Who Am I?

There are tens of thousands of adoptees across the globe who wonder where they came from, as in: who they came from? It’s about identity, and the questions are all but inevitable.

It is not a sure thing, though, that adoptees want to know the answers to their questions. I know many who’ve been adopted; I’ve talked about this with them.

I am, in fact, adopted too.  

Is it freeing to find out some or all of what you want to know about your birthparents, your genetic make-up, the culture you would have been raised in, the experiences of those who conceived you… of your forefathers and mothers before them? Their struggles, their successes? On the surface, it seems simple to me: yes, it would be freeing. But that’s just me.

There is nurture, and there is nature. The influence of nature on who we are cannot be overstated. The same holds true for nurture. Together, they make the whole… along with living and whom we love.

But origin – our root story is always there… somewhere.

I know adoptees who feel unconstrained by not knowing about the people who conceived them, or the circumstances. They are accepting of all that they know, and that is freeing for them. Is the past the past if you don’t know the past?

Should it matter? Being free or feeling free, after all, is in so many of its iterations… a state of mind. If you’re blessed, that is, and don’t have to worry about your next meal, are healthy, and have the ability to move around and make decisions for yourself.

So, just as it’s a choice to feel free, it’s a choice to know more about what shapes your identity. For those of us with some holes on that personal resume, filling them can tell us things we don’t want to know, or can’t accept. It is a tough choice. I think it’s courageous to look, and courageous not to look.

For me, knowledge has always been freeing, whether mundane or momentous.

Why did I have such broad shoulders? Why was I especially athletic?

Might I likely die young from a certain malady… and what would the cause be? Can I prevent it? Should I have children? Was I prone to addiction? Why do I cry so easily? Dream easily, too… and pursue them. Why? I wanted to know it all. I wanted to explore my tendencies, good and bad. Maybe I could be a better person.

And in the end, I knew this: I was certain it would be freeing for my birthparents if they knew I was okay. And liberating for me to somehow let them know.

I could not imagine never knowing what happened to a child of mine. So, I had to find my birthparents. It was not easy, not easy at all. My file was thin, but… I found them.

When my birthfather read a letter from me and my attorney/best friend (I remained unnamed, so he had the right to say he didn’t want to know me or of me), telling him we believed I was his son, he cried softly. His wife asked him what was wrong. My birthfather said: “I knew he’d find me. I knew if he was anything like me, he would find me.”

That was immensely freeing for me to know. It explained so much.

When I met my birthmother, she bought with her a teddy bear, the one she could never give me. And ‘dog tags’ with her social security number on them, so, as she said, “you’ll never lose me again.”

She was so small. I am so big, like my birthdad. I’ve been so fortunate, too, which is freeing by itself. So lucky to have been adopted by the best parents I could ever have hoped for; so lucky to learn about the man and woman who got me here in the first place.

What I felt then and feel now: the warmth of embrace. Feeling secure is feeling free, isn’t it?

My birthmother’s joy at knowing I was safe has never left me. She expresses it still, even 20 years later. Every time I see my birthfather, he gives me a giant, hard hug with those extremely broad shoulders.

Knowing they are not hurting anymore makes me want to sing – and trust me, I did not manage to inherit the singing gene my birthmother clearly has.

I have found half-siblings, too – at times I look in their eyes and see my own. It’s eerie and exhilarating both.

What ‘being free’ means is so very personal, as unique as each and every one of us. About seven billion people on this earth; about seven billion answers.

I encourage you to ask yourself, even if you tell no one your reply. You don’t have to be adopted to wonder who you are.

Perhaps there’s almost nothing more freeing than truly looking inside you, to see and understand and learn from what you find there. If that’s not identity, I don’t know what is.

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