s who gave birth to us. Our society fears us. They fear what might happen should we be provided the sheet of paper that holds our name as it was recorded the day we were born. Based on false beliefs and outdated myths of the 1930’s, the people elected to represent us choose to deny us instead.

This is why we protest. Just as our OBC’s are shrouded from us the facts are shrouded away from state law makers. The fundamental difference is that while we are denied even a glance of our OBC’s, far too many lawmakers have full access to the facts of restored access and choose to look another direction. The purpose of the Adoptee Rights movement is to educate these lawmakers.

One cannot blame lawmakers for what they have been conditioned into accepting as the truth about sealed OBC’s. it is our intent to work with them through education. We teach them right from wrong while stipulating that sealed OBC’s is WRONG!

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Always the Last to Know.

November 4, 2015

Last year I had the honor of being asked to contribute a chapter to my friend Lynn’s book, a compilation on adoptee topics. Her book is titled “The Adoptee Survival Guide” and is available through Amazon.

Always the Last to Know.

Have you ever wondered why,

Families keep secrets until they die?

This completely takes over who you are,

Carving within you an unbearable scar.

They day I learned that my parents had lied,

The soul within me stopped living; and died.

I felt as though I had just lost my very best friend,

Who was I now? Was I at my start, or at my end?

 

I found a quote soon after I learned that I was adopted. It reads, “The worst thing about being lied to is knowing you weren’t worth the truth.” This quote became my motto as I embarked on my new life as an adoptee. My story is quite complicated at times; it has been just over 7-years since my discovery though it still stings as though it were yesterday. The purpose of this essay is for me to reveal how I have faced the task of being a late-discovery-adoptee, though I am still far from the end of my journey.

All my life I felt a strange absence in my life. It was a feeling of loneliness and loss. I never could quite find the right words to explain these feelings; I always just figured I was an outcast due to being so much younger than the other kids in our family. I had no idea that I could be an adoptee until I began school in 1970. It was on the bus that kids bullied me by calling me “foster kid.” I brushed it off at first because as a 5-year-old kid I had no idea what it meant.

As I grew older I began to take notice of how my family regarded me. I had learned what a “Foster Kid” was, and I began to wonder if at anytime someone would tell me I was only a guest and that another family was coming to take me away? Evidence began to surface. I was not included in my paternal grandmother’s family bible. That same grandmother never provided me with a hand sewn quilt as she had for each of her other grandchildren. Then there was the photograph. It was a Polaroid of me when I was about 2-years-old. On the back of it was written, “Jeff our foster son.”

By the time I was 21-years-old I could not tolerate my internal struggle over my identity any longer. Having grown tired of pussy-footing around the topic with my parents, I threw my cards onto the table, called my parents, and asked, “Am I adopted?”

It could not have gone any worse. Dad yelled, mom cried. Both told me that I was wrong for questioning my relationship to them. Both lied to me and told me I was theirs.

For the first year after my discovery I walked the Earth in “Zombie Mode.” While I was mostly aware of the goings-on around me, I was detached from it all. I took no pleasure doing things that before had brought me great joy. I had no idea who I was; I felt betrayed, rejected, unwanted, and unworthy of anyone’s love. I sought solutions to my emptiness and pain. There were none.

The first time I turned on the radio in my car following discovery I heard a song that I had not before experienced. It was “Mother” written by Roger Waters of Pink Floyd. This new-to-me version was sung by Sinead O’Connor. I instantly became engrossed in it. I immediately bought the album. I played this song repeatedly everyday for the next 5-and-a-half years.

It was one line from the lyrics of “Mother” that has ran through my mind over and over again since my discovery. “Mama’s gonna keep you right here under her wing, she won’t let you fly but she might let you sing” became my theme song. With each passing day I grew more and more resentful of my adoptive parents. I also grew angry with my other mom; the one who gave me away.

While I began my search for family the very same day as my discovery, by 2009 I had no more information than I had the day I begun. I realized that if I were to ever find my family I would need to have access to my Original Birth Certificate first. I fell into the ranks of the Adoptee Rights movement.

My first protest was in Philadelphia during July of 2009. It became one of my favorite life experiences. Like how Moses must have felt delivering the Jews to the Promised Land, I too felt I had finally landed right where I belonged. As we each met each other in and around the hotel over those 4-days I realized that although we each had different jobs and came from different kinds of families, we were all exactly the same within our souls. We each were denied our souls.

When asked, “How to Survive” regarding Late-Discovery-Adoption I drew a complete blank. I wondered, “Have I survived?” At least in the eyes of my fellow adoptees, and the moms who gave birth to us, I appear to be a survivor. Within my mind I have reservations. I am not convinced that adoption is survivable; it affects each of us for our entire life. Perhaps I can best offer some suggestions at how to cope with being a Late-Discovery-Adoptee.

Find a theme song. It seems every LDA has one. For me it was Sinead O’Connor’s “Mother.” For one of my friends it was “Angel” by Sarah McLachlan. While I listened to this song daily, I found it meant the most to me when I was in a long hot bath alone with my thoughts and a few candles.

Be sure to share your story. Revealing yourself to others in the Late-Discovery community is a daunting task. It was the first time in my life that I felt genuine fear. I felt unworthy of having friendships with other adoptees. I was new to the scene while they had known all of their lives. Surprisingly I was immediately embraced not only by fellow LDA’s but likewise from the entire adoption community.

I took a vow the day I found out my truth. I pledged to live my adopted life with 100% transparency. My adoption experience is something I decided was not to be my shame, but rather my triumph. I have met fellow adoptees as well as our moms and dads who accepted me for who I am. They have become my family over these years. When I found my birth families, my community through adoption welcomed them included as well.

While our lives as LDA’s were shrouded in secrecy and lies, our stories belong to us. We need to reveal ourselves to others in our world. Perhaps one day there will be enough awareness of our pain and our plight that lies within adoption will finally grind to a halt. Until that time comes, we must always support each other and freely share ourselves.

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Continued tales from the LDA.

November 4, 2015

Grief continues to engulf me. I grieve for the woman I never met; the one who gave birth to me. I think about her every day.

Being a late-discovery-adoptee has taken a toll on me over these past 8-years. While I am now reunited with both sides of my birth families, there is a hole in my heart as deep as a well. I miss my mom, even though we never got to meet. I miss a lot of people, yet I cannot grieve for those who betrayed my trust and led me away from the truth of my very existence for most of my lifetime.

I have managed to pull together a basic medical history. However, I fear it is too late to be of much help to me. Had I known in my youth that diabetes runs in my family, I could have been more careful. I was in my 40’s when I was tested and discovered I have a problem. Now I have macular degeneration of the retinas because treatments for my elevated blood sugar were too little too late. My retina specialist described my condition as being like an old house with rusty pipes that leak. My blood vessels are the leaky pipes. My eyeballs are the playing ground for a disease that will eventually blind me. Lack of medical history sucks if you are adopted. I’ve realized that the blow back from being lied to for so long effects more than just my psyche; it has taken over my entire body.

I’ve gone into therapy for PTSD. I never was in a real life shooting, fighting, guts-n-grit combat situation. My trauma centers around my loss of identity, disappointments, joblessness, and various forms of abuse. I have learned that dealing with PTSD is like herding cats. It’s tougher than you’d guess. My therapist told me I need to look for at least one positive memory or experience for each bad thing, each trauma, I have encountered during my lifetime. There are good memories: I have two half-sisters, nephews, nieces, a birth dad, grandparents, and a shitload of cousins all of whom have warmly welcomed me.I have amassed some amazing friends through the adoption community. I’ve traveled to speak at adoption conferences, I’ve met state legislators, lobbied at conventions, and been in newspapers and on television all in support of adoptee rights. I’ve found my tribe.

At the same time, I don’t fit in like I thought I would. It’s my fault. I can’t figure out my role. Maybe enough time has not yet come to pass? I’m still learning my family dynamics. This might take a while to sort out.

 

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Adopted Me: My Life as a Late-Discovery-Adoptee

September 1, 2011

Adopted Me: My Life as a Late-Discovery-Adoptee

By Jeff Hancock

I learned the truth just before I turned 42 years old: I was adopted. Over the years prior to my discovery, I had suspicions about being adopted. From my earliest memories as a young child, I had an instinctual feeling that I didn’t belong where I had somehow found myself to be. As a child, several times over the years I would purposefully open the door for my parents to break the news to me. However suspicious I felt, they were always very quick to deflect my inquiries toward another topic.

By the time I was to begin my senior year in college, I still felt the presence of that large white elephant always trailing behind me whenever I was in the company of my family. Sometimes it was a feeling of rejection or non-acceptance. There were times I felt ashamed to be around my extended family, as I never once felt as though I fit in with any of them. This feeling I have had throughout my entire life is defined as “the primal wound” [Verrier, 1993].

In her book by the same title, Nancy Verrier defines the primal wound asthe trauma each adoptee is burdened with that begins as a newborn infant, and continues throughout our lives. Every child who is separated from his or her biological mother will experience abandonment and loss.”  By the summer before my senior year in college, I was ready to shed away my white elephant, and directly find out once and for all if I were indeed adopted.

There was a lifetime of evidence to support my adoption conspiracy theory:  the kids at school, on the bus, and at church who teased, bullied, and called me “foster child”; the lack of a quilt from my paternal grandmother (she hand made one for each of her grandchildren except me); my exclusion from the Hancock family bible (a book over 200 years old with detailed names and relations); and finally, a faded Polaroid snapshot that said, Jeff, our foster child on the back.

Though it occurred during the summer of 1986, I remember it as though it were last week. I called home and I asked my mother directly, “Am I adopted?” Optimistically, I was expecting to hear a simple “yes” or “no” response. I was quite stunned at her reply, “Why, of course you’re our son!” Then Dad took the phone. He told me that I should speak to a pastor or a shrink because I had “gone off the deep end.” Both parents made it clear to me that I was their son and that I never should bring this up again as I had hurt them very much by questioning our relationship.

I immediately felt guilty for bringing up the matter. I hated myself for having upset them, especially Dad. He had a long history of heart disease, and I grew up with the daily reminder from my parents and sister that he “could die at any moment.” At the same time I was hurting from their criticisms. No part of this conversation made sense to me. I still felt adopted and even more rejected, unwanted, and unworthy than before.

Dad passed away from leukemia in 1990. He wanted for me to never know I was adopted. He told my family that he never wanted me to feel rejected for having been adopted.  (Knowing Dad, I now believe that he feared I would reject him as my father.) I remember being annoyed with my mom when she refused an autopsy following his death. My wife was six months pregnant with our first child, and I was scared that there might be something genetic in association with my father’s leukemia. I kept explaining to her why I needed to know the exact cause. Mom kept brushing it off. Now I understand why it didn’t matter.

My parents were blind to how other family members never accepted me. My mother and other family members continued to allow me to live the lie until late March, 2007.

In late 2006 there was much talk in Western New York State regarding an upcoming requirement that all US citizens travelling to Ontario, Canada would need to provide a US Passport. Entering Canada was a common practice for us. We have several college friends along the Niagara Peninsula, and we visited many times a year. I wanted to be the first to obtain my passport.

Quickly, I began asking my mother to supply me with my birth certificate, a document I’d never had in my possession. Each time I asked her to dig it out and send it to me, I was met with various excuses as to why she couldn’t find it. After several weeks I grew weary of asking her until I delivered my only other recourse: to pay New York State for a new copy. Once Mom realized that one way or another I was going to own my birth certificate, she was very quick to spill the beans and provide me with all the adoption related paperwork she had in her possession.

What Mom gave me wasn’t a birth certificate at all; it was a Certificate of Live Birth, otherwise known as an Amended Birth Certificate. Amended birth certificates vary in information they contain. The information on mine was sparse. An Original Birth Certificate (sometimes referred to as an “OBC”) contains a wealth of knowledge in comparison. This information may include the person’s weight and length at birth, parents’ names, hospital, physician, time of birth, a hand or finger print of the infant, religious faith, ethnicity, and in some cases the birth place of the parents.

In stark contrast, the amended birth certificate typically states the person’s adopted name, date of birth, the names of the adoptive parents, city and state of birth, and a raised state seal. The purpose of an original birth certificate is to certify that you were born into a specific family, faith, heritage, and ethnicity. The amended birth certificate is the only version that adoptees in New York State have a legal right to.  It states only that a person was born, and it lists the adopted parents as though they are in fact the person’s biological parents.

Ironically, had I simply gone beyond requesting my mother’s paperwork, and applied directly to the New York State Department of Vital Records, I’d have received an amended birth certificate with my adopted family listed as my birth family. Never would I have discovered my adoption.

After my discovery, and obtaining my state-censored birth certificate, I began my US passport application process. I was shocked at what I went on to learn. Passport requirements include submitting a certified birth certificate as proof of American citizenship. This birth certificate has to have been filed within a year of the person’s birth.   But my birth certificate – the amended version that the state will give me – was not filed until I was four years old.  Why?  Read on.

Before my parents adopted me, I was in their care as a foster child. Though I was born on April 18th, 1965, the only birth certificate I have access to (the amended version) was not filed until after my adoption on February 27th, 1969. Because the only acceptable birth certificate for passport application had to have been filed within a year of my birth, my application was rejected; my birth certificate was filed four years after my birth, when my adoption was finalized.

It is worth noting that In New York State, a foster child could forever remain in foster care until he or she becomes an adult at the age of 18. During those 18 years the original birth certificate is never sealed. However, once a child is adopted from foster care, whether that age is six weeks, six months, or sixteen years, the original birth certificate becomes sealed forever, with legal access only to the amended version.

Please try to imagine my frustration.  First my family denied me of the truth for nearly 42 years. Following this, I learned that my country is denying me issuance of a US passport. Finally, my lifelong state of residence, New York, continues to deny me access to the one and only item that stewards my very identity.

Beyond the aforementioned denials, I am also denied my non-identifying information as well.  “Non-ID,” as it is commonly called, is information that a social worker culls from adoption records to provide the adult adoptee information on his or her background, circumstances of birth, and so on, but stripped of any details that could allow that person to identify his parentage.

Through the New York State Department of Vital Records I was informed that the agency responsible for my foster care placement would furnish me with a report of my non-identifying personal information within four to six weeks. After many years of hoping for my information, I have recently given up of ever receiving it. Several times I have spoken with the current director of the Cattaraugus County Department of Social Services, and each time I receive a sympathetic explanation from her.

The absence of information about my life is due to a decades-old lack of structure to their archive storage practice. None of their foster care or adoption files are in any specific order. To complicate matters even further, the caseworker responsible for our records in the 1960s never noted dates, locations, employment information of the families, or any sibling information.

To carry things to the next step, that caseworker also assigned aliases to each child, and possibly to some foster/adoptive families. Though there are thousands of files in the archives, it is virtually impossible for today’s caseworkers to find a paper trail to follow to the information they are seeking for me now.

The only other source of potential non-identifying information lies within the vaults of the Cattaraugus County Family Court system. While New York State has kindly provided forms that enable adult adoptees to petition their prior Family Court for a copy of their “Original Order of Adoption” to my awareness not a single Family Court Judge has honored a single request. In my own experience, I continually petition regardless of each previous denial. There are only two family Court judges in Cattaraugus County; neither is willing to grant my request.

In a letter included with a recently denied petition, Hon. Michael Nenno suggested that if I really must know my personal information, I should consider hiring a private investigator. Beyond my familiar feelings of rejection, this incident angered me. Why should I have to spend a minimum of $2,500.00 to hire someone to gather information for me that my state and county governments can easily give to me, should they choose to do so? In my most recent petition to Justice Nenno’s court, I suggested that he and his staff do what other family court justices do, and that is to simply photocopy the files, and white-out any identifying information. Many months have now passed with no reply.  Next time I petition I will offer to pay the standard 15-cent-per-page photocopy fee. Perhaps that will finally sway him.

Not knowing the information on my birth certificate is like reading a book that has chapter one ripped out of it.  For much of my life I thought I had chapter one, but now I have to read my life all over again, but starting with the second chapter.  I want my first chapter,  just like everyone else.

It is for these very principles that in 2008 I became involved in the Adoptee Rights Movement. As a Late-Discovery Adoptee, I believe that my story is unique. Sadly, it is also representative of a bureaucratic sector of our society that fails to serve the very people it was meant to support.

Since discovery I have had a million thoughts battle in my head. Sometimes I feel grief, as if someone has died, yet I don’t know who. It’s like attending a funeral for my own sense of self, an identity that never was. I get angry sometimes; other times I’m depressed. Part of me wishes I’d been adopted by someone else. Some days I wish I’d been aborted. I don’t feel I know who I am anymore. I am so different from everyone else in my family. I’m always wondering if there is anyone on earth who may be like me.

Everyone in my small hometown, my parents’ church, my family, and my school knew of my adoption except me. I feel betrayed and taken for granted. I’m a very different person post-discovery. I was happy with the person I was before my mom’s revelation. I have no explainable way to describe who I am sitting here now.

So many things make sense to me now; countless odd little experiences over the years that suddenly now appear crystal clear. One such memory from when I was ten years old. My sister had married an emotionally and physically abusive man. On more than one occasion while they were living with us in our parents’ home, he referred to me as “the living abortion.” Even this sorry excuse of a human being was privy to my personal adoption story – 30 years before that story was shared with me.

As time continues to pass, I occasionally remember more details from my childhood. I now understand comments made to me by bullies at school and on the bus so many years ago. The many remarks, innuendos, and peculiar things spoken to me, or overheard at church, family picnics, and around town seemed odd then. Today I see why I was never accepted or included in family plans, invited to join clubs or groups at school, and avoided at church.

Because of my late discovery, I now fully understand the phrase “life-changing event.” I haven’t been able to describe just *who* I am anymore. I have only two known blood relatives: our sons. I fear for their futures not having the privilege of knowing half of their heritage or family medical history.

The most positive experience that I’ve had since my discovery has been knowing the countless other adoptees and first-families I have met through the Adoptee Rights Protest, the NYS lobby team, adoptee Facebook users, first-family members and adoptees who attend my monthly support group meetings, and several members of various state legislatures who agree with our cause and who labor to restore our right to access our original birth certificates.

I currently volunteer as an activist for restoring adoptees’ access to our original birth certificates statewide with New York’s Unsealed Initiative Project and nationally with the Adoptee Rights Coalition. Also, I am a volunteer facilitator of monthly support group meetings with the Hillside Agency’s Adoption Resource Network in Rochester, New York.

Like most Americans, I had no idea that we adoptees are denied our equal rights until after my story unfolded. We each deserve to know who we are, just as each non-adopted adult is allowed to know.

Work Cited

Verrier, Nancy (April 1993). The Primal Wound: Understanding the Adopted Child. 1st Ed. Nancy Verrier Publisher.

The Bureau of Consular Affairs, U.S. Department of State [online].

http://travel.state.gov/passport/passport_1738.html  Retreived:August 21, 2011.

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Unknown – My 3 year update on being adopted

March 27, 2010

“UNKNOWN”

March 28, 2010 marks 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 naïve, 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 tête-à-tête. 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.