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I don’t know how long I stood there, in front of the mirror, looking for my father’s features. There must be something there, a hint in the shape of my nose or the curve of my jaw. Surely I’d be able to find some distinguishable feature that would verify at least half of my genetics could be be accounted for. He was my father and fathers do not lie. At least that’s what I told myself as I traced lines upon my face, the tip of my finger growing numb to the touch of my own skin.
The breakdown of trust between my father and I and its unintended consequences have been one of the most emotionally draining to explore and convey. I used to think that love and trust between parents and their children was all you needed to build a solid relationship between the two. All else, whether it be communication, respect, loyalty or honesty could be built upon those two elements. It was also my thinking that if one, either love or trust, were ever challenged or even totally destroyed, the other would help to repair the damage. Sadly, I’m finding that this is not necessarily the case.
I still love my father, but it has done little to help re-establish the level of trust I once afforded him. Knowing and understanding the depth of his deceptions and the manipulative intentions behind them, has irreparably damaged my perception of his integrity. Furthermore, discovering his manipulative use of my mother’s “memory” filled me with such shock and disgust that it destroyed any sense of admiration I might have held.
At this point, I’m aware that some elaboration is necessary, but feel that doing so would bring too much focus upon my father’s actions. Writing about this will inevitably point fingers at him, however, at this point, I’ve chosen to put more of my energy into trying to understand the consequences rather than the actions themselves. Trying to further explain why he withheld the truth and flat-out lied about my adoption would require a great amount of speculation on my part. The exact reasons behind his choices are ultimately his to tell, and he has chosen not to explain himself.
I’m not sure I’d believe him even if he did suddenly decided to elaborate on what he meant by, “I had my reasons.” People keep telling me I shouldn’t let it take away from the good things he’s done. They say I should find some way to forgive and let it go. “It was a long time ago, and I’m sure he meant well,” seems to be their main defense. I don’t know how to get it through to them that I’ve already forgiven his actions. It’s not a matter of forgiveness now, but of trust and how its absence negatively affects our relationship.
The loss of faith in the only father I’ve ever known feels comparable to the sense of loss I feel when I think of Má. I was never allowed to know her and suddenly feel as if I never really knew him. He has widened the distance between us, and the resulting sense of betrayal has given me little cause to bridge the gap. The search for more meaningful relationships has taken me in the opposite direction as I search to fill the vacuum. Fortunately for me, I was able to establish and maintain relationships without trust becoming an issue. That is the amazing thing.
The ability to trust can prove surprisingly resilient even after repeated bombardments of disappointment. The resilience seems born from necessity since the growth and solidifying of a relationship, whether between parent and child, friends or lovers, depends on at least some level of trust. In very early childhood, one would think it’s just natural to trust one’s parents but these days, I question whether it could truly be called trust as I know it today.
While bonding with my parents may have been an early indication of my growing in that direction, the concept of trust wasn’t a conscious idea. Even then, I don’t think you could really call it trust in the way you’d refer to it with an adult. To me, real trust requires some amount of judgment, knowing who you can and cannot trust and understanding why. What I had with my parents in those early days was based on naiveté. I simply didn’t know anything better. Was it nothing more than attachment?
There were many reasons the subject of trust interests me. One was that I wanted to understand how my relationship with my parents might have contributed, if at all, to my own concepts of trust now. Another was spurred by reading an article in which an adoptive parent stated she felt her daughter thought she needed “permission” to express her feelings about her “birth” mother. There was something about using the word “permission” that angered me.
Thinking about it in terms of granting permission suggests that the adoptive mother exercised her power over her adopted daughter and allowed her to express her feelings. Talking about their adoptions is something every adoptee has the right to do, and that should be made clear from the beginning. I thought back to my own experiences and wanted to suggest to the author that an adoptee’s reluctance to discuss their adoptions should often be thought of in terms of trust.
I didn’t share that level of trust with my parents. It wasn’t because they were awful people, but because I didn’t think they could deal with it. I didn’t want to hurt them, didn’t want to make them feel bad or make them think of me in a negative way. Their approval and acceptance was important to me, and I didn’t want to endanger that. I didn’t trust that they would be able to just listen rather than tell me how I should think and feel.
My solution was to turn to people I thought I could count on, the result of which further isolated them from that part of my life. I think that was the beginning of that “dual existence” many of my fellow adoptees refer to when discussing their “adopted selves” and their “normal selves.” That’s not to say that I think adoptive parents should pump themselves up with enthusiasm and rush their children to talk about their feelings.
I think adoptees should be made to feel empowered to speak about their adoptions. Too much parental pushing would seem to have the opposite effect. Besides, one would hope that if a deep level of trust is first established as simply parent and child, the bond would naturally extend to one between adoptive parent and child. By that, I mean one need not overly stress adoption in very early childhood but rather concentrate on establishing and maintaining a solid parent/child bond as a foundation.
I think if my parents had stressed my adoption too much, I would have felt more like an outsider than I already had. Too little gave me the impression my adoption wasn’t open for discussion, that I should somehow be ashamed of it. All that said, I don’t think I would have been comfortable sharing everything with my parents even under the most idea circumstances.
Sometimes, parents whether adoptive or not, have to give their children room to grow on their own. We have to trust that our children will figure out some things for themselves. Within reasonable limits, isn’t it only right to have the same faith in our children that we ask them to have in us?
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