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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

"Dad" Reunions ( and what I learned about REUNION meeting my dad)

Maryland father finds his son after 35 years: After many false starts, DNA test leads to reunion,0,1793711.story

Father, daughter, find each other, in life and song

There is great truth and importance in these stories, dispelling myths how reunions between adoptee and first parents won't work...  I have my own reunion story with my dad Earl Bland in my memoir "One Small Sacrifice." I met my dad in 1996.

This is what I learned about REUNION:
  • After our first phone call, I wrote my dad a letter and explained what I knew about my adoption and gave details, like my date of birth, where I was born and what I knew from my adoption file. It gave him and his family time to process and adjust to my showing up in their life.
  • We made plans to see each other - later we'd talk on the phone, just the two of us. (Repeat after me: "We can't start over. We start here and now.") My dad and I began our lives together when we reunited in person for the first time.
  • Plan to meet. Schedule DNA tests if there is any doubt about paternity. Not sure at first, our DNA test said Earl and I were a 99.9% match. Hooray!
  • Expect to feel very overwhelmed at first. Reunion is not about rivalry but if you have siblings, expect their surprise (and maybe some jealousy, too). Avoid controversy and meet one-on-one, just you and your parent first. Later spend quality time with the entire first family (your siblings, their kids, your kids and all the relatives.) Don't rush into this one but take lots of pictures! Meet your siblings one at a time, too. It takes time and energy to get to know one another.
  • Watch your expectations, adoptees. Earl and I knew there was no way to go back to reverse the past or fix it. He did not apologize nor I didn't expect him to... My dad didn't ask me about my life or what I experienced being adopted. This might happen in your reunion, too. Plan your future together as time, money and distance will allow. Each and every reunion is unique. Share your story if and when you are asked.
  • Listen and be patient: that is what I did.  I had no idea how my dad spent his life but I knew it was going to take time to hear his story. I took copious notes!  My siblings and relatives shared much more than my dad and gave me tons of genealogy.
  • I knew my dad had no clue how hurt I was being adopted.  That was the truth for me. (Again, don't expect an apology.) I never expected he would fix my brokeness but hearing his voice the first time healed me in so many ways.  The fog I'd walked in started to disappear. Old illusions vanished. My grieving faded.
  • Depending on your adoptive family, only you the adoptee can determine if they can handle any news of your reunions.  I know just one adoptee who connected his mothers - now they are friends.  That takes some very strong loving women (and men) to make this happen. Many adoptees did share their reunion stories and it abruptly ended their relationship with the adoptive parents. Be sensitive and don't share details if they don't want to hear them. Many adoptive parents do not realize the importance of reunions in an adoptees life. It is up to the adoptee how to procceed and if you share the news. The risk of rejection by your adoptive family is a whole new chapter to reunion.
  • Last but not least, get counselling if you need to and early.  Spouses and friends may not be able to help you process all this. Go slow and be gentle with yourself but try and proceed with the reunion - since noone knows how much time you'll have to reconnect in this life.  In my reunion, I had a little over a year before Earl died. We made the best of our time. I knew he was very sick when we first met. Earl and I spoke often and I wrote letters and cards. When Earl became very ill and was hospitalized, I was updated by my family constantly. Sadly, I only met Earl once but I did attend his funeral and was listed as his daughter in his obituary.
Closed adoption advocates want us to believe secrecy is best and privacy was promised. That was not true in my experience at all. Yes, my mother Helen did not want to meet me but that was her choice, and I respected that. But ADOPTEES have TWO PARENTS. If one reunion fails, there is still hope we can meet someone else in our first family. It may be relatives - aunts, uncles or siblings. Never give up hope or your search! First, we have to permanently end closed adoptions - they do not serve the adoptee or their emotional and spiritual well-being. We must unseal adoption records and shine the light on the truth. We must demand Unconditional Access - so birthparents cannot withhold your original birth certificate or your adoption records.
I pray for each adoptee and natural parent to have a good reunion. There is good medicine and healing waiting for all of you.

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