Guest Blogger: Steve Harris, Program Director, Radio One Cincinnati and Adult Adoptee
When you’ve been raised with your birth-family, you can look in the mirror and see yourself pretty clearly. You not only see your features, but you see the people in your family your features are connected to.
You look at your eyes and you can see they are just like your Mom’s. Or, your ears are just like Uncle Jimmy’s. Your nose comes from Grandma and thanks to Daddy’s DNA, you have a receding hairline. So in a mirror you see both yourself and your family. You can see your entire identity in the mirror, unless you are adopted.
When you’re adopted and have no connection to your birth-family, you look in the mirror and the reflection can seem very fuzzy. There is nothing and no one to compare your features to. The kids at school used to tease me by saying that my eyes were slanted so I must be Asian (even though it was clear I was African-American). Unfortunately when you’re young and adopted, you wonder. “Do I have any Asian blood,” I’d ask myself. When you’re adopted, often times you just don’t know.
It’s tough when your identity isn’t clear. “Who am I,” was a question I asked repeatedly. “Why do I have a big butt, slanted eyes, and big feet?” The questions come and there is nowhere to go for an answer. Then there are the medical questions.
- How tall will I be when I grow up?
- Why do I have the sickle cell trait?
- Where do these allergies come from?
Let’s not even discuss the non-physical characteristics that are passed down from generation to generation. Simply put, when you’re adopted it often feels as though there is a “missing foundation” for who you are.
These are just some of the reasons that a search for my birth-family was so important for me. I had so many questions and very few answers. I sensed that my Mom and Dad wanted to help me find myself but they had very limited information about my birthmother and no information about my birthfather. I also sensed that my need to know caused them pain. I’ve been told that social workers during the time that I was adopted said things like, “If you love him enough, he won’t care about his birth family.” So as much as I tried to convince Mom and Dad I loved them, I know they were hurt by my decision to search; but I had to do it. I gambled that over time they would see I was not trying to replace them; I was trying to connect that guy I saw in the mirror to his roots.
My sister and I were adopted together by my parents but we had little in common physically. My sister was outspoken and I was introverted. We would look out for each other tenaciously, but when it came to my search I was on my own. My sister had little interest in finding her birth family.
I first connected with my birthmother and her family, and later my birthfather and his family. If you’ve seen the movie Antwone Fisher, you have an idea of what my homecoming was like with my birthmother. I got to see my birthmother, my brother and sisters, uncles, aunts, cousins, and a grandmother. Some of them looked like me and the resemblance was startling. My brother and I had the same build only he was in better shape. I could see that I got my eyes from my birthmother and that alone put a lot of questions to rest for me. It was also amazing to see how much my adopted sister (who didn’t come with me that day) was the spitting image of my birthmother. Their appearance, movements, gestures, and speaking styles were almost the same. I saw my birthmother move her legs when she was nervous in the exact same way I’d watched my sister do it throughout my life. I’d finally made my connection to my roots and had started to put some pieces of the puzzle together, but it was about to get a lot more interesting.
About a month after I met my birthmother, I met one of my aunts on my father’s side. I stopped by her home one Friday. My cousin answered the door and shrieked “He looks just like my Uncle” before letting me in the door. My Aunt came down and her first words were “you look just like your Daddy,”words that were music to my ears. They marveled at how much I looked like my birthfather and they couldn’t say it enough. It would be another six months before I would meet my birthfather, but I was beginning to find the peace I had hoped for when I started my search.
My birthfather lived in San Diego and I was in Cleveland at the time, and after a bumpy start we were starting to build a relationship. I was out in Los Angeles with my boss and work colleagues at a business convention and my birthfather drove up from San Diego. We were to meet after a breakfast meeting in the hotel restaurant with my general manager and promotion director (who I told about the impending meeting with my birthfather).
We were discussing the convention when Carolyn (the promotions director) stopped talking as if she had seen a ghost and just pointed behind me. I turned around and there was my birthfather. I turned around and there was ME. He was about 21 years older than me, but he was me. I was looking in the mirror and I saw myself. The image was becoming very clear.
I saw a man who looked just like me. We were built the same. He was a little taller, and a few pounds heavier, but he was me.
I spent the weekend with him, his wife and my younger sister. It was great to get to know him and learn about the rest of my roots. I was surprised to learn that he worked at the same radio station where I started my broadcasting career. It’s safe to say God has a sense of humor. There were a lot of differences in our personalities but there are a few things that are similar, like the care and concern we share for those who are less fortunate.
My birthfather passed away about four years ago. By then I had I had grown to love and respect him. I’m so glad I searched when I did, because I got to have some really good times with my birthfather and learn a lot about him (and in the process, me).
Now when I look in the mirror, I see my birthmother’s eyes and my birthfather’s face looking back at me. I know where my psoriasis and sickle cell trait come from. I’m a peace with the fact that my brothers, my sons and I all walk the same way. They call it the duck walk and I don’t know how we do it, I just know we all do it.
Today I look in the mirror and see a very clear picture of who I am. I’ve always known it was Mom and Dad that nurtured me and taught me to be the person I am today. Now, I also have the peace of mind that comes from knowing my roots and where I came from.