Tuesday, May 15, 2012


When I retired and left a life spent mostly abroad as an American diplomat, I had the time to research my early history as a child abandoned to a county orphanage.  I set out to obtain my official social workers case file which I hoped would confirm and enrich the memories I had of that period in my life.  At the same time my younger sister was beginning to open up contacts with our biological family, in which I had less interest.  But she persuaded me to go with her to meet an uncle and aunt, an older brother and younger sister of our biological mother.  I agreed, mostly because I was grateful to Mary, the aunt, because she had helped me to begin to read at age four, a gift I have appreciated all my life. 
Published personal accounts of adoption seemed to me to be mostly about the unhappily adopted who had only been able to find a sense of belonging through reunions with their biological relatives.  That did not seem to fit my case at all.  But how could I be sure?  Perhaps I would also experience a dramatic and fulfilling sense of belonging through a reunion with Nate and Mary.  And if that happened, would the identity I had in part accepted and in part forged over the years of living as a Luchs crumble before the flesh and blood reality of a family whose genes I shared?  Who would I be then? 
So I was anxious about meeting these biological relatives.  If I belonged to these people biologically, did I have to think of myself as one of them after half a century living in a different family and culture?   I was almost sixty years old.  My sense of identity, which is linked to my sense of security, was hard won, primarily during my adolescent years.  I had absorbed the culture of my adoptive parents and had come to believe that our identities and fates need not be determined by our biological families.
My biological father spent most of his youth in prison and at one time, he, a brother and sister were all locked up by the state of Ohio.  Did that mean I or my brothers and sister had to repeat that sad history?   If so many of our personal characteristics are determined by our genes, why didn’t we have criminal records?  Why had none of us ever been arrested?  
We are freer than we often think.  Sure, the borders are set by biology.  We probably can't much change our IQs.  We are born with musical talent or we are not.    But I believe from my experience as an older adopted child that within those given limits, there exists a great zone of freedom and our identities and what we make of our lives is in considerable degree up to us.    
I had come to see the hard way how biological families can hurt us and keep us from developing our full potential.   I had to be freed from them to undo the damage they had done. When biological families abuse us instead of nurture us, when they seriously neglect our health and education and well being, we must be freed from them to make a new beginning.  Truly, I had to be separated from my biological families to become me. 
Well, you may be asking.  How did the breakfast meeting with your biological uncle go?  It was friendly and pleasant.  But as I said to my sister afterwards, I did not see…..a single similarity, odd as that may sound, nothing that resembled me.  He and I looked so unlike each other that I thought; if someone had randomly selected an older man off the streets and set him down to breakfast with me, the odds are he would look as much like me as this biological uncle.  It turned out that I and my siblings physically bore more resemblance to our biological father’s family. 

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