Tag Archives: Adoptive Parents

a crazy little story

jared-rice-388260-unsplash“Oriental Express.” The words leapt out at me in dark green letters as I tore away at the wrapping paper. There was some “oriental-like” design in the background in pink, yellow, and purple. I stared at the license plate in my hands in horror. It was Christmas morning, 1980. Across the way, my dad sat in his favorite recliner, a broad smile lit the corners of his whiskered face. He was clearly pleased with himself. I was a high school freshman. I don’t recall what exactly I said in response to the gift, but I distinctly remember the embarrassment and confusion of it all. The pained expression on my face, I’m sure made it just as confusing for my dad. He thought that the personalized license plate specially ordered just for me was something his adopted daughter would love and appreciate, but just the opposite occurred. It was like a punch to my gut, a painful reminder of my differentness. There was no way in hell I was putting that on my car. All I truly wanted was to be and look like everyone else around me. Neither my dad nor mom understood the internal struggle that tore me up inside – a conflicted self, confused, shamed by my appearance, but even further, a suffocating separateness that was like a heavy cloak. They had never heard of the terms, “adoption trauma,” “cultural identity,” or “birth heritage,” and really, back in the day, what adoptive parent had? Clearly, no one understood the implications of trauma and separation and loss on the development of an internationally adopted child. The license plate sat on my dresser collecting dust for a little while, but eventually I hid it. Who knows where it ended up or where it is now.

I am fifty-one years old, and yet this event is still so vividly etched in my mind. My struggle with identity has lessened dramatically since that time, yet at my core, I still struggle occasionally with those same misplaced feelings of inferiority. I’m just better at identifying them now and managing them in a healthier way. I tend to be an overachiever and perfectionist, which is exhausting. I think other adoptees have this same tendency to one degree or another. I feel and sense things more acutely than maybe the average person, say for example, rejection. As a result, I’m a people pleaser. I go out of my way to win people over, which is good and bad. I tend not to deal well with strong emotions like anger or conflict. It stirs up those same feelings of fear, insecurity, and distrust. In my work, I am constantly placed in those types of situations. Yet, I can pinpoint those uncomfortable feelings now and am not paralyzed by them. Though I still don’t like the presence of such strong emotions, I can sit with them when confronted. It’s not easy, and it takes me awhile to process them. It takes time to let any negative emotions go…I am not good at letting go…but I try, and I try to learn from the process so that I can grow.

Feeling grounded is super important to me. After dealing with conflict, I’m always off-balance and have to work at getting back into a more positive state of grounded-ness. Music, art journaling, and writing help tremendously as does yoga. The practice of yoga is so centering and helps me focus on connecting to my body. I highly recommend it. Perhaps I’m writing about this now because work over the last month has been especially challenging, and I am growing my clinical skills. Dealing with our line of work is “not for the faint of heart” as one of our directors shared.

I have grown to embrace my cultural heritage and identity, yet the struggle is never really over. I continue to work on accepting me just the way I am – making peace with myself, my appearance, my professional aspirations, right here in the moment. That’s probably why I love yoga so much. The practice promotes acceptance, which is truly not an easy task. I continue to struggle with perfectionism and overachieving in almost everything I do. I’m not great at self-care, or perhaps I just need more of it! Why can’t there be 3-day weekends?! And I’m constantly working on gratitude. My experiences have made me who I am, just like everybody else, and I accept that my parents were not able to help me with the things I struggled with the most. I have many regrets about our relationship and wish that I could have been more involved in their lives as they aged. Time is short. But I was still working on my own internal struggles. It was really selfish as I look back, but I didn’t know any better. My parents did the best they knew how. One thing they did do well was model generosity and care. And that is a tremendous gift. I can’t undo the past, yet in the future, I hope to get better at being okay with it. And I hope to get better at practicing generosity and care towards myself and others. It’s not for the faint of heart.

Photo by Jared Rice on Unsplash

 

 

a certain slant of adoption

Scribble black backgroundHello folks! It’s Sunday morning, the skies are gray in my lovely locale. Nevertheless, I’m enjoying the weekend, despite the clouds. It couldn’t have come sooner.

Today, I wanted to talk about adoption…well, duh. I have something more specific in mind. For the past 7 years, I’ve actively searched for and read blogs, books, scholarly research, adoptee group sites, birthmother sites, and adoptive parent sites seeking connection, knowledge, resources, and validation. There are as many views on adoption out there as the colors of the rainbow. As an international and transracial adoptee, my own perspective on adoption has evolved. I don’t think it uncommon for our views to change as we experience personal growth and for lack of a better term, mature. Adoptees have strong inclinations regarding adoption rooted in their own life experiences, and multiple factors shape those attitudes. I’ve spoken with adult adoptees who are not terribly interested in connecting to their cultural roots or birth heritage, nor searching for their birthfamilies. Perhaps there’s a glint of interest, but there is not yet a compelling enough reason or desire to follow it. There are other adoptees who speak strongly against international adoption and for reasons that are quite justified. International adoption has a jaded history, and there are countless adoptees who were adopted illegally, through unethical adoption practices – in some cases both the agency and adoptive parents were plainly aware of the falsification of information. These deplorable practices still occur around the world. There is evidence, and though the U.S. attempts to keep the public aware of these dark practices, they continue.

I have several friends who are adoptive parents and have adopted children internationally from China, India, Africa, Ethiopia, and Russia. They also have very strong opinions and attitudes about international adoption. Sometimes – maybe even frequently – my friends and I do not see eye to eye; nevertheless we remain friends. I strongly believe in family preservation and the support of services to keep children with their biological families. As an adopted person, I cannot see past that. And yet, we live in a world where adoption is still thriving, although in decline internationally. I feel conflicted at times because I have my own very strong attitudes about adoption and yet I am supportive of my friends and other adoptive parents, and that will not change. I am for the welfare of children whether adopted or not.

What I particularly struggle with across the landscape of adoption is judgment and how we judge one another based on our attitudes and opinions towards international adoption. I know that I am judged by others for what I believe and support. I don’t necesarrily like being judged; the word ‘judge’ itself is so harsh. And yet I also judge – it’s inevitable. We all do because it’s human nature. I have no control over what others think and say, but I can temper my own thoughts, words, and actions. I’ve gone through the gamut of emotions related to my own adoption/identity and international adoption in general, from curiosity and awe, to self-loathing and anger, to grief and loss and depression, to acceptance. Like so many adoptees, ignorance makes me angry. It’s complex. There’s a lot of ignorance surrounding international and transracial adoption – adoptive parents experience it, too, and people can say some really dumb things. Sometimes I laugh it off, and other times I get angry and vent to a trusted friend or another adoptee who gets it. There is healing and validation in sharing our experiences.

And what about birthmothers? Of all involved in the adoption ‘triangle,’ their voices and stories are the least heard. And yet, I am certain that they have also experienced trauma, separation, grief and loss, and judgment. We know that women throughout the world have been forced to ‘give up’ their children through coercion for generations (Australia, Brazil, etc). And their children were later adopted by families/individuals from other countries. Societies often judge unwed, single pregnant women who are then stigmatized and left with few options.

What to make of all of this? I will be judged by what I say and do. That’s life, and I can accept that, as painful as it may be. There are a lot of adoptees and other folks out there with some very strong voices and opinions about how things should be. What I won’t accept is bullying by others who believe that everyone should share the same attitude and carry out the same actions. That’s just unacceptable. Adoptees do not all share the same points of view. Similarly, adoptees, adoptive parents, and birthmothers have vastly different experiences. Sometimes what we see on the outside is not what’s on the inside. I realize that we may not always agree, but we can certainly respect one another and our own personal and matchless journeys. We can look for ways to inform others who have not walked in our shoes. I’m speaking as one adoptee to another – I hope to support you wherever you are in life and wherever life takes you. I do believe that collectively, we can make a difference.

forgiveness

On the way home from dropping my daughter off at school this morning, one of my favorite songs came on the radio, “Forgiveness,” by Matthew West. I was captivated because Matthew played it acoustically on guitar. For me, there’s nothing like an acoustic performance with just the artist’s voice and his instrument. As I listened to the song, a wave of grief struck me. I thought about a particularly painful time in my life. My adolescent years. I thought about my adoptive mom and the difficulties in our relationship when I was a teen. Our conflicts were rooted in a serious lack of understanding. We didn’t know how to work through our misunderstandings and differences. My mom also had an angry streak that scared me to death. She often lost control of her anger when upset or stressed.

One of the earliest memories I have of that anger is when I was in the first grade. I struggled with severe separation anxiety as a youngster. One day at school, like many others before, I had a stomachache and pleaded with my teacher to have my mom called. Mrs. Dent was the sweetest teacher, and I liked her very much, but I’m sure I was her most perplexing student. I watched as she whispered into the ear of another teacher, no doubt about me. The stomachaches had become somewhat of a routine. Finally, my mom was called and she came to pick me up from work. When we got home, she was very upset and disciplined me. I was so confused and cried for a long time. At that age, I had no idea what was going on inside– I just panicked everyday at school when she dropped me off. As I got older, the panic subsided, but the feelings of being a misfit and all alone never went away.

Somewhere during my teen years, everything changed. No longer was I the shy, docile and compliant child. I began rebelling against my mom’s authority and controlling nature. The friends that I wanted so much to fit in with, the “popular” crowd,” had parents that were much more lenient than mine. When I wanted to hang out with them late at night, my mom put her foot down. She could be very domineering and often made decisions for me that I hated, i.e., participating in the marching band at school, forbidding me from participating in clubs I was interested in, etc, etc.  I started drinking with my friends during my freshman year in high school. Drinking gave me a false sense of confidence. When my mom found a liquor bottle at the bottom of one of my bags, she was enraged. I often feared her erratic and angry reactions, which only fueled my resentment toward her.

I couldn’t wait for college and to move out of my parents’ home. It was liberating to get out from under my mom’s control and pretty much do whatever I wanted. I would purposely stay in the dorms during the holidays (although I’d show up for Thanksgiving or Christmas meals) because I didn’t want to be around Mom. After college graduation, I couldn’t wait to move out of Louisiana. I moved to Florida the following year.

When I moved, I knew that it hurt and worried both of my parents, especially my mom. My dad didn’t say a whole lot, but Mom made it clear that she didn’t approve. I know that it left a gaping hole  in her heart. Again, I purposely avoided going home for the holidays. At the same time, I  felt very conflicted inside, guilty for hurting both my parents. Getting away from home was more important to me at the time, however.

When I look back, I realize that the underlying cause of all the conflict stemmed from my struggle for identity. My adoptive parents were ill-equipped to help me face the social pressures of fitting in with my peers, racism, insecurity and acceptance. There was little communication between my parents and I about real issues. I knew that they loved me, but it was rarely expressed in words by any of us.

A turning point came after I became a Christian and had my own daughter. By then, my dad had passed away. I soon learned what it was like to work full-time, have a marriage and family, come home and cook dinner and try to keep a household together (my mom worked full-time as a registered nurse). I understand now what it’s like for your teen to make a remark or cop an attitude  that slices right through your heart. Somewhere along the line I realized that my adoptive parents did the best they could with very little knowledge or support on how to raise a transracially adopted kid. I understand the struggle that they must have felt, too, especially my mom, in the inability to reach me. I’ve come to understand that transracial adoption is challenging, and adoptive parents are faced with a difficult task.

Sometimes people ask me if I’m angry at my adoptive parents for telling me that I was Vietnamese and Japanese and then learning that I’m actually Taiwanese. I might have been 20 something years ago. Actually, I’m sorry that I can’t share with my parents what I’ve learned about myself and transracial adoption. I regret that I did not spend more time with them when they were still alive and that we never had the chance to resolve all the hurts. I know there was an unspoken forgiveness, but there are things that I wish that I’d expressed to my parents that I did not, most of all that I loved them.

As the song ended, I reminded myself of all the good and right things my adoptive parents did. As a mom and adult in mid-life, I see them in such a different way. I remember their generosity, their love, their sacrifice, their desire to see me happy and successful. Despite that painful period, I have many happy memories of my family. I appreciate these lyrics from the song,”Forgiveness”:

It’ll clear the bitterness away
It can even set a prisoner free
There is no end to what it’s power can do
So, let it go and be amazed
By what you see through eyes of grace
The prisoner that it really frees is you

Forgiveness, Forgiveness
Forgiveness, Forgiveness

It took a long time for me to let go of the resentment I had towards my mom. I understand her more today than ever before, and I forgive her as I hope she did  me. Life is so short. I truly wish that I had realized that years ago.

To hear the amazing story behind the song, “Forgiveness,” by Matthew West, watch the video below. And have some Kleenex nearby!

a chance encounter

Carmen, her adoptive mom, Me, December 1967

Every once in awhile, I sift through the contents of the box that preserves my adoption papers. Recently, I came across something baffling: the papers of another little girl who was also adopted by a military family. Apparently, my parents knew the family in Okinawa. My father and the little girl’s father were both stationed at Kadena Air Force Base. The little girl’s name was Carmen. I vaguely remember hearing the name growing up, and in the recesses of my memory, recall an Asian girl who was older than me and very pretty. My mom put her school picture in a family photo album. I actually remember looking at her picture as a kid and wishing I looked more like her. Curiosity got the best of me, and soon, I found myself digging through the cramped quarters of our storage closet in search of that old photo album.

As I flipped through the pages of one particular album, two pictures caught my attention. I recognized myself – I couldn’t have been more than 2 years old – but who was the other little Asian girl and the white woman? There was no writing on the back of these photos, but something told me that the other little girl was Carmen and the woman in the picture was her adoptive mom. I speculated that my parents were Carmen’s godparents and that’s how her adoption papers ended up amidst my adoption stuff. Obviously, there was some connection.

Carmen, Scotty, Me. July, 1970.

I did more digging. I googled the name, “Carmen Marie Faulkenburg,” her “American” name. Her name appeared under mylife, which listed her location and age – 49, just a few years older than me. I was disappointed, however, that I couldn’t get any further information. I searched again and found a Scott Faulkenburg. I clicked on the Facebook link hoping to find info leading me to Carmen. What should I find as I scrolled through Scott’s Facebook friends but the name and picture of, “Carmen Faulkenburg Seitz,” Scott’s sister – an Asian woman! I knew it had to be her! I immediately emailed Scott explaining why I was contacting him in hopes he would respond and not think I was crazy. I’m happy to say that Scott contacted me four days ago letting me know that he passed my message on to Carmen!

That same evening, Carmen emailed me. Since then, we’ve talked on the phone twice trying to piece together the connection between our families and adoptions. Carmen has a southern drawl that reminds me so much of growing up in Louisiana. I laughed when Carmen told me that her brother  first announced, “I found your sister!” when initially forwarding my message to her. We may not be blood-relatives, but I certainly feel like I’ve found a long lost sister! I learned from Carmen that she was abandoned as a baby and left beside a set of railroad tracks in Taipei. She was taken in by a group of nuns at a Catholic organization, St. Benedict’s Home for Children, now a Catholic monastery. Carmen actually returned to Taiwan with her husband in 2008 and reconnected with the nun who signed her adoption contract. Carmen’s date of birth is unknown, but was presumed to be around 1962. She was adopted in 1965 by Clarence and Janice Marie Faulkenburg, just a year before my adoption. Carmen found out from her father that he and my father were close friends in Okinawa and made a verbal agreement stipulating my parents as Carmen’s godparents. My speculation was right! Carmen wrote, “from the stories that my dad told me about Colonel Buck, he was a very good man.”

The Faulkenburgs, July 1970

Later, I found an old letter addressed to the Faulkenburg’s from St. Benedict’s Home for Children. Why my parents had the letter, I’m not sure. Intrigued, I took the letter out and read it. It was written by a nun, Sister Glenore, O.S.B. (Order of St. Benedict). She was trying to confirm with the Faulkenburgs that my parents had finally adopted a child. My parents had evidently been on a waiting list of families hoping to adopt from St. Benedict’s, but found me first at The Family Planning Association of China. Sister Glenore thanked the Faulkenburgs, my parents and others who had contributed much needed necessities to the orphanage. After I found the letter, I remembered seeing other photos of an older Carmen in some of our family photo albums. Again, I started searching. Sure enough, I discovered pictures of Carmen, her younger brother, Scott, and her adoptive parents at our home on LaNell Street. Having matched faces with names, I now recognize the Faulkenburgs in an old black and white photo taken after my adoption. They are pictured with my sister, Lynn, my mom and I.

The Faulkenburgs on L, my sister, mom and me

It’s been exciting to connect with Carmen and to discover yet another little piece of my past. We are hoping to meet each other at the end of July when I’ll be traveling to Indiana, just across the border from Kentucky where Carmen lives. In the meantime, she is visiting her father in Indiana this weekend and, perhaps, will learn a little more about our adoptions. I’m thrilled that we have found each other and truly amazed that our paths have crossed once again, 40 something years later!

 

those shoes

My first pair of shoes. I found them in the box, the one my adoptive mom hid in the attic with the rest of my adoption stuff. They are so small. A few scuff marks are visible where creases have worn into the toes. Amazingly, the laces are still a pristine white. The shoes smell faintly of mustiness after all these years having been buried in an old attic for who knows how long. On the soles of each shoe, my mom wrote, “Mari, 1st Shoes, Taiwan.” My family and close friends back home in Louisiana called me Mari, except for my dad. He always called me by my full name.

I will never know for sure why my mom hid so many things about my adoption. I suspect that she was being protective. When she died, I truly believe that she felt she had unfinished business. I’ll tell you why. She appeared to me shortly after her death, during a music therapy workshop, of all places. I was in a training class, along with some of my classmates, for The Bonny Method of Guided Imagery and Music (GIM), which is a music-oriented exploration of consciousness intended to awaken a deeper understanding of self. Basically, it’s music-assisted psychotherapy.

During the training, we practiced facilitating sessions with each other, one student facilitating, the other playing the role of client. During my session, the imagery that emerged was of my adoptive mom and another unknown figure. I sensed that my adoptive mom wanted to tell me something important. I saw her face so clearly; it was how I remembered her before she got sick. Her eyes beamed radiantly at me the way they always did when she was happy. I felt such warmth and gentleness emanating from her presence and wanted so desperately to reach out to her. She was nudging me toward something, or someone. A figure appeared before me in the distance wearing a cloak similar to the one we all recognize from the fairy tale, Red Riding Hood, except, this cloak was dark. At first, I felt afraid. The figure was kind of creepy looking and ominous, and I wasn’t sure why it was there. It seemed to be waiting. As the music changed, the figure became less imposing, it took on the stature of a slender female figure. I noticed a pair of long gray gloves adorning her hands and forearms, like those long white gloves that women wore back in the 50’s. It slowly dawned on me that the figure was my birth mother. I’m not sure how I knew it was my birth mother, her face was hidden behind the hood of the cloak,  but I just knew it was her. What’s interesting to me is that before this experience, I had never consciously thought about my birth mother. Of course, I’d never met or seen her before either. At the time of the workshop, I didn’t know that she had passed away several years previous. My birth mother came closer and then embraced me. We stood like that for a long time. She was so elegant and lovely. She told me that she hadn’t wanted to give me up and that my musicality was a gift from her. She affirmed her love for me, not only through her words, but through an unspoken understanding. Much later when I reunited with my biological sisters in Taiwan, I learned that my birth mother loved and listened to classical music, which I also love and studied for many years, and that my biological father had placed me for adoption without telling her. So it was true, she hadn’t consented to relinquish me. She, nor my 2 biological sisters, had any idea what our father was up to.

The imagery was intensely vivid and powerful. I’ve never experienced anything quite like it before. It’s like you’re in a dream-like state, but are aware at all times of your surroundings and what’s going on around you. At the end of that session, I was sobbing and in quite a state of shock. That is the only contact I’ve ever had with my birth mother as an adult, in the subconscious recesses of my mind. We processed with the workshop facilitators afterwards, who assured me that many clients have reported similar spiritual experiences in which loved ones who have passed on appear during their sessions. Was it my way of working through my adoptive mother’s death and the loss of being separated from my birth mother, or was it somehow a real connection spiritually between me, both my adoptive and biological mothers? I struggled to believe the latter, that my two mothers had come back to visit me through some transcendent experience. But in the end, I came to accept it and believed it was true.

When I first found the shoes, I felt a deep pang of loss all over again. The loss of my mom, the loss of my dad, discussions I would never have about my adoption. A disparity between what I thought to be my true identity and the evidence that stated otherwise surfaced in a mere instant leaving me not only grief-stricken, but dumbfounded. Grieving leaves such a huge gaping hole in your heart, a heaviness that weighs down on you as though you’re suffocating. In addition to the grief, I struggled with feelings of guilt over my long absence from home as my mom became more and more demented from Alzheimer’s. Simultaneously, those moments of sifting through the items in that box were empowering. It was as though my mom was telling me it was OK for me to know about my past. I was in a daze for a long time after that discovery as the realization that I was not who I thought I was sunk in.

As I’ve gone back through all the photo albums my mom made, I’ve noticed those shoes in several pictures. My mom dressed me in them often. I found another pair of white shoes similar to my first pair, just a little bigger to accommodate my growing feet. Obviously, it was important for my mom to keep these items. She could have given them to Goodwill, or passed them on to my niece, but she didn’t. She had to have known that one day I’d find everything, my adoption contract, the shoes, the picture of her holding me in the orphanage, the diaper pins and baby shower cards. It pains me to imagine the relationship my mom and I could have had if she hadn’t gotten Alzheimer’s. Would we have been more open with each other? Would she have confessed that she’d hidden my adoption papers and eventually given them to me? Would I have become curious about my biological family on my own and questioned my adoption story without the discovery of  my adoption papers? Would I have had the desire to connect with my birth culture and search for my birth family, or would I have remained ignorant?

I’m glad my mom kept the shoes. I’ve had them setting out for a couple of weeks, wanting to write about them, but not really having the inspiration, or time. They bring back a flood of memories. They remind me of the shy little girl I once was and of a mostly happy childhood with my adoptive family before the turmoil of my teen years. They remind me of growing up in Louisiana. I’m not the least bit bitter or angry towards my deceased parents, adoptive nor biological. There are days when I still question, when I still want more answers, but mostly, I feel at peace knowing that I was loved by my adoptive parents and that they sacrificed in many ways to raise me as their own child. I realize that everything that’s occurred has made me who I am. I’m doing my best to accept what I cannot change about the past and striving to work through my sense of loss and the unknown answers to so many of my questions.

leap year

Leap years only come around every four years. When I was a kid, I didn’t quite understand the concept of leap year. It seemed like a special day though to hear all the adults talk about it. I never paid much attention to leap year until 2008. That’s the year my mom passed away- exactly on leap day, February 29th- after a horribly long battle with Alzheimer’s disease. The pictures above are how I like to remember my mom.

I found the two pictures on the left among hundreds of old black and whites stored in boxes at my parents’ house. It was just like my mom to keep everything, including every picture ever taken over the last two centuries. I noticed the Air Force pilot wings on her dress in the 2nd photo and thought that the picture must have been taken during the time of her first marriage. Her first husband was a pilot during WWII like my dad. Some of the pictures go all the way back to horse drawn carriages and turn of the century. I recognized my grandma and grandpa among many, and surprisingly, found pictures of my mom’s first husband and their two children, my half sister and brother. Mom was so young and beautiful. I gather that this was a difficult period in Mom’s life from reading some of her diary entries. She kept diaries for as long as I can remember. I was able to recover all of her diaries and started to read some of them, especially to find out what she’d written about my adoption – not a whole lot and not the kind of details I’d hoped for. After a while, it became too hard to read them, so I stopped.

When I remember mom, I recall her eyes and smile. Her eyes sparkled when she was happy. I loved when she was happy, when she was laughing and lighthearted. She was the life of the party when she was happy. When she was upset, it was like a storm unleashed in the house. She set the tone in our home, and I dreaded when her mood was stormy. When I went through those terrible teen years of mixed up identity and confusion, things were tense between us. As a mom now, I understand the kind of stress she was under. The loss of control and sense of helplessness she witnessed as her once shy and obedient daughter transformed into an overtly rebellious and selfish individual must have been more than she could bear.

When I got married, my husband and I were involved in a church group that did not encourage spending time with family unless they were members of the church. I know, really weird. It’s a long story, but as a result, I rarely made it back home to see my parents. My dad passed away shortly after I joined the church. I went back for the funeral, but ended up leaving sooner than I should have. In hindsight, I realize how insensitive and idiotic that was. I tried to call mom regularly after Dad’s death. My husband and I went back a couple of times to see her, but not nearly often enough.

Mom’s eyes always reminded me of the woman she was even towards the end. During the last stages when I’d go back home to visit, I’d sit by Mom’s bedside and look into her eyes intently, the only part of her still recognizable. There was nothing more than a vacant stare, the ability to recognize faces and even speak long past. It was the same woman’s eyes I’d looked into for years though. I had to believe that Mom was in there somewhere. I’ve heard it said over and over that Alzheimer’s is harder on the family members than the actual patient. Perhaps. It seems so cruel to witness the physical, mental, and emotional deterioration of someone who was once so vibrant. This year on February 29th marks the fourth year of Mom’s death. Another leap year. Although our relationship was difficult, I think had she lived longer, we would have become good friends. Deep down inside, my mom was a generous and loving woman who had her own demons to wrestle with. I never doubted her love for me.

Waiting patiently…

From the Child and Juvenile Adoption Information Center, New Taipei City, Taiwan, September 5th, 2011:

“…We received some information from the household system; it’s about your birth parents. As your blog mentioned, your birth parents passed away, your birth father was died in 2008, and your birth mother was died in 1998, we are deeply sorry about this information. About the member in your birth family, we now have some information but still need time to check if we do find the right person, please be patient for our following contact…”

I received the email very early in the morning AZ time. Anxious to get to my email to see if anything had come back from the agency in Taiwan, I turned on my computer and waited for the screen to upload. The agency had requested that I provide some information on my current life, why I wanted to find my birth family, what I would do in the event that my birth family could not be found, or refused contact with me, etc. I was happy to oblige and sent them as much information as I could without being too long-winded. I also sent them a link to my blog, which I didn’t really anticipate them reading.

At last the computer uploaded, and there waiting in my inbox was an email from Taiwan. I skimmed through it happy to hear from them. I fixated on the last paragraph, the one that spoke of my birth parents having passed away. My reaction took me completely by surprise. I felt a hollowness creep into my chest, a sadness that could only be described as loss. Although I knew that my birth parents were no longer living through a correspondence sent to me by, Tien, the caseworker who’s been helping me search for my birth family for over a year now, the news just hit me right between the ribs. Intuitively, I had always believed that they were no longer living. I never knew my birth parents; how could I feel such a deep sense of loss? I was in shock. All I could do was sit for awhile. I went upstairs to get ready for work. I let the tears come. I think that knowing the dates that my birth parents passed away somehow brought a kind of finality and realization that I would never ever know them. Questions popped into my mind. Did they ever think of me? I thought mostly of my birth mother. Did she grieve over the loss of putting me up for adoption? Until recently, this thought had never really crossed my mind. Do I look anything like her? How did my birth parents die? I hoped that it was peacefully. I also thought about my adoptive parents and felt an even greater loss in that they, too, are gone, my adoptive mom in 2008, and adoptive dad in 1993.

I spent the greater part of the morning at work thinking about my birth parents, wanting to take the time to sort through my feelings. I thought about calling in sick so that I could spend some time processing all that I had learned, but decided not to. I know that this is not the end. There was some indication of hope in the agency’s correspondence; they mentioned the possibility of having information on a certain member of my birth family, but needed more time to verify it. I don’t know how long this process will take, but I await to hear back from them whether it be sooner or later.

I haven’t thought about my birth parents lately, except for in writing this post. Life is always so busy. Work, family, school all keep me preoccupied. One day I’ll return to the news I received about them and let myself imagine what their lives may have been like. I hope that in the future I’ll have some of the answers to my questions about their lives. It seems only natural now to wonder and to want to know.

The agency sent back an email shortly after receiving my background information. They have read my blog, this very one and expressed that they understand why I want to reunite with my birth family. It’s now only a matter of time before learning something. Until then, I wait patiently…

my adoptive father

Flight Training Wendover, UT Photo Courtesy of Steve Whitby

Flight Training Wendover, UT Photo Courtesy of Steve Whitby

On an impulse last November 11th, I took my daughter and a friend to the Arizona Wing of the Commemorative Air Force Museum in Mesa, also known as Falcon Field. It was, after all, Veterans Day, and I just felt like doing something in memory of my dad. I knew he had a long career in the Air Force and flew a B-something or other during World War II, but didn’t know much else. My dad wasn’t much of a talker; he rarely spoke of the war and only if you asked him. Dad was a tall and slender man, patient, quick with a smile and loved sharing jokes. He was also easy-going and cool headed by nature. Those qualities were probably what made him such a good pilot during all those bombing missions across Europe. I felt closer to my dad than my adoptive mother because of his calm nature, even though we didn’t talk a whole lot. Though he may not have expressed many of his thoughts, I believe he was deep thinker. I worried about him often as a kid —- his age and health. My adoptive parents were older when they adopted me. Would he be around when I became a teenager, an adult? I kept all of these worries to myself though. What Dad didn’t express in words, he showed through giving me things, things that he thought would make me happy. On my 16th birthday, he surprised me with a car, a little tan Ford Mustang sedan. I loved it. One Christmas, he got me my own phone with my own phone number. It sat on my bedstand,  a green landline with the curly cord and push buttons. Mom told me that he was so proud of getting that phone.

I though about Dad all morning as we rushed to get ready to go to the museum. I didn’t want to miss the landing of a B-17 Flying Fortress called Sentimental Journey, which was on tour across the U.S. Unfortunately, the plane had already landed by the time we got there, but we were able to take a tour inside the plane. This was the closes I’d ever been to an actual World War II aircraft and, in a way, I felt connected to my dad. I was amazed at how confining the inside of the plane was – not too comfortable and very hard to walk around in. The ball turret located under the belly of the plane was an even smaller space. A gunner would sit in this tiny cramped space during combat missions. I imagined what it would have been like in freezing cold high altitude, shooting at the enemy in such tight quarters. Yikes! We continued to look at all the other military aircraft displayed in the hanger. It was an especially meaningful trip to me, as my dad never talked about his military past.

Dad on L, Hugh Caroll, Pilot on R, Photo Courtesy of Steve Whitby

Dad on L, Hugh Caroll, Pilot on R, Photo Courtesy of Steve Whitby

Later that evening, I got online to search, like many times before, for any information about my dad’s military history. Surprisingly, I stumbled across a link containing Dad’s name, Wendell Robert Buck. I immediately clicked on the link, which opened up to a Flickr page where dozens of his photos were displayed from World War II! I was stunned and, at the same time, elated to see so many pictures of my dad as a young man. In many of the pictures he was with others who appeared to be members of his flight crew. I had never seen such pictures before in my life. I went through each one wondering who the other guys were and wondering even more who posted the pictures. I found an email address and sent off a message to the poster inquiring about his connection to the pictures. Edward Valachovic, as it turns out, just happened to be the son of one of the crew members in most of the pictures, the bombardier. His dad, Paul Valachovic, and my dad were apparently very good friends during the war. Most of the pictures were taken in Europe where the crew was stationed at Halesworth, England. Later, I was to learn that Dad was a 2nd Lt. and co-pilot of their B-24 Liberator, which the pilot of the aircraft affectionately named “Rebel Gal.” He was a southern boy from North Carolina, and I thought what a cool name that was for a plane. I noticed a large painting on the side of the plane next to the name, “Rebel Gal,” and came to learn that it was called nose art. The crew flew together with the 489th Bomb Group, 845th Bomb Squadron, 8th Air Force during the European Theatre, January 1944 – August 1944 in 32 combat missions.

Edward referred me to a man who had conducted extensive research on my dad’s service during World War II. I could hardly wait to contact this person and had no idea who he was. He and Edward had corresponded on different occasions exchanging information about the crew of Rebel Gal. Little did I know that this person was a distant relative, Steve Whitby; his mom, Tarri, was my dad’s first cousin. Apparently, Tarri and my dad grew up together in Santa Rosa, California. Once I got in touch with Steve, there was so much to talk about! Steve’s mom had asked him to find out about Dad and his military service after my dad’s death. Steve had provided Edward with the pictures he posted on his Flickr page. Steve was also able to get a hold of of the bombardier’s (Paul Valachovic’s) personal diary during the war and had numerous pictures of my dad during WWII and his training before the war, pictures I’d never seen before. Through Paul’s diary and obtaining Dad’s military service records, he pieced together the story of my dad’s military history, including where he attended flight training and the kinds of planes Dad learned to fly in. Edward, meantime, encouraged me to call his Dad, Paul, who currently lives in upstate New York. What a dear, sweet man! Although his memory was a little patchy, he remembered my dad right away and told me what good buddies they had been. He told me of one particular mission where the crew was flying through some very heavy flak when a piece of shrapnel came through their plane missing my dad’s foot by inches. He laughed and said Dad promised to start going to church with him right after that! Steve continued to send me more pictures of dad during World War II and of his childhood on the farm where he was raised in Santa Rosa. Suddenly many of the missing pieces of my dad’s military history I’d been searching for through the years came together.

Crew of Rebel Gal, Dad kneeling in center, photo courtesy of Steve Whitby

Crew of Rebel Gal, Dad kneeling in center, photo courtesy of Steve Whitby

In December 2009 right before Christmas, my family and I headed to Hemet, California where my distant relative, Steve, lives. We stayed with him for an entire weekend looking at old pictures of his mom, Tarri, and my dad and their families together as kids on the farm. Steve gave me a copy of the booklet he put together on my dad. It was more than I could have asked for. The entries from Paul’s diary described the many combat missions the original crew of Rebel Gal flew. This crew and the other crews who flew Rebel Gal later were a very lucky bunch of men. Steve told me that none of the crews who flew her were killed.

I’ve learned so much about my dad over the last several months. In addition to the booklet, Steve also compiled a CD of numerous pictures of Dad and his family. He also got a hold of an 8 mm film Paul had taken during their flight training and reformatted it to CD. The film was dated 1944. What struck me as I watched the CD was how young these men were and how affectionately they goofed around with each other. It was amazing to see my dad in that footage and to witness a time in his life that I knew so little about.

After the war, Dad was recalled back to military service to fly in the Berlin Airlift where he was stationed at Weisbaden AFB. He flew C-54’s from 1948 – 1949 as a pilot transporting much needed food and goods to the starving people of Germany after the war. According to Steve, this was the crowning glory of Dad’s military service, something he was very proud of. Both of my adoptive parents had big and generous hearts. When the airlift ended, Dad decided to stay in the Air Force. He later flew B-29s, B-47s and B-52’s until an aneurysm almost took his life in 1963. Unfortunately, he was never able to fly again after suffering the aneurysm due to physical disability. I know that must have been utterly devastating for my dad because he LOVED to fly. I understand now so clearly why he took me to see the Thunderbirds fly every year at Barksdale Air Force base. He absolutely loved to watch all of those aerial acrobatics. I used to cover my ears in fright as the jets sped overhead, the sound of their engines roaring thunderously through the sky!

Dad receiving Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) August 1944. Photo courtesy of Steve Whitby.

Dad receiving Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) August 1944. Photo courtesy of Steve Whitby.

After his tour of duty, Dad received the Distinguished Flying Cross and was cited for his “skill, coolness and courage in combat flight against enemy opposition.” He saved all of his medals and ribbons from the war and the Berlin Airlift in a shadowbox that was prominently displayed in our family room. Dad never bragged or talked about what he’d accomplished. I never knew that my dad was such a hero during World War II. I’m thankful to Steve for providing so much of what I didn’t know about his military history. How I wish I could talk to my dad about all that he did. If he were here now, I’d tell him how very proud I am of him.