In science fiction stories, writers reshape the world in fantastic ways to entertain and provoke thought from the readers. Imagine, therefore, a world where every parent or set of parents had to save between $5000.00 and $20,000.00 before they could begin their search for a child. And to spice this very short story up, imagine that parents could not adopt children of their own race. The agency managing the process would do a criminal record check, financial statement and credit history check, review educational background of the prospective parents, and evaluate the ability of the parents to provide future care. The process might take anywhere from six months to five years, so parents would have to choose to stay committed to the process. After the child arrived in the home, the same agency would send a social worker to the home twice in three months to make sure the parents and child are adjusting well and everyone is happy and healthy. And most importantly, if the parents feel unable to care for the child, the child could be returned to the agency for placement in another home. There are only two parts of this story that are real fiction: the requirement for everyone to adopt, thus relinquishing their own birth child; and the requirement for everyone to adopt a child of a different race. Every other part of the process described above is what my parents went through to adopt me.
I was born in April of 1968 and adopted in May of that same year. My father was 33, my mother 27, and they had to prove their worthiness to be parents. Consider that phrase “prove their worthiness”. Worthiness was, and is, definable across a spectrum of values: financial stability, emotional maturity, commitment, and an understanding of the responsibility undertaken. In adoption, you have gatekeepers that determine whether or not you are fit to adopt a child. I’ve always had great respect for my parents, because they had to demonstrate their commitment to the process and they could have backed out at several places during that process, including after I was home with them. When, as a teenager, I came to understand their commitment, I was, and still am, in awe of them.
Adoption has defined my world view since I was seven years old. My parents told me about my adoption as soon as they thought I could understand the concept. They didn’t want me to experience a jarring surprise later in life and chose to make the adoption known as early as possible. There was no negative presentation of my birth parents, just a kind explanation that sometimes birth parents are unable to care for a child and they allow the child to go up for adoption in the hope that more capable parents can raise the child. It was not a case of not being loved, but a case of how care would be provided. Since some couples or individuals could not have children, but had the means and love to care for them, adoption was the bridge for both parties.
Picture: Philip's parents, Sue and Frank, 2004.
As I grew up, I knew that reasons for being put up for adoption could vary in directions not so positively presented by my parents, but the one true constant was their love and commitment to me. From them I learned and intuited what an awesome responsibility child rearing was, and would be, which is why I came to parenthood so late in my life. Parenting takes more than love; it takes resources and support networks, especially if you want to provide optimal growth opportunities for a child as opposed to just survival ones. Consider the best of anything that will touch your child: health care, education, and a safe living environment. Each of those facets of life is not guaranteed with money, but money certainly helps. Money may not buy happiness, but it can prevent certain kinds of misery and provide certain kinds of opportunities. Take education as the example. If you want to be able to choose from all the options of early education available, you will need to be able to afford $1200 to $1500 per month for high end private schooling in North Carolina. You may not choose private schooling, but you will be able to ’not’ choose it if you can afford this outlay of expense for education. If you do not have the income to afford private school - and scholarships are limited - then this option is not on the table for your child. I was well into my career, not at the demanding building stage, when I decided to have a child. Either my income alone or my partner’s could support the family and allow one of us to choose to stay home, should that choice be best. In our case it was, and I am staying home now. (See my previous article in TheeTalkinStick about being a stay at home father).
In 1999, I began my search for my birth parents and I found my birth mother in 2002. The search process varies from state to state. In my case, I had to call the Children’s Home Society and initiate the search. Then I had to wait to see if the case worker could locate my birth mother. The case worker was given the adoption file and had access to my birth mother’s social security number. I paid them $300.00 to start and complete the process. The hard part of the process is waiting; you can’t pay more to speed it up and you can’t complain if it takes years. They are the only ones who can see the original court records. By the third year, I was prepared to start using other resources such as hiring a private investigator, or petitioning the court, but luckily the case work had a breakthrough and located Susan.
She was married, living in Virginia -- where I was adopted -- and had no other children. We have formed a positive relationship. We usually speak a couple of times a month and visit when we can – usually a couple of times a year.
Picture: 2002, Philip and Susan (Philip's birth mother) meet.
Picture: Susan's (birth mother's) home in Virginia.
Not long after our meeting, we found my birth father who, coincidentally, also had no other children. I met him once but we were unable to connect.
Picture: Fred (left) is Philip's birth father at 14. Philip (right) at the age of 16.
My adoptive parents helped me in my search process as much as they could when I told them I would begin the search and have supported me throughout. Neither set of parents have met and they may not. Each side has asked if the other wants to meet, but neither side has said they want to initiate a meeting. I have no desire to either push or obstruct that event. As it turns out, my adoption was ’encouraged’ by my birth mother’s parents and had serious repercussions on my birth mother, wounds we have worked to heal, mostly with my telling her that my adoption was a great blessing to me because of the people who adopted me. The world at large often speaks of the importance of children, yet too often we see behavior that does not reflect such claims. I wonder what world we would have if every parent had to prove his or her worthiness to parent, if every birth had a trained third party available to check in with parents after birth, and if every child could go to parents consciously choosing to invite that child into their lives and provide the present and future care and guidance that child would need. I don’t think, somehow, that that world would look like the one we have.
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Written by Philip Young, PhD