I remember my sister once telling me that it didn’t matter who my biological father was. “At least you had a dad,” she said. “He’s the one who raised us all.” It did matter, though. “The Chief” was not a warm man, but he was particularly cold to me, the bastard child in the family equation. My mother treated me with equal parts of shame and hostility. Had I known as a child that I was the result of an affair MJ had, I might have been able to at least rationalize or understand the disparate treatment between me and my sisters, but my mother hedged the issue, made up stories, and didn’t actually admit to the truth until I was in my 30s. Even then, even on her deathbed, she refused to tell me who my father was. It is an unnecessary wound. One that would not exist but for someone else’s reluctance to tell the truth.
The only clue I have is a single picture of another child who looks almost exactly like I looked, and like my son looked when he was a toddler. I’ve carried this picture around for years, hoping that one day I might meet someone who was on the Navy base at Yokosuka, Japan in the late 50s and early 60s….who might have run in the same circles as my mother and stepfather did….who might be able to put a name to a child’s face and tell me who the father was. I know that MJ’s affair was with a friend of the Chief’s. I believe this child might belong to that friend.
Outside of that very faint hope, I have given up trying to find out more information. The two people who might have known are dead, and others are a mystery.
Today, though, I am watching a friend struggle with the labyrinth of deception that is her adoption. She was the second child of adoptive parents who lost their first to death. A few years after K. was adopted, the couple had a biological daughter. The disparate treatment of the two daughters really went beyond the pale. K. was not given the same advantages of orthodontics, clothes, lessons or love. Like me, she did not know why—he adoptive parents refused to tell her she was adopted until she was in her 30s—and K. internalized feelings of worthlessness, shame, and difference.
Once K. learned the truth, she went on a mission to find out more about her mother and the two brothers her mother had given up. She even went to Japan, where she was born, to gather original documents. She learned her mother’s name and birthdate, knew that she had left Japan and married a U.S. military member, and had another child, a boy. She hoped that her birth mother would want to at least meet her.
K. was too late, though. By the time she found a phone number, her birth mom was dying of cancer and the husband was insistent that K. had found the wrong person: K.’s mom was born in 1933. The husband insisted his wife was born in 1941. It was a lie, though. When her birth mom died a short time later, the death certificate listed the same name and birth date that K. had.
The happy part of this story is that K. found two of her three brothers and they have become close. The unnecessarily wounding part is that K. still doesn’t know much about her mother outside of her name. She has only one very old and grainy photo. Her wish to see her mother’s face remains unfulfilled, not because pictures don’t exist, but because painful lies carry on even after death. The man who married K.’s mother has decided to carry on the deception. It doesn’t appear he is doing so for any reason that might be construed as noble, such as wanting to preserve the dignity of his deceased wife, but simply because he doesn’t want to be bothered. Although he knows that this is all K. wants—a picture of her birth mother—he’d rather scan pictures of toilet bowls he’s installed on Facebook. It’s actually quite cruel. He knows who K. is, he knows they have FB friends in common, and he’s gone so far as to upload tourist pics that may or may not include K.’s mother. But he won’t talk to her, won’t tell her, won’t upload even one clear photo of the woman whose daughter is left longing.
I believe in adoption. I believe there are times when birth parents are not the best parents for a child. But I despise the lies that are too often involved, and the unnecessary wounds imposed by people who believe that adoptees (and other parent-deprived children) don’t deserve to know the truth. It bothers me when such people, who have absolutely no idea what it’s like to need truth as much as they need water, presume that the road to the truth ends when papers are signed between adults, or lies are agreed upon.
It bothers me when old military men (like my stepfather and K.’s adoptive father, as well as the man who married K.’s mother) don’t understand the cost of their or their fellow soldier’s overseas flings, particularly in a place like Japan, where Hapa (mixed breed) children are seen as a disgrace. In the late 50s and 60s it was not uncommon for Japanese women, particularly those involved in some trade meant to entertain the troops, to give their mixed children up to American couples. It’s likely they thought their babies would have a better life.
Some of the men, it seems to me, didn’t think much at all. Of the women they bedded, the children they left behind, or the ones they took home almost like souvenirs, with no thought for the future.
I am glad that more adoptions are open today and more adoptive parents are telling the truth. Children deserve at least that much.