“Untitled” – Conclusion [Part 8 of 8]

Child adoption stories are like winding Texas Hill Country roads. To enjoy them fully, you have to start at the beginning, after you exit the interstate.

If you’ve been riding along with me since Part 1, congratulations and thank you! Thank you for sticking with this and for reading about this aspect of my story, which is neither less nor more exciting than your story or that of the person next to you.

Each of us has an eternity inside daily. We just need to give it oxygen.

If you haven’t been riding along, here’s your chance to begin at the beginning:

Read Part 1 HERE. 2 HERE.HERE. 4 HERE. 5 HERE. 6 HERE. And 7 HERE.

And as I confessed yesterday: I know I told you it was going to be nine parts. I screwed up the sections. It will be eight. Today’s it. Tomorrow I’ll probably go back to talking about tomatillos.

Some names and identifying details have been changed
to protect anonymity.

The other day, I was reflecting on what COVID has most clearly prevented Barbara and me from doing: creating memories together.

We have no shared in-person experiences together except for a 3-hour lunch one day and a two-hour brunch the next. To be clear: both wonderful. Days I wouldn’t trade for anything. But in mid-March when I was to see her again and go on a hike not far from her home, instead of discovering new things together along the trail we would have walked, we called off the visit, agreeing that the health risks outweighed the possible benefits, especially since her husband is older than she.

Since then we’ve been relegated to talking about family background, sharing photos, and the like. If there’s a silver lining to having to FaceTime only, it’s that we’ve been able to spend a lot of time literally face to face talking and laughing rather than doing activities that might be distracting. At least I rationalize it that way during a time when everyone has been going through the same thing.

I’ve come to know my biological father, his wife, my mother and her husband (my “stepfather”). Each is a thoroughly enjoyable person, and I’m proud to be associated with each. Between the two families, I have four half-siblings and have met one of them. (Of course, I am the oldest child on both biological sides, which gives me an honor shared by few and known by fewer.)

I’ve talked with Bob’s sister a number of times and have corresponded with Lindsey, my biological half-cousin on Bob’s side. Through Bob and Barbara and the genealogies they send me, my family tree on Ancestry.com is growing almost as many branches as my adopted family tree has, which I had traced back to the early 17th Century.

So: is the search worth the cost?

What of all of this? Does it always turn out the way my story has (so far)? Is it always advisable to search at all, and is it wise to search for more than fifty years, as I did?

If the end justifies the means, then in my case the answer is an unqualified yes. All the agonizing hours lying in bed wondering what she was like; the dreams of her that were more like nightmares upon waking; the conventional routes I pursued and crazy schemes I devised to find her (thankful I didn’t have to dress in brown UPS shorts); all the attempts and heartbreaking failures – those became mere vapor when I met my mother.

But what did this journey cost my wife, Karen? For nearly 25 years, she’d heard me complain about my fruitless attempts and watched me endlessly ponder what to do next. What time and attention did I divert from her to focus on a fantasy that may have remained so were it not for $59 and the internet?

What did this journey cost the two siblings who learned about me and have so far chosen not to meet me? What will it cost the other sibling who still doesn’t know about me? Or Barbara who, because of COVID, hasn’t been able to see her daughter to share the news in an appropriately safe and personal setting?

Something my adoption search and reunions have made undeniably clear is that my actions have profound consequences in others’ lives. And from what I hear from other adoptees, the outcome of my search has been ideal. Sometimes the newly established parent-child relationship is tense or even adversarial. Or the search concludes only for the adoptee to learn that the parent has passed away, leaving a blank avatar on the Ancestry family tree. In almost every case, reality doesn’t exceed expectations. In my case, which I have reason to believe is the exception, it did.

My advice to the adoptee who wants to search is this: don’t have expectations about the future, have gratitude for now. Don’t press forward so much; let go. Take each step intentionally, and balance your desire with responsibility toward others.

But ultimately: do it.

The truth is always better than any alternative.

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“Untitled” [Part 7 of 8]

Child adoption stories are like winding Texas Hill Country roads. To enjoy them fully, you have to start at the beginning.

So, first things first.

If you missed reading from the beginning of this series, you are encouraged — nay, exhorted — to go back and start with Part 1. If you start here with Part 7, I’ll look like a crappy writer, and you’ll go away very confused.

Neither of us wants that.

So if you’re in a rush, slow down. Skip work if you must. (Don’t tell your boss I told you to.)

And read Part 1 HERE. 2 HERE.HERE. 4 HERE. 5 HERE. And 6 HERE.

And… I know I told you it was going to be nine parts. I screwed up the sections. It will be eight. Final piece tomorrow!

Some names and identifying details have been changed
to protect anonymity.

[For now, my mother wishes to remain anonymous for family reasons.]

I met Barbara and Jim, her husband of 45 years, twice over the weekend of February 8-9, 2020. COVID prevented us from meeting a third time in mid-March when I was in their city again for work, and since then we’ve had only emails, phone calls and FaceTime.

We scheduled our first meeting by email. I hadn’t heard her voice before our lunch on February 8. I arrived at a golf course restaurant a half hour early to make sure I wasn’t late. As a career nonprofit fundraiser, I’ve had probably a thousand meetings at a restaurant, office or Starbucks, and I always arrive a little early, so that I don’t offend a potential donor. In more than two decades, I have never arrived a full 30 minutes early, even for the atypical handful of billionaires I’ve met. This wasn’t so much out of concern that I’d offend her, though that was true. It was more that I believed I might miss her if I was even five minutes late. Like she’d vanish.

Therefore I was the first to arrive and agreed for the hostess to go ahead and seat me at our table.

It was on a patio on a warm day. I looked around to take in all the details that I knew, correctly, I’d remember later. As I write this, I recall the putting green behind me, the warm touch of the sun, the chatter at adjacent tables on this Saturday. A standing propane heater repelled what little late winter breeze there was.

Before long, a blonde lady in a black blouse followed by a tall man in a sport coat – both of them quite distinguished-looking — emerged from the main building about forty feet away and started walking toward the table.

I can’t remember the very first words she and I spoke, if there were any, but after a hug, she stood back, twirled in place and said, “Well, now you’ve seen all of me!” And she laughed. If there’s one thing we can’t imagine about a stranger nor do we expect its rightful centrality, it’s their laugh. We imagine their look, their personality, their political or religious views, even how their voice might sound, but we never consider what it’s like when they laugh. At least I didn’t. Her laugh, which I enjoy as much during FaceTime calls now as I did in person, was the thing that perhaps made her more real than anything, even more real than how she looked, which had been the thing I’d been most curious about until that moment. Our laugh is a public declaration of how comfortable we feel in our body.

It’s not a stretch to wonder, though it’s bandied about so casually, “How might God sound when laughing?” Perhaps this is the deep mystery we all long to have answered. One we cannot solve ourselves.

As we ate lunch, she elaborated on her initial email to me. It had said that she was young, just starting college, had met a “very nice boy,” and got pregnant at a time when “society looked askance” on a single “girl” in this situation. With the support of her loving parents, she had written, and everyone in agreement that this was best, especially for the baby, she went to a home for unwed mothers. Jim had known from the beginning of their marriage about her secret. Over lunch, I now heard how hard it was when she learned she was pregnant. She couldn’t tell anyone. But she had a friend who’d been through this not long before, and this friend came alongside her and supported her during those early days. Even the more intimate parts of the adoption agency’s document I’d received in my 20’s had no real dimension to what she was describing about her life. I was getting to know her.

During the course of that first meal, we of course discussed how the internet connected us. She had intentionally avoided using one of the handful of DNA testing services because, she said not looking directly at me but with a somewhat quiet laugh, “I was worried you’d find me.” She didn’t need to explain. I immediately knew why she had had that concern and how it wasn’t her fault nor mine. American society in the ‘60’s and often even now shames unwed mothers. The same society not only doesn’t shame the man involved, but it often puts a feather in his cap. Her admission only made me more empathic. She was becoming more real by the minute.

As she recounted the months leading up to my birth, the day of my birth (when she corrected that important mistake in my agency document about being held by her), and her emotions in May 1963, her sapphire blue eyes grew misty and her voice shook. She found it hard to continue. Jim leaned over and gently touched her forearm. “Next time,” he said, “next time.”

In her first email to me, she had written, “When I received your letter with your loving message, it was like opening a door that I have kept closed for 56 years.” Jim had encouraged her to “keep the door open” about meeting me. Our lunch carried different emotional tones for each of us. She had felt shame at becoming pregnant; I had felt empty at being adopted. She had closed a door; I kept trying to open it. Meeting me required her to confront her secret; meeting her was a realization of my frequent and most significant life’s dream.

When it was time to say goodbye, we hugged. Jim and I hugged. Later that afternoon, she called and invited me to brunch the next day. I went to their home, a short walk from the Pacific Ocean. A few blocks away, in fact, was “where I began” in the summer of 1962.

Conclusion HERE

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“Untitled” [Part 6 of 8]

Child adoption stories are like winding Texas Hill Country roads. To enjoy them fully, you have to start at the beginning.

So, first things first.

If you missed reading from the beginning of this series, you are encouraged — nay, exhorted — to go back and start from the beginning. If you start here, I’ll look like a crappy writer, and you’ll go away very confused.

Neither of us wants that.

So if you’re in a rush, slow down. Skip work if you must. (Don’t tell your boss I told you to.)

Read Part 1 HERE. Part 2 HERE. Part 3 HERE. Part 4 HERE. And Part 5 HERE.

Some names and identifying details have been changed
to protect anonymity.

I was able to locate an address that was connected to her name, though online information is often dated. Still, I sat on that information for a couple weeks. I knew how to contact her with a letter, but I didn’t know if I should contact her at all. Or, if I should, how would I write it in order to respect her privacy? Perhaps a husband or other family member, not knowing about me, would open the letter and this would cause a huge rift on her end. I spoke with a trusted friend, then prayed for three days, then decided that even if I never heard back from her, knowing she existed would be enough. The calm in knowing I could take a proactive step to reach her was enough. Nothing more was needed.

From that place of calm and peace I wrote to her, knowing that anything in return would be icing on the cake. There was a certain undeniable selfishness in my decision to write, of course, because anyone would be a little curious about meeting one’s birth mother, but the disruption on the other end would be completely unknowable.

After addressing her as Mrs. ___ (her married name, which I learned from the newspaper article), I wrote “My name is Howard Freeman, and the following information is confidential, so I hope you are in a place where you can have privacy.” I wanted her to be able to react privately to the contents. I outlined how I had first connected with my biological father, who offered to vouch for me if she had doubts about my intentions. With Bob’s permission, I included his phone and email.

Then I wrote, “If you are indeed my biological mother, I want to say first how grateful I am to you, how much I have always wanted to meet you, and how much I admire what you did in 1962-1963 to bring me into the world. You have been a ‘hero’ of mine, and that’s no exaggeration.” If she were to read this letter and not be able to or not want to meet, I wanted her to know that what she did was the “right” thing for me. I figured that she must have made peace with her decision in order to move on with her life, but if there was any remaining doubt, I wanted to dispel it. I was later to learn how shameful it was for an unmarried girl (she was 18) in the early ‘60s and from her social circle to go through what she did. I was her “secret,” which her immediate family never spoke about again.

After some brief family history and current family details, I gave her my contact information including my email address and opened the door for her to be in touch.

I concluded my letter with, “If you are not the right person, I want to sincerely apologize for what must come across as a bizarre intrusion. I am truly sorry.” Again, I wanted to protect her privacy if someone else read the letter. You never know someone’s situation. “Please know that I respect your decision either way, and if you are my biological mother and this is my only contact with you, please know that I have had nothing but love for you — always have, always will.”

I signed it “With deep affection, Howard Freeman.” I had wanted to say, “Love, Howard,” but that seemed miles away from where we were in a relationship that was both real yet unrealized. I put a stamp on the letter, wrote “Private and Confidential” in the lower left corner, and mailed it. When the letter left my fingertips on December 11, 2019 — an act within my control — I knew that the next step was out of my control. She’d get the letter or she wouldn’t. She’d read it or she wouldn’t. She’d respond or she wouldn’t. While these outcomes were out of my control, it was a different feeling than what I experienced as a child having no control whatever. These now were intentional moves. Surrendering to the unknown consequences of a well-considered action is different than the self-imposed powerlessness of obsession. I felt strangely peaceful.

I counted the days it must have taken for my letter to arrive on her end. I allowed for a few days for her to react, perhaps some more time for her to consider or discuss with family, and then on December 18, a Wednesday shortly after Noon, I was checking my personal email and saw a message that had the subject header “Life” and which had this first sentence: “Dear Howard, Yes, I am your birth mother.”

The feeling upon reading, “Yes, I am your birth mother” can be described only with words we reserve for music we hear that transports us, or a sunset that makes us pause with awe and wonder, or seeing one’s first-born child come into the world, especially looking into the eyes of my first son in 1999, since he was the only blood relative I’d ever met. Reading those opening words was sublime, ineffable. Yet, strangely, they were also normal. They made sense. They grounded me while also freeing me. Yet as extraordinary as those words were, they’d be eclipsed soon by meeting her.

Continued HERE

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“Untitled” [Part 5 of 8]

Child adoption stories are like winding Texas Hill Country roads. To enjoy them fully, you have to start at the beginning.

So, first things first.

If you missed reading from the beginning of this series, you are encouraged — nay, exhorted — to go back and start from the beginning. If you start here, I’ll look like a crappy writer, and you’ll go away very confused.

Neither of us wants that.

So if you’re in a rush, slow down. Skip work if you must. (Don’t tell your boss I told you to.)

Read Part 1 HERE. Part 2 HERE. Part 3 HERE. And Part 4 HERE.

Some names and identifying details have been changed
to protect anonymity.

Thirty minutes later, I got a call. The name Bob Lewis appeared over the number I had added to my Contacts list. I let it ring perhaps four times, petrified, and then let it go to voice mail. Don’t ask me why; perhaps more fear about theory becoming reality. I immediately listened to the message, which started out, “Well, Howard,” and he laughed — it sounded winsomely conspiratorial — “be careful of what you wish for…” and he left a light-hearted but respectful voice mail. As I’ve pleasantly come to know, he laughs easily and also has a serious, intense side. Intensity, I’ve learned, is genetic.

I walked from our house to a pond nearby. It was a warm morning for November, and I paced a few times before taking a deep breath. (It’s true what they say about taking a deep breath before doing something difficult.) I tapped on his number and heard the ringing on his end.

He answered and, knowing my number and that it was me, said something like, “Hey, hey, Howard!” While I can’t recall the exact words, I remember that the tone between us was warm, even intimate, and easy-going. The connection was instant. While I hadn’t really considered him as much over the years as I had my mother – I had no ill will toward him at all; I merely didn’t have the same mystical or physical connection with him as I had with her; I have since learned that mothers and sons, in particular, have a very special bond — he immediately took on height, width and depth when before he was but a shadow.

We found ourselves laughing, sharing information back and forth, finding commonalities and generally just enjoying each other not only as blood relatives but also as two men who had more in common now than an hour earlier.

Toward the end of the hour, I said, “Oh, Bob. I almost forgot to mention, I know my name at birth. It was ‘Robert Doyle Macey’.” He paused and then exclaimed, “Bingo!” That word, bingo, opened up the path to meeting my mother.

Bob had been reluctant to share even one of the very few details about her that he remembered from decades ago, and while the remaining part of our morning conversation is murky in my memory, I was able finally to find her through an internet search. Her maiden name was Barbara Doyle Macey. I had Robert Lewis’s first name, and her middle and family name.

When I saw the first photo of her, from 2015 in an article in her town’s local newspaper, I sat back in my chair. I had been able to answer the question, the superficial yet all-important one, that had been foremost on my mind since I was five. “What does she look like?” She was indeed beautiful, as I’d been told. More than that, though, this was my mother.

As much as I knew over the years that out there somewhere was a woman who had carried me nine months and given me life, a woman who had felt unable to care for me yet wanted me to have a good upbringing, a woman who might or might not still be alive or, if alive, might not want to see me, this was documented proof that she existed. I knew of course that I had a mother – I hear it’s rare that one doesn’t have one – but it didn’t become real until I saw her photo.

I wept.

I had built and fortified years of emotional walls and barriers. With that photo, those all came crashing down.

Continued here…

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resistance bands

“Untitled” [Part 4 of 8]

Child adoption stories are like winding Hill Country roads. To enjoy them fully, you have to start at the beginning.

So, first things first.

If you missed reading from the beginning of this series, you are encouraged — nay, exhorted — to go back and start from the beginning. If you start here, I’ll look like a crappy writer, and you’ll go away very confused.

Neither of us wants that.

So if you’re in a rush, slow down. Skip work if you must. (Don’t tell your boss I told you to.)

Read Part 1 HERE. Part 2 HERE. And Part 3 HERE.

Some names and identifying details have been changed
to protect anonymity.

I knew that first cousins share a grandfather in common and second cousins share a great-grandfather, so I felt let down when my AncestryDNA results came back with only a handful of third cousins, a good many fourth cousins, and countless “distant” relatives. (Aren’t we all “distant relatives”?) I knew only my name at birth and neither my mother’s full name nor my biological father’s name at all. My family tree was a stump. Nevertheless, the information was interesting, and it was real, and that wasn’t nothing.

There was the short-lived novelty of learning that in addition to the expected Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian roots (outlined by the adoption agency), I also was one-eighth Eastern European. I fashioned that I was part Jewish, because it was so different from my obvious “WASP” look, and because since childhood I have resonated with Jewish literature, thought, and culture. I later learned that on my biological father’s side that I am indeed part Polish Jew.

I logged on to the Ancestry site perhaps two or three times over the next few years. A few more third cousins surfaced.

And then, in October 2019, I logged on and saw an alert box on the home screen that said, “New matches found.” Underneath the alert were two names: [these and other names below have been changed] Robert Lewis and Mark Lewis, and the header over Robert’s name said, “Close match: parent/child.” Robert had been my first name at birth. I knew that I had no other children than my three sons, so I was fairly certain that this Robert was my birth father.

I decided immediately to send an in-app message to him: “Robert, I believe I may be your biological son. I was born as Robert Doyle Macey on May 17, 1963 in New York City.” I sent a similar message to Mark, who appeared to be Robert’s brother. In both messages, I included my email address.

Several weeks passed. Nothing.

On November 15, 2019, I was in a taxi to JFK Airport to return home from a business trip and checked my email. My work email had nothing important. But in my personal email I found a message that started, “I just got off the phone with my sister Margaret who gave me the pleasant surprise about your identity, via niece Lindsey ___.  I absolutely look forward to establishing a relationship with you. Let me say that when I did the Ancestry.com swab maybe three years ago, I don’t recall any relatives, close or distant, coming up. Had I seen any info about you, I would have gladly tried to make contact then.” His note continued and was signed, “Bob Lewis.”

We had done the DNA swabs probably within weeks of each other in 2016, but the test results didn’t cross. Looking back, it was a helpful waiting period, when a certain surrender had come over me. Bob was my biological father. This was great news in and of itself but, as I was to learn from the rest of his email, it didn’t connect me to my mother. Each of them got married to other people, and while they lived in the same major West Coast city he said he hadn’t seen her in decades.

Arriving at JFK and going through airport security allowed me some time to let the news sink in. I then called my wife, my brother, and my best friend Dave to share the news. Dave had been the one I plotted with to show up at my mother’s home disguised as UPS deliverymen. In his email Bob offered to get in touch with me if I chose and gave me his phone number. I arrived home that night and didn’t do anything until the next morning. I was thrilled but terrified. After decades of life, I had learned that expectations breed disappointment. I emailed him back and asked for confirmation of certain details so I would know that he was in fact my biological father.

It took me a few minutes to decide whether to leave my email signature block on my note. It had my phone number. You know how with some emails you wait forever before clicking “SEND”?

This was one of those emails.

Continued HERE…

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“Untitled” [Part 3 of 8]

Child adoption stories are like windy Hill Country roads. To enjoy them fully, you have to start at the beginning.

So, first things first.

If you missed reading from the beginning of this series, you are encouraged — nay, exhorted — to go back and start from the beginning. If you start here, I’ll look like a crappy writer, and you’ll go away very confused.

Neither of us wants that.

So if you’re in a rush, slow down. Skip work if you must. (Don’t tell your boss I told you to.)

And read Part 1 HERE. And Part 2 HERE.

Some names and identifying details have been changed
to protect anonymity.

PART 1 | PART 2 | PART 3

Three decades passed, and the closest I got to meeting her was finding someone I thought was my maternal grandfather. He had the same last name as I had at birth, he was military, and Mom found a wedding notice that she thought was about my biological aunt. After trying to contact him by mail, I received a gracious letter saying he was not the man I thought he was. And in the Small World category, I recently learned that my real paternal grandfather had the same name as another man (not the one I wrote to), born four months apart from each other, both graduating from Annapolis, and both decorated naval aviators in the Pacific Theater in WWII.

I tried traditional search methods to find her: I looked into an adoptee group for help and guidance, but I found it depressing and filled with angry people. I added my name to New York State’s Adoption Registry:

In a word: bullshit

New York at that time had closed adoptions, and both parties needed to register to find each other; apparently, she hadn’t. I considered hiring a private detective agency. Too expensive. I also considered unconventional methods, including faking my way into the birth records archives of the hospital where I was born or even into the NYC Department of Health, where I might find my original birth certificate. Arrest for trespassing and theft seemed like a small price to pay.

(The plot of being UPS deliverymen with my best friend Dave, mentioned in Part 2, had been 86’ed long before.)

My “longing” became something that could be described better as desperation. It wasn’t healthy, and my grand search occasionally robbed my wife of my attention. I ran into one wall after another, and at a certain point found myself thinking, “This isn’t fair.” I had become more like those angry adoptees I had previously looked down on.

In 2012, however, AncestryDNA was launched in the United States. This ultimately gave me the second of the two pieces of information I needed to complete my search, the first piece being my full name at birth that Mom had told me.

I had started an Ancestry.com account a few years back – another fruitless attempt – and while I’d heard about genetic testing and its availability to the general public, I don’t recall why I waited four years before using it. Perhaps its advertised promise of finding relatives made me terrified of actually meeting her or knowing more about my birth.

My childhood had been great.

So, while the “truth” seemed attractive in theory, would the truth be as attractive when encountered?

What New York State and a number of people kept secret for decades was soon uncovered with $59 and a cotton swab.

Part 4 HERE…

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“Untitled” [Part 2 of 8]

First things first.

If you missed yesterday’s Part 1, please start there. If you don’t read the part that you missed, I’ll look like a really poor writer and you’ll go away very confused.

None of us wants that. So if you’re in a rush, slow down. Skip work if you must. Don’t tell your boss I told you to. And read Part 1 first.

Some names and identifying details have been changed
to protect anonymity.


While the kitchen meeting was unmemorable at the time, it planted a seed of mystery. That mystery grew so much and became so central to what I thought of myself and how I described myself to others, that the only time my brother hurt my feelings, the one and only time I punched him in the face, was when I was 12 and he was 10 and he called me “an adopted freak.” That was an insult I couldn’t let go unanswered. Half his remark was true, but the truth was weaponized, and it also pointed to a truth I had no knowledge of.

I felt suddenly and unexpectedly vulnerable about being adopted, even though Mom and Dad had said many times how much I was loved and how much I was wanted. But I was reminded of how powerless I was about knowing “her.”

As a teenager, I would lie in bed at night, obsessing about how I might find her. Once, I plotted with my best friend, Dave, that we’d dress up as UPS men and show up at her doorstep with a package. I’d be able to suss the situation to determine whether I wanted to reveal myself. Only later, as a working adult, did I learn that UPS delivery personnel don’t work in pairs. Our undercover plan had at least that one flaw. That and I also never considered how we’d get her street address. The paired personnel, the address, the brown uniforms. Three flaws. At least.

Night after night, I lay in bed, wondering. Planning. Longing. And, frankly, not a little angry.

But as I considered meeting her, the question about her that stood above the others seemed superficial: “What does she look like?”

In the kitchen talk, Mom mentioned only that some of my relatives were in the military and that my mother was a “very beautiful woman.” I remember only those details. So perhaps the only way I could imagine her in any way was being “beautiful.” No sense of her personality, hobbies or hopes for life. Decades passed, and now and then, I’d have a dream in which I’d encounter a beautiful and idealized woman and, when I awoke, I was profoundly sorrowful. As if I’d found someone and, when I opened my eyes, she’d have been taken from me. I hated those dreams.

In my late 20’s, over a casual dinner, Dad said to me, “You know, we’re not pushing you to do so, but if you ever wanted to find out about your birth parents, we’d support you. Mom and I want you to know that we wouldn’t be upset in any way.”

It was a most kind and intimate way of affirming the parent-child relationship between Mom & Dad and me. Freedom among us, yet an unassailable bond between us. Perhaps their having a generation and a half on me gave them a certain maturity. Stoicism, but one that is loving and engaged.

Looking back, Dad looms large as one of the most gracious men I have ever met.

Weeks or maybe days later, I visited the adoption agency. A counselor sat across from me and gently read aloud two pages of what is called “non-identifying information.”

Some was about the circumstances of my birth, some was technical (weight, height, time in labor), and most was about my birth parents: their ages, family backgrounds, a little about their appearance – that indeed my mother was “exceptionally pretty” as the document described her — even what their college majors were. I heard an overview of how they met. In the description of each family member, I heard that he or she was in “good health.” This is a redacted part of every adoptee’s story, so when meeting a new doctor, who rightly asks about family medical background, we might say something like, “Well, doc, I’m adopted so…” It does, however, shorten those initial appointments.

The agency worker also told me something that at the time was very important, which my mother later corrected.

The counselor said that at my birth, “Your mother saw you and held you. She loved you and she was very proud of you. She felt you were a beautiful baby.” I have no reason or desire to question the feelings that the agency ascribed to her, but my mother told me that shortly before my birth, she had developed an odd and short-lived skin rash. (It turned out to be nothing.) But fearing infection, the hospital staff never allowed her to hold me. I began to wonder why an adoption agency might include this “little white lie” that she held me. They could have left out that detail altogether. I can conclude only that the agency wanted me to “feel good” in every way. To feel wanted. After all, the oxytocin that’s released when we’re hugged or touched is difficult to replicate; it gives us a unique sense of well-being. But thirty years after the adoption agency visit, having heard my mother’s story, I learned that the truth is always better, and the reason it’s always better is that it’s the truth. Anyone, adopted or not, doesn’t need someone else managing their feelings by avoiding facts or by lying.

As meaningful as the agency information was, it left a blurry image, like when you look at a bathroom mirror thick with steam. You wipe at it, but it only distorts your image.

My longing continued.

Part 3 HERE…

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“Untitled” [Part 1 of 8]

I wrote the following essay for a newspaper, and it was to be published in serial fashion starting in late December 2020. The terms of publication were changed at the last minute, however, and I decided to put this on my blog instead, so that I could tell the story my way.

It’s long (5000 words) — as far as internet content goes — so I am publishing it on successive days in nine parts.

Yep. Nine.

I would encourage you to share this with anyone who is adopted, an adoptive parent or a birth parent. I have had a very blessed life and positive adoption story. I hope and pray you and anyone you know will be encouraged by it.

P.S. My birth mother and wife have read this and approved its content. (In other words, I’ve covered the bases.)

My birth mother wishes to remain private for now. This photo was taken three hours after meeting for the first time and, by the way, she is smiling, too.

Names and specific details have been changed to protect anonymity.


Most of us know how our lives began.

How our parents met, how they fell in love, where they got married. When we came into the world; that ubiquitous pink-and-blue-striped hospital blanket that seemed to swaddle each of us.

But what if you’re adopted? Wouldn’t you feel a bit of a gap in self-knowledge, a gap in the seamless transition between your mother being pregnant with you and your first days at home? It’s a bit like falling asleep and waking up in a different country. Everyone tells you you’re a citizen of this new place, but there is a gnawing sense that there’s a country you’ve always known but never visited.

I had the God-given good fortune to visit that foreign “country,” having searched for my birth mother for more than fifty years.

In the context of COVID-19 and Election 2020, many of us struggle to stay connected and avoid heated arguments, fights, even irreconcilably broken relationships. Having connected with my birth father and my birth mother separately in late 2019, my story is one of connection, broken relationships, fear and heroism.

When she became pregnant, my birth mother – whom I’ll refer to simply as my “mother” and the woman who raised me as my “mom” – moved from the West Coast to New York City, where I was born and raised. She signed the relinquishment papers when I was five days old. To “relinquish” comes from the Latin meaning “to leave.” This is a stinging reality for adoptees, one that can’t be fully reconciled, only accepted. In the best of cases, though, this break between mother and child can be shaped into something more beautiful than if there had been no break at all. Not prepared at the time to raise me, she allowed others to do so for her and my benefit. In a very real sense, she gave me life not once, but twice.

When I was three weeks old, I was adopted by a wonderful couple who each came from upper middle-class families and who grew up in the Depression. I was to be the oldest of 12 cousins on Dad’s side and second youngest of nine cousins on Mom’s. My full name is Howard Frank Freeman IV, and at a large family reunion a few years ago, I met all my paternal second cousins. We all share a common great-grandfather, Howard Frank Freeman (I), a country doctor in Wilson, North Carolina. I am truly blessed with a large extended family through Mom and Dad and, I know now, two fairly large birth families.

Mom and Dad are both deceased, and my mother is 19 years younger than Mom would be today. Mom had suffered a series of miscarriages before adopting me in 1963, and even after then she had another miscarriage before giving birth to my brother in 1965. Today he lives in Brooklyn with his wonderful family.

I learned of my adoption when I was five years old, precociously curious about anatomy.

Mom sat me down for “the talk.” Dad must have been at work.

I still remember that moment as I sat on a kitchen stool. She calmly explained to me how sex worked and also that I had been adopted. I recall that my response was neutral, as if the next thing she said was that fish sticks were for dinner. I loved fish sticks, so that seemed a more pressing matter to focus on. Mom also gave me one of the two pieces of information that ultimately led me to finding my mother: she told me my full name at birth. I still don’t know how she knew it, but she did. It is also too late for me to know whether Mom knew my mother’s name and chose not to tell me, but it’s better that I don’t know the answer. It would bring only resentment.

Between knowing my name at birth and, much later, benefitting from the wonder of genetic testing, I was able to come to know the two people responsible for me.

continued HERE

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It’s enough

The Ford F-150 is doing just over 55MPH on Bandera Highway heading toward town, and I’m feeling the baritone noise of hot Texas air coming in through the driver’s side window and the angled quarter glass, because sometime after the truck’s purchase in 1988 the AC went out and the rancher who drove it before we got it in 2018 would probably have scoffed at spending hard-earned cash on a luxury like cold air in the summer or hot air in the winter. “What’s that?! Cash for something you can’t even see?” is probably what he’d tell me if I were to muse aloud to him.

The scene — me behind the wheel, right hand gripping at about one o’clock and left hand wrapped around the metal divider of the valence window — makes me think of riding in Poppa’s beige station wagon in Rhode Island in the late ’60s. He’d taught mom to drive, and mom had taught me in Tootsie’s Mercedes Benz. The Mercedes always at least a box or two of chocolate Carnation breakfast bars in the trunk that Tootsie would eat after a round of golf, but my younger brother and I would eat them on the down-low. After all, our grandparents were rich. Weren’t everyone’s?

Poppa drove the three miles from the house on Spencer Avenue in Warwick — the house with a backyard like a waterfall practically down to the bay — to the farm, which was technically in East Greenwich, just over the demarcation line (the thoroughfare appropriately named Division Street). On that brief ride, we’d pass the “ghost house” on the right. The story was that you could still hear the sword of a fallen Revolutionary War officer clank down the long staircase on some blustery winter nights. I could imagine it, with trepidation, and I didn’t have enough doubt about the veracity of this claim to not think that Poppa was pretty badass just to know this. If he’d had his way, Poppa’d be taking out that phantom with his .30-06. He one he used to bring down moose and bear in Canada. No 18th century rebel in threadbare leggings would be his match.

So we’d drive and I’d hear The Beatles, “I Want To Hold Your Hand” come on the radio. We’d listen to that 2-1/2-minute song, and when it was over, I’d still be leaning out of the front passenger window, my six-year-old frame almost half over the side, belting out the chorus:

I wanna hold your ha-aa-aaa-aaaand,
I wanna hold your haaaaaaaand!
I wanna hold your hand

And sometime after the tenth or so time repeating the same chorus into the New England summer wind, Poppa would reach over and gently pat my back.

Filterless Camel cigarette wobbling from his mouth, he’d say, “I think that’s enough.”

Necessary partners

I swam yesterday at the Kroc Center.

There’s something about doing lap after lap — and the 25-yard length achieves this effect more than does a 50-yard pool — that brings the swimmer into something like a meditative trance.

Between breathing and the repetitive and — if done right — well-timed flip turns, every 11 strokes give or take, the body falls into a rhythm where the rhythm becomes one’s sole focus. Almost all but that rhythm is tuned out.

Breathe, stroke stroke stroke, breathe, stroke stroke stroke, breathe, stroke stroke stroke, breathe, stroke stroke; turn. SLAP! You feel your ankles and lower calves hit the water with a satisfying completion of one length.

Repeat for 100 yards, rest; then 200 yards, rest; then 400 yards, rest…

The lifeguards, rotating every 15 minutes, wear red one-pieces or shorts and have skin made golden by hours under the Texas sun. They are only kids — probably college students at the oldest. The manager is in his late 20s or early 30s. They watch me because they have to, but maybe they watch me extra closely thinking, “I wonder when this old guy is going to push himself too hard and I have to drag him out. I wonder how much he weighs.”

That thought vanishes as I concentrate on my breathing.

I’m out of shape. Or maybe I’m merely pushing myself to a place I’m out of shape for. I start to consider stopping short of the next yardage I’m trying to reach. But I relax and tell myself, “I love swimming; I love to see the water rush by my mouth as I turn my head to breath; I love to feel the water move beneath my body and watch my arms extend out in front of me.”

It’s an activity — swimming — that’s not mimicked anywhere else in my life. Walking, running, lifting weights, even push-ups and sit-ups, are all found elsewhere in some form. When in the water, one either treads water (also not mimicked anywhere), floats, sinks, or swims. Water and swimming are, at some point, necessary partners.

When finished with my desired laps, I get out of the pool and feel both the hot sun and also the promised fatigue in my arms and chest and back.

I dry off and walk toward the locker room, hoping my upper body leads the way while also self-consciously shielding my stomach with a towel. It is that part of me and everything attached to it that would justify a lifeguard’s earnings, and then some.