After the adoptive father she loved so much died, Alison learned her birth father, Tim, was looking for her and she took it as a good sign of things to come. Sadly she found herself disappointed in him, and later in her birth mother, Jean, whom he contacted without telling her. Alison had no idea her birthmother struggled with mental illness, so their contentious relationship was inexplicably challenging. After Alison took legal action to gain access to her adoption records from the agency that refused to turn over her information, she finally laid eyes on the detailed context of her past that meant so much to her, and only her.
Read Full TranscriptAlison: 00:00:01 I am the one that had no choice in this. Right? You know, like when you realize like, you know, my, my adopted parents had a choice. They choose, they chose to adopt. My birth mother had a choice, even though in some sense she didn’t, but there was still choices made, right? That weren’t my choices. I mean, I’m the only one that, that completely had no choice. So I realized that like, and this in reunion. I can choose who I have relationships with and who I don’t, you know, I, I, you know, so I realized it’s okay. Like I don’t need to make this work with my birth mother.
Voices: 00:00:35 Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I?
Damon: 00:00:47 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 Alison. She called me from Massachusetts. After the adoptive father that she loved so much died, Alison learned her birth father was looking for her and she took it as a sign of good things to come. Sadly, she found herself disappointed in him and later in her birth mother whom he had contacted without telling her. However, after Alison took legal action to gain access to her adoption records from the agency who refused to turn over her information, she finally laid eyes on the detailed context of her past that means so much to her and only her. This is Alison’s journey. This is Alison.
Alison: 00:01:40 I just want to tell you, but I, you know, found your podcast not that long ago.
Damon: 00:01:45 I always like to hear how the show is impactful for people.
Alison: 00:01:49 And um, I, I shot you an email after the first one I listened to, you interviewed your friend,
Damon: 00:01:54 she’s talking about one of my lifelong buddies, Andre, whom I featured way back in my very first episode.
Alison: 00:02:01 And he, he actually used this person named Sheila Frankl in his search and at some point in my journey she helped me in actually getting my unredacted adoption record.
Damon: 00:02:13 Are you serious?
Alison: 00:02:15 No. Small world thing. I was like, oh my gosh. Like his story was so much like mine and then I listen.
Damon: 00:02:20 That’s so amazing.
Alison: 00:02:21 Yeah, it was amazing. And then I’ve just been, you know, listening, I’m not done, but it’s impressive how many I’ve listened to. I would just, I’m always plugged in and I just like, just can’t believe you did this. Like it’s so good and there’s so many people like us and we need to hear each other’s stories. So, um, yeah. So I completely appreciate it. It’s really good.
Damon: 00:02:43 No, man, I really appreciate that. Thank you so much. And to now, here we are. Alison is episode 85 crazy how time flies in this small world of ours. Anyway, Alison’s parents had tried to have children for almost 10 years before they adopted her older brother Bradley in 1961. She was born in 1963, in Boston. Two years later, their mother gave birth to their sister after 15 years of infertility. Alison said she always knew she was adopted and her parents always made it special and tried to normalize it so much so that their sister,
Alison: 00:03:21 my sister actually had voiced, you know, like when we’re young adults, you know, a little bit of sadness that she wasn’t adopted. My parents made like such a big deal about it that she always felt like, well, who’s gonna make a big deal out of me? You know? Um, so you know, like, you know, funny cause she is important and we all love her and um, but she was just kind of like, you know, I just wish I was also picked out special. Um, which is sort of the vernacular back then, which isn’t used now in adoption. But that’s, you know, kind of how I think, you know, parents were kind of coached to, to share that with their adopted kids.
Damon: 00:03:54 That’s interesting. You know, I never really thought about that. That, you know, there’s a lot of uh, discussion online and with folks who are, you know, considering adoption or who have adopted and how they should treat their adopted children. And you know, I, I have mixed emotions about sort of having a birthday for the child and a, I hate the word Gotcha Day, but the, the idea of bringing the child home like the day that we became a family, because if you are just trying to be normal, like constantly raising it can actually keep it at the forefront of your mind if you want to just forget and just be yourself. And I hadn’t really considered what it means for a biological child of the parents to have to endure that. That’s really interesting.
Alison: 00:04:40 Yeah isn’t that Interesting? Yeah, it was, it was really a thing for her. I mean, she wasn’t joking. She, it really, it, it bothered her.
Damon: 00:04:46 Yeah I could see that. Oh yeah,
Alison: 00:04:48 yeah, yeah, yeah. Me Too. Um, and you know, and, and, and, you know, on the flip side, I was actually, you know, one of my struggles being adopted was not so much the longing for my birth parents, but I just wish that I had been born to my parents that adopted me. Do you know what I mean? Like, I just wish I was just, their’s.
Damon: 00:05:09 Why? What did you feel to make you want that?
Alison: 00:05:10 you know, there’s some othering I think that happens when you’re adopted. So for example, you know, like we were super open about adoption in my family and, um, so if I would share with somebody, you know, like people would always comment, so there’s three of us and people would say, oh my gosh, you guys don’t look alike. So we would, if whoever, whoever, it was in my family would say, oh, that’s because, you know, Alison and Bradley were adopted and Candace wasn’t or whatever. And people would often say like the weirdest stuff. Like, like, oh my Gosh, you know, my brother used to tease me that I was adopted and I was so upset. I was hysterical until my parents told me that I wasn’t like, you know, like it was seen as this like awful thing to be adopted. And now there’s another thing that happened to me is when, so my, my dad, my adopted father, passed away when I was 17 and it was, it was awful. And we were, we were really close. So I, you know, I had this part time job at a department store and I’d gone back to work like a week after he had died, but I was still a mess. And, um, so I had gone like to the break room into the bathroom to kind of collect myself. So I was know in the bathroom, like in a stall, like crying and wipe my eyes. And these two, two coworkers, who were also teenagers walked in and they were talking about me because they didn’t know I was in there. And one of them said, oh my gosh, you know, Alison is still upset about her father. And then the other one said, I don’t know why she’s so upset. He wasn’t even her real father.
Damon: 00:06:34 Oh my gosh.
Alison: 00:06:36 Yeah. So things, you know, it’s like little things like that that I just didn’t like, I didn’t like that. It, it didn’t, I didn’t feel different in my family, but I know that other people saw me differently. Um, and I, yeah, I didn’t care for that.
Damon: 00:06:52 Yeah. Right.
Alison: 00:06:52 You know, I didn’t like,
Damon: 00:06:53 yeah, that’s like what I was saying. You just want to feel normal. And if you’re constantly reminded of it, it’s kind of annoying. Right?
Alison: 00:07:01 You just want to feel normal. Right.
Damon: 00:07:02 Alison followed up by pointing out that their two youngest children are also adoptees and they love making a big deal out of the day they were adopted too. They were older at the time of their adoptions, so they know when it’s their special day on the calendar and it doesn’t hurt that they receive a present too. She said they talk about the memories of when the children first arrived in their home, just like a natural child likes to hear about their own arrival into their parents’ world. She said she even loved to hear the story of her own arrival into her parents’ home. They went to pick her up, forgot the diaper bag, and of course she pooped everywhere.
Alison: 00:07:40 And I loved it. I loved that story. I loved, you know, like I, you know, always pretended to be embarrassed that they would, you know, talk about that pooping incident. But I like but I totally, I loved that story. I loved that, like, this is how you became ours, story. You know, cause I had no, I had no idea about my own birth. So I think I liked that
Damon: 00:08:02 when reflecting on her parents, Alison gushed over how amazing they were.
Alison: 00:08:07 So my parents were just completely lovely. Like I can’t, they’re both gone now and um, but I can’t overemphasize like how truly great they were as parents. Like just like super loving, really affectionate, completely dependable. Um, really good listeners. Um, I mean I never felt any sort of discrepancy between like how my brother and I were treated and my sister, you know, I felt like we were really good family unit and it was a very normal, um, you know, growing up years, you know, it was all, it was good, it was really good.
Damon: 00:08:41 But she said her brother was incredibly defiant toward their parents and he had some problems that may have stemmed from his adoption. His substance abuse began at a young age. So he has struggled. There are times when he can’t necessarily be involved with the family because he’s off doing his own thing. But he and Alison are still connected. So I wondered if things were so good in her home. What made her search for her biological family? She said she didn’t search, but she definitely would have. Alison had all of the classic curiosities that adoptees have about whom they look like and what personality traits they got from each parent. Her parents gave the kids their non identifying information, but it was very generalized and she learned later, not a lot of it was true.
Alison: 00:09:28 Yes, super general. And also later I learned out, super not true. Like it talked about my birth father’s family being, um, that he was young and completing his education. And the truth was he was away at reform school. He was a kid that was in a lot of trouble and also that his family was well respected in the community. And that was also not true. I mean, he grew up in chaos. He grew up in, you know, like every housing project in Boston. He was one of, I think like seven kids with six different fathers and um, a lot of abuse and awfulness. Like it wasn’t, it wasn’t, you know, like I’m reading, well, you know, owned his own business and well-respected in his community. I mean, that’s just a, you know, like a flat out lie. Um, so that was, that was typical then, and do you know what I mean? Like I just think, like that was just, you know, they’d tell the adoptive parents a good story.
Damon: 00:10:13 In 1982, Alison was in college where she had a friend, a red head, freckle faced woman named Tara who was also adopted, had met her birth mother and Tara and her birth mother looked just alike. When Alison learned that, Tara had called her adoption agency when she was 18 and learned there was a letter from her birth mother waiting for her. Alison was envious of Tara for having completed her search. She went to the payphone in the dormitories hallway to call her own adoption agency, because she just knew there must have been a letter waiting for her as well.
Alison: 00:10:47 Because weirdly, I just always assumed, um, that my birth mother loved me and was sad to have had to give me up and that she would, would, I think I just felt like she must’ve wanted to know and um, you know, that I was okay or any of it. So I called the agency and um, you know, talked to somebody there and she said, nope, like nothing there. And I was like, kind of like, what, how could that be? And I, and I was like really disappointed. Yeah.
Damon: 00:11:14 Now knowing what else to do, Alison just moved on. She married her current husband, Kurt, after her college graduation in 1983. That same year, she broke out in a severe case of psoriasis that covered her body from head to toe. It was her second such episode in her life.
Alison: 00:11:32 I went to a new dermatologist and he of course asked for my family history and I felt so angry that I didn’t have history and I was used to that. I mean, my whole life, you know, I’d say, no, I’m adopted. No, I’m adopted. And this time it really hit me like how unjust that is to not have information like that. So I just got angry and I called the adoption agency again, and I talked to this woman named Mrs. Kelly and I said, listen, I, I’ve, I called like a year ago, I know my birth mother, you know, never didn’t put anything in my file, so I’m not looking for that. But when I’m looking for is medical information and is there any way you have more medical information about me or can get it for me because I just need to know these things. So she said, well, you know, so let me look.
Alison: 00:12:21 And um, so she said I’m gonna call you back tomorrow. And, um, I said, okay, you know, I’m not expecting anything. Right? And so she calls me back and she said, Alison, I need you to sit down. I said, yeah, okay. Just, you’re not sitting down, are you? I’m like, no, we’ll just do you like, what? No, I’m not just telling me what you need to tell me. And so she said, um, I really need you to sit down. So I sat down and she said, your birth father called here two weeks ago, looking for you. And I was like, like, it wasn’t like I, so I was 20, so it wasn’t like a trigger age, you know, like 18 or 21, you know, those, you know, and, um, and it was like just two weeks before, I called and I wasn’t looking for anyone at that point, although I always wanted to know.
Alison: 00:13:09 So there’s no like, you know, that’s, that’s just a fact. I wanted to know. So she said, are you interested in meeting him? And I was like, yeah, of course I am. I’ve never met anybody I’m related to by blood. And so, and then also interestingly, timewise, you know, my dad had had just died in 1981 so it’s two years, yes it’s two years, which I was still really grieving my dad. Um, he, when I was in seventh grade, he, um, got cancer and so he had to have his leg amputated and the cancer had spread. And, and you know, he ended up dying five years after he was diagnosed. And it was awful. And my family, he was our rock and I was very close to him and, um, it was really horrendous when he died. Just this huge loss. And so all of a sudden there’s this guy looking for me who’s my birth father.
Alison: 00:14:00 And I thought this might be good. I mean, I, not even for a minute, felt like, oh, great, I have a new dad. Right? Like nobody could replace my dad. But I did think like, this guy’s gotta be pretty solid. Like, here he is looking for me. You know, like he doesn’t have to do that. Um, he must’ve missed me. He must’ve wanted to know about me, like, I just felt like this could be really good. Like he must be, if nothing else I was sure he was a decent guy if he was looking for me. And, um, yeah. So she, so she said, so what, you know, I said, yeah, I definitely want to meet him.
Damon: 00:14:34 So the social worker said she would meet with Alison’s birth father Tim, follow up with her, then arrange a meeting with the three of them. Alison said in hindsight she thinks the intermediary was trying to warn her that Tim might not be the kind of man she was expecting to meet. The woman told Alison that Tim was 35 years old. Keep in mind Alison was only 20 at the time. He was 15 when she was born. She continued with a fore warning that he struggled with drugs and alcohol and had been in trouble with the law. He has several kids with different women but he claimed to be stable at that moment and he wanted to meet Alison. Wait until you hear how bizarrely this first meeting went.
Alison: 00:15:18 So in my head, like initially when she said, you know your birth father wants to meet you, I pictured an adult. Like I pictured somebody that was stable. Somebody that, you know, like are the kind of guy that would put on a jacket and tie to meet his birth daughter, that’s who I pictured. Right? Because that would be my dad.
Damon: 00:15:32 Right. Totally. It’s, and it’s also sometimes hard not to create a surrogate for the father that you already know. You know, probably you probably pictured someone who was, they could have been one of your father’s peers, you know, cause it’s hard.
Alison: 00:15:45 Oh, 100%. Yes. Yeah, I totally did. Like I was really, I was hopeful, like I really didn’t want to replace my dad and I didn’t, I mean he wasn’t replaceable, but I really felt like this might be really good for me and, um, so, so anyways. So I, you know, like she was kind of like asking me, I think in her own way to lower my expectations and, um, but I still was like excited on the day that we were to meet together. Um, you know, I remember like getting dressed and like I wore, this is, so this is 1983, so I wore like a skirt and a blazer and nice shoes. And, you know, like I, I put, I like picked out pictures that I wanted to share with him. You know, I thought, I figured he wants to know everything, right? I mean, he’s looking for me and, um, so I like pick out pictures and I like mentally like, you know, like did highlights in my mind, like the highlights of my life.
Alison: 00:16:35 Right? You know, like what, what is he gonna want to know? You know, kind of like, you know, like thinking it through. So I wouldn’t be tongue tied. And I remember riding, so I took the t, you know, which is like the subway system in Boston and um, or the trains too. I remember like looking at my reflection when I was in the t and thinking, I wonder if he’s going to think I’m pretty like, I really worried, you know, like I just wondered how he would see me and accept me and if he would like me, you know? And so I was super nervous. Um, but weirdly I wanted to go alone. Like, my husband’s, my husband’s just the best. And he was like, you know, I’ll go with you. And I said, no, no, no, I’ve got this.
Alison: 00:17:13 And he goes, I can wait in the lobby. I just, you know, I want to be there for you. I’m like, no, no, no, I’ve got this. And I was always felt very independent about that. Like, you know, like this is my, my thing. And so I went and you know, off the rack and um, I was in a room. I, yeah, I was like, you know, really it was just like, you know, this is the first time, and I know you’ve been through this, that I’m going to meet someone that I’m related to biologically, like it’s huge. So she put me in a conference room and then a couple of minutes later she brought Tim in. Yes, this is my biological father. So, you know, I’m sitting and he walks in and he’s like, so he’s got like long hair and he’s wearing a leather jacket and t-shirt and jeans.
Alison: 00:17:55 And he like looks at me and he looks real young. I mean, he’s 35, but he looked really young and he was like, Oh my God, Oh my God. It’s like looking in a mirror and you know, like he was so, like floored, I guess, that you know, that he felt our physical resemblance was really strong. And then he goes, he goes, Huh, can I touch your face? And I was like, you know, like, I think that’s something that only blind people do. Then, you know like, like, that’s a little weird, right?
Damon: 00:18:21 Yeah, That’s really intimate.
Alison: 00:18:21 yeah. I was just like, why would you? We didn’t even hug. And I was like, okay. And so he like, you know, touch my face. And he was like, oh my God. Oh my God, this is amazing. You look so much like me. And it was like, that was like really meaningful to him.
Alison: 00:18:36 Like he, he, he really wanted, like, he wanted to see that resemblance and he did. Um, I on the other hand, was having a hard time seeing it, but I was a mess, you know, like I was off balanced. I was like, thrown by his, by him, you know, and I’m like, I don’t, I don’t know, maybe ,you know, like there’s, I see maybe, you know, like maybe this, maybe that, so then he just, you know, so after touching my face and you know, he just, you know, kind of. Mrs. Kelly, so it was that social worker, said all maybe too long to get acquainted. So, so he’s like, he just starts talking. Um, he said, um, I’m trying to think how he started.Oh, he started with I’m an alchy and I was like, I don’t know what that is and he goes I’m an alcoholic and I’m like, oh okay.
Alison: 00:19:18 And he said, you know but, I’m, you know, clean and sober and, um, you know, talk about that a little bit. And I was like, okay, okay. And then, um, he said, so, so it’s crazy. Alison I, uh, I couldn’t remember your, your mother’s name for the life of me, it’s my birth mother’s talking about. And I said, okay. And then, you know, then I did, and then I remembered, you know, Jean and I’m like, you know, I was like, okay, like this is just so crazy. And he goes and he leans in, he goes, I just want you to know, you know, you were conceived in love. And I was like, Whoa, Whoa, whoa. Like I do not want to talk about my conception. Like there’s stuff I want to know, but my actual conception isn’t on my list. Right? It just, that’s just, I, you know, really, I don’t want to know.
Alison: 00:20:01 And then so I was like, um, stop talking like this.
Damon: 00:20:06 I’m trying not to laugh.
Alison: 00:20:06 I know please, laugh cause it’s funny, like that’s so weird, the face touching and then he’s talking about my conception and, and then, you know, like it was, so then he goes, you know, listen, I think of you every September 26 without fail. And I said, I, I, Thank you? Um, i then explain, you know, my birthday is September 29th. And he’s like, ah, but he said the f word, like, I can’t believe it. I can’t believe I thought about you on the wrong day. All these years I’ve thought about you on the wrong day, you know what. And then he goes, you want to know why that is? That was my sister Patty’s birthday. And I’ll tell you something about her. She killed herself. And so this is like, seriously, this is the stuff he’s firing at me. Yeah. She killed herself. Ah, and this is him talking about, you know, uh, in, in the car, in the garage. She killed herself. And then, you know what, two weeks later my brother Allen did the same thing in the same car. And so this is like seriously? Like this is our first conversation.
Damon: 00:21:06 So Tim is rattling off things about the family. Alison is a mess and her head is spinning from all, that he’s hurling at her. He finally takes a breath and Alison asks about her birth mother, Jean. He recounted how she was a nice girl from a nice family, too nice for him and they hated him by his own account. They met when she was 17. He was 15 and they were in a church youth group in Boston. Her family was heavily involved with the Methodist Church. So Jean was involved in the youth group, but Tim was involved for the opposite reason. He was constantly in trouble and the youth group was intended to be an intervention to help him straighten out. Jean and Tim started seeing one another outside of the group. Through all of Tim’s rambling, Alison was still glad to hear her birth mother’s name from his mouth and his recount of how her birth parents had connected.
Alison: 00:22:01 So then at some point, Mrs. Kelly came back in and she said, how’s it going in here? And I’m like giving her like the big eyes, like help me. And, and he and Tim goes, it’s great, it’s amazing, I mean, we’re like really hitting it off. And she’s like, okay, great, all right, I’ll give you some more time. And she shut the door. And, um, and then he just just kept talking and he never asked me anything about myself. Like, not, not one thing, not where did you grow up? What were your parents like? Did you have any siblings? I have pictures in my purse. I had stories in my head and I didn’t share any of them with him. It was just bizarre. And then, so, you know, so he just kept talking and my heart’s really pounding and I’m trying to process this. And you know, I’m still 20 and, and I have no, I have no Facebook group to turn to. I have no, like, I had no prep. There were no books about this. Like this was just a whole crazy experience. And, um, and so Mrs. Kelly came back and said, listen, we’re closing their closing up here. Um, you know, if you guys want to meet again here or get together on your own. He’s like, we’ll get together on our own. [laughs] Like oh, Okay.
Alison: 00:23:13 So he goes, where are you parked? And I said, actually, I took the T. Um, and he goes, oh, I’ll drive you to, I’ll drive you to the t station. I said, okay. And um, he said, but first, you know, do you want to come to my house? They lived in an apartment, real close to the adoption agency in Boston, with his then wife and, um, like three year old son. Do you want to come meet my wife before I drive you to the t station? And I said, yeah, okay. And so we did. So we went into his apartment and I met his wife and she was nice and she asked me a couple of questions, which was cool cause I was like, finally she wants to know something about me, you know. So like we talked for a couple minutes, Cathy and I and um, and she really, she was nice.
Alison: 00:23:52 And then he showed me his son. So his sons like sleeping in a playpen in the middle of the living room. And I’m looking at him and like, he’s, it’s weird cause Tim would, it’s like he couldn’t connect that his son was my brother. Like he’d always just be like my son, you know, like it was just weird. And so I’m looking at him thinking like in my head, like, this is my brother, this is my half brother. I am related to this little tiny boy. Like I’m trying to make this real and uh, and, you know, I didn’t really feel anything like I, I just thought that I thought that was a big deal and I just, I just couldn’t, I just, it just felt so weird.
Damon: 00:24:27 Instead of driving her back to the train station where she arrived to meet him at the adoption agency, he drove Alison all the way back to the station where she originated her journey, where her car was parked. She said she’s not sure why she let all of those things happen because she wasn’t completely comfortable at any point. In fact, she could smell marijuana in his car and she wasn’t convinced he wasn’t high when they met. When she saw her husband, Kurt, after the meeting, he asked how it all went.
Alison: 00:24:56 It was good. Um, and he was like it was? And I’m like, yeah, I just, I didn’t even know how I felt. I didn’t know what to think. You know, like I, you know, I started telling Kurt like, I got a lot, I got some information and that was really helpful and, um, and he was nice. You don’t like, like I don’t even know how, I didn’t know how to describe it.
Damon: 00:25:17 Yeah. It sounds like it was such a crazy, bizarre experience, but you also felt..
Alison: 00:25:21 it was bananas. I also felt embarrassed, you know, like I felt like I had some responsibility for this. Like I opened this door and what did I expect? So, and I think that’s stupid now. I don’t think I’m right, but I felt some shame, you know, like, like I felt ashamed honestly, that I was related to him cause I thought he was so like bananas. I felt ashamed that I agreed to meet him because it was clearly a mistake. Um, although I wasn’t sure how clear I was on that at that point, but I, I was starting to admit to myself that this wasn’t right. And then I also felt super sad because it made me miss my dad, you know? Like I was just like, how, how can this be that I, I had this great dad, like how could this be my biological reality? How? I, because I can’t even believe it.
Damon: 00:26:11 Lending some context to that era in her life. Alison reminded me that she and Kurt were a young couple. They had no money so they didn’t pay for a caller id, nor did they have an answering machine on their landline phone at home. You remember those days when you couldn’t screen your calls? You had to answer the phone with an exit strategy in mind if you didn’t want to speak with the caller. Tim will call their house and he would just talk and talk and talk about everything from the neighbors, to his AA meetings, but he never asked Alison about herself.
Alison: 00:26:45 We continued to talk on the phone but that was always like, and I never called him, like super stressful for me. Like, you know, like I realized how much I hated it and how I didn’t want to have contact with him and I would do things like, like, you know, like those long phone cords that they used to have before cordless phones. It’s like we had a really long one in our apartment and I would stretch it out to our front door and I would ring the doorbell and I would say, oh Tim, I’ve got to go paper boys here. I’ve got to pay him, you know, or whatever it was. You know, I’ve just tried to get off the phone as quickly as possible. Um, yeah, that was, it. Was, it really, it was just, it was just crazy.
Damon: 00:27:19 Within that year, Tim called at some point to drop the news that his wife had taken their son, Alison’s brother and move to Florida. He admitted he had been drinking again. At some point prior, Tim shared with Alison that he had been married before and she had a half sister out there, but he and his ex wife were not on good terms.
Alison: 00:27:41 She doesn’t let me see her. I think she’s fine, but he didn’t really, really have any knowledge of where this daughter was or what she was doing. And, um, and that disappointed me a lot. Like I just felt like, why are you trying to be my father, in air quotes, and you’re not even a father to the kids that are yours. Like that’s a joke. And um, you know, it was just all awful. And so, I know at some point that I came clean with, with Kurt, you know, my husband and said like this, I’m just, this is just not what I was hoping for and I am absolutely not going to look for my birth mother. I am done with reunion. Like this is not, it’s not for me. And I was like, that’s cool. You know, like, that’s cool.
Damon: 00:28:19 So how old were you when you reached that conclusion? You must’ve been about 22, 23.
Alison: 00:28:25 No, it was still probably in that first year. You know, like, so yeah. So, because, because we had, so Tim and I had known each other about a year and he called, so he called one night and, then the weird thing when he’d call here is go, hey sweetheart. And I, and I hated it because I hated that he assumed that I knew who it was. And I felt like it took like, like, and I did know who he was, so who am I? But I just like, I hated it. And, um, so he called, you know, when my heart drops, I’m like, I just can’t let this. And he goes, listen, I just got off the phone with your mother. And of course, you know, for me, mother is, my mom who raised me. So I’m like, why would you call my mother? No, not, not, not your adoptive mother, your real mother, which also like kind of goes right through me. Right? And yeah, so I was like, Huh. And he said, and she lives in California. She’s got like five kids. She, uh, she’s gonna call you in an hour. And I was like, oh, like what?. Um, okay. You know, like, so he had tracked her down, I guess for me. And, um,
Damon: 00:29:27 Holy crap.
Alison: 00:29:27 right?
Damon: 00:29:27 So you’re like on the mental outs with him and tried to get away. He’s bringing more, that’s incredible. Oh boy.
Alison: 00:29:37 yeah, it was awful. And so I, but you know, I’m like, oh my gosh. So this is like, so, um, you know, since she’s going to call me in an hour, so you have this hour where of like, I mean my heart was pounding out of my chest and I was like, this is the person who gave birth to me. Like this is, this is a different ball game, you know, like, you know, as far as him, it’s hard for me to muster up any strong feelings for him. But Jean, I felt like, I mean she gave me life, you know, like I’d like to talk to her like I, you know, and, but I also like prayed, she wasn’t like him too right? And, um, so, you know, I was real nervous and so the, the phone rings and um, I say hello and she’s like, Alison?
Alison: 00:30:17 And I said, Yep. And she started crying. And then she said, I love you. I have always loved you. I want to know everything about you. I was like, oh, okay. You know, like, it was great. And, um, and so she was, you know, she was normal, you know, like, which was sort of the bar from me now, like just normal, all I want. And, um, and we talked on the phone for a long time and you know, a lot of it’s a blur, but she asked me a lot about like my family and where I grew up and if I was happy and, um, and I was able to, you know, tell her yeah, you know, it’s been great. And, um, you know, talked about my family and then she said, what do you want to know? And I said, I want what time I was born, you know, like why this was my first question? I don’t know. Um, except for when I was growing up, that was like, one of the things that always made me feel adopted. Like, if for some reason my friends would all be like, I’m going to be 10 but not until 1245 you know what I mean,
Damon: 00:31:13 yeah, yeah, I had that too.
Alison: 00:31:17 Yeah, it’s awful. Right?
Damon: 00:31:18 Yeah. And you know, I didn’t realize it until I was an adult and then I was like, she told me what time it was when she gave birth to me and then I was like, you know, I never knew that.
Alison: 00:31:29 Yeah. It’s like just a little fact that other people know. So she told me, she told me what time I was born ish, cause she said, you know, they, they kind of back then they did that twilight sleep and you know, they knock you out, but she’s like, it was a 10 o’clock hour at night, you know, like that was enough for me.
Damon: 00:31:44 Alison wanted to know everything and her birth mother shared openly. Jean was forced to go to a home for unwed mothers when she got pregnant and the adoption was forced as well. She shared the name of the hospital where Alison was born, finally setting it apart from the multitude of hospitals around Boston where Alison guessed she could have been born and she told the story of the nursing staff who was there to support her birth.
Alison: 00:32:11 You know, the nurses at the hospital weren’t particularly kind to her and there was one nurse was really young who was really nice to her and she would bring me to her every day. And so she was able to hold me and change my diapers and you know, feed me and be with me and that that was, you know, like really important for her and it wasn’t easy. Right. Like that’s so nice to know like that kindness of that one nurse, you know, make that made such an impact on her.
Damon: 00:32:38 Jean has been married twice and has five children. As a result, learning all of these facts and having this great conversation with her birth mother felt right more like what she expected from a reunion. It’s a lot easier for people to communicate today than it was back then in those pre-internet days. It used to be cheaper to wait until after 10:00 PM to make a long distance call and there was no email, so sending someone a note meant you were physically writing and mailing a letter. They talked on the phone sometimes, sent letters back and forth, including pictures from moments in their past lives and it was really cool. It was great to see pictures of her siblings. But Alison was disappointed that even though there were five of them, she didn’t really look like any of them. In time, Kurt and Alison scraped together the money for a cross country flight from Boston to Riverside, California, to meet her birth mother. It’s a long flight and when you’re sitting next to someone for several hours on a plane, sometimes you strike up a conversation like Alison did with the older couple near her. They asked what was taking her to California and she said,
Alison: 00:33:47 and I said, I’m actually going to meet my birth mother for the first time. And they were like, oh my gosh, this is crazy. So they said, as we got closer to landing, they’re like, you know, like we’ll take pictures for you. That’s amazing. That’s a nice, so I gave them my address and um, and they, they had, you know, like I had a camera but they said, no, no, we’ll use ours. We’re comfortable with it. We’ll send them to you, I promise. And so, so when we went to get off the plane. The woman of this couple goes and we were toward the front, but she says to everybody around us, let Alison off the plane first. She’s going to meet her mother for the first time.
Alison: 00:34:25 [laughing] It’s crazy. So they were all like, oh my gosh, of course of course. So, so I got off the plane like first, but all the people that were around us on the plane like circled us and cheered when I met her, so she was there. She was right there when I got off the plane, you know, with her husband and it’s like, so you know, this couple they were taking, you know the wife was take or the husband, don’t remember, were taking pictures and then all the other people were clapping, like they were clapping. And then like when they left us and like, you know, like Jean and I were hugging and it was, it was really, it was great, you know, like, you know, it’s like, yeah, but we had an audience so it’s like so funny and you know, like even as they left us, like people didn’t just leave and walk away. They kind of like rub my back and like good luck. So funny. Like, um, but it was, you know, it was, it was amazing to see her. I mean, I knew what to expect because I had sent pictures and she had sent pictures to me and it was emotional. It was a real thing, you know, like this person carried me and gave birth to me.
Damon: 00:35:23 Alison stayed with Jean for five days. Jean”s kids were of course younger than Alison, so they did some touristy things like go to Disney and Knott’s berry farm to pass the time and to bond. Many nights, Alison and Jean just talked into the wee hours and asked one another, a lot of questions and got a lot of answers.
Alison: 00:35:43 Yes, it was good. A couple things that happened that were like a little weird to me, like, or uncomfortable. Like one thing was we, so we had, you know, kind of, I would go do errands with her, whatever, and she would introduce me to people. And so she’d say, this is my daughter Alison. And so I’ve talking if though the person I was talking to, you know, started a conversation with me and I said, if I said anything about like growing up in Massachusetts or, you know, like anything that’s sort of like said that showed that I wasn’t her, that I was her birth daughter, not her daughter, she, Jean would like shoot me daggers, like with her eyes. And I was like, yeah. And she like, did not like that. And like later she said, I, that makes me uncomfortable that you do that. And I was like, I didn’t know it was a secret, you know like, I really didn’t know.
Alison: 00:36:33 And then she and I, you know, I hated that. And then another thing she did a lot was, you know, I kind of think like this, it was a rookie move. Like, I didn’t need to forgive her, but she would ever, she just kept claiming things about me, like she’d, like, like I was wearing shorts and she’d go, Oh, you’re, you, you’ve got nobby knees, you got that from me, you know, like things like that and I don’t like that. Like I don’t like being picked apart and claimed, you know. And even it was like, not just like, you know, like, oh my gosh, your eyes are the same color. Like that’s normal. Right? Like, and I think we did have that moment. We have the same color eyes and that was okay, but it was like everything, like she should say, do you know, do you like to read?
Alison: 00:37:09 And I say, I love to read. Well, you get that from me. And I thought like, back off, you know, like, I didn’t get everything from you. Like that’s crazy. And yes, I didn’t like it. And, um, and then I sort of made a rookie mistake too, I think in that, um, when I talked to her, I didn’t talk about my mother very much. I talked about my dad. Um, I think partially because he had, you know, you know, he had died and I missed him and I had so much, you know, like I had a good relationship with him and, and I, and I, I get the sense, she was vulnerable and uncomfortable about my mother because when she did come up she would get kind of cringy and so I like kind of made a mental note not to talk about my mother too much and so, but I did say, you know, like something real, it was real normal. Like, you know, as, as close to my dad, but my mother and I would butt heads a lot, especially when I was in high school. And you know, that’s like normal. That’s normal.
Damon: 00:38:05 Sure. Oh Yeah.
Alison: 00:38:05 And yeah, and so later, so I didn’t know it at the time, but later she kind of used that information like as a weapon against me. So you know, like there were a few signs during that first visit that maybe like maybe this wasn’t going to be smooth sailing after all.
Damon: 00:38:19 So was your, if I understand you correctly, I feel like you’re saying your mistake was not speaking more equally about both of your parents with your biological mom?
Alison: 00:38:30 that’s yeah, that’s right
Damon: 00:38:31 And why though? Because you said that you detected from her that it was uncomfortable for her. So why do you feel like that was your mistake? If you were picking up a signal and you sort of made a course?
Alison: 00:38:43 Yeah. You know, you’re right. You kinda make me feel better about that mistake. I don’t know. I just like, you know, why I think it was a mistake because later it came back to bite me.
Damon: 00:38:52 Alison fast forwarded a bit in her story. She said they continued their relationship over the years, speaking by phone, visiting one another, but at some point it got strange between them, kind of uneasy. Jean seemed to be moody sometimes, critical of the things Alison said. And Alison felt like she just couldn’t say anything right. It’s around 1999 and email became a widely used communications tool, so their handwritten letters were gone. Jean started emailing links to birth mother websites.
Alison: 00:39:24 so they were like super angry birth mother websites and they talked about things like our babies are stolen from us and then our babies deserve mother love, not just material advantages. So things like that. And she’d send them to me and I was like, why? Like why are you sending these to me? Like this is not for me, this is for you. Like I get her anger, I get how unfair things were for birth mothers in that era. Like I understand her pain. But that wasn’t my pain and the whole thing that it said our babies deserve mother love. I was so, ripping angry like crazy. Like, like I had mother love, I had mother love. I had a mother who I loved, who loved me. I didn’t lack from, I didn’t lack for that. I didn’t long for that from her. I had that.
Alison: 00:40:10 And so I would, just kept deleting them . Thinking she’s just bananas. And so she called me one day and um, and she goes, and I remember like so distinctly because, so at the time we just had two girls that, that are biological to us. And, um, so my oldest daughter was 10 and she was wearing a softball uniform. That’s why I remember like, you know, like how old she was and my other one was, the other one was seven and they’re sitting at the table eating chicken nuggets. We’re trying to like go, go, go cause one of them had a softball game and so Jean calls and she says, um, did you get a chance to look at those websites? And I said, you know, I did. And she goes, what did you think? And I said, I don’t like them. And she said, why? I said, I had mother love. I don’t understand why you’re saying I don’t know what you want from me. Why are you, why are you sending these to me? And then she said, listen, I know you really loved your father and that he had a huge influence on your life, but what if your father, And I know this is crazy, she said, but what if your father was able to raise you with me? That’s crazy, right? Like is your jaw dropped?
Damon: 00:41:09 weird? Why would you say that?
Alison: 00:41:13 RIGHT? It was odd. I was like. So I said, I don’t know what I said to you that would make you think saying that to me was okay, I loved my mother, I love my mother. I had a great mother. Like why would you say that to me? And she said, you know what, Alison you are very difficult. So I was, you know, and, and I said, you know that, that’s probably true. You know, I probably, uh, maybe I’m difficult. And then she said, you just make everything so hard, it’s so hard to talk to you. And then, um, I said, well, you know, I’m not particularly enjoying this conversation either. And I was mad cause at this point my girls both had like dropped their forks and they’re staring at me like, what is happening mom? So she said, you know, sometimes I wish I had never met you.
Alison: 00:41:59 And I said, you know, that can be arranged. Let’s pretend we never met and hung up on her. And I was like shaking mad. Like, like I was shaking and cause, I remember my oldest daughter who’s super sensitive was like, mom, are you all right? And you know what happened? And they knew I was talking to my, my birth mother and they had met her before too and they called her Nana and although we lived a distance apart so they didn’t see her a lot. There wasn’t like closeness there, but, and then my younger daughter was like, you know, like that’s not fine. That’s not fine that she talked to you like that. That’s not okay that she upset you. Like she was really like protective of me and then I was just kinda like, like had to like pull myself together and be like, alright guys just get in the car. It’s time to go to the game. And uh, but I was like, just so upset.
Damon: 00:42:43 That was the beginning of the end for them. Now I said Alison fast forwarded a bit. So now let’s go back. Before she met Jean, she met Jean’s brother who lives in New Hampshire right up there in New England, near Alison. She said he’s just a great guy with a great wife and they have some great kids.
Alison: 00:43:03 So she would say things like, oh, I know you’re really close to Rob. And Kathy, but you don’t want to be close to me. And I think it’s not that I don’t want to be close to you. I, I don’t know how to be close to you. I don’t know how to make this work, you know, like, cause it’s everything I said she would twist around like, like one example was when I met her, I had some, my grandmother lived with us when I was growing up. We had an in law apartment at our house and I was close to her. And so when I met her, we had all these great long, you know, like heartfelt conversations. One thing I had shared with her is how my grandmother had this really big fear of, of our birth mothers like mine or my brother’s coming back for us. So she actually said, I remember her saying, you know, Alison, I just always had a fear that that woman would come back and try to take you from us. And so I told Jean about that and Jean was like, fine. Like when I told her it was no big deal. But later if I said, you know, something, something, my grandmother, she would go, oh, I don’t like your grandmother. She called me that woman, you know? So things like that. Does that make sense to you? How the relationship turns?
Damon: 00:44:05 Oh yeah. Oh yeah.
Alison: 00:44:06 Yeah. It’s like everything starts being twisted, like, like weaponized against me.
Damon: 00:44:12 She felt like she just couldn’t navigate a relationship with Jean. Then after all they had been through, Jean finally revealed something that Alison never could have known. It was the day after their big blow up where each agreed it was better to act like they had never met.
Alison: 00:44:28 She called me the next day and begged me to not cut her from her life. And then she goes, you know, my psych, I talked to my psychiatrist and she said, you are right and I’m wrong. And I said, psychiatrist?. And she said, yeah, I have bipolar. And she, and like, she never told me that before. We didn’t, you know, like we’d been in contact for years and she said it just like that. And I thought and obviously, you know, I’m thinking, okay, this makes sense and it’s obviously not being managed properly, like you, cause I could kind of like see the sort of, you know, dramatic like highs and lows of her, of her personality, like, you know, during, over the years, you know, this makes it so much more sense, but that’s like how I would find things out like in this real like backdoor way.
Damon: 00:45:08 MMM hmm.
Alison: 00:45:09 So we never really could, um, you know, like it just didn’t turn out. You know, like I started out strong and I thought it was going to be great and then it just couldn’t, I couldn’t say anything. I couldn’t, I just, I just, it just didn’t work. And then I also like at some point realized like I am the one that had no choice in this. Right. You know, like when you realize like, you know, my, my adopted parents had a choice. They choose, they chose to adopt. My birth mother had a choice, even though in some senses she didn’t, but there were still choices made that weren’t my choices. I mean, I’m the only one that, that completely had no choice. So I realized that like in this, in reunion, I can choose who I have relationships with and who I don’t, you know, I, I, you know, so I realize it’s okay. Like I don’t need to make this work with my birth mother,
Damon: 00:45:55 so they haven’t broken up per se, but their contact is minimal now. Alison and Jean are friends over social media, but even that has gone wrong. Things that feel normal, like casual commentary online get misconstrued and overblown. So Alison blocked Jean online for a while until she begged not to be cut off from Alison’s online life.
Alison: 00:46:19 And so she posted this thing about, it was stupid, but it was a stupid thing about how she hates when people say that she, that her daughter looks like her. And I kind of wrote back to her and we were friendly, you know, not like close but friendly. And I went back to her like, oh, you know, like the thing is Jean, she does look just like you and you know, you don’t like, you can embrace it. I embrace it. I, if you were adopted, you would completely enjoy that resemblance, you know, you just would. And um, and so she was like, you know, so, so Jean wrote back, to the sister and she says something like, no, no, she’s not like me her essence is so different. Like it was just something, it wasn’t anything, it’s stupid. And, um, but then my birth mother chimes in, and she said, I agree with both of my daughters, although only one of them allows me to call her daughter.
Damon: 00:47:06 Totally unnecessary.
Alison: 00:47:08 Yeah, and public.
Damon: 00:47:10 yeah.
Alison: 00:47:11 Right? So, and that’s how it always has been. You know, like, you know, I try to be normal with, you know, with her and I can’t, you know, just try to be normal and it just, anything that feels normal, like a, like a casual comment to my, my half sister gets twisted into something else.
Damon: 00:47:27 yeah. Turns into something. Yeah.
Alison: 00:47:29 Yeah. So I ended up like, you know, kind of inboxing her on Facebook saying like, listen, we can’t be Facebook friends anymore. I can’t. That was awful. And then again, you know, please don’t cut me off. I will only look at your pictures.
Damon: 00:47:40 I realized while we were chatting that I didn’t have a feel for the overlap of finding Jean and whether Alison’s mother was still alive at the time. She said her adoptive mother was still with her when she found Jean. So I asked how she had shared everything with her mother. Let me ask you something else.
Alison: 00:47:58 Yeah?
Damon: 00:47:58 Did you, uh, was your mom alive when you found your biological mother?
Alison: 00:48:04 She was.
Damon: 00:48:04 And how, how did you share this with her along the way and how did she take it?
Alison: 00:48:10 You know, I cant tell you. I didn’t talk to her about it very much and, um, and it’s, it’s kind of a regret I have now, um, about that. So I had told her, so when I met him, you know, my biological father, um, I told her and she was and she was cool, like, you know, that’s good, you know, you need to get your medical information. I think that’s important. So she was kind of like for it, but not enthusiastic about it. Like, she wasn’t, you know, she didn’t call me before like, good luck or call me after like, how’d it go? You know what I mean? Like, you know, I really think it made her uncomfortable. And then so when Tim found Jean for me, I told her and she was like, oh, that’s good, you’ll get more pieces to the puzzle.
Alison: 00:48:59 I’m not sure I’m right about this. I felt, at the time, she didn’t really want to engage about it. So I didn’t talk about it very much. I mean, I did tell her, you know, like after the trip to California, I came over as I do often and she said, how was, how was California? But not, how was your birth mother? How was your, I mean, how was California? And I said, it was incredible. We went to Disney and you know, like I started talking about all this stupid stuff that didn’t have anything to do with meeting her and, and she didn’t push me for more. So I, I’m not sure she wanted to know more, but in hindsight, I mean, I really wish I could talk to her about this, now. I wonder if she thought I didn’t want to tell her more, so I’m not, I’m not sure I handled that right.
Damon: 00:49:37 She, sounds like she was treading lightly hoping that you would share more and you both were sort of pushing and pulling a little bit to try to figure out who was going to share, and neither did. So you didn’t.
Alison: 00:49:48 yeah, that’s completely right. Yeah, that’s completely right. So we didn’t, I mean I, and um, and even like my sister who I’m close to, she didn’t ask me a lot either. She was just like, I would tell her and she’d always be like, cool. Yeah. That’s cool. That’s good that you know that like, yeah, not unsupportive but not super curious. And I, and I think she has just felt like protective, like we’re your family and you know, you’re my sister, you’ve always been my sister, regardless of whether we’re related by blood, you know, like I think she’s maybe a little uncomfortable sharing me. So I never really was that, you know, forthcoming with my, with my adopted family about it. And, and although to fast forward, you know, and this is, so I’ve been in reunion for 35 years. Um, I think things had finally kind of come full circle.
Alison: 00:50:32 So this summer our youngest daughter got married and um, so at a table, at the reception, just at our house, we had a big tent in our yard and it was fabulous, but at one table sat first family from both my biological father’s side. So he had his brother that I’m very close to that I met after he died, he had a sister that I was actually really close to. She came to my other daughter’s wedding, but she’s since passed away. Um, my uncle Rob was my birth mother’s brother, um, was at the table with his wife and his kids and my cousins were all grown up and have kids of their own. My brother, um, that, you know, that I was raised with, my sister that I was raised with. They were all at one table. They all ate together. They danced together. It was like it was so, it was such a moment for me in, in, in a day of moments, looking over at that table thinking, look at that. That is my family.
Damon: 00:51:22 Alison said at that wedding, she just decided to back off from trying to protect everyone’s feelings. So she said, everyone’s together at the table and it worked out great. But did you hear what I thought I heard it sounded like Alison said Tim was dead. She told me the story of trying to separate from him and how she learned of his passing.
Alison: 00:51:42 I did at some point say, listen Tim. You know like, we can’t talk all the time. Like I can’t do it. You know, I have a family and this is hard for me to try to navigate a relationship and I really care about you and I’m glad I’ve met you, but I just, I can’t all the time talk to you, but I will always send you a Christmas card so I make sure I always know where you live and I’ll always send you a Christmas card, which I always did up until he died, which is kind of important and how they found me after he died. And, and he was cool about that. He was always cool, like as bizarre as he was, he was always, he loved me and he was really kind to me. Like he was, you know, it wasn’t what I wanted or expected, but he was not mean.
Alison: 00:52:15 So anyways, he called me out of the blue in like 2000 and he said, Hey, I’m living, I’m living in Wareham. He says, and I’m like, holy, like, nope. What? And I’m, yeah, I’m close to you. And I just got out. I was incarcerated. But, um, you know, like this whole story, like, like, this is normal, you know, like, I was incarcerated now I’m out and I’m living some friends and I’m like, right near you. Do you think we can get together? And I said, I’m going to have to call you back. And you know, so at this point I have kids and you know, it was, it was crazy and I felt like panicked, you know, like, wow, why, like, why is this coming back now? And you know, why don’t, why, why am I having to make a choice about Tim again? And so I went next door and our neighbor, um, was chief of police and I said, listen, can you tell me anything about somebody?
Alison: 00:52:56 And you know, and he said, yeah, what’s his birthday? And I give it to him. And so he calls me the next day and I tell, and I tell him, you know, like, listen, Walt, this is not my father. I had a father that raised me. He was my dad. This is my birth father. His name is Tim. This isn’t like, you know, like I just always felt like I needed to separate that all the time for people. And um, and so especially cause I, you know, and, and maybe I wouldn’t have been like that if I was delighted with who my birth parents were.
Damon: 00:53:20 Right. I was just thinking that. Yeah.
Alison: 00:53:25 yeah right? So Walt, so he called me over the next day and he goes, you’re going to want to sit. And I’m like, again. And so he takes, he takes this, this like folded, do you remember, like how computer paper used to come out of a printer, like all like perforated and connected to each other. That Dot, dot, dot.
Damon: 00:53:41 Dot matrix printers. Yeah.
Alison: 00:53:43 Yes. So that. And he takes it and holds it up to a ceiling and it goes ,fum fum fum fum fum, all the way to the floor. It was just, it was criminal records. Humongous.
Damon: 00:53:54 Oh my gosh. Oh wow.
Alison: 00:53:54 I know, I know, I know. I know. I was like, oh my God, you know, like, and I was like sick over it. Like, oh my gosh. Oh my gosh. And so, you know, so he specifically said to me, so this all my preface of saying, you know, this isn’t my father that, you know, blah, blah, blah. And he goes, hey, you’re, your dad’s a pretty bad dude. HE’S NOT MY DAD, you know, but people can’t with that, you know.
Damon: 00:54:19 Yeah. Right. Oh my God.
Alison: 00:54:21 They just can’t. Yeah. So he was like, he’s, he’s bad guy. You’ve got to. You should stay away from him. And I said, okay. Um, but then when I read the police record, it was like I mean, he’s bad guy. Like there’s, there’s no question, like, did a lot of bad things, but it wasn’t, you know, he didn’t murder anybody. So that, I guess, yeah.
Damon: 00:54:36 Was it more like, the, the bad things that people do when they’re under the influence, like just the bad decisions kind of thing?
Alison: 00:54:45 Yeah, yeah, yeah. And things like, and things that people do when they want to get money and they don’t have any for drugs, those things, right. They’re like breaking and entering and drunk driving and assault and battery, you know, stuff. And, um, so I ended up, you know, connecting with him again after that and I said, I’ll meet you. I don’t know what gets into me sometimes. And, and so I met him, we met like at a Dunkin donuts and I hadn’t seen him in a long, long time. He, had looked really different. And, um, so I met him and I, and we, you know, like we both had, you know, like something to drink and I said, I don’t know if we had donuts. And, and I said, um, I, you know, I told him, I told him that I, I, I knew his, you know, like I had this record and that I wasn’t comfortable having it as part of our family.
Alison: 00:55:30 And, um, he’s real sad. And I, and I was sad to tell him, but I also felt like it was right, like a lot of chaos to add to my family that I’m raising and, and, and, you know, and to be honest, I didn’t, I didn’t like him. I didn’t, I never connected to him. I never felt, I never, you know what I mean? Like, we didn’t connect. It was never good for me. And, um, so I just said, you know, I, you know, like I’m glad, I’m glad I met you. I’m glad to have answers. I’m glad you’re out of prison or whatever, wherever you were. And I hope you do okay. But I just, I can’t. And he said, will you keep sending me Christmas cards? I said, as long as I have your address. And so, so I did. So anyway, so in 2008, I got a call from his brother Steven, and he said, and I had never, and I never met him or talk to them cause Tim never connected me to his family.
Alison: 00:56:21 Like even his mother was alive when we met and he never introduced us. He never any threatened to like he would say, oh my God, you would love my sister Nora. She’s so smart. She’s a really successful business woman in San Francisco. And you would really hit it off with her and I’d say, I’d like to meet her and then he would never follow through with it.
Damon: 00:56:39 Wow.
Alison: 00:56:39 And so, yeah, it was sad cause that, you know, so anyways, so I, they, I knew of the siblings but I had never met them and I missed the chance to meet his mom, which I would have liked to have done. And um, oh, so Steven called me and he said, he goes, ah, Alison, this is Stephen Bunting. And I said, Huh? And he said, I need to tell you your father died and, and you know, like, you know, I’m really protective about the language thing and I’m thinking of my father, you know, like my father died in 1981 and you know like, Oh Tim, Tim died and then I’m saying to him, I’m so sorry cause this is brother. Right. And although they hated each other and they didn’t really have contact, but I said, and I kept saying to him, I’m so sorry. And he kept saying to me, I’m so sorry. Like it was real weird. Like who’s lost is it? No, it’s yours. No, it’s yours.
Alison: 00:57:25 So, you know, so I was like, what happened, and he died of a combination of things, but the main thing was an overdose. And he was, you know, he had just turned 60 years old. It was, it was weird. So, you know, I kept saying, I’m so sorry. And he was saying, I’m sorry. And then he said, you know, my sister Nora wants to call you, she’s wanted to know you for a long time, but Tim would never connect her. He never would give us your information. And I said, okay, you know, we hung up and my husband was out like a business dinner and you know, so I was just like sitting and I was thinking, okay, so Tim died, Tim died. And I kept thinking, I’m probably going to feel sad about this. And then I didn’t. And then I thought, maybe tomorrow I’m going to be sad about this, but I wasn’t. I wanted to be because it’s, I’m a human, right? And it’s my birth father and I wanted to feel something and I didn’t feel anything. I didn’t feel anything. I also didn’t feel relieved, which I think is something. Um, but I didn’t feel, I just, I just thought it was sad, but I didn’t, I dunno. I just didn’t, I didn’t feel anything
Damon: 00:58:25 the next day. Nora, sister to Tim and successful San Francisco business woman finally connected with Alison.
Alison: 00:58:33 She called me and she said, I have wanted to know you for the last 20 years, however long it was. And I was like, oh my gosh, you sound so normal, which is my bar.
Damon: 00:58:44 I know. When the bar is low there’s nowhere to go but up. Right?
Alison: 00:58:47 That’s exactly right. And so you’re so, so out of this. Yes. I found Steven and Nora and it was great. Like they’re both phenomenal people. They both had a horrendous childhood and, um, really made something of their lives, I think against the odds. And it was great. You know, so go ahead.
Damon: 00:59:07 I can’t help thinking about the fact that he didn’t connect you to his siblings and it makes me think of that train ride that you had on your way to see him when you looked in the mirror, basically in your reflection inside, you know, basically you questioned how much he was going to like you and the fact that he didn’t connect you, to his own siblings, knowing that he was not a great guy and they were successful people. I think he, he limited your contact from them because he knew that you were going to be disappointed in him if you saw how everybody else turned out. He did that either consciously or unconsciously, but intentionally, you know.
Alison: 00:59:51 Yeah, it was intentional. I completely agree with you. And it was, it was a huge loss because once I met Steven and Nora and then I ended up only having like eight years with Nora before she passed away. But we connected hard. Like it was unbelievable. Like just, you know, you know, like we talked on the phone a lot. We got together, um, you know, like, I mean Nora lived in San Francisco. A few months after Tim died they had a memorial service, just family really, at Steven’s house, which was, it’s like an hour from me and I was able to meet her then and spend time with her then and, and you know, and after that I went to, you know, I, I went to see her in San Francisco and she came here and we talked on the phone frequently. Between her and Steven, I felt like they filled in a lot of holes for me, um, for why Tim was the way he was, which was really helpful, you know, like awful things happened to him when he was growing up. And you know, not that, that excuses all of the bad choices, but it was helpful.
Damon: 01:00:45 Well, it gives you context to understand how people have, everybody’s life has a couple of paths and you know, you choose one. And then there’s another set of choices and it’s, and some of the circumstances influenced the path that you’re, that are available for you. And unfortunately he had some real tough circumstances that forced his path in a certain direction and he probably made some bad choices. Yeah.
Alison: 01:01:09 All true. So what’s the, it was, yeah, it was helpful. That was helpful to me. Like it helped me, you know, internally it just gave me some peace about him and also that, that like I hated, I can’t, it’s hard for me to describe how much I hated that I was related to him. Like I, I just, I hated it. And then when I met them I thought, all right. You know, like, yeah, you’re like, there’s, there’s, there’s good stuff there too, you know?
Damon: 01:01:31 Um, it’s funny how we sort of ascribe our own self worth to the people that were related to when in fact it really is kind of all about us. You know, like your own individual identity is you, it’s only you. You can have, I know, I understand how people have sort of shame for who they’re related to and all that kind of stuff, but ultimately it comes down to what people think and know about you. Alison said there were more relatives than Nora and Steven who have been important in overcoming her ill feelings toward being related to Tim, her uncle Rob on her birth mother’s side was also a really nice addition to her positive reunion experiences. As things happened, Tim died after Alison’s adoptive mother’s passing. In the year after his death, Alison really felt an incredible longing to see her detailed adoption records. She said part of it was missing her own parents and part of it was the fact that she had been through home studies for her own adoptees, so she knew how comprehensive and personal the information contained within them can be. Alison wanted to see her parents’ answers to the barrage of questions, a home study poses. That was her history too.
Alison: 01:02:47 I wanted that piece of history. I was like, I want my mom and dad in that place in that time, I want to read that. I want to see the questions they had to answer what they said, what the interviews were like, like I should have that. I want that.
Damon: 01:03:00 The adoption agency Alison was adopted through was closed, but all the records were transitioned to a place called the home for little wanderers. Speaking to one of their social workers, Alison explained that her adopted parents were deceased. Her birth father was dead too, but she was in reunion and had everyone’s identifying information already. So she asked this simple question,
Alison: 01:03:24 what do I need to do to get my, my adoption records? And she said to me, there’s nothing you can do to get them. They don’t belong to you. They didn’t belong to your parents, they didn’t belong to your birth parents. They go into the agency and there’ll be destroyed in 99 years and there’s not one thing that you can do to get them.
Damon: 01:03:41 Oh Wow.
Alison: 01:03:42 It’s like, yeah, right. It’s like, like no compassion. And I was so angry and I thought, oh, you do not know who you’re dealing with. Like I will get them and, and you know, and, and you know, like I am a pit bull like that. Like, I, I’ve, if want to know something I’m going to find out. And like, I mean, I even found my brother’s birth mother, like I find out everything, I want to know everything. So anyways, I ended up going to court and petition to have to have my unredacted adoption records and like, and the judge said, yes, you know you can have them.
Alison: 01:04:11 So then I called this woman at the little wanderers and I said, listen, I have a court order. And she said, you know, you seem to think that a court order means I’m going to give you the records. I’m not. She said, um, I’m going to present the court order to our legal team and you’ll hear back from us. So they fought me, they said, no, I couldn’t have them. And I had to actually had to hire a lawyer and go to court and like my lawyer, against the lawyer for the home for little wanderers, to get access to my own information. So, you know, it’s like, it was a big deal. But the, one of the funniest thing was that the lawyer for the agency came up to me like before the hearing and she said, hey, I just wanted to say hi to you.
Alison: 01:04:44 And I said, oh, okay. And she, so she like grabbed my arms and she like squeezes and she goes, I hope you win today. Like she’s the other lawyer.
Damon: 01:04:51 Wow. That’s funny.
Alison: 01:04:53 It was super cute. She’s like, I’m just doing my job, but you know, like, you should totally have your information. Look at you. You’re nice. You’re a nice woman she said. Like, I am! Haha. It was just super cute. I mean, so she was great. She didn’t put up any fight. The judge just said, listen, I’ve said this once and I’m not saying it again. She can have her records. So anyways, I got my unredacted adoption records.
Damon: 01:05:14 Good for you.
Alison: 01:05:14 And, um, and they were they mind blowing Damon, they were a hundred pages about single space typewritten pages that was not only my parent’s home study, which was just mind blowing, like so sweet and, and, and sad like, you know, like just seeing their struggle with infertility kind of firsthand in real time.
Alison: 01:05:35 You know, um, all the questions they had to answer and kind of how judgemental social workers could be, cause they don’t think anybody’s ever gonna read these, you know, and, um, you know, there’s a lot of kind of sad stuff in there. And, um, but it was really the part reading about my parents is just so just took me back in time to before I was even born to see where they were and how much they wanted to become parents and how happy I am that they became my parents, you know. And, um, but then the real amazing thing of these records was, was there was like close to 50 pages of stuff on Jean, my birth mother. So it had all these interviews with her at the home for unwed mothers and had interviews with her after I was born. It, it, um, it was, you know, like it was all documented.
Alison: 01:06:19 Like there was a point where Tim, my birth father found out that I had been born and, um, and then said to her, now, now mind you, he’s 15, that he was gonna marry her and they’re going to get the baby. And I was still in foster care at this point. I hadn’t been placed. And so they went to the adoption agency, it’s all documented, you know, like they want the baby back and um, you know, it’s like a whole thing like they met several times and it, you know, so this, this social worker, um, very wisely, you know, kind of redirected them and they ended up sticking with the adoption plan, but you know, like it was just a lot of really personal things and the struggles that Jean had after that was all documented. She had met with Jean’s parents and they were really worried about her.
Alison: 01:07:00 And by the time you know, the records ended, so it was over a period of like more than a year, she was pregnant again with uh, with another child that she also placed for adoption, which I did, she did tell me about at some point after we had met that she had had another baby that she had placed for adoption. So it was like, you know, but it was like really like seeing the journey and sort of her sadness and her longing for love really, you know, documented in real time. That was like really like invaluable to me to really, really feel for her and what she went through.
Damon: 01:07:34 Yeah, there’s a, there
Alison: 01:07:35 It gave me a lot of compassion.
Damon: 01:07:36 You know, we started this conversation talking a little bit about, or at least in the middle we said something along the lines of, you know, a lot of these decisions were made absent our own input and it’s helpful then to see this historical context and to understand then, how people got to the point that this adoption happened. And it’s more than just seeing your, your birth name on your birth certificate. It’s more than just seeing the date and time that were factually accurate. It’s about all the decisions, as I said before, the path of someone’s life and the choices that they make along the way that end up putting them in a place where you are relinquished and are with your parents. It’s, that’s important ,historical detail, information and knowledge about yourself. That’s invaluable.
Alison: 01:08:23 Yeah. No, no, it’s so, it’s so crazy. Cause I remember saying to that social worker, so let me get this straight. You right now could open my adoption records and read every word of it and it means nothing to you, but it means everything to me and I’m not allowed to read it. And she said, that’s correct.
Damon: 01:08:39 God, that’s spoiled. That must have been infuriating. I know that lit the fire, I know that lit the fire.
Alison: 01:08:47 and then that was crazy. So that’s how I ended up. Remember I told you at the beginning of our conversation that, that Sheila Franco, who helped your friends in his adoption journey, um, I ended up connecting with her, like through the social worker we used to adopt our boys and I, so I had said to the, our social worker, like, listen, help me out here. What do I need to do to get my records? She goes, I know somebody that knows everything. She said, don’t tell her how you got her number. And then she gave me that woman’s number and she’s the one that’s like hire a lawyer. And I’m like, oh I’m in.
Damon: 01:09:13 Apparently Alison is never satisfied on her quest for information. So she sought the records for a time when Tim was in a reform school called the Lyman school. Unfortunately, the records were in disarray, so Alison couldn’t get what she was looking for. But the archivist gave Alison the phone number of a woman in a senior leadership position in the Department of social services. The agency had been involved with Tim’s family for many years and the woman gave Alison Tim’s records.
Alison: 01:09:42 So it really showed me a lot of the, you know, really awful, like, you know, like there was sexual abuse and physical abuse and like a huge amount of neglect and just a lot of awfulness. And, um, a lot of chaos. And so having those was, was another piece for me to, to kind of make peace with Tim also.
Damon: 01:10:02 Oh, I bet it was.
Alison: 01:10:03 Yeah. I think, yeah, I felt like, I think I understand, you know, I think I know what happened, but like I’m not, I don’t think I’m mad anymore than you’re my birth father.
Damon: 01:10:10 Wow. That’s, that’s humongous. Wow. That’s amazing.
Alison: 01:10:14 Yeah, it was humongous. Yeah, it was great. It was super helpful to me. So, so, yeah, so that was, that was pretty cool.
Damon: 01:10:21 Wow. Alison, this has been like I told you at the beginning, every time I listen to someone’s story, I make this prediction in my mind, unconsciously. And I’m like, I know where this is going and you know, you’ve just taken me down another path, um, that I never thought I would hear. And this is, this has been fascinating. I appreciate you taking time to share your journey. Thank you.
Alison: 01:10:43 Yeah. You’re so welcome. It’s been, you know, it’s my pleasure. I, you know, it’s been 35 years and it’s been, you know, a lot of surprises and a lot of disappointments, but, and people ask me a lot if, um, if I’m glad I had, I searched like, although I didn’t actually technically search, but you know, like if I was glad I knew and um, you know, just in 35 years, I think any given year I would’ve given you a different answer. Yeah. I’m glad. No, I’m mad. I’m like, I should never have done it. Like I never really like, I have no idea. But I think in the end, I think a bad truth is better than a good lie. So even though my birth parents were not what I wanted or expected, yes. It’s still my story and I’m glad I know it.
Damon: 01:11:23 That’s right.
Alison: 01:11:24 And a lot of good came from it too, you know, especially with the connections I’ve made with extended family members that are really just great.
Damon: 01:11:29 I love what you just said. Yeah. A bad truth is better than a good lie. I love that. That’s amazing.
Alison: 01:11:35 It is right? Yeah. You mean? Yeah. We can’t all have those great stories.
Damon: 01:11:39 That’s true they’re real. They’re, they don’t, they don’t clean up well all the time.
Alison: 01:11:45 had you interviewed me, I’m sorry I didn’t mean to cut you off. If you had interviewed me like a year after I had met my birth mother, you had gotten a whole different story from me. I would have been like, it’s great. It’s, you know, like life. It just keeps changing over time.
Damon: 01:11:57 thank you so much for sharing your story Alison. And this is, this is really unbelievable,
Alison: 01:12:03 Yeah, like good luck editing this one, Huh?
Damon: 01:12:05 Yeah, no doubt. And I tell you what, I was just sitting here thinking that too, but I tell you what, I, I’m really glad that you said that last piece about seeking legal access to your records. Cause I feel like more of us need to stand up and say something and I feel like we haven’t reached a critical mass of people such that it is, um, really commonly openly accepted that these are our bits of information about us that we should have. And I feel, I’m glad.
Alison: 01:12:34 We should have, we shouldn’t have to fight for it. Yeah, I, yeah, I agree. It’s, it’s not, it’s not cool and it’s not okay. Yeah. People, people deserve their histories. Who is somebody else to decide we should know our own stories. That’s ridiculous.
Damon: 01:12:46 Yeah, totally agree.
Alison: 01:12:48 I um, I wrote that like, on like, you know, my notes to talk to you. I wrote really big like tell him about finding my , like tell him about getting my original, um, you know, unredacted birth adoption records, cause I really felt like I wanted to make sure people knew that, that that’s something they can do. That’s something they can fight for. You know, I think, I think it’s important, but I just, I appreciate you very much. I love your podcast. I, you know, keep going. I love every story. I love.
Damon: 01:13:11 Thank you so much. All the best to you. Have a great weekend. Okay Alison.
Alison: 01:13:15 Alright, take care. Thanks so much, Damon. Take care. Bye.
Damon: 01:13:17 Bye bye
Damon: 01:13:21 Hey, it’s me. Alison’s story clearly underscores for me how important it is for adoptees to have access to their own information. I really liked that she took legal action and gained access to her entire adoption history and I believe we need to log these stories of legal triumph amongst each other to empower one another to change what is currently accepted when it comes to accessing our personal information Gaining access to her adoption records, Alison learned so much context about her adoptive parents and where they were in their lives to adopt her and where her birth parents were in their lives to be in a place to relinquish her. It also sunk in for me that the adoption agencies have engaged in some marketing of children, they’re working to place, changing Tim’s narrative from trying to find his way out of at 15 years old to being quote unquote away at school.
Damon: 01:14:16 The psychology of the time and may still be true today, was to make everyone look as good as possible to the people on the other side of the equation. Adoptive parents wanted to feel like their child came from decent stock and relinquished parents were made to feel that the family their child was going to live with was ready to provide everything that the birth parents could not. To borrow Alison’s words, a bad truth is better than a good lie. And there’s one more thing about Jean and Alison, that Alison wanted to make sure that you guys heard her words are these, one interaction that I had with her that I wish I had shared was when my mom died in 2007 I was completely devastated. I knew Jean would want to know, so I called one of my half brothers to tell him and asked him to tell her.
Damon: 01:15:05 I also told him that I didn’t want her to call. A few minutes later, the phone rang and it was her and all though I didn’t think I wanted to talk to her. I picked up. She simply said, I’m just so sorry. I know how much you loved your mom. Those words, they meant so much. I started to cry. I cried and I cried and she just kept saying, I know. I know. In a relationship with so many wrong moves, her calling me was exactly the right move. It was incredibly comforting and meaningful to have my birth mother comfort me as I grieved the mother that raised me. It was a good moment for us. I’ll never forget it. I’m Damon Davis and I hope you’ll find something in Alison’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? 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, 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.