Saturday, August 01, 2009

Becoming a Father

Every night I pray to the moon,

That I will see you again in this life.

Lady Shin (Chosun Dynasty)

I became a father before I became interested in adoption.

When I was younger, the word was thrown around like crumpled newspaper in the breeze snagging against fences and street signs. When I was a teenager, I found word buried beneath my middle name. It was always there, but never spoken. It sat there like the pause on people’s breaths after hearing my last name that doesn’t sound Asian. When I was older, it became the cud of conversation: a badge of my disposition that I wore on my sleeve.

Yet, it wasn’t until I was a father that my true search for self began.

Nothing can prepare you for the ties of blood. The reflection of myself in my daughter’s form made me realize that she was the first person I could touch who was related to me by blood. I couldn’t recall my omoni’s caresss, imonim’s chest, or halmoni’s scent. It was this girl, who slept by my chest, on my chest, burrowed in my chest that intoxicated me with the breath of ancestry.

I took on an earnest passion for genealogy, tracing the lines of my not-Asian last name to the deep forests of a different continent. But, I failed to see the irony in tracking my adoptive parent’s past to Denmark, Scotland, and France. And so, it was my daughter’s birth that sent me to my own new birth.

My first gossamer thread I cast was an email to my adoption agency. I believed it would take years for a lead. I was prompted by stories of others’ plight. I was seduced by the believability and safety that it wouldn’t happen.

Instead: a sonic boom. Within one week, a message was returned. Within weeks, my birth family desired more. Within months, a letter arrived from Korea. Within the year, I was on a plane to Seoul. The journey hasn’t stopped since.

However, during this journey, my conviction towards adoption didn’t change. I was, and still am, in favor of adoption reform and adoptee rights. I believed that adoption was a necessary institution in particular situations, and downright evil in others. I believed in nuance and thoughts in shadows.

My perception of adoption is what changed. Before, the word was nothing more than a moniker for wealthy white couples buying orphaned children. The children themselves almost never had a story. Why should they? They were merely the players on the stage, and the leads were the white saviors. Having a daughter made me realize that adoption is all about the minor character. It’s all about the child, who never acts, but is acted upon. It isn’t Romeo and Juliet, it’s Mercutio and Tybalt. It’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

At the same time, I could see my daughter’s childhood and be witness to memories. She might not remember everything that happened, but I could tell her when her own memory failed. This was the biggest change in my perception. That adoption wasn’t just about the players, but the story of loss and sorrow.

And so, adoption became a trail of forgotten words dangling in the rafters of my mind. It was shoe boxes of photographs, a neatly delivered silk-wrapped infant shoe that had been hidden in a drawer, and a list of names, dates, and fees that added up to the sum of me. Yet, it took nearly four years after my search began for the story to be unearthed and unloosed from the grip of my adoptive parents. It was their story for almost thirty years, and finally, it became mine.

Yet, staring at my daughter before I left for Korea the first time, I realized the emotional effort required to let go of your own flesh and blood, or even a story that feels like your flesh and blood. It is an open wound that no doctor can mend or stitch closed. It continually tears and rips with every day, month, and year. There isn’t a scar because it’s never healed. It is the moon, torn from the Earth.

This was written as a column for an adoption magazine due out this month (I think).

1 comment:

thisislarry said...


My father's father died in wartime China when he was a small boy, and then he was sent away to boarding school. It wasn't until I had kids that I began to imagine how hard that must have been for him, and for his mother, with a new husband and eventually a new set of kids.

Best of luck on your journey, I hope you find not only what you thought you were looking for, but what you come to realize you were really looking for.