Guest Blogger: Steve Harris, Adult Adoptee
I saw a story in USA Today about the two sisters who after 17 years found each other at a track meet in Washington, D.C. One of the sister’s was adopted and her mother told her the birth name she started life with, a move I totally applaud if the information is available. That story was very heart warming and took me back to my childhood when I would dream of having a big brother. I was adopted with an older sister Deborah. We have a great relationship but as a kid growing up I wanted a big brother, not knowing I had several brothers and sisters. This story is about one brother in particular and the strange story of how we became family.
Like most kids I was bullied from time to time and wished for a big brother to protect me, a big brother to tell me how to talk to women, and how to be cool. The D.C. sisters had a random meeting at a track meet and almost instantly knew they were siblings. My story is very different but just as satisfying.
It was 1976, the bi-centennial year when I moved to Chicago to continue my broadcasting career. Chicago was the one place I really wanted to work and live. Chicago had some of the best radio stations I’d ever heard when I could pick them up at night on my transistor radio. This was back in the days when AM radio was king and I was a young kid growing up in Cleveland listening to Chi-town stations’ WCFL and WLS. A year before I made a trip to the Chicago suburbs to visit a girlfriend and heard WJPC and I knew I had to work in that city and be a part of the radio magic.
Not long after I moved to the Windy City a high school friend of mine Michael Davis called to say he was moving to Chicago and needed a place to stay until he could find an apartment. He had been accepted in a high profile management training program with Sears and would start in a couple of weeks. It was Michael who would be the first link to me finding my roots.
Once Michael arrived in Chicago he met other Sears’ trainees and they started hanging out together. After a while, as Michael’s friend, I was invited to join the group and it gave me a good social escape where I didn’t have to talk shop as I did with my radio buddies.
One of the Sears trainees was a guy I knew from my hometown Cleveland named Clayton Hamilton. He and I went to the same church during our teenage years. Another guy from Cleveland was named Dan Malone. He was an interesting guy. He was married, seemed very settled and was something of a philosopher. He was also very friendly and we got along well.
I had no idea at the time but when I met Dan, I met my brother!!! Now the interesting thing is a few of the other guys in the group especially Clayton, and Michael, would comment on how much Dan and I looked alike. At first I didn’t even hear those whispers and when I did hear the comments dismissed them as being crazy, totally missing all the signs.
When Michael lived with me he complained about the fact that I kept the air conditioner on making the house cold. It was comfortable to me but Michael said he was freezing. Dan had the same trait. He keeps things cool too, and they called us both polar bears. Still I didn’t put it together and thought it was just another coincidence.
From 1976 until 1981 when I left Chicago for Houston I would hang out with Dan from time to time usually with Michael. After leaving Chicago I basically kept in touch with Dan through Michael who had become my best friend.
Fast forward to February 1986. I’m living in Cincinnati, still in radio, married with one son and deep into my search for my birth family. I’d been focused on finding my birth mom who I’d fantasized about since my childhood.
It was a Saturday night and with my wife’s help I had in my possession the phone number of my birth mom. It took a few minutes trying to compose myself and get the nerves out of my system before I could make the call. What if she hangs up on me? Or says she doesn’t want to see me? Or says don’t disturb her life? What will I do then?
I had read about successful reunions between adopted children and their birth parents and I also saw accounts of birth parents who wanted nothing to do with their children. There was only one way to find out. Make that call which I finally did and heard a birth mom who was excited, happy, shocked, and thrilled to talk to me.
Our connection was fast and solid. We talked for hours that first time as I tried to learn everything I could to about my roots. I learned my birthfather and birthmother were never married and had only one child together and that was me. Both had other children from other relationships. My birth mom had been able to keep up with my sister and me through some friends she knew who went to our church in Cleveland. She knew I once lived in Chicago and told me I had a brother who lived there.
She then said my brother worked at Sears. I said “WOW, I know some people who work at Sears. She said my brother’s name was Dan. I said, “I know a Dan in Chicago who worked at Sears, what a coincidence. She then said, “His last name is Malone”. I said, “Isn’t that amazing, MY friends’ full name is Dan Malone”, thinking there must have been two Dan Malone’s at Sears and being oblivious to the obvious.
She then said “Dan Malone is your brother”. I said, “No he’s not. If he were my brother I would know”. She said “nope he’s your brother and asked me to describe him. I did and she said “Yes, I’m certain that’s your brother. As it began to sink it I realized I had the brother I had always wished for, but I didn’t know how to tell him. I mean one minute a guy is your friend you talk to from time to time. The next minute, he’s your brother.
It was pretty amazing, and in some ways overwhelming and it took me a minute to grasp it all. Plus, I wasn’t sure how Dan would react to the news. In fact I was pretty nervous about how he would feel. As an adoptee, I always braced myself for rejection and in this situation I felt it was very possible. I called on my friend Michael to help me with this dilemma.
I asked Michael what was the name of Dan’s father. He said he didn’t remember but if he heard he would know it. When I told Michael, his name was Cleo and I think Dan is my brother he excitedly said, “That’s it. Dan’s dad is named Cleo. I knew it, I always knew you two were brothers”. He talked about how he and Clayton talked about the possibilities of the Dan and me being related years ago.
When I told him of my fear of Dan’s reaction he said, “That’s silly, Dan will probably laugh”. Still, I couldn’t bring myself to call Dan so Michael did the honors. When he got the news, Dan laughed, just like Michael predicted and sent word through Michael “welcome to the family”, and with that I had my big brother.
Vanessa Williams has a line in her song, “Save the Best for Last”, that says ‘Sometimes the very thing you’re looking for is the one thing you can’t see. For years my brother had been right in front of me. And I couldn’t see it.
As bad as I wanted a brother I completely ignored Michael and Clayton suggestions that they believed Dan and I could be related. Now, because my birth mother opened my eyes, I could see the similarities not only in us but in our children. People talk about our mannerisms being the same and that we all have that “duck walk”, which I’m not sure how it looks but they say we have it and I’m not arguing.
It was another level of connection and kinship. It gave me more peace about who I am and I couldn’t ask for a better big brother. Smart, spiritual, and still wise, he’s not a man of many words but when he speaks it’s a good idea to listen. Plus, he can clown with the best of us.
Here’s a crazy twist. When I first moved to Chicago, I worked at WBMX-FM, a radio station with studios on the top floor of the Oak Park Arms Hotel. When Dan moved to Chicago he lived at the same Oak Park Arms Hotel for about a month. This of course, was before Michael introduced us. We probably rode that shaky Oak Park Arms elevator once or twice together without knowing it.
For the really surreal, without knowing it or discussing it, we both gave our first born children African names. His first child a girl was named Adeia, and my first child a boy was named Adom which means “help from God”. When you think about it, that’s pretty remarkable.
Today, I’m back in Cincinnati and Dan’s son just moved here to start a new job and he’s staying with me until he gets his own apartment. That’s what you do when your family.