My Family Secrets

I am the child of an adoptee. I am also a birthmother. When I was pregnant and told my mom the plans I had for adoption she was not happy, to put it mildly. More about that later. My mother is technically an adoptee. She was adopted by her stepfather and he is, and has been since she was a small girl, her father. I once heard someone use a term for this type of adoptee but I cannot remember what it was. So while my mother fully knew her maternal biological family, her paternal biological family was somewhat of a mystery. She is lucky that she did get to grow up seeing people who looked like her but half of the pie was still missing. My mother had 3 siblings that were also adopted by their stepfather (same biological father) and 2 siblings that were the result of my adoptive (I only use the term to clarify for the purpose of this post) grandfather and grandmother’s marriage.

I do not remember when or how I learned that I had a biological grandfather out there that I knew nothing about. I didn’t really ask a lot of questions because I, somehow, got the impression that it wasn’t something you just talked about. As I’m sure that’s the impression my mother got, growing up, as well. As a teenager I was never really too curious about my biological grandfather (or birth-grandfather I guess you could say). Every once in a while I would wonder what he may look like or what he may have done with his life but nothing too pestering to make me ask questions or seek more answers. I do remember overhearing a phone conversation my mom was having with her sister one day. They had found a half sibling (and I only use THIS term for clarification as well) and were going to go meet him in the town they had spent the first few years of their childhood. I remember it being very exciting (while eavesdropping) but didn’t ask any questions about it later. It turns out that the half sibling they had “found” was raised believing that his grandmother was his mother and his birthmother was his sister. He, also, never knew his biological father (like my mom and her full siblings). This uncle of mine, whom I’ve never met and do not know where he is now, led a hard life. It is my hope and prayer that today he has overcome those demons and leads a normal life.

My mother had what one may call an “unknown open adoption” with some of her birthfamily. She found out later that my grandmother (her mom) would sometimes babysit the above mentioned half sibling. They would play together and had no idea that they were sister and brother. My grandmother also kept in contact with my mother’s birth-aunt (sister to her birthfather) and apparently had a close relationship with her for a while, giving updates about the kids. This was ended and one can only speculate why. My mother’s speculation has to do with the time period and her adoptive father not being too keen on the contact. Let me say this. I love my grandfather and my mother loves her Dad. The actions of those involved in this time period were done because no one knew any better. It doesn’t make things okay, but it does give a free pass for any “guilt” that may be placed on anyone involved. Any my birth-grandfather is mostly to blame for all of it.

My mother says she has a memory when she was about 15 years old of her mother telling her one day that her father (the one she had not known) had passed away. And that was that. No conversation about it, just the relaying of a message. My mother also remembers that whenever either one of her brothers were misbehaving her mom would say, “You are just like your dad!” (implying their birthfather)  Yes, my birth-grandfather was in trouble. A lot. Thinking about it I know why my grandmother said the things she did. She was probably terrified her sons would follow in his path. Still, I’m sure it hurt to hear those words. I’m also sure it conveyed to them that their biological father (whom they were a part of) was a very bad man. Logic would suggest that a child would also think that part of them is bad as well. Like I said, not a lot was known about stuff like this in the 60’s and 70’s.

I feel as if I’ve given a really horrible impression of my grandparents thus far. I need to give some background to go on with my story and, in order to do that, I am sticking with facts and memories handed down to me from my mother. I am sure each of her siblings has a different memory of how things went down as the brain is not perfect and memories are subjective. My grandmother was my favorite person in the whole world. She was a kind woman who would give you the shirt off your back if you needed it. She was a Godly woman but I never knew, or heard of, her to judge anyone. She was the matriarch and kept the family together. Her passing was felt like a tidal wave through my mom’s side of the family. Nothing was ever the same again. My adoptive grandfather also led a hard life. He grew up in Germany and ended up in the United States and became a very electrical craftsman. He was very much in love with my grandmother. In those times, marrying a woman that already had 4 kids and was divorced would be quite the scandal. He didn’t care. He loved her anyway and he married her and adopted her children. But, like so many of us, he brought his demons. Traumatic childhood memories and the fear of judgement from family back home in Germany. My mother and her 3 siblings were kept a secret from that family for years. Family portraits were taken to send back home but only with my mom’s 2 newest sisters. Eventually they were no longer a secret but the sting of that memory still lives on in my mother. She holds no grudge and, as a grown woman with grandkids of her own, understands why it happened, even if she contends that it was wrong and shouldn’t have.

So, time marched on, contact with the birthfamily was lost and my grandmother passed away very young. Any other information than what we’ve been able to dig up about my mother’s birthfamily went with her. I found myself a mother of pre-teens and suddenly a spiked interest in where I came from occurred. It was like a fire burning inside of me. I loved my grandfather but needed to know about the man who had passed on his genes to my mother and subsequently me and my children. I needed to know why he left, how he could leave, and I needed to know if he loved my mother. If I could find out he did then I could speculate that he would have probably loved me. I just needed to know. I started to ask my mom questions about things and learned that her desire to know more was strong as well. Stronger than mine. Over the months I learned just how much trauma had been inflicted on my mother from not knowing. She had one memory of her biological father and whenever she spoke of it she cried. He was saying goodbye. The sun was glaring bright and she couldn’t see his face. Just his outreached hands. That was it.  I was on a mission. We knew his name – Roger Dyer Kerr – and we had heard rumors about him. He had been stuck in a tree once and was featured in Time magazine, he had robbed banks, he was in the Air Force and traded intel to the Russians, he had became “saved” and married again, he had become a preacher and a gospel singer, he had written a book while in prison about his life. None of this could really be confirmed until I started to dig. My first hit was the Time magazine article.

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From there I was able to get names of family members and towns. I’m not sure exactly how I did it, but I was then looking at a church website staring at a name that I was sure was my mother’s cousin.  Off to Facebook I went. Within minutes I had found her and contacted her. It was pretty amazing. She knew of my mother and her siblings and her Uncle Roger had always spoken of them fondly and lovingly. Confirmation that my mother was thought of and loved. She was going to try to get more information from the only Aunt still living (Roger’s sibling).

In the meantime I decided to get an ancestry.com account and start digging. I learned so much about my mother’s family history. One thing I learned was so sad, though. I called my mother and told her that her biological father had not passed when she was 15 as she was told. He passed when I was 2 years old and she was 24 years old. She was so upset that those years had been lost. She thought he was dead and he hadn’t been. Regret, regret, regret. I am not saying my grandmother lied. I could never confirm that. I don’t think she would either. My theory is that she had heard it from someone and relayed the message. Still, the pain was there for my mother.

Getting to know her biological father through cousins (with very vivid memories of him) has been somewhat healing for my mother. A couple of years ago we even found his wife and got to hear him sing. His voice reminds me of Johnny Cash a little bit and now I know where my mother got her songbird voice, and subsequently my sister and daughter. I must have inherited my Dad’s vocals.

So, how does this all affect me? Well, in some minuscule way I know the yearning of an adoptee. Just a tiny bit. I also know that my mother’s emotional trauma affected her choices in life which, ultimately, affected my life and the choices I have made. If anyone is curious to know about my biological grandfather and exactly what did happen, you are free to read the transcribed short biographical story he wrote. My mother’s cousin so graciously copied it for us since there was only one copy to be had. Download the word document here: Roger_s Book  My grandmother, mother and her siblings are mentioned once in this version (my mother says there is another book somewhere, a longer one).

Excerpt: “I married a girl from my high school days at Brazil Senior High School. She was one the finest ladies that has ever been and still is! But I treated her like dirt! I broke her heart, cheated on her, would not support her as a man should, deprived my children of a real father.  I was not worth shooting. The smartest thing that good woman ever did was to ‘get shed of me.'”

My grandfather owned his actions. He knew he majorly messed up. This is healing as well.

The family secrets that I have discovered were not really secrets at all. Different people knew about different things but didn’t talk about it or share. But, it is the truth, no matter how ugly. It is my mom’s truth, it is my truth. It is where I come from and why I am who I am today. I know my mom would have given anything to have sat down with her biological father for just one hour and talk to him. Because of secrets she didn’t get the chance.

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