Sunday, June 08, 2008

My Really Insecure (Adoptive) Father

For reasons I can't fully explain, I just needed to stop thinking of myself as an adopted person.

After coming to grips with decades of denial, and thinking about it 24/7, I kind of overdosed.

My adoptive mother is ten years dead. At 81, my adoptive father is growing weaker as Lewy Body dementia continues to destroy his body and mind.

There's also something slightly silly about being middle aged and thinking of yourself as an adopted child. So I've put it aside. As some of you know, I've shifted to blogging about dealing with narcissistic parents.

But last night, adoption as an issue resurfaced.

N-Dad (narcissistic dad) has taken to reminding me, daily, that father's day is coming up.

Yes, I know, I said.

Then we had a replay of the conversation that we've had for as long as I could remember....when he was of sound mind, if you overlook the narcissistic part.

"Well, you better not foget about it," he warned me.

"Have I ever forgotten?" I ask.

"No," he reluctantly admits. "And you better not this year."

"I won't," I promise.

"I'm your father you know," he says.

"Yes. I know," I admit reluctantly.

"I'm your father and don't you forget it," he concludes aggresively.

What he's really thinking (I suspect) is that he's not my biological father and that there's some man running around out there who is, technically. And it makes him angry and he has to take it out on me. The few times I did ask what he knew about this mystery man, n-dad referred to him, creepily, as "the man who made you."

What I'm thinking not my father. I've never had one. I may have got stuck with you and I may have acted as your mother and daughter, but you've never acted like a real father. Real fathers don't act like children and make their only kid an emotional caretaker.

I, by the way, have RARELY mentioned my adoption at all to my adoptive parents. No surprise, considering the reaction my basic questions got.

Apparently, n-dad still has some major insecurities and, apparently, it's my job to reassure him that he is who he says he is. I can't imagine my husband every saying anything so bizarrely obvious to my daughters.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Crushing on Albee

Recently heard a radio interview with playwright Edward Albee.

When he started talking about the way he felt about his adoption, I pulled over to listen.

He talked in a very unemotional, straightforward way.

He explained he didn't feel like it was a good fit...that he didn't feel like he belonged in the family...and he didn't much like his adoptive parents. (Ah, the Ding of familiarity!)

As simple as that.

He didn't seem bogged down by Guilt nor twisted by inner conflict.

This is the way it was, he seemed to be saying. No big deal.

How refreshing.

How liberating.

If only I could begin to look at my own adoption placement like that, expressed in no-nonsense sentences.

Now I'm fascinated. I'm not very familiar with his work. I know he's a famous adoptee. The fact that he's not a Cheerleader Adoptee is a big, fat relief.

In my head, adoption is endlessly exhausting and complicated. If I could just get some clarity. Must do some reading about Albee. Must read him. He must save all his adoption-related demons for his work.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Spell Check This


Was spell checking an email on Yahoo mail today.

It kept highlighting the word, "adoptee."

No such word exists. Or so it implied.

The spell checker gave me some nifty options:


Oh, the irony. I was feeling a little invisible today. (I swear, adopters are always well media, as lawmakers, as spokespersons for adoptees and now...on spell check)

Well, shoot. Maybe I'd misunderstood. Maybe that's what I was supposed to be all this time.

An adaptee. (And no, I'm not anti-adoption. Just anti-adoption-is-wunnerful-no-biggie-pretense)

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Why I Hate Charades

If there's one game I loathe and despise, it's charades.

A couple times, I've been invited to play at a party as an adult and I flat out refused.

I was watching the movie, The Family Stone in which the uptight character played by Sarah Jessica Parker was forced to join in the merriment of a game of charades. And while she wasn't a particularly sympathetic character at that point in the movie, I was immediately on her side.

Since the movie always seems to be on HBO, I always seem to click on the channel just as the charade scene begins and every time it makes me squirm. I can't find the remote fast enough to turn the damn thing off. (I actually like the movie). So I got to wondering...why? Why does that scene make me so uncomfortable.

Charades, in my opinion, has got to be most embarrassing, exasperating, downright stupid and pointless game to ever be played by grown-ups.

I think I just figured out why.

It's because I spent most of my life pretending.

Pretending to be the biological child of my adoptive parents.

Pretending I didn't mind being adopted.

Pretending I didn't wonder about the woman who gave me away.

Pretending adoption was no big deal.

Pretending I was grateful.

Pretending to be the daughter my adoptive parents needed me to be instead of the person I actually was.

If you earn your living by Pretending then you have zero patience for fun and games pretending. When you've been turned into a pro by Closed Era Adoption practices, you don't want to play with amateurs.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Really Bad Parents

Had another episode with my narcissistic adoptive father.

I wrote about it at my other blog,

And I was just picking myself up and dusting myself off...preparing to work on a project...when he calls and complains that I'd goofed by sending him the wrong brand of chocolate covered raisins. He was pretty steamed.

I have to be honest.

If I just hear the words, "chocolate covered raisins," one more time I'm gonna scream. The man has me sending him candy shipments almost every week. If I wasn't afraid of taking the express elevator to hell, I'd wish he'd choke on a fucking chocolate raisin and release me from my misery.

William F. Buckley just died and he didn't have half of what ails my adad. Why do all the mean people live so darned long?

But here's the deal.

After that encounter, I felt worthless. I'd just been taken out by a parental figure of authority and told off. Doesn't matter if I'm middle aged. Doesn't matter if he's losing it and over 80. It's the father-daughter dynamic and he's once again just told me how useless I am.

No surprise. I then felt useless. And I couldn't work on my project. I slumped into a depressive episode and took a nap. It zapped the life out of me. And this is after therapy. I'm aware of the triggers and I do my darned best to emotionally detach. But this stuff is hard.

And, by the way, I'm fully aware of the repetition of this theme in my posts.

As you can read, it just keeps happening! Today I made the mistake by returning his agitated call...just wanting to get it over with. In retrospect, I should have called AFTER my work was done. Or not have called back at all. Maybe there's a masochistic, martyr element to being the adult child of a narcissist. The adaptive role of enabler?

Having a narcissistic parent is a lifelong nightmare.

Being handed over to a narcissistic adoptive parent is like handing over a sacrificial lamb to a monster with an insatiable appetite for braised shanks. I was handed over 47 years ago and I'm still paying the price. Thanks social worker!

Honestly, testing for narcissistic traits should be one of the first things that social workers do when checking out prospective adoptive parents. Besides making sure they aren't criminals.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Word of the Day: Altered

Here's a word I don't think I've ever used in trying to describe what it's like to be adopted: ALTERED.

Hopewaits left a comment, in which she wrote, "I believe all of us who were adopted have been so altered (even if you don't know it and think everything is O.K.)"

What an awesome, perfect word!!! (Thanks, Hopewaits!)

Besides, "to change or to make different," altered also means, "to adjust for a better bit."

And that, folks, is exactly what happened.

I simply did not fit in with my adoptive family. In looks, temperament, intellect, disposition.

My adoptive mother kept trying to make me fit. She gave me haircuts that did not suit me in an attempt to make me "match" her. She dressed us in matching outfits until I was nearly thirteen. She even tried to tell me what to feel. Clearly, whatever I was and felt were not acceptable.

With no other options - where else would I go? - I also made painful adjustments in an attempt to fit in. I pretended to be a party girl because my adoptive mother was a determined anti-intellectual. In high school, I became fashionable because she cared, greatly, about make-up and clothes. I never discussed the books I read or what I'd learned because, she complained, these topics were boooring and I was acting,"all snobby." (Using a big word in a sentence got me a mocking at the dinner table)

Pretending to be something you are not leaves little time for discovering who you are.

Not all adoptees have adoptive parents as woefully undereducated, ignorant or self-centered or insecure as mine. Of course. But, faced with an entire cohesive family system, the adoptee stands alone. And tries to fit in. What other choice does she have? All of her energy, most of it subconcious, will go into making tweaks and adjustments because the fit needs to be improved. She is out of sync, even if nobody else notices it.

And when, finally, she leaves the adoptive family system and strikes out on her own...that's when things can get tough. What does she do with all these quirks of character that she may no longer need? Who is she without these modifications? Who is she when she meets her first family and sees the bits and pieces of herself that she may have had to deny or suppress? How does she go about reassembling herself? How does she know what parts are real or fake?

The good thing is, if you had controlling adoptive parents and have left them and the pretense behind, you have more time to figure out who you actually are.

But there's no getting away from the fact that adoption alters the adoptee in a way that does not impact the adoptive parents or the first mother. And I'm not talking about pain or suffering or loss. I'm talking about the identity development of the adopted individual. It's like trying to make a rich soup without broth.


Thursday, February 21, 2008

Reframing the Past

When I started blogging, I didn't imagine I'd stick with it for long.

My ability to commit to long term projects is pretty weak. Many times I've vowed to stop blogging because it's taking away time from working on my novel which, no surprise, is about family secrets and the Closed Era of adoption.

But blogging has proved powerfully irresitable and the readers amazingly supportive. The best part is reading a comment that says...hey...something like that happened to me, too! And I know I'm not alone. That my experience as an adoptee is both extremely personal, yet aspects of it more sadly common than I'd once imagined.

I was reading a review in the SF Chronicle today about Carrie Fisher's solo show, Wishful Drinking, in which the funny Fisher tells us her (sex-drugs-booze-bipolar-disorder-fame-family) life story. "What she wants to do, she tells us, is take control of her life by framing her own narrative."

I guess that's what I've been trying to do. Slogging away at blogging about growing up as an adoptee who had to pretend she was her aparent's bio child.

I had no control. Over anything. Whether I was given away. With what sort of people I would be tied to, forever, by a document I didn't get to sign. What sort of questions I was allowed to ask about my family of origin (none). Even what I felt about adoption. Telling you, in great detail, how you should feel about being adopted is something not limited to adoptive family members. The non-adopted, who have no idea what it's like, are experts on the subject and are more than happy to tell you to buck up, get over it and, their favorite refrain, be grateful (you weren't aborted/at least somebody wanted you/you could have been raised in an orphanage).

So this is where we finally, finally, get to make sense of all OUR mixed feelings and emotions about something that happened to us. Because if you are adoptee, adoption is something that HAPPENS to you.

I like the control I feel when I get to talk about all this adoption stuff.

I'm finally getting to tell my own story.

It's a powerful step among many. Reclaiming ownership. Some have said more adoptees should spend their time trying to reform adoption instead of whining on blogs. Not everybody is cut out to be an activisit. Some are and are damned good at it. Others, well, aren't. But reframing our own life stories, whining included, is especially important to us: a subgroup of citizens denied their original birth certificates...and so much else.