The stated mission of my memoir The Goodbye Baby: A Diary about Adoption is to “let the past be the past.” In my concluding essays, I suggested that “bygones should be bygones.” Since the publication of The Goodbye Baby, I’ve had second thoughts about those “bygones.” In the case of understanding ones adoption, the “bygones” adage may not be entirely true. History has been coming back to me, and I’m seeing things differently.
During this bitter cold month of January, I’m thinking a lot about Giovanni Cecchini, my birth father. These are not comfortable thoughts, but rather regrets and self-recriminations. My birth father and I were never really together, as WWII was raging when I was a toddler. He was always out at sea, and the ill-fated marriage between Giovanni and my birth mother Velma was unraveling even as it was just beginning.
At age five, I was adopted by new parents. My adoptive father Richard, until his death a decade ago, was a major influence throughout my life. A professor of guidance and counseling at the University of Virginia, he was my advocate and hero. I worshipped him. Giovanni was a shadowy background player, someone I saw just a few times in my life
The occasions I saw that original Dad, I was so full of hurt and resentment that I blew it. After we’d made contact (I was 40; he was 75), I accompanied Giovanni to his birthplace, San Martino Sulla Marruccina, Abruzzo, Italy. We stayed with my aunt and third cousins, my own flesh and blood. I was thrilled to be in Italy, in the land of my father’s birth, and I was hoping that we could get to know each other. I expected him to be the father I’d always been missing. It became obvious that he was hoping to see the four-year-old little girl he’d left behind.
We were sitting one morning at the tiny kitchen table of Cousin Josephina and I asked, “What are your memories of my mother, of Velma?” Giovanni replied, “Well, to tell the truth, you kind of remind me of her.” Retreating into a curmudgeonly silence, he did not elaborate.
I took the remark as a slap in the face. I was hurt beyond words. Father/daughter interactions went downhill from there. The Italian cousins were delightful. It was wonderful meeting them, but the father I’d hoped to bond with eluded me. He put it this way. “Too much water under the bridge.” I did not see him after our trip to the old country and he passed away a few years later.
In retrospect, I would change that moment at the kitchen table in Abruzzi. I might have changed the subject, been more open and loving, transcended my “poor little me” attitude. And if only I had. In the case of these fragile reunions with birth parents, there may not be second chances. A saving grace is the relationship I have with Giovanni’s second wife Margaret. Family members, no matter how distant or difficult, are to be cherished.