Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Where do I come from? Nature vs. Nurture

As much as I put my life out on the Internet by having a blog, I rarely blog about things that are very personal to me.  I worry about hurting feelings, and I know that everything you put on the Internet can come back and bite you in the ass later.  The thing is though, that this is MY story and I'm going to own it, feelings be damned.

My mother and father divorced when I was a baby. I think she left him when I was around six months old.  Their relationship was volatile, abusive and crappy all around.  They shouldn't have been married to start with, and I wonder frequently if they fed off of each other's addictions and bad habits. I don't remember it, but my brother who is 2.5 years older than I am, does.  I remember seeing my biological father (let's just go for BF for brevity) only once when I was a child. My mom re-married when I was three.  I call him my Dad and I give him all props for raising me and helping me become the person I am today.

Every little girl has a dream that someone will take her away from her mundane existence and turn her into a pretty princess. Yeah, it's what Disney thrives on. Since I was raised on Disney, I always harbored these unrealistic hopes that my BF had actually gotten his life together, was married and that I would have a sister.  Yes, I wanted a sister damnit! I had the brother and he was a pain in the ass.  My mother was never coy about the fact that my biological father was abusive to her, never attempted to have anything to do with us, and had "issues."  I knew him through a singular picture that I saw once or twice as a child, and knew next to nothing about his family but I always wondered.

When I was sixteen, I begged my aunt and grandmother to let me meet my BF. I was sixteen, my home life was screwy, I was spending the summer out east where he lived and I wanted to know where I came from.  I knew I looked like my mother, not him, but there is that thing that every adopted child must go through. This quirk--did I inherit it? Can he roll his tongue? I can't (and apparently neither can he).  Does he have musical talents? I have insanely good pitch and my mother is tone deaf. What part of me came from him?  I think if you grow up with your biological parents, you miss these little things.  I saw my grandmother recently, after about a year, and I saw how her nose has a sharper triangular end like my mothers, but it has been blunted through the generations. Now the end of my nose is more rounded.  I see that she moves her body like my mother, makes the same faces like my mother and you wonder about the nature vs. nurture.

My aunt and grandmother helped facilitate my meeting my biological father that summer. This is something my mother will never forgive them for.  I'm still not sure how much of that dislike and distrust was already simmering under the surface of their 'relationship' and that this was just a handy excuse for her to cut off communication.  I refuse to feel guilty or apologize for meeting him. It was my time, I was able to make that decision and it should have been mine years before.

My aunt took me to meet him at a Barnes and Noble. I recognized him, not only from that picture, but because my brother does look so much like him, but life has been kinder to my brother.  BF was sporting a semi-mullet, and looked like the 80's never let go of him.  He smokes and it killed his teeth, he has scars on the back of his hands from putting cigarettes out on them.  Life...hasn't been kind to the guy.  His accent is thick, and he was kind to me.  We drove around, he took me into Boston one day, and for that summer he was very engaged.  He mentioned how he thought of me every year on my birthday...and then had the day wrong. Like I said...good intention, but the execution? Off.   I think that he really did want this opportunity to know us, and he does regret that he hadn't been a part of our life.  But, he also suffers from ADHD and depression which make it hard for him to cope with his own survival let alone attempting to carry on some sort of relationship with his kids who live hundreds of miles away.  

Over the summer I was able to meet my aunts and uncle, my grandmother and cousins.  When I saw my Aunt Linda, for the first time since I was a toddler, I recognized her. I could have picked her out of a crowd as being related to me. It was odd. I didn't get that with anyone else but her, and immediately liked her.  I don't regret that summer in part because my grandmother died a couple of days before Christmas that year and if I hadn't met her then, I never would have. My brother actually ended up going out to live with BF, but eventually came back home after some inevitable breakdown/blow up on BF's part.

Fast forward to now.  My brother has kept in touch with BF, but since I met him, and satiated my curiosity, didn't feel a burning desire to continue contact.  I had a life to live and college to attend.  I've sent him a few emails, but he doesn't respond much because he doesn't have much access to Internet.  The other night I was laying in bed, listening to my husband read  On a Pale Horse, and I got a text message...from him.  My brother gave him my phone number.  It didn't give me some adrenaline rush, it didn't annoy me, I felt almost nothing.  I owe this man nothing, and have gotten more or less that in response. I however have kept in touch with his sister Linda, and for Christmas she sent me pictures of when I was a toddler.  That...that meant more to me than anything else. Since I lived with my grandmother during this time, I didn't even know there were pictures of me.  Linda, I really like. Perhaps because she has a settled life, a wonderful son and a steady job. My BF is what I fear my brother turning into.  A brilliant artist without the social skills to do something with it. A wonderful brain but crippling depression that makes reaching his potential almost impossible, and a life I fear he has greatly wasted.

I thank my biological father for his ear for music and my Dad for teaching me how to play instruments and giving me an environment for learning them in.  I thank my BF for creating me and knowing that he didn't have what it took to be a dad.  I thank my Dad for being that man for me and my brother.  My desire to know my BF has never been about my Dad not being good enough. It's always been about a need to know where I came from, and a desire to better understand myself and my motivations.  I've been so lucky in my life, and so blessed.  Yes, I suffer from some of the same things that my BF and mother suffer from but since the environment that I grew up in was so radically different, I never turned to alcohol and drugs as a means to escape. I turned to books, and college.


  1. Go with your half-sister and dad didn't talk for years and after her son was born, they used his importance to reconnect and repair their relationship. From the POV of a child that was adopted, I would give up a lot to meet my birth parents/family and learn about nature vs nurture. I value what my adoptive family has taught me and offered me through the years. I was granted life because of them. There will always be questions...

    Go with how your heart feels, the decisions where you are at peace. Your inner voice knows the way. We are all here supporting you!
    - Juls, Sammy & Tiger

    1. Eileen,
      Since you seem pretty neutral with getting to/not to know your BF better I would recommend expanding the circle...his sister Linda seems like a good egg which lends me to believe maybe by knowing him better you will be introduced to more 'good eggs' on his side of the family you would otherwise miss out on meeting. From what I know of you it would also be a great loss to others if they miss out on meeting YOU! Good luck on whichever direction you choose to go and please tell the great Yanxed Jinx I said howdy.

      Rob G.

  2. Rob, since he's standing here with his mouth open chuckling @ the Yanxed Jinx thing...I think he knows what you're talking about. He says he 'ran out of rubber cement a long time ago.' I think you guys can figure that out ;).

    His sister and I have become pretty close, which is so fortunate. Through her, I've started to understand more about my family, not really through him.

    Julia--you are a rock star and I <3 you! I didn't know you were adopted. I love your take on the nature/nurture conversation. Squish an annoyed kitty for me!

  3. The Truth is that our biological father is one of those people who is simultaneously blessed with a near savant creative talent, and cursed with depression and a crippling lack of social skills. I get along very well with him because we have so much in common, both good and bad, and probably because I had an almost two year start on bonding with him over my sister.
    Unlike my sister, meeting him was a bit of a revelation, because I had really felt like the outsider in my own family, and meeting someone that was so obviously like me made everything finally fall into place. What's really interesting is that despite being raised without his influence, I ended up being just like him, with a few minor, but important, differences.
    He has his problems, but he really tries to be a good guy. If he had grown up in this day and age, things would have worked out quite differently for him and he would no doubt be happily creating away and probably rich from it.
    But he didn't, and it's shame. I have some of his artwork on my Facebook page(feel free to check it out) and you'll see why.
    Our Grandmother and aunt were responsible for me meeting him as well, and like Eileen, I refuse to apologize for it. I have always despised the animosity between my mother and the rest of her family, because I don't see them nearly in the same light as she does. Same goes for our biological father.
    But it's really interesting to see my sister's unique perspective on the whole thing.

  4. I have had the pleasure of knowing both your father and displeasure at times of knowing your mother. As much as I love her I hate her at times as well. She can be a meddlesom person who doesn't know when to stay out of other peoples lives but always and I mean always wants the best for them. I always wished things would be better for her and your dad but they were always like oil and water. She did what she had to but never should have cut him out of your lives. No matter what. Your grandmother kept her abusive ex-husband up on what was going on in our lives and he chose not to get involved. His loss. Now he is in my life and I love him for it. Keep trying with your father and always love the people who raised you.

  5. This is a very moving and honest post, Eileen. When you and your brother were teens, your mom often took inquires about how you and Shawn were doing as judgement about her mothering and was very prickly and defensive. I stopped asking after awhile and therefore lost knowing much about your life once we moved to CA and you to Indiana. Nice that we can now have a relationship that does not need to go through either one of your parents. Aunt Tina

  6. Ah Niece, you are a grownup! Having been there from the moment you arrived in Mass and thru your early years this was what I was hoping you'd come to.
    I do encourage you to respond to DF when he contacts you. He will never be Dad but he could become a friend.
    Having 'been there, done that' with my own father, I can tell you that my life is richer because I grew up and understood what Gram and he were against when I was a kid.
    I approached my relationship with him as an adult to adult and so far it's working.
    Keep in touch with anyone from that side of your family and continue to cherish your memories of them.
    Love You! Aunty K.


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