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Meeting my mother’s first son


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Russell E. Saltzman - published on 07/29/17

I do not know what I finally seek except that. I want to know me.

You know I’m adopted. It gets complicated after that.

Today, with my wife, I will wind my way south over Missouri’s twisty Highway 7 to Warsaw, Missouri, to meet the first son of my biological mother, Faye. I am Faye’s second son, eleven months younger than her first, my half-brother.

The search for Faye’s first son, such as it was, fell into place this mid-July. My birth aunt dug up some lost relatives. I got a text message telling me she had his phone number in hand and she had phoned him. She dropped the news that Faye and her step-brother Robert had made a baby, me, within a few months of his birth. There’s interesting news, do you think, coming from an aunt by marriage he hadn’t heard from since the mid-1990s.

My birth aunt was married to Faye’s late brother. My genealogically talented cousins (one in Texas and one in Arizona) first contacted her four years ago. She lives nearby and we met shortly afterward, shared a photo album of my birth family, ate supper together and had hardly spoken of it again. Strangely, I was actually content with that. Take this slow, I was thinking, and if it never happens, well, I’m good with that as well.

From age 21 I knew I had a half-brother lurking somewhere. The poor guy who is my half-brother got zapped with the news all on an afternoon. My awareness progressed at a more leisurely pace.

Twenty-one was the age when a Kansas adoptee could obtain an original birth certificate. That is how I discovered I had a half-brother. My certificate describes my birth as illegitimate but it also notes any previous live births of the mother. I cannot say which agitated me most, illegitimacy (a rather stark term even for 1967) or the completely unexpected existence of a brother, even if only half of one. I had many years knowing of him, a misty amorphous figure, but never about him. That will change, and in ways I cannot possibly imagine, change us both.

My adopted parents never hid the fact they adopted me or, when I was older, the fact my conception was between step-siblings. In my baby book my mother openly displayed the doctor’s telegram (the tweet and instant message of yesteryear) informing her of my arrival. “Come quick,” it read, “baby boy born this 9 a.m.” This telegram, by the way, was responsible for a lot of my confusion about the origin of babies when I was very young. Whatever the other kids were saying about storks or cabbage patches, and despite some crazy theory hinted at by my sixth grade girlfriend, I had documentary evidence: Babies came from Western Union.

After our aunt talked to him, he called me. I wasn’t ready for that; let him stay misty and amorphous a bit longer. I have read of meetings like these going from zero to hostile within seconds. My phone, happily, was turned off. But he left a, well, surprisingly friendly message. Still I brooded over it; shared it with my wife; dallied with it for an hour. Then I called him.

Now I’m going to see him, and he seems genuinely eager for the meeting. Honest, my feelings are a bit more reserved but I do wish to meet him. That’s Faye’s side of my adoption.

For reasons I’ve never fully explored, she is the one who always loomed largest in my imagination. So, like, who knew my birth father, Robert, might have other birth relatives of mine, hanging about: Another half-brother, a half-sister, and cousins too?

I said I was reserved. Yes. I already have a family, one that features seven children, a family history that is a part of us each, and we have buried loved ones. There are grandchildren (though not nearly enough), growing and rising within this family that is mine.

Now there’s another family, two? “Jeepers” wasn’t the first word that sprang to my mind as the implications sank in, but it’s the one I’ll use here.

There is among adoptees like me, children born and adopted in a period when all adoptions were closed and absolutely confidential, an inevitable sense of somehow being less than whole. There’s a missing something, a history with blanks. It does not matter how deeply they may feel and know the love of those who adopted them, they nonetheless search for their own origins. This is no disrespect, even less a repudiation of the families, the parents, who did adopt them, raised them, and gave them a family with a history. Yet some will search, some will not, but all will wonder.

I do not know what I finally seek except that. I want to know me.

“It’s the journey,” it is sometimes remarked, “not the destination.” Vapid nonsense is my reaction whenever I hear it. True journeys lead to a destination, however distant the march and whatever the turns it takes. The remark is sometimes attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, but he never said it. At best it is a minced version of something he did say:

“To finish the moment, to find the journey’s end in every step of the road, to live the greatest number of good hours, is wisdom.”

That journey’s end leads only to another, greater wisdom: “He predestined us to be adopted as sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.” (Eph 1:5)

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