Adopted in the last century

Sometimes I meet people who've been adopted, or who have adopted kids, and I tell them that my dad was also adopted. Because he was born in the 1920s, adoption wasn't openly discussed, so he didn't know about his origins until later. I've been binge-watching Red Oaks (which I'll write about once I finish Season 3), and in some respects, it reminds me of some of my family's experiences. One time I told my dad that I wanted to get a bling ring, and he gave me one that looks like an ostentatious wedding band that a character wears in Red Oaks. The ring he gave me was made in the 1940s and wasn't meant to be a wedding band; it was a fancy men's ring, but and he didn't really like it. It looks sort of gaudy but it's fun, so I wear it. My dad wasn't tacky; he was highly educated, well-read, and dressed well, even when he was teaching in a public high school.

I was recently looking through my online files and found the eulogy that I wrote for his funeral. I'm posting it here because it expresses my gratitude for the people who helped him out, and to show how an adopted person from almost 100 years ago shared similar feelings to adopted people now.

Recently I asked my dad when he was the happiest, and he said his childhood; he had a very good childhood, which was the beginning of his long, fulfilling life. What bothered him though, through his old age, was the fact that he had found out that he was adopted. He didn’t find out from his parents but from another kid, and from that point forward, while he continued to have a good life, he felt like the enjoyable world he thought he had was somehow artificial, not what he thought it really was. The family that his parents said he had--cousins, aunts, uncles (he was an only child)--were not *really* his family because they weren’t biologically linked to him. 

I kept telling him that he was very lucky to have been adopted by a supportive, stable, well-off family who gave him everything he wanted (except for a BB gun). It didn’t matter that they weren’t biologically connected to him; they *were* his family, the family that chose him and brought him into their lives. And he was taken care of in various ways; even during the Depression, when a lot of the country barely had anything to eat, he had his own bedroom in a nice neighborhood in Youngstown Ohio, played golf with his cousin, ate large meals with homemade desserts, rode his bicycle around the neighborhood...and after he moved to Canton he lived out the Depression and many of his adult years there in comfort. 

Fast forward to his old age, when I spent a lot of time with him due to his physical limitations and illness. It became clear to me, while he still spoke of what I call an existential perception of existence (as he described the fact that he was adopted, so he was essentially “alone” in the world), I noticed that there was a *larger* family that had adopted him. Of course, family members called him, visited him, took him out, and made sure he was okay. But the family extended from there; it was the family of society. 

Many people who had no familial ties were very good to him. Friends and neighbors took him out, offered to help him in any way needed, talked to him, and treated him with respect. And it even extended beyond that. Many people, including strangers, treated him well and encouraged him. On a number of occasions, people he did not know at all would walk up to him and help him get out of a chair or out of a car. A cashier at Jewel would hand him a tissue when his nose was runny. A waitress would give us free meals. A man who didn’t speak English would give him a thumbs up. A woman would step out of the way to make room for him and his walker, telling us that she understood since she, herself, helped elderly relatives. The incredible reaction of people around him helped him to not feel alone.

As he got older, he became a relaxed person who had a very good attitude and lived in the moment. He pretty much never worried. I think his positive attitude and pleasant demeanor opened up doors for him, and caused others to respond favorably. Thanks to all the people in his life (as is evidenced by all the people here), the excellent doctors, nurses, and non-medical staff at Evanston Hospital, Glenbrook Hospital, and the Kellogg Cancer Center, he was able to live--and die--in dignity. 

His life serves as a reminder that even the little things we do can have a huge impact on another human being. I feel that this is important to remember as we see increasing evil in the world, because the good we do can offset the bad. 

No comments: