Damon: 00:00 Hey there. I just wanted to take a sec to let you know that in between producing the show, chasing my son Seth around and generally living life, I took time to write a book about my own adoption journey. It’s called Who Am I Really? Of course. If you’d like to pre order a copy, go to WhoAmIReallypodcast.com and click shop, where you will be redirected to the publishers bookstore. I hope to make it to your reading list. Okay, here’s this week’s show.
Steve: 00:33 My birth mother tells her, look, I’m not allowed to have contact with him. The kids have his contact information. If they want to contact him, they’re welcome to. I’ve given them, you know what I mean? Everyone’s aware and man, that felt like a knife through the gut, and I don’t know why. Like I guess in that moment I just, I felt orphaned.
Voices: 01:02 Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I?
Damon: 01:13 This is, Who Am I Really? A podcast about adoptees that have located and connected with their biological family members. I’m Damon Davis and on today’s show is Steve. He called me from London, Ontario, Canada. Steve shares his story of being adopted after his mother lost a child, but Steve and his mother never connected. In fact, she stifled his social development and seemed to be holding him back because he didn’t look like their family and didn’t fit in. As a teen, Steve was out on his own in the streets when he learned that he had fathered a child, that’s when he became a single father. In reunion, he found the connection to his birth mother, but empty promises ended with rejection and that surprised him. This is Steve’s journey. Steve doesn’t recall being told he was adopted. He just always knew it, but he doesn’t know how he knew that fact. By his description, his parents were typical adoptive parents in the 1970s who wanted the dreams of family many parents aspire to back then, but his adoption came about out of adversity.
Steve: 02:19 They wanted their 2.3 kids in a white picket fence. They had a girl. Then they had a, a baby who was stillborn and they were told that they would never be able to conceive again. And so at that point, um, they pursued other options and, and ended up adopting me. A year and a half after that, my mom got pregnant, so my little brother was born as sort of the miracle baby. And I think that sequence of events affected me and my life in a number of ways, that I didn’t really understand until, until much later. So here I am and I’m in this family. This is a Norwegian family. Everyone in my family is over six feet tall, blonde hair, blue eyes. They get a sun burden walking under a light bulb. And I am not like that at all. You know, I am, I am on a shorter side. I’m five, seven now, fully grown. I got black curly hair. Well, it’s gray now. Yeah, just didn’t look anything like them. And it’s very obvious, you know, in the family pictures and whatnot. So I think I always felt different. Also, I have a really unique surname. Uh, you’ve never heard it before. And so when people comment on the surname, they say, oh, that’s, and I still get this often. Oh, that’s a nice name. Um, and then I have to explain that I’m Norwegian and uh, I am obviously not Norwegian.
Damon: 03:52 Hmm. Interesting. So you have to explain something that people can see in your surname as unique and different, but they don’t know how unique and different it is because in fact, you are not even of that surname.
Steve: 04:06 Right Yeah. And I just, uh, yeah, I mean the truth is, uh, yeah, my name is, is an anglicized version of a Norwegian name that a grandfather, I guess changed it when he came over here. Regardless of that, I don’t, I don’t bother explaining it any more, now. People say, oh, that’s a nice name. I’m like, yeah, I didn’t pick it, but thank you.
Damon: 04:26 Steve has had time to explore his lack of connection with his adopted mother and his research has helped him understand why the creation of a family through adoption doesn’t always follow the script for parents and children to connect.
Steve: 04:39 But I’m still sort of trying to sort this out. So I had a decent child life. I have a childhood. I don’t really have anything to complain about. My needs were looked after, but I wouldn’t say it was a, I wasn’t happy. And I always, honestly, I just felt like my mom in particular, she just didn’t like me. But I think, and so like I’ve come to some understandings much, much later after going sort of through my reunion thing and starting to read some books and do some research and I’m coming to understand that, you know, a lady who’s grieving the loss of a, of a baby was handed another baby who was 11 months old and, and told, this’ll take all your grief away. You know, and then there’s a baby that’s been ripped away from a parent handed to another lady and you know, they’re convinced that lady’s going to take all the babies grief away. And there’s two people who, you know, needed something from each other and didn’t get it. And I, and I think that kind of explains, you know, that that’s where the relationship started and it just, it never really got better. Does that makes sense?
Damon: 05:57 Yeah, no, it absolutely does. I mean, this is one of the things that I think often is lost in the discussion of adoption and adoption trauma is these very stark facts about how the family is created. It’s that in, in your instance, your mother was suffering loss and her own grief that she had to get over. And then here you show up as basically, you know, a potential bandaid for that grief and a place to sort of dump her emotions. But at the same time you have been taken from another place, placed into her arms and there’s the separation that you feel. This is, I had a guest recently tell me that one of the big challenges in his family was his adopted mother hated his aunt and they never could, He never could figure out why. And it wasn’t until he met his biological mother that he realized his bio mom had the same exact voice as his aunt. This is the voice he would have heard, you know? So there is that separation. It’s really hard.
Steve: 07:01 You know, I’ve now come to recognize that it’s not her fault. This is what people believed at the time. This is what social work was telling people was a, you know, a baby doesn’t know the difference between its natural mother and it’s adoptive mother.
Damon: 07:15 Can you give me an example of, you said that you basically felt like your mom didn’t like you or you know, tell me a little bit about that tension in your family. Where did you start to see that or feel it
Steve: 07:28 to begin with, I guess I was a, a cranky, crabby baby. So I have, you know, I’ve got some notes from a doctor, you know, that I found in my dad’s files where, you know, they say I’ve got some crankiness and crabbiness, although at other times in, uh, you know, especially in company it says I’m very active and lively and I think this crankiness and crabbiness that probably just came as, as a result of, like I said, two people adjusting to a new, was considered to be a problem. And so I was sent to doctors and to psychologists and stuff from a very young age to try to figure out why I wasn’t happy like the other two babies I guess. And they never figured that out. But you know, it’s interesting again in retrospect looking and saying like they saw that, but the doctor and the letter acknowledges that the crankiness might be attributed to adoption, but it was, it’s interesting how as a child, you know, I had what were perceived to be these behavior problems even as a baby and all they were trying to do is fix me and not recognize that, you know, does that make, you know what I’m saying?
Damon: 08:50 That’s right. Yeah. It was, uh, there’s a problem with this child, not a systemic at all of the things that this child is enduring, that the family is inflicting or, or withholding or whatever. Right. It’s just, uh, the problem manifests itself in how agitated the child is, but it’s not a broader examination of the environment in which the child is in or has come from or what have you. I totally get you
Damon: 09:17 that note about Steve’s adoption being a possible cause for his crankiness was just one line at the end of the doctors letter written in the 1960s. Steve’s mother stayed at home with the children while their father worked as an executive at a local community college. Steve said that as his primary caregiver, their mother had no patience for him. He said when he left home at 15 he had never been to a sleepover at a friend’s house, had never kissed a girl, nor been to a school dance. He wasn’t allowed to do anything
Steve: 09:48 Then I was convinced I was bad. You know, and I’ve just looked back recently said, man, I wasn’t, I wasn’t that bad. I mean, I did shit like any other kid did, but you know, I wasn’t as bad as I was convinced. But it’s like my mother did not want me to leave the house. You know, they would, my brother and sister would go spend a week with grandparents in Toronto. I never once did that. Never went on a school trip, but they did. You know, and I’m not sure the, the reasoning behind it, but it was, I just felt like I was in the way, I guess I was an inconvenience.
Damon: 10:23 Did you feel like you were being hidden? I mean, from an outsider’s perspective, the way that you’re describing your, um, your intended withdrawal, your intentional withholding from social and interactive things with family, with, with friends. It sounds like they were, they were hiding you almost.
Steve: 10:46 Maybe I haven’t thought about it like that. So that’s something I’ll have to reflect on a little bit. But yes, quite possible. I think, I mean, I guess it did occur to me that I think they were a bit ashamed of me. They didn’t like answering the questions either. Introducing the family,
Damon: 11:03 Steve was led to believe that he couldn’t be trusted to behave appropriately and that’s why he wasn’t allowed to participate in anything ever. It was all unfounded. Steve described himself as a witty ham it up kind of kid, versus his much more reserved siblings. He says he doesn’t have a lot of childhood memories, but he does recall two things that happened very clearly. Brace herself for these triggers.
Steve: 11:28 And you know, some parents talk about adoptees I guess as though they’re special. And so one clear memory I have is my father telling me, the thing that makes adoptees special is that you have to keep your natural kids but you can return an adoptee. That wasn’t, I don’t believe that was said with the malice, you know, that maybe we would consider that it has behind it now. But I think it was unhealthy, an unhealthy thing to say. That that would be my dad’s attempt at humor, just so you know. Not, you know, I don’t believe it was malicious. The other thing my mom used to say to me all the time was, if you don’t like the rules, you can find another place to live. And she used to say that from as young as I remember and so until I left. And so one day, I don’t even remember what we were talking about, but at lunch time I was in grade 11 and I came home from lunch cause I was never allowed to stay at school at lunch, had to be home. Right. Like I was very, very controlled. So yeah.
Damon: 12:33 And your sister, your siblings stay at school?
Steve: 12:36 Oh yeah. Now we lived very close to the school and a, but yeah, it was interesting. Like I wasn’t allowed to leave until we, we heard the school bell ring and then I had to run to school and I had to be home five minutes after class ended. Like I just wasn’t allowed to stop, you know, socialize with anyone. So I really didn’t have good friends or it was a, it was kind of lonely, I guess in retrospect. But at the time, I don’t know. I think I thought everybody lived like that.
Damon: 13:04 Yeah. You don’t know what you don’t know. You think your normal is normal.
Steve: 13:07 Yeah. Yeah. I didn’t get to hang out at other friends’ houses, so I didn’t really know what their families were like, I guess. So anyway, Yeah, One day at lunch, I guess I just had enough and mom said, uh yes. If you don’t like the rules here, I don’t remember even remember what it was about. But if you don’t like the rules here, you can find somewhere else to live. I remember packing two garbage bags full of clothes and going to school, throwing them into my locker and uh, going to class for the afternoon. And then after school I went to the phone booth. We used to have payphones and I went to the phone booth with a London penny saver, it was called. It had classified ads in it and ended up renting a room from some people and never went back.
Damon: 13:50 Steve already had a job working at a bakery on weekends and over the summer. So he picked up some night shift work after school. Mind you, Steve was allowed to work on weekends but not socialize. When I asked about his siblings working during the school year, he realized that his sister, the only one old enough to work when he lived at home, had not had a job during the school year, only in summers. As a matter of fact, he had also had a paper route for awhile, which he had gotten himself fired from twice and both times his mother called his employer to get his job back. She wanted him to work. The money from the route was saved in a joint savings account. So when Steve left home he went to the bank and withdrew his earnings. He bought a mountain bike, which he rode across town after school to his job, renting a room for only $45 per night.
Damon: 14:42 Steve was sure to arrive at school as early as he could to shower in the gym before classes. In school, He completed the 12th grade, but he couldn’t complete the fifth and final year. He was still a naive kid without many real life experiences. He got a second job, saved enough money to rent an apartment, which coincidentally a coworker was vacating. So he gave the guy his down payment. On moving day, Steve showed up to his new place only to find he had been conned. The people already living in the place knew nothing of his arrival. His older coworker had stolen his money. Steve was penniless and homeless. He lived in parks, slept on benches and couchsurfed where he could. Steve got in with a bad crowd, got into trouble with the law for a misdemeanor and got arrested.
Steve: 15:32 So when you’re arrested, you have to have a place to live. You have three choices. They gave me three choices. You can wait for your trial in jail, you can go back and live with your parents, or you can stay at the salvation army, you know, men’s mission here and follow their rules. And obviously I didn’t want to go to jail and going to my parents seemed even worse than that. Because in my shoes, all I ever did was try to make these people proud. You know, my whole life was just trying to, I don’t know, do something to get some sort of positive reaction. And so obviously I can’t call them up and say, Hey,
Damon: 16:17 Steve stayed at the salvation army men’s mission for nearly a year and a half waiting for his case to be completed in the 1980s. One morning he was awakened at 7:00 AM and discorded to the front desk.
Steve: 16:29 And there’s a guy there that hands me a subpoena. He says, a baby’s been born, the mother left him in the hospital. Um, you were named as the father when she checked in. Children’s aid has apprehended the baby, but because your name is the father, you have the right to dispute that apprehension. And I’m like, I got no job. You know, I know who the girl is but we hadn’t been together and you know, whatever. I didn’t know she’s, this is making excuses now, but this is a girl that, you know, I met her and I would go to dump her every month and every month she’d say she was pregnant. And so I’d stay with her for another month. And then I go to dump her, and anyway, finally I left and I guess that time she really was pregnant, but that changed my life because I was homeless, jobless, and hopeless really. I mean, I had no plan, no potential, no nothing but a my sort of partner. When you’re living on the streets, you’re always in pairs. Someone’s always gotta be watching your back. So when I went down to the front desk, he came with me and he looked at me and he said, I bet you can’t get custody. And I said, I betcha I can. And you know, it was no more noble reason than that, but we went and called a lawyer on Monday. I stole a suit from Le Chateau on Tuesday and I was in family court on Wednesday.
Damon: 17:50 Wow. Really? And how did it go?
Steve: 17:54 Well, obviously I wasn’t in a position then. So they, Kevin, my son, he ended up with a three months crown wardship and I was given some obligations to attend visitation and whatnot and get my shit together.
Damon: 18:12 When you live on the streets, Steve says you always know someone who’s in court for something, so you spend a lot of time at the courthouse. It was cold in Canada, so the courthouse was a great place to get warm anyway. There was one salvation army captain named Gary Johnson who had an office in the courthouse. He offered the youth of the area coffee and he would give them straight talk about life
Steve: 18:36 and the real reason we were there, Damon, was he had this great big glass thing filled with change and we spent like a year trying to figure out how we were going to get this thing out of the courthouse
Damon: 18:51 in the courthouse. Planning a heist.
Steve: 18:55 Yeah, man. There there had to be hundreds of dollars in this thing.
Damon: 18:59 Steve is in Gary’s office in his white Miami vice style stolen suit, so Gary knows Steve is in court for his own hearing. Gary tells Steve to be sure to go back and see him after the court hearing. Steve’s infant son is sent back into a foster home for another three months. Then Steve heads back to Gary’s office. Captain Johnson told Steve he had called in a favor and Steve now had a job. He was to report to work on Monday morning. That act of kindness was a new beginning for Steve.
Steve: 19:30 I don’t know why this guy just saw something in me, I guess, and he gave me a break. And then the people that he set me up with really helped me out. And so nine months later, you know, Kevin was placed in my home and I was a single dad.
Damon: 19:45 That’s incredible. That is really unbelievable. And it speaks to something that my father in law often says that, you know, a lot of times we give a person one chance and then that’s it. They mess up and you’re done with them. Uh, but this guy has offered you another opportunity to get your life turned around. And that often is the key, is offering someone a second chance to make something good happen. And I, I can’t believe that you were able to pull that off. That’s really amazing.
Steve: 20:13 I, you know, it didn’t, even when you’re in the middle of something it doesn’t seem like any, any thing, it doesn’t seem like it’s impossible. People often, it still pisses me off when people talk about single mothers and how hard it is. It’s, when you’re doing it, that’s not hard. You just get up in the morning and do what you got to do.
Damon: 20:31 Yeah. Cause you’re in it and it has to be done.
Steve: 20:35 Yeah. The only time it becomes hard is when you start trying to compare your life to somebody else who you happen to think is more fortunate than you, but you have no idea what they’re going through day to day either. So I remember people all the time. So I ended up, getting him, going back to college and um, so I was a student and working, and a single father, all sort of all at the same time. And people would say, Oh man, that must be hard. And you know, it, it just never occurred to me that it was hard. It didn’t feel hard for you to wake up in the morning. I gotta do this. I’ve gotta do this, I gotta do this, and you just go do it.
Damon: 21:09 Yeah. Do you recall at all a moment of thinking about Kevin as a reflection of your own life that had you not gotten him, that he too could have been adopted and felt a similar disconnected? Was there ever that calculus in your mind of, let me not let him, what has happened to me happened to this child?
Steve: 21:31 No, not consciously. You know, I wonder now when I look back because of that, the decisions that I made were kind of irrational given the circumstances at the time. Um, so there may be a, some sort of unconscious thing, but, um, uh, but not certain, not consciously. No. I did not go through that thought process consciously.
Damon: 21:56 but in hindsight youprobably feel it.
Steve: 22:00 Yeah. I think it’s got, it had to had something because it was crazy, really. I mean, me being in a position that I was in, it was, it was crazy. Um, and I mean, I wasn’t looking for a child. I didn’t, I didn’t want to be a dad.
Damon: 22:14 Yeah. Right, right.
Steve: 22:15 Um, but I, I do, I remember, I do remember going the first time to visit him at the foster home. And as soon as I saw him, he looked exactly like me. And I think he was the first person in my life that ever looked like me. And maybe that has something to do with it.
Damon: 22:32 Yeah. Right.
Steve: 22:34 And I can tell you that when the lawyer, you know, the lawyer recommended, hey man, here’s what you need to do. You need to get a job. You need to get an apartment, you need to make sure you’re not going to jail from these charges, which, you know, that wasn’t really a danger anyway, and you need to get some character references, so you need to talk to your parents. He said, and I talked to my parents and they said, no way. Like the first thing my dad said was, you’re not going to keep him, are you? And, you know, and I’m like, so, you know, we didn’t speak for awhile and my mom didn’t speak at all, but she would’ve just been, she would’ve been embarrassed, you know, she was all about image, still is to this day. You know,
Damon: 23:12 she didn’t weigh in on the situation at all at that time.
Steve: 23:16 Uh, I did not have a co, I’m sure she weighed in, but not with me. I mean, I, I just didn’t, I didn’t even have that conversation with her. If my, my dad’s a very, very fair man and if his opinion was, you’re not going to keep it, then you know, I wouldn’t even have had the conversation with my mom. I avoided conversations with her anyway. And I’ll say that while I was in school for the first, I’m going to say a year and a half to two years of Kevin’s life, my father would sneak over after work and visit with Kevin. My Mother did not see him till he was over two years old.
Damon: 23:53 Steve’s father used to visit on weekends too. He would say he had to go into the office for a few hours, but he was really at Steve’s place visiting Baby Kevin. I asked Steve how he felt about his father sneaking over and he said he felt proud of himself for how much he had grown personally in a short period of time since learning of Kevin’s birth. Of course he never lived up to his mother’s high hopes that he would become a lawyer, but still
Steve: 24:19 I remember I think feeling like he was on my side for that situation. You know, he was coming over, he was sneaking around, you know, he was always a very fair man, but he wasn’t home a lot. And so his vision of me was always what my mom told him, not firsthand experience. And so he believed that I was a bad kid because that’s what he was told when he got home from work. So I think when he was coming over to visit was the first time him and I really, you know, he just got to see maybe some of my better side. I think I maybe, I felt like he was on my side for a while there
Damon: 25:04 in the 1990s Steve had been a single father for several years. He and Kevin had moved around quite a bit, living in Calgary, Banff and Vancouver anywhere but London, Ontario, where his past was behind him. There came a point in his life when Steve just seemed to be a familiar person to a lot of people. They would ask him if he had a brother because he looked like or spoke like someone they already knew. Of course when you’re adopted you have no idea how to answer their inquiry. It all made him think about his identity, medical history and his nationality, but on one road trip from Vancouver to Ontario, Steve stopped for gas, not realizing he was on a native reservation,
Steve: 25:45 So I pull in. I didn’t even realize, I don’t think that I was on this Indian reservation and I pull into a gas station and the guy fills up and he asked me for my status card, your Indian status card, which I don’t have because I’m not Indian. He argues with me. Yeah, he was like arguing with me. Come on, you’re native. And so then I think I started thinking, Huh, maybe I’m native.
Damon: 26:07 So at some point Steve kind of started poking around a little bit, but the only resources available were online databases and forums that were established to try to connect adoptees with their birth parents like can adopt, sound x, and parent finders. Steve entered his birth date and place of adoption into the online resources from time to time. He, recalls reading the bitterness and rage of the adoptees for how poorly their lives had turned out and from the birth parents who express their anger for children that were stolen from them, but Steve didn’t feel that level of negativity personally and hoped that his birth family didn’t hold that level of animosity either. No positive results were ever returned to Steve through those online resources. Steve thought about placing himself on the government run provincial registry, which had an adoption office dedicated to facilitating reunions, but there were two reasons he didn’t go through with it. One, Steve’s the kind of guy who would drop his application for reunion in the mail. Then check the mailbox daily, looking for a response torturing himself. There was an 18 month wait on reunion applications, so waiting would have been awful.
Steve: 27:18 The second one was I wanted to control the reunion. I wanted to find out who she was before she found out who I was and I had this fantasy in my head that I’d be sitting outside the door of her house for a few days, watching her stalking and making sure she’s the kind of person that I want in our lives before I let her know who I am because I gotta, I have a son who’s mom left him in the hospital and we’ve never seen her since and I, you know, I don’t, I don’t want a crack head showing up. I don’t want to find out that that’s what my mom’s like too, or if I do find that out, I don’t want her to know who I am
Damon: 27:56 for those two reasons. Steve, just let the idea of reunion go. In 2001 Steve’s adopted father died of cancer. While cleaning out his office files, Steve found his own adoption order. There wasn’t much information of value on the document except for his birth name. In 2005, Canadian courts opened adoption records to all members of the adoption triad. There was a two year transition period for the records to be unsealed by 2007 that transition was too long to wait. So Steve, then in his forties, found an ad for a private investigator named Anne, and he hired her. In less than a week Anne returned to Steve with an entire list of documents, including census records, obituaries, tracking everything back to
Steve: 28:42 a girl who was in London at that time and went through, this is your, I’m like 99% sure that this is your birth mother. Here’s her address. Here’s her phone number. She’s in Halifax. What do you want to do? And Halifax would be, I don’t know, 2000 kilometers from here, but still.
Damon: 29:01 Okay, so not close. So what did you decide?
Steve: 29:04 No. So, um, I wasn’t sure what to do. I was nervous. I don’t know why, except I think I’ve just been trained from a very young age that I’m a intruder in people’s lives and I don’t want to be an intruder in anybody’s life. So I was really scared. First she said Steve, I’ve done like hundreds of these and I’ve never met a birth mother that wasn’t happy to get the phone call. Would you like me to make the call for you? And I said, that would be great. And um, you know, and remember I’m skeptical, and I’ve heard this, I’ve read this, you can even read like this book, the girls who went away, um, which is a fantastic book, but it kind of acts like all birth mothers want to meet their children and they never stopped thinking about them and they had birthday parties on their adopted children’s birthdays every year. That’s not true. And I know that’s not true because I have a son and not a mother who left him in the hospital and never came back. But no, this isn’t true, you know, but maybe she’s the one in a million. So she makes a call. She screws up a bit. She makes a call on Thanksgiving weekend, so she does get ahold of my birth mother, but she’s got all her family in the house. When the call comes in, which you know in retrospect probably you want to do a little differently,
Damon: 30:31 they learned that the woman was unsure how to proceed. Steve’s birth mother was married with four other adult children. Her husband was aware that she had a baby, but Steve’s siblings didn’t know. The woman didn’t know what to do, so she asked for some time to think. Anne the PI asked if it was okay for Steve to write an introductory letter and his birth mother agreed. Steve sent the classic letter apologizing for the shock, not wanting to intrude and saying he’s made a good life for himself. He noted that he is very different from his family.
Steve: 31:05 Well, one of the things that came up in the phone call with her was this wondering was, my birth mother wondered if it was even legal that we had been able to track her down, which was, I thought odd, it stuck in my mind at the time. That was an odd thing to ask.
Damon: 31:22 So he included in his letter some information about the legislation that would unseal adoption records the following year, noting that when it happens, she has the option to request confidentiality at that time. If she’d like, he asked for his birth father’s name and mailed it off. Remember how Steve is the kind of person who would check the mailbox every day,
Steve: 31:43 every fricking day for, I want to say six months, nothing. So I was kinda getting angry. So then I sent another letter and this one was a little bit snottier and I think like many adoptees, so I’m a pretty, I’m a pretty good manipulator. And so I just sent a letter saying, listen, you know, obviously you don’t want anything to do with me and I can understand that, but would you please at least give me my birth father’s name so I can find out something about myself, some, you know, something along those lines. And I was, yeah, I’m not going to sit. It was designed to make her feel guilty and uh, they thought it, it got a response. So I got a phone call from her, like almost right away and it was really strange because the phone rang, I picked it up, she introduced herself, she was obviously nervous and then we settled into a two hour conversation.
Steve: 32:37 That was like the most natural conversation I’ve ever had. It was really strange and I don’t talk on the phone like if I’m on the phone with you for an hour today, Damon, that’s probably longer then the last 20 phone calls I’ve made combined, like I’m not a a guy that chats on the phone. She told me everything about her family. She wanted to know about my family. She was, you know, it was really strange. She told me a bit about being at the unwed mothers home and how my father didn’t want to give me up and how it was really hard for her to give me up and it comes to, it was really like, this went all over the place that lasted two hours and at the end of the two hours I was actually afraid that she was going to show up at my door.
Steve: 33:26 Like she was so open. Yeah, it was. It was amazing and almost kind of scary. And so what she said, one of the things she said during that was that her husband is a, like a supreme court judge and he basically forbade her. This is her story. I’m not sure I believe it now, but I did at the time. He forbade her from contacting me and he was afraid that if the kids found out that it was going to blow up their family and they’d never speak to each other again, or the kids would never speak to the parents again because they feel they were lied to their whole lives. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And so that was her problem, but she was going to work on it and she had a friend who had just reunited with her adopted child and that friend was telling her, man, you got to go see this guy and you know you gotta do this and tell Walter to go screw themselves and you know.
Steve: 34:21 Yeah, it was really interesting. She told me who my father was, but she said, please don’t tell him where I am. I said, of course not, no problem. And she said, I have baby pictures of you and I’m like, I would love to see those. I mean I’ve never had a baby picture and so she promised to send them to me and that was about it. So we hung up. Everything was positive. I didn’t ask a lot of questions about my background or anything. We just, it was just chatting and there was no doubt that we were going to have another conversation soon. Like it was just so comfortable. She told me all about her kids names and her oldest son, which would have been her firstborn after me. His name is Steve. Now my name is Steve, but that, that name was given to me by my adopted family.
Steve: 35:12 Yeah. We thought it was really odd that you know that the son she gave up ended up with the same name as, you know, the next name that she picked. And I think when you’re an adoptee too, in these reunions, you start sometimes maybe we read too much into these little things that seem like,
Damon: 35:32 Destiny kinds of things?
Steve: 35:32 yeah, like, you know, you go through and, oh, this person likes to play music and I like to play music. Her son Steve worked as an accountant and you know, I work at an accounting firm and I do some martial arts and he does some martial arts. and, oh, it’s like we’re exactly the same. No, come on. But anyway,
Damon: 35:49 yeah, it’s fascinating though. You gotta admit there are some crazy coincidences.
Steve: 35:54 Yeah. So anyway, yeah. So we hang up the phone and then I don’t hear from her again.
Damon: 35:59 Months and months go by. No letter, no baby pictures, nothing. In the meantime, Steve begins searching for his biological father who has a pretty unique name and owned a business in a small town called rich town. Steve calls the genealogical society to seek help in locating the man. A woman takes his information.
Steve: 36:21 20 minutes later I get a phone call from the newspaper in richtown, which is just like little weekly, you know, reg thing. This guy starts phoning me. He’s like, yeah, you’re looking for Walter. And he’s like, uh, yeah. Well I knew Walter really well. He says, uh, Walter owned a clothing store here in town, like a formal wear store in town. And three generations of my family worked for him.
Damon: 36:47 Oh Wow.
Steve: 36:49 When he died, he left me the building and I turned it into the newspaper. Yeah. So here I’m talking to this guy. So, and he’s like, well, Walter never had any kids. He did have a brother, I think his brother, you know his brother’s name was Joe. His brother lives down near Kaledin, which is like an hour the other way from here, you know, he tells me all this stuff. He, the next day in by courier, I received a, like an original copy. Oh, my father had died. Sorry, I’ve missed that part. So Walter had died. Yeah, I guess I did when I said he left the building. But anyway, he died in 1996 so I’d missed him by about 10 years. But everything I heard about him both from my birth mother and from this guy and from reading the obituary and like that. So he made me think this is a guy that I was like,
Damon: 37:44 really? What did you, what resonated with you?
Steve: 37:47 He was generous. He was never married. Um, he liked to travel. He liked to give. He was, um, Croatian. He, he was very active in the Croatian community. So, you know, his family came from Yugoslavia before it all split up and everything. And so they’re Croatian. And I think as soon as I said Croatian, it’s like, ah, that’s what I look like. I never really thought about it before, but it made perfect sense. You know, they said he, he spent his time like driving people from this little town in Richtown to London to the cancer clinic and back just on his own time as he got older because that’s, and you know, that’s the kind of stuff that I do. I just, I don’t know. And Plus my birth mother told me that he really wanted to keep me, so I really wanted to be like him.
Damon: 38:44 Your birth mother told you that Walter wanted to keep you?
Steve: 38:48 he wanted to get married and, and keep me and she did not. Uh, what she told me was she didn’t feel like the relationship was sustainable and therefore she shouldn’t go that route. Um, but the non identifying information that I received in the meantime also said that he continued to visit both him and her mother. So that would be my maternal grandmother were pressuring her to keep the baby and she elected not to, you know, of course a non identifying information goes on to say it was a very difficult decision for her and Blah, blah, blah. You know, this guy felt like my ally, you know, he’s dead, been dead for 10 years. But you know, when I found out this stuff about him, I felt like, man, you know, this is, plus he was an entrepreneur and you know, I’m an entrepreneur. I don’t know, it just felt like a, this was probably my people and I felt really bad that I hadn’t pursued this, you know, 10 or 12 or 15 years earlier.
Damon: 39:51 Yeah. But the fear can be paralyzing. You know, you can only do what you do in the moment when you can do it, you know, there’s, there’s not much else you can
Steve: 40:00 like finding out that he had no children and he wanted one. And that was me. And here, here I was all along and uh, not an hour from him, you know, here, here I was, all this time
Damon: 40:15 the man who owned the richtown newspaper sent Steve an original copy of the newspaper reporting his birth father, Walter’s death. His birth father was on the front page, the obituary was on the back. The guy sent a few pictures of Steve’s father as well. The man also went to the trouble of finding a phone number for Walter’s brother, Joe. Steve’s uncle, the man was in his seventies and Steve’s phone call of course caught the man off guard
Steve: 40:44 and this guy is the nicest guy in the world. He invites me, he invites me to come down for dinner. He’s got a little horse farm. So I drive down there and I have dinner with him and his wife. but it was really strange because you know, I have no evidence that I’m anything to this guy who’s never had children either. So I’m like the last person in the line in this family, their parents are dead. They had two sons. Neither of those sons had kids. And it was history. It was really strange. And you know, he told me a little bit about Walter, but I was just really, I just found it uncomfortable and not because he wasn’t a nice guy or, or suspicious or anything, it was just, I dunno, it was just weird. I guess I just again felt like I was intruding, um, for no real reason. So we had a really nice evening with him and then with him and his wife and then I went home and I never called him again and I actually googled them a few weeks ago and he invited me to call him again, but I just didn’t ever really know what to say.
Damon: 41:44 Steve learns from his uncle Joe that Walter had a girlfriend who didn’t get along with the family when he died. When he passed away, she took his body to the United States and buried him in an undisclosed location. She locked up his home so the family was unable to recover many of his belongings or learned much about the last years of his life. In the meantime, Steve is still waiting for his birth mother to send him the pictures she promised. In 2008, he decided it was time to send another letter.
Steve: 42:14 So I wrote her another snotty letter. And this one is like a, obviously, obviously you’re having second thoughts about the promises that you made to me. I’m sorry to have to be the one who tell you that Walter’s dead, you know, I kinda write this and it’s probably a little bit manipulative again, but I want her to feel guilty, I guess about promising shit to me and not, one of my pet peeves is if you say you’re going to do something, do it. And if you can’t do it or you’re nervous about doing it, just don’t say you’re going to do it. Right. That’s all. And so, and that’s a personal pet peeve of mine to extends far beyond, um,
Damon: 42:52 this situation,
Steve: 42:53 this adoption circumstance. But it just pissed me off. Like I didn’t ask for baby pictures. You volunteered that you had them and you said you’re going to send them and here I am. So anyway, I, so I write this kind of snotty letter and it generates a response. I get another phone call, like almost right away. So now she calls me, she’s at her cottage, her husband’s out for a run or I don’t know, he’s out somewhere. So she’s alone and she makes it pretty clear that she’s probably not supposed to be calling me. And we again settle into this most natural conversation. It’s the second time. And I spent another two hours on the phone with her and it was perfectly natural. And this time she’s telling me all about her friend who had just reunited with their adopted child and how wonderful that was and how supportive her friend was and telling me about her kids and how she’s really looking forward to telling her daughter about me because her daughter will really understand and not any, you know, we go on for another two hours and it’s again, it’s fantastic.
Steve: 44:01 At the end of it, she says to me like her big challenge again is her husband and he’s basically forbidden her from having contact with me. And maybe if I called the house from time to time, he’ll get used to the idea that I’m going to be around. And I said to her, I’m not comfortable with that. You’re like, your family dynamics are your thing to deal with, not mine. And I, I don’t, you know, I’m just not comfortable. Like if you can’t handle your own sort of family dynamics and I, I just can’t see. So anyway, I just say no. Like I’m not, I can’t do that. That would kill me.
Damon: 44:46 Yeah. You can’t be used as a crutch to fix something in the house. Cause in fact it can make things worse.
Steve: 44:52 Well, yeah. And it’s certainly isn’t going to help me. Um, so anyway, I just say, look, that’s not, I don’t think it’s not only am I not comfortable doing that, but I don’t think it’s fair for you to ask me to do that. And if you, you know, truly want to continue to, you know, continue along this path we’re on, um, and developed some sort of relationship, whatever that is, and then, um, I’m happy to do that, but I’m going to leave it up to you to call me. And, uh, she never has. So that’s Kinda how it ended.
Damon: 45:31 Steve hasn’t spoken to his mother to this day. One of the challenges you may have picked up on is Steve’s birth mother told him all about his brothers and sisters. He knows their names, ages where they work. And he has of course, found them all on social media. One of his brothers was a reality TV star in Canada. So since he was likely receiving so many friend requests from fans of the show, Steve sent him a friend request as well, kind of sneaking in the back door as it were. His birth mother also said that she felt her daughter would be supportive of the whole situation. So naturally Steve focused on her Facebook account, just kind of watching. Late one night feeling kind of lonely and possibly after an extra glass of wine, Steve sent her a Facebook friend request that he immediately regretted. He deleted his Facebook profile immediately and stayed off social media for months. In the interim, he met a woman through his real estate career who was from Ridgetown. Her family knew Steve’s father and gave him some additional pictures of his father.
Steve: 46:34 I think it’s about four months later, I feel safe and in control again. I go back on Facebook and almost immediately I get a message from this girl and it says the messages, I’ll never forget it. It says, you sent me a friend request, then you disappeared. Do I know you?
Damon: 46:55 wow. Uh oh.
Steve: 46:56 and I thought that is strange, like four months later, like who saves the requests for that? That’s certainly not how I run my Facebook, but who saves a request for that log and monitors it and I don’t know.
Damon: 47:10 Yeah,
Steve: 47:11 kind of threw me for a loop. It threw me for a loop.
Damon: 47:14 That’s interesting, yeah.
Steve: 47:16 And I’m having a co, you know, I’m having a conversation with this lady I work with about it. I’m telling her like this happened and it’s really, I remember it was Christmas Eve in 2012, we’re having a Christmas brunch together, lunch or team drinks after work or something. And I’m telling this story and she’s like, she knows who you are. You should just just be honest and tell her cause she knows who you are. There’s no way she would’ve done that if she didn’t know who you are. And I’m like, I don’t know. So I spent a few days, I tend to be a little bit of a sort of spontaneous guy. Send the torpedos full speed ahead. But you know, not think things through. Um, so, but I took some time and kind of crafted a return message to her. And really all I said was, no, you don’t know me but your mother thought you might like to, why don’t you have a chat with her and get back to me? And I don’t know to this day, I don’t know if that was the right response or not. So I think that I forced her to, you know, I don’t know, start the conversation but then I never found out anything after that. So like I, you know, I didn’t hear back from her. I didn’t hear back from anybody.
Damon: 48:32 Steve’s sister never accepted the friend request that initiated their contact. Going back a little, when Steve was in contact with his birth mother, he had given her his email address and mobile phone number. But back then people often had a work cell and email address that they gave out as personal contact information. So when he switched careers into real estate where he met the woman from rich town whose family knew his birth father, he lost that old contact information. If his birth mother had changed her mind about getting in touch with him, she could no longer do so.
Steve: 49:05 I started in real estate and I started doing these like newsletters every month to my clients and so I decided what I would do was I would just include her in my mailing list, my database, and so I just sent her a newsletter every month even though she’s, you know, thousands of miles away. And so that way, shit, it wasn’t, it wouldn’t be anything personal from me really necessarily, but it would have my new contact information and maybe give, keep her appraise and also a, my mother did have a Facebook page and at the advice of this sort of life coaching late coworker of mine, I did send her a message on her Facebook and it just said it wasn’t a friend request. It was just a a message saying, I just thought that if you are curious about sort of my life, this would be a nonintrusive way for you to see what’s going on. To see her grandkids and stuff, you know. I can’t remember exactly how I worded it was something like that. So it’s just an invitation to stalk my Facebook without an actual friend request or anything. And Anyway, so these, uh, I finally, after a few months of these newsletters, I finally got one that was returned to sender that the people didn’t live there anymore, which I think was bullshit. I think they just didn’t want to get them anymore. But um,
Damon: 50:22 the husband perhaps, it sounds like things just sort of never materialized her in terms of getting back in touch with you and I’m sorry to hear that. Wow, this has been fascinating. It’s been interesting to see, you know, the story of the adoptee who feels out of place and then ultimately is in a position of parenting a child on his own. It’s, it’s funny how our stories can form this circle of being the adoptee to having our own children in whatever form that takes. And you stepped up spectacularly to take care of Kevin. I just find that absolutely amazing. And I’m sorry that you didn’t get a chance to meet Walter and share Kevin with him, but it sounds like there’s still some work to be done. I feel like your mother could come around at some point, but I am sorry that she hasn’t also sort of held up her end of the bargain because she set up some expectations that it’s unfair that she didn’t keep and, and that’s really hard. And uh, even though you made a connection to your biological mom, at least you got to hear her voice. You got to catch her before something, you know, bad happened. I’m just like you, I wish that she had held true to the things that she promised and offered up some of that information that really could’ve connected you and her back to a time, uh, when you were born. It’s just unfortunate.
Steve: 51:50 Yeah. The thing I struggle with mostly was that I wasn’t really looking for a mother, like I was looking for information on heritage. You know, I was just kind of looking for background information. I wasn’t looking for a relationship, so I was really surprised by how deeply hurt I was by the rejection. And that really caught me by surprise. Yeah, cause I couldn’t care less if I actually found out who she was, when I started on this thing, I didn’t care who she was. I wasn’t looking for a mother and I can’t even deal with the family I got, why would I want another one?
Damon: 52:23 I asked Steve about what he learned about his Croatian heritage. He lamented that he felt so comfortable in his two hour conversations with his birth mother that he was lulled into a sense of having lots of time to get to know her. So he didn’t ask anything about their heritage. Ancestry has given him some clues about ties back to Great Britain, but that’s all he’s taken time to discover. In the years that followed, the rejection left Steve feeling kind of unsettled, so he went online looking for supportive resources. About five years ago, Steve found the adoption council of Ontario online where he connected with a woman on their team who offered to try to reestablish contact with his birth mother.
Steve: 53:05 So she phones my birth mother. And at that time my birth mother tells her to look, I’m not allowed to have contact with him. Kids have his contact information. If they want to contact him, they’re welcome to. I’ve given them, you know what I mean? Everyone’s aware. And man that felt like a knife through the gut and I don’t know why. Like I guess in that moment I just, I felt orphaned and I don’t know how to explain it and that really caught me. But like I was obsessed. I was angry, I was betrayed. I was, and I, and I couldn’t explain it, but you know, this lady kind of walked me through it and she recommended I was actually looking for, because it was affecting my work. I couldn’t think about stuff. I wasn’t focusing on work. Um, I was just messed up and I was really surprised by it and I tried to attend some counseling sessions, but there are very few counselors or social workers that understand adult adoptees that have any experience with them.
Steve: 54:12 It’s just not out there. Um, so then I started reading some books and they helped a lot. Like, you know, I read primal wound. I don’t really like primal wound cause I find it to be very negative and anti adoption, um, The Girls Who Went Away, though I found very helpful. Journey of the Adopted Self, I found very helpful. Um, Birth Bond, I found very helpful. Um, but anyway, and all that I have really been trying to do for the last few years and reconcile this feeling of hurt that I got from being betrayed by someone who really doesn’t mean anything to me or being rejected I should say. And I, you know, I’ve been working on that and I think it’s getting better. Uh, though I do still have times where I’m like, I don’t know. I got these siblings. Should I reach out? Should I not reach out? Should I sit here and be cool or not? You know, I don’t, I don’t really know what to do. How am I going to feel when I found out she’s dead?
Damon: 55:10 Yeah, man, it’s really tough to sort of navigate these, these other pieces of it. The aftermath, right? You go on the search, you find the person. And it’s a funny thing. I, you know, I hate to make this analogy, but it’s a little bit like, uh, running for public office, right? You spend all this time and money and energy focused on this one goal, and then you win the election and now you have to actually do the job, right? And it’s a similar thing and these adoption searches, right? You, you spend all this time and money and energy attempting to reach this person, and then when you reach them, you now have to deal with whatever the relationship turns into and a, and you have to do the work of being, you know, a person in this new space and it’s really tough. Well, Steve, I gotta go, man. Uh, but this has been really unbelievable and I appreciate you sharing the depth of your story cause I learned a lot about, you know, just one other person’s adoption journey and how, how challenging it can be. But I’m glad you got a connection to Walter. I think that that was really important and I, I hope you feel at least somewhat whole knowing that you and he are similar in some way.
Steve: 56:24 Yeah. I feel good.
Damon: 56:26 Good man.
Steve: 56:27 And I really enjoy it. Really enjoy listening to you and all the different stories on your podcast because it is funny to listen and you know, some somebody will say something, I’ll be like, yeah, that’s exactly it. And then half an hour later they say something else and I’m like, no man, that’s crazy. That’s not how I feel at all.
Damon: 56:43 Yeah, if there’s anything that I’ve learned in doing these interviews, it’s that you really just have to take a step back and respect someone else’s perspective, where they are coming from, where they’re trying to go and realize that it’s not your journey and far be it for you to judge. You know, we all have to live our own lives and we have our own influences and, and it’s up to each of us to choose our own path. And, and uh, and I just want to help people to tell their stories. So I’m really glad you’re enjoying the show and I appreciate you being my guest today, Steve. All right, take care man. All the best to you. Okay?
Steve: 57:16 Yeah. Thanks Damon . You take care.
Damon: 57:18 All right, you too buddy. Bye Bye.
Steve: 57:19 Bye Bye.
Damon: 57:23 Hey, it’s me. Steve’s story hit on many of the things that I think about when I now contemplate adoption. He’s this dark haired, short kid in a family of tall blondes who was hidden from the community and he was frequently reminded that his adoption was a technical bond, not a personal one, but what an incredible uturn Steve made in his teenage years moving from the streets into fatherhood, raising Kevin as a single father from day one. And it was great to hear that he felt like his birth father Walter, was a guy whom he would’ve wanted to know. But there are some lessons to be learned in Steve’s tale. For one thing, it can be tough to figure out how much to ask of your birth relatives and when. Some adoptees have expressed regret for their vigor and asking a barrage of questions, but Steve was left feeling like there was plenty of time to satisfy his inquiries, where in the end he got no answers about his heritage.
Damon: 58:16 Additionally, don’t underestimate how powerful your emotions about this search are going to be. You might not go into a reunion search wanting very much. Then you might find out you’re more deeply emotionally invested in the whole thing then you’re even willing to admit to yourself, as Steve alluded to in the end. I’m Damon Davis and I hope you find something in Steve’s journey that inspires you, validates your feelings about wanting to search or motivates you to have the strength along your journey to learn. Who am I really? I just want to take a moment to thank boom 106.9 in St Vincent in the Grenadines for the use of their studio to record this podcast today. Thank you guys so much. If you would like to share your adoption journey and your attempt to connect with your biological family, please visit WhoAmIReallypodcast.com/share you can choose to share your whole story, maintain some privacy about parts of your journey or share completely anonymously. You can find the show at facebook.com/WAIReally, or follow me on Twitter at WAIReally, and please,
Damon: 59:22 if you like the show, you can support me at patrion.com/WAIReally, you can subscribe to Who Am I Really? On apple podcasts, Google play or wherever you get your podcasts and while you’re there, it would mean so much to me. If you would take a moment to share a rating or leave a comment, those ratings can help others to find the podcast too.