Tuesday, November 15, 2011


My biological paternal grandfather lived next door to me and my brothers for three years and paid no attention to us at all.  I have not a single memory of him.  The same grandfather, known for his piety and daily Bible reading, had eight grandchildren in the local county orphanage five miles from his residence.  He did not visit even one of them once.   
Shortly after I became a fostered child at the age of eight, I and three siblings were taken by our new foster parents to visit maternal grandparents some 300 miles away.  I rose early in the farmhouse on the first morning after we arrived and my new grandfather invited me to walk with him half a mile or so to milk his cow.  I tell about that first morning in Children of the Manse.
“We walked side by side along the unpaved county road in a fog so dense it seemed like we were the last two human beings on earth.  At first I could hear only the scrunch of gravel under the boots he called artics, but soon we were talking with each other.  His voice was friendly.  He asked me about my school work and what I liked to do.  He didn't talk a lot about himself.  He asked me question after question.  He seemed to be listening closely to what I was telling him.  Being with him was like being with Lonnie (my much loved biological father) because Grandpa Coulter seemed to be genuinely interested in me and that made me happy.  I decided I wanted this new grandfather to like me.”
                         The Difference in Grandfathers
What a difference in grandfathers!!!  My biological grandfather who lived next door to me and my brothers took on interest in us at all.  My foster grandfather showed interest in us from the day he first met us.    
The two men otherwise had much in common.  They both began their adult lives as rural school teachers.  Both had raised families of six children, boys and girls.  Both were avid readers and both had active minds.   But one paid no attention to his biological grandchildren at all.  The other engaged his foster grandchildren at once and he  listened to them.       
Sadly, Grandpa Coulter died four years later.  But something strange happened.  We were with him for only a month each summer for four summers and yet he became, in my mind and in the minds of my siblings, the most important adult in our lives other than our adoptive father and mother.
Why?  I think mostly because Grandpa Coulter took an interest in us.  He taught us how to sharpen a scythe with a whetstone and how to build an outdoor fire place with cement and rocks from the river and how to repair a fence to keep our rented pony from escaping.  He took us to work with him, one by one, in his 1937 brown Chevy and shared with us his favorite brown sugar sandwiches.  He took all four of us at once twice a week to a power house on his property that pumped three modest oil wells. 
While pumping the wells, he explained how the gas engine machinery worked, and gave us the whole history of the great “oil excitement” that took place when he was a boy and oil derricks were so thick they replaced forests of trees in Clarion County, Pennsylvania.  Titusville, where oil was first pumped with steam technology, was less than 100 miles north of his farm.  He talked about Colonel Drake, usually credited with the first productive oil well, as if he was a friend.  He took down from a shelf in his power house a treasure, a small bottle of oil from that well.  But most of all he who had so much to teach us also listened to us.  That’s how he became our true and forever grandfather.      

Thursday, November 3, 2011


I’m glad I was adopted.  I wasn’t always glad I was adopted.   I did not like feeling different from my school friends, especially in my teens. But as I became an adult and developed self-confidence, I did not mind being different.  And then, later, I began to see some advantages in being adopted.  I’ll discuss two of those advantages in this blog and return to this important theme later. 
More Opportunities to Learn  
The first reason I’m glad I was adopted is that adopted children have more opportunities to learn.  They will even add points to their I.Q. in their new adoptive homes.  This is because the socioeconomic status of adoptive families is higher than non-adoptive families and even higher than the families from which most adoptees come.  Adoptive parents are likely to be better educated, more successful in their professional lives, and to provide better role models for their children.  Adoptive parents are also more likely to create a stimulating environment for their children and give more support to their children’s education. 
There were no college graduates in my biological father’s eastern Kentucky family.  He himself quit school in the 4th grade.  My biological mother’s family was working class.  She quit school to marry in the l0th grade.  The social workers who handled our case feared I and my three younger siblings would be overwhelmed in our new adoptive environment.  But we thrived.   I was starved for books after two years in a county orphanage that had no books. One of my early impressions in my new adoptive home was the presence of books everywhere, on open shelves, behind glass cases, on tables, in boxes, and on desks.  My new home was two blocks from a university; we attended a university-sponsored elementary school, were read to most days, and were taken to concerts and given all the cultural advantages a small university town in southern Ohio could offer.
                          Intelligence and How to Get It
Richard E. Nisbett, Distinguished University Professor at Michigan in his 2009 book, Intelligence and How to Get It, concludes that being adopted adds 14 points on average to a child’s I.Q.  Those adopted into middle class families gain 16 points and those adopted into upper middle class families, 20 points. 
If Nisbett is right, I and my three siblings were 20 point winners.  The result is that three of us have college degrees and two of us earned graduate degrees.  My sister, whose IQ is equal to that of her brothers, did not finish college (it was the l950s!) only because she decided to marry instead.  Of our nine children, eight are college grads with degrees from Wesleyan, Cornell, Tufts, and the Air Force Academy.  Six earned graduate and professional degrees from Georgetown, Virginia, Texas, and Ohio State.  
The Example of Steve Jobs
The second reason I am glad I am an adoptee is that we try harder.  Most of us grow up feeling different and because we know that we are different from the norm, we feel -- or are made to feel-- inferior.   Adoptees are outsiders.  They are evidence of failure, a falling short of what our culture thinks is supposed to be.  They don’t quite belong. 
So to prove our worth, like Avis we try harder.  The result is that adoptees are often high achievers.  The incredible history of Steve Jobs is only the latest case in point.  I don’t wish to presume to analyze a complex and gifted man, but I’ll bet that at least some of the amazing Jobs focus and fierce drive came from the perception of himself as an adoptee who felt (or had been made to feel) different and  therefore, in the minds of some, inferior.  Feeling different is OK.  But being made to feel inferior is not OK.  My point is that many adoptees, probably including Steve Jobs, feel they have something to prove to the mainstream of American society.   Their worth.   
Steve Jobs had other qualities I admire.  He kept his private life private.  He refused to become a celebrity in an insanely celebrity-focused popular culture.  He spoke highly of his adoptive parents.  While he did form a bond with his biological sister, he did not seek relationships with his biological parents, insisting the parents who raised him through the years and loved him were his true mother and father.  That is not a reality many Americans are yet ready to accept, including some adoptees who argue that you cannot possibly be a whole human being without forming bonds with your biological family.  I especially liked that Jobs said he hoped he could be as good a father for his children as his adoptive father had been for him.  That’s the way I feel about my adoptive mother.
 Steve Jobs is not alone as a high achiever who happens to have been adopted.  So was the founder of Wendy’s fast food chain. So is the founder of Domino’s Pizza.  And so is Larry Ellison, co-founder and CEO of Oracle.   And many others. 
There are other reasons I am glad I was adopted.  I will discuss those in future blogs.