Wednesday, December 28, 2011

THE GIFTS OF THE LUCHS


Those of you who have read my book know that I am the oldest of four siblings who survived abuse and serious neglect amidst terrible poverty followed by two years in a bleak county orphanage.  Then the miracle happened.  We were all adopted, ages 4-8, by a young clergyman and his wife in the college town of Athens, Ohio. 
Each year during Christmastide, the season of love and gifts, I look back in gratitude as I remember the gifts our adoptive parents gave the four of us.  A few years ago, when they died, I scribbled down a list of what the Luchs gave us.  The occasion was mom’s death and I began by asking, somewhat oddly, what we were owed from the division of their modest estate.  This was my answer.
What did they owe me or my siblings?  Nothing.  What is given early in our lives, as in any other investment, accumulates interest and grows as no later investment can.  The best that parents can give us (their love, their nurture and care) is given in the first years of our lives.  At the end of their lives, whether our parents leave us millions or a few thousand or nothing does not make that much difference.    
This is what the Luchs gave me and my siblings from our first years with them.  A safe home.  A loving home. The absence of the terrible fears we had lived with and that too many children must live with today.  They provided an environment in which the wounds of our first years could be mostly healed. 
More than that, they saw that we got wholesome meals and the best health care available.  They read to us, fed our interest in words and books and ideas. They were hopeful and positive models.  They affirmed life, took joy in life.  They made it possible for us to learn correct, well-spoken English. They taught us good manners. They insisted on discipline and taught us the value of honesty.  They took us to concerts, saw that we got music lessons, delighted in our progress and subjected their best friends to our childish recitals. 
As I recently reviewed the dozens of letters the four of us sent them through the years, two constant subjects emerged.  The first was money! Even though we all worked at various part-time jobs from our early teens we always seemed to need cash or loans until we had completed our educations and were on our own. 
The second subject was expressions of gratitude.  I found many in our letters over the years.  Here are some samples:

From me as I graduated from college:  “At 21 I see more than ever what a great thing you did for the four of us.  I realize more as I grow and mature what a gift you gave us.  I may not always act like I appreciate it, but down deep I do.”   

From my brother Mark while teaching choral music at St. Clairsville, Ohio before he returned to graduate school to study composition:   “If it hadn’t been for you and people like Miss Ward, Miss Dunham and all my other teachers....I don’t know where the four of us would have been today…four children who had two strikes against them when they started out in this life.”

From Michael: “I shall always think of Athens as the place where I first gained the knowledge that there were friendly people in this world whom you can count on to help you.  This was the beginning of life for me.  Naturally, you and mother were the best there was to have as parents.  Few people would dispute that.” 

From Janey: “God gave me the finest gift in the world, two wonderful people like you for parents.  I’ve never had more loyal friends than you and mom.  No matter what I did, you were always right behind to help me.  I love you and mommy very much and I will never be able to repay you what you have done for me and my brothers.  It is priceless.”  

Not all adoptions succeed as ours did, though studies show that 85% of them are viewed positively by adopting parents and by adoptees.  I and my siblings think adoption is a wonderful institution that gave us a new birth and a second chance in life.  It made all the difference. The next time you hear a negative adoption story, please think of the gifts of the Luchs. 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

ARE REUNIONS WITH BIOLOGICAL RELATIVES ALWAYS WISE?




Social and biological kinship; How do we know which is which or even which is more important?  Is it possible conventional families are more about social kinship than biological kinship?   Many of us make the assumption that the bonds and common behavioral patterns in good biological families are genetic.  We do not consider the possibility that some of those similarities that we think due to our genes could well be the result of many years of shared experience, especially shared emotional experience.   In my book Children of the Manse, I use the ties of marriage and the example of the Marines to make the point that non-biological relationships (the married are not normally biologically related to each other!) and the legendary brother bonds among Marines can be stronger than those between blood relations.     

Those of us who have lived with and remember our biological families, and are then adopted as older children into non-biological families, are able to compare the two.  I was eight years old when adopted with three younger siblings and had many memories of my biological relatives, most of them unhappy.  Once I felt safe and secure in my new family, I would not have welcomed the resumption of ties with biological relatives.  That was especially true after my adoptive mother loved me into opening my heart to a willingness to trust adults again.  In time she became my true and forever mother.  I had no interest in returning to a family that had wounded the four of us when we were very young. 
 
But two of my younger siblings, Janey and Michael, did not have memories of our biological family.  As adults they were influenced by the media’s presentation of reunions with biological mothers as wonderful, fulfilling events.  Michael’s therapist also favored such a meeting, perhaps influenced by one widely read writer on adoption issues who promoted the notion that adoptees could not possibly be whole human beings until they were united with their biological relatives and clan.

I advised against such a reunion, when Janey told me what she and Michael planned to do.  I said, without thinking,

“Don’t open doors you can’t close.” 

I was also concerned that such a reunion would hurt the feelings of the Luchs, who had given us so much.  But I was overseas at the time (I am a retired diplomat) and my counsel was ignored.

Rather than making Janey and Michael whole, the reunion turned out to be painful.    It isn’t pleasant to hear your biological mother spend most of the time during your first reunion blaming only your biological father.  Or hear her talk only about her second family and show no interest in learning about you and your children.  Or that she had never told the children of her second marriage that you exist.  That information was inadvertently disclosed many years later by an uncle. 

“It was all Me, Me, Me,” my sister later told me.  “She psychologically drove us out of the room.”   Michael left the luncheon table abruptly.  Janey followed Michael outside. 

“I had to get out of that room!” he explained.  “I’m so depressed.”

“So am I,” Janey said. 

Later Michael told me, “I wanted this woman to be interesting and there was no way I could make her interesting.” 

I am sure there are some happy reunions among those surrendered as infants who have lived for years with no knowledge of their biological relatives.  But, despite the way the media likes to present reunions with biological mothers, anecdotal evidence tells me most such events are disappointing.  And some are painful.    




Wednesday, December 21, 2011

STEVE JOBS, HERO AND FELLOW ADOPTEE

I don’t own an I-phone or an I-pod.  I am happy with my desktop computer which is not a Mac.  But I have for some time thought that Steve Jobs is a true hero that I would, in most respects, suggest my sons and grandchildren emulate.  We have too many false heroes in our society today who contribute little that is important or enduring.  Too many heroes that are the creation of publicists in Hollywood.  Too many immature and bad-acting celebrity athletes.  Too many drug addicted rock stars.  In brief, too many seriously flawed human beings we turn into celebrities in our popular culture.  
Much has been written recently about how Steve Jobs has made our lives better, how his imagination and drive have changed our world.   True enough in some degree. 
But I like his more modest impact of electronic technology on our lives:  “This stuff doesn’t change the world,” he said. “It really doesn’t.”   Which I take him to mean it does not change the fundamental human condition, which is also true.
Here are some of the reasons Steve Jobs is among my heroes:
----Because he had the courage to follow his vision.
----Because he was a true entrepreneur who created jobs and economic wealth for many.   
----Because he has added much to the positive side of our international trade balance.
----Because he proved that our ability to compete is sound and America’s future is still full of promise. 
Steve Jobs is also my hero because he was a mature human being.  I especially admire the manner in which he kept his private life private, mostly out of public view.  I only learned the day he died as did many others that Steve Jobs, like me, was an adoptee.  At the same time I learned that Jobs, also like me, had no interest in meeting his biological parents. He referred to his biological parents as his “sperm bank” and said that his adoptive parents were his parents 1000%.   That Jobs had no interest, with one important exception, in meeting with his “real family” just does not seem right to most Americans because most of us still believe that blood trumps the connections of the heart.  Adoptive relations, too many continue to think, cannot be as close or as intimate as biological relations.  The list of pejorative terms used over the decades to describe adoptive relations is long.  Among them are “legal fictions,” “unreal,”  “second best,”  “inferior.”  Twenty-five percent of Americans still believe it is more difficult to love a child that is not your own flesh and blood.  And nearly one third doubt that children can love adoptive parents as much as birth parents.  So we and the adoptive families we are a part of are not just different, which we certainly are.  Many Americans continue to see us as inferior to biological families, which we certainly are not.  I was old enough when adopted at the age of eight to have been attached to two members of my biological family, my father and a grandmother, and my experience is that my attachment to my adoptive mother became more powerful than any human relationship I had ever experienced before.     

The 70% of adoptees who show little interest in connecting with their biological relatives seem even odder to members of the adoptee search movement.  One leader of that movement claims that non-searchers, including Erik Erikson, the father of identity studies, are “repressed.”  In general she describes non-searchers as “less inquisitive, more passive and self-denigrating” than searchers.  What a bizarre and wrong-headed description of Steve Jobs!
I think we have to honor Steve Jobs by accepting as true exactly what he actually said, which is that his adoptive parents were the only real parents he had.  He even paid his adoptive father the ultimate compliment, saying that he wanted to be the father to his son that his adoptive father, Paul Jobs, had been for him.   When, near the end of Jobs’ life, his biological father publicly expressed an interest in a reunion, Jobs said:

“….I am not prepared, even if either of us was on our death beds, to pick up a phone to call him.” 

Though he did invite his biological mother to some events towards the end of his life, there is no evidence that they formed a close and loving relationship.   On the other hand, when 27 years old he connected with his biological sister, novelist Mona Simpson, of whom he said, “We’re family.  She is one of my best friends in the world.”  
The American bias for blood over heart is rather odd given our history as a nation. 
As a New Yorker commentary put it in l993:
“The United States might be said to have a special interest in the maintenance….of adoption: metaphorically, at least, adoption is what made America great, for America’s very nationhood is adoptive….and while we honor old ties, a substantial part of our very identity consist in the ability to transcend them with new ones….in the power that the heart has over blood.” 

            That’s it.  The power that the heart has over blood.  Love, not blood, is the most powerful reality in our human universe. That’s the way I see it and it is reasonable to think that’s the way Steve Jobs saw it.    



Wednesday, December 14, 2011

AS THE CHILD IS FED SO WILL SHE EAT


                                    AS THE CHILD IS FED SO WILL SHE EAT

We are reading a lot about obesity these days, especially and of most concern for our future, childhood obesity.  I owe normal weight without much effort and good health over a lifetime to the nutrition programs of my adoptive mother. 
Mom’s nutrition program was strict and specifically designed to restore the health of four children (me and my younger siblings) who had suffered neglect and abuse followed by two years in a county orphanage where the diet was mostly cheap carbohydrates and never included a fresh salad.   But much of her regime would be appropriate for any child today.  I describe some of that program in my book Children of the Manse.  Here is an excerpt:
“When it came to our health, our new parents spared no expense. On the other hand, carbonated soft drinks were never available in the manse. When we ate out, which we did rarely, hamburgers and French fries were not on “our” menu. Baloney sandwiches slathered with yellow mustard — the main course of school lunches at the children’s home — disappeared forever. The Luchs put baloney in the same category
as carbonated drinks and hamburgers and French fries. They were unhealthy and because they were unhealthy, they were not available.”  Yes, it was widely suspected in the l940s, seventy years ago, that many of what we now know as fast foods were unhealthy. 
The 1940s Department of Agriculture poster with the seven food groups was posted on our kitchen wall and we sometimes discussed it.  Mom’s health program was reinforced in a university sponsored elementary school I attended.  There we also discussed nutrition and the students, under adult guidance, took turns preparing a hot dish for lunch.  Over half a century later I sometimes make my favorite recipe from those days, a lima bean casserole.
I am an admirer of Warren Buffet but I wish he would sell the stock he has held for many years in Coca-cola.  Good investment?  Yes.  Good for the health of our nation?  No.   We have known for decades that sodas, especially in the Big Gulps that are drunk today, are not good for us.  As we grapple with obesity among our young, we will soon learn just how bad they are.    
A major emphasis of my adoptive mother’s diet for us was fresh fruits and vegetables.  A bowl for fruit in the kitchen was always full, mostly with oranges, bananas and apples.  Potato chips and other popular snacks were not available in the manse, but there was always a “relish” dish if we were hungry before dinner was served that included sliced carrots and celery and green peppers and, as a treat, ripe olives. 
Guess what my favorite snacks are today?  Fresh fruits and vegetables and a good salad of fresh vegetables I consider a necessary part of my every noon and evening meal.  I happen to live in the southern Willamette Valley of Oregon which grows a cornucopia of first quality organic produce of all kinds.  With the possible exception of France, I have never tasted better fresh vegetables anywhere.  If you want to hook your children on fresh vegetables, pay the extra to buy great tasting quality organic produce.  Their health over a lifetime is surely worth it. 
Well, you’re just lucky, you say?  Your good health is because of your genes.  Really?  I know of only two biological relatives amongst 25 or so that managed to live to the age of 80 and some, including my maternal grandmother, were obese.  It’s more likely I and my three siblings owe our normal weight without much effort and good health all through the years to my adoptive mother’s early nutrition program.  That program established food preferences and good habits that have lasted a lifetime.  We thank you, Mom!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

ARE REUNIONS WITH BIOLOGICAL RELATIVES ALWAYS A GOOD IDEA?ON

           

Social and biological kinship; How do we know which is which or even which is more important?  Is it possible conventional families are more about social kinship than biological kinship?   Many of us make the assumption that the bonds and common behavioral patterns in good biological families are genetic.  We do not consider the possibility that some of those similarities that we think due to our genes could well be the result of many years of shared experience, especially shared emotional experience.   In my book Children of the Manse, I use the ties of marriage and the example of the Marines to make the point that non-biological relationships (the married are not normally biologically related to each other!) and the legendary brother bonds among Marines can be stronger than those between blood relations.     

Those of us who have lived with and remember our biological families, and are then adopted as older children into non-biological families, are able to compare the two.  I was eight years old when adopted with three younger siblings and had many memories of my biological relatives, most of them unhappy.  Once I felt safe and secure in my new family, I would not have welcomed the resumption of ties with biological relatives.  That was especially true after my adoptive mother loved me into opening my heart to a willingness to trust adults again.  In time she became my true and forever mother.  I had no interest in resuming relations with a family that had wounded the four of us when we were very young. 
 
But two of my younger siblings, Janey and Michael, did not have memories of our biological family.  As adults they were influenced by the media’s presentation of reunions with biological mothers as wonderful, fulfilling events.  Michael’s therapist also favored such a meeting, perhaps influenced by one widely read writer on adoption issues who promoted the notion that adoptees could not possibly be whole human beings until they were united with their biological relatives and clan.

I advised against such a reunion, when Janey told me what she and Michael planned to do.  I said, without thinking,

“Don’t open doors you can’t close.” 

I was also concerned that such a reunion would hurt the feelings of the Luchs, who had given us so much.  But I was overseas at the time (I am a retired diplomat) and my counsel was ignored.

Rather than making Janey and Michael whole, the reunion turned out to be painful.    It isn’t pleasant to hear your biological mother spent most of the time during your first reunion blaming only your biological father.  Or hear her talk only about her second family and show no interest in learning about you and your children.  Or learn that she had never told the children of her second marriage that you exist.  That information was inadvertently disclosed many years later by an uncle. 

“It was all Me, Me, Me,” my sister later told me.  “She psychologically drove us out of the room.”   Michael left the luncheon table abruptly.  Janey followed Michael outside. 

“I had to get out of that room!” he explained.  “I’m so depressed.”

“So am I,” Janey said. 

Later Michael told me, “I wanted this woman to be interesting and there was no way I could make her interesting.” 

I am sure there are some fulfilling reunions among those surrendered as infants who have lived for years with no knowledge of their biological relatives.  But despite the way the media likes to present reunions with biological mothers, anecdotal evidence tells me many such events are disappointing.  And some are painful.