Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Rest of my DNA

When I was reunited with my birth-mother, some 19+ years ago, she told me who my birth-father was, and gave me enough information to find him, over 1000 miles away from me, within a few more months. I called him on the phone, and by my dropping my birth-mother’s name, he knew immediately who I was, and my connection to him.

Our relationship has been friendly, although I wouldn’t characterize it as ‘close’. Certainly, I don’t view him as having paid the same kind of ‘price’ for my existence as my birth-mother did. He had his fun, and the rest was up to her. And in fact, when her father sued him, to cover her medical expenses, he treated her pretty shabbily; and I’ll leave it at that. So, yeah – his role in my coming-to-be was somewhat less than ‘heroic’.

And, on a more ‘existential’ level, I wasn’t in the market for someone to fill the role of ‘father’ in my life. ‘Mother’ is a very earthy, physical relationship – I lived for nine months in my birth-mother’s womb, and drew my sustenance from her body. And, in the current day and age (although not to the same degree when I was conceived and born), her own choice brought me to the day of my birth, and into my life ‘on the outside’. But ‘father’ is a much more ‘relational’ role in a child’s life, and that role had long since been filled in my life. My history with mothers had been somewhat checkered, but my dad had been the one, solid constant in my life. So, when my birth-father started to relate to me like his ‘long-lost son’, I recoiled from that, just a bit. I wasn’t looking for ‘another father’; I was only looking for insight into where, and who, I’d come from. I was happy to know and relate to him as my birth-father, and to enjoy the obvious genetic connection that we share (he’s a Jeopardy! freak, just like me), but the role of ‘father’ was already filled. Which, I think, hurt him, but it is what it is. I regret that he was hurt, but I don’t know how I could have done it differently.

Along with my birth-father, I also found two half-sisters, my birth-father’s daughters by his first wife (my birth-mother, you may recall, had an adopted daughter, but no other ‘children of her womb’, who would have been ‘genetically’ related to me). And my relationships with my half-sisters have been one of the most pleasant surprises of the entire search/reunion phenomenon.

My birth-father gave me the names of my sisters, and told me how to get in touch with them. I called the older one (call her Martha) first; we had a real nice conversation. I think it amused her a great deal to learn about her father’s ‘wild oats’. She told me that, in her teens, her dad had gotten drunk and told her and her sister that they had a brother, but he didn’t know where the brother was. Which she’d never known what to think of, but now, it seemed, her dad’s drunken ramblings had been true.

Martha was planning to be in Michigan, visiting relatives, within a couple months, and so we planned for her to visit us while she was here. The day came, and she called us as she was leaving her relatives’ house, saying, “We’ll be there in about an hour.” Something about how she said it struck me as odd, and as I hung up the phone, I turned to Molly and said, “I think Martha is a lesbian.” It was nothing specific, just an impression from what she’d said, and something about how she’d said it.

Not in the least that we wouldn’t have wanted to meet her; she was (and is) my sister, and I am happy for our connection, regardless of anything else. Still, we had an hour to wrap our minds around the possibility. Which was probably merciful, because it’s hard to know what our response would have been if we’d been blind-sided. Because when Martha arrived, with her partner, Laura, it was clear that my impressions had been accurate. It wasn’t so much the short hair – I’ve known lots of very heterosexual women who wore their hair short – but the studded black-leather outfit she wore fairly shouted her, uh, sexual preference. And I had to smile wryly to myself, realizing that she was intent on finding out, right up front, what our attitude to her ‘leanings’ was gonna be.

We had a really nice visit. She remarked, on seeing my face, that her dad could hardly deny me if he wanted to. We took a walk around our neighborhood, and at one point, Martha, walking behind me, remarked, “You’re definitely one of us – you got no ass at all.” I’d never particularly been accustomed to women talking about my ass, but it gave me a certain warm feeling that my half-sister was pointing out the marks of our genetic related-ness. At one point, 1F, who was about eight or nine at the time, noticed that Martha and Laura were wearing matching rings, and she asked them, “Are you married?” While I tried to clap my hand over her mouth, Martha and Laura just laughed, and said no, they weren’t married.

We got together with Martha a couple more times in the years following that, but after a certain point, she moved away from the town where her father lived, to another state, several hundred miles away, and stopped responding to our letters or phone calls. I don’t know if, or how, we offended her, but she also cut off contact with her father and split up with Laura around the same time, so it was evidently a time of some turmoil in her life.

I called my other sister (call her Janet) a few weeks after I called Martha. She was a single mother of a son, who was between 2F and 3M in age. Our relationship was slower to warm up, but over time, it has become a very warm relationship. In all sorts of ways, right down to our favorite books, and that we both like to ride bicycles, we just ‘clicked’ with each other, in ways similar to what I’d experienced with my birth-mother. And her son was, in a lot of ways, more like me than my own kids were. Which I found very ironically amusing.

Janet came to visit us at our house once, which was again, a very nice visit, although it came to a rather abrupt end when 3M and 4M got into a fight, resulting in me having to take 4M to the emergency room, after he punched a window in proxy for his brother.

Janet and I still talk on the phone a couple times a year, and whenever we do, neither of us wants to put the phone down. There is just something delicious about the connection with a genetic sibling that you just ‘get’ on some intrinsic level.

So, that completes the picture of my birth-family, from my birth-father’s side. His family – hard-drinking Southerners, originally from Mississippi – could hardly be more diametrically different from my birth-mother’s family of staid, German-Lutheran farmers. A marriage between the two of them would have been difficult on multiple levels. So, on the whole, it’s probably God’s mercy that I was adopted. But it has been very rich to get a glimpse at where my DNA has been, and what kinds of people came together, which resulted in me.


lime said...

well you know i would find this a very interesting post.

i do know i have at 3 older half siblings out there somewhere. who knows about any younger ones? the blunt comments about your "assless" family resemblance really made me chuckle. wonder what sort of crazy comments like that i'd

interesting you could see how your birth parents being together would have been a disastrous union too.

thanks so much for sharing.

Cocotte said...

You have led a very interesting life, Desmond. I really enjoy reading about genetics and preferences (like jeopardy and the bike riding). Very cool stuff.

I don't have any sisters, but have recently connected with a female cousin (who is about 8 yrs younger than me) that I never got to know. It's fun to see how alike we are.

kindof_agirl said...

A very interesting life to say the least. It's unfortunate you've lost touch with Martha. I'm sure she has her reasons for whatever it is that has taken her away from family, but it must be difficult.

My BIL is adopted. All he knows is he's the child of an affair between a young woman and an older man. He's had absolutely no contact with his birth parents, who were never officially a couple, and has never once expressed interest in finding them. A few years ago, he was, quite honestly, deathly sick, and my sister, who'd just given birth to their first daughter not long before my BIL's diagnosis, begged him to try in the event their genetics, I guess, could help. BIL was quite angrily against it, regardless of his health. I guess it's whatever that makes us - at least those of you who have been adopted - happiest.

Sailor said...

Interesting to see how you can spot the similarities that I take for granted, just because I know my brothers and sister.

Nice that you had the chance to connect with them, even though you've lost Martha, I think it's cool.

flutterby said...

I imagine it would be really gratifying to make those genetic connections; seeing that there are spots in a relationship that DNA fills where time hasn't.

Thanks for sharing, Des.

Desmond Jones said...

Lime - Yeah, I figured you'd be interested in this one. And, I'm happy to share.

My half-sisters have two other half-sibs, from their mother's 1st marriage, who they grew up with, so I was less of a 'novelty' to them than they were to me.

I suppose the strongest indicator of how difficult (I stop short of saying 'disastrous', but it could well have been) a marriage between my birth-parents would have been is the simple fact that, once my existence was a confirmed fact, they both took a step back and said, "Marriage? I don't think so." And my birth-mother had to buck her parents' wishes to say that. So, yeah, all-in-all, I count myself fortunate to have been adopted.

Cocotte - Isn't 'an interesting life' part of some ancient Chinese curse? And I'll be darned if I know what I ever did to any ancient Chinese!

Glad you had a happy reunion with your cousin!

. . . Is that you, faDKoG?

I suppose there are as many reasons to search, or not, as there are adoptees; it's really, at its core, an intensely personal thing. I have a brother, also adopted, who has never expressed the least interest in meeting his birth-parents, even after knowing about my experience. And that's his prerogative.

And honestly, even before I decided to search, I was quite clear in my own mind, that my life was really OK not knowing my birth-parents, and it would continue to be OK, even if I never did. . .

Sailor - Yeah, it's hard to describe what it's like to meet, for the first time, someone who shares your DNA, because most people just have that 'for free', and have kinda taken it for granted. . .

Flutter - "spots. . . that DNA fills where time hasn't"

I like that.

I probably should be careful not to overstate the 'genetic connection'. There are definitely things where my upbringing formed me in ways very different from either of my birth-families (altho, all things considered, my Dad's family is really pretty similar to my birth-mother's). But, the 'genetic connection', when it manifests itself, is just very cool. . .

lime said...

well, it was indeed wise of your birth parents to recognize their incompatibility and take that step back. how different life would have been....

Desmond Jones said...

Lime - I'm not sure how much 'wisdom' had to do with it (it wasn't 'wisdom' that got them into the predicament in the first place, for sure). But, yeah. . . 'different', most definitely. . .