Wouldn’t it be grand if painful childhood and adolescent memories could be tucked
away in a mental closet and never opened again? For me, and for other adult adoptees suffering from early “collateral damage”, I suspect that is not possible. I seem to be forever seeking clarity about the demons released when I was “transplanted.” My conclusion: dealing with the original wrenching—being separated from birthparents—is the work of a lifetime.
My grown son recently commented, “Mom, I don’t think we ever truly get over our childhood wounds.” He may be right. In my memoir The Goodbye Baby: A Diary about Adoption, I documented my own growing up adopted. Writing my story was helpful, but that was just the beginning.
Another resource in my pilgrimage was the Internet. Cyberspace is rich with adoption websites. The sites comprise a vast network of adoptees, adoptive parents, birthparents, people searching, families seeking to adopt. Look, and you will find an entire tribe of men and women, young and older, communicating about how adoption personally affected them.
What does it mean to have a father who was never there for you, an “original” dad who disappeared from your life?
Answers can be found in literature, for “Adoption” as a theme abounds. I recently finished the wonderful young adult novel Becoming Naomi León by Pam Muñoz Ryan (Scholastic, 2004), a heartwarming story of a young girl who overcomes obstacles, finds her voice, and connects with those most important to her. In particular, the book shows how finding ones father and getting in touch with ones roots provides direction and clarity.
Naomi León Outlaw, the plucky heroine of Becoming Naomi León is being raised by her great-grandmother. She wears “clothes that matched her great-grandma’s polyester wardrobe” (Ryan, p. 58) and feels like a misfit at school. When her birthmother Skyla, definitely not parent material, decides to take her back, Gram, little brother Owen and Naomi escape in the “Beluga” van to Mexico. There, they locate birthfather Santiago León. Santiago, a fabulous carver, is competing in La Noche de Rábanos (Night of the Radishes). Naomi is also a skilled carver, not of radishes but soap. Though she meets her father for just a short time, the two form a bond. He advises her to be brave and assures her of his love. For Naomi, it is a turning point.
When Naomi, Gram and Owen return to the United States, a judge rules in favor of the children staying with Gram. Naomi is transformed by connecting with her father and embracing her Mexican roots. The school librarian, one of her best adult friends, says “Before you were a mouse, but now you have the countenance of a lion.”
I was lucky enough to have a brief reunion with my birthfather. A few years before he died (at 83), we met and I was invited to travel with him to his birthplace in Abruzzo, Italy. During our two weeks in Italy I met my cousins, shared in the extended family’s daily life, and hiked the hills and valleys around San Martino. Like Naomi, I was able to get in touch with my cultural background.