I hate “Gotcha Day.” The very idea makes my skin crawl. It is meant to be an endearing way to celebrate the day an adoptling is brought home or when the adoption is finalized, wiping out the child’s past and making them (magically) take on the adopted parents’ everything, no matter how absurd the idea is. They are now legally the biological child of the adopted parents. Yes, it’s insane. But if you adopt, the birth record will be changed if you like it or not. And the original birth certificate will be sealed, like it or not.
Something I realized when I got another copy of my original birth certificate (OBC) from Washington State was that my adoption was finalized on my adopted father’s birthday, seven months after I was brought home as a newborn. No one ever mentioned that – not my adopted mother, not my adopted father, no one. He must have taken a precious day off from work to finalize all three adoptions, for me and my two brothers. That in itself is remarkable. But except for a story of how the couple preceding them before the judge adopted an 18-year-old boy and they thought that was nice, nothing more was said. My parents told me they brought me home just before Christmas, the adoption was finalized in Pierce County, and the people in front of them adopted an 18-year-old. There was no celebration of the day between my birthday and Christmas. There was no celebration or even mention of the day the adoption was finalized, even though it was Dad’s birthday.
When I gave birth for the first time, it was on Dad’s 65th birthday, in his house. He proceeded to call everyone he ever knew to tell them what I gave him for his birthday that year. This was a man who never called anyone to chat. Even when he called me in adulthood it was usually a matter of life or death. But this, he celebrated. In fact he would tell every one of my friends he met after that point that Lillie was born on his birthday.
It would have been easy to make me a “Christmas present from God” or “Daddy’s special birthday gift” but they didn’t do that. They really treated us as their own children, no strings attached. They never pretended we weren’t adopted, but they didn’t glorify it or make themselves saviors, either. Both Mom and Dad were salt of the earth that way.
Looking back, I realized Dad always put others before himself. And he treated everyone – including children – with respect. He wasn’t perfect, obviously, but he was a better man than just about any man I have ever known. When he died I lost my compass. Even though my brother and I cared for him in his last months as he devolved into a child, the loss left a gaping hole in our lives that will never be filled.
My adopted father, mother, and maternal grandmother never treated me as if I was adopted. That’s what made them special – the fact that they never acted as if I was anything other than theirs. No Gotcha Day. No story about how I officially became their daughter on Dad’s birthday. We celebrated birthdays and holidays like everyone else.
I was telling my spousal equivalent today that when I was really small up until around age five, that I couldn’t and didn’t stand for anyone to touch me except my parents. Not even my grandmothers could hug me. There is just one photo of me on my aged grandfather’s lap where I am not screaming and crying for someone to rescue me from this nice old man. Not sure how Mom pulled that off, but I’m glad to have that one picture. I told Craig this is a common trait with adoptees. We bond with our adopted parents if everyone is fortunate. Anyone else is a bonus. I did not attach myself to anyone for any reason until around Kindergarten age. Then I decided I liked certain male relatives and would ask to sit on their lap occasionally. This ended almost as soon as it began, but my parents were in awe while it happened. Craig asked me what my criteria was. I said they had to have a nice smile and they had to smell good. And I had to initiate it. I do remember that. Mom wrote in my baby book that I was “very affectionate toward Walt and I, but scotch with loves toward anyone else.” (Apologies to any affectionate Scottish people reading this.)
I entitled this, “Why I Loved My Father” but it really isn’t in the past tense. I will always love him. I will always miss him. That doesn’t mean adoption is okay. It means I got lucky. Adoption is a complicated mess but I miss you, Dad.