Category Archives: Knoxville

How We Must Love As Parents (part 1)

“To have a child is to embrace a future you can’t control.” — Journalist and Father Tom French

This quote, from a Radio Lab segment, stuck. It is stuck in my head with the memory of an old friend. His memory is constant. I have no photographs of him so I must keep him in my memory. I lost contact with him in late 1990.

His story was always meant to be here, but it is long and painful. If you are considering adoption, please read the entire story.

In early 1990, I met a man while training at Red Lobster in Clarksville, Tennessee, the town where I finished my undergraduate degree. His name was Patrick. He was a handsome blonde with sculpted features, and I was instantly attracted to him. Our first days were the things of awkward teens.

One night, I admitted my fear of relationships. Patrick patiently listened to the story of my first love, a soldier at Fort Campbell. While dating me for a year, the GI from Wisconsin revealed that he was engaged to a woman in his hometown of Appleton, and that he planned to marry her.

Hearing this, Patrick revealed that he, too, was from Wisconsin and had recently finished his service in the military. He said he had been married and was now divorced. His candor and honesty dispelled my fears, and he won my trust.

With mutual trust, Patrick explained that he was gay and that he had been married to a lesbian during his time in the military to mask his true self. His fear was a deep-seated one. He wasn’t always able to be himself.

One evening, as I lamented my inevitable move to graduate school and my fear of being alone in Knoxville, Tennessee, Patrick suggested, “I could move with you. It doesn’t matter where I live, and we both could work at the Lob!” We felt our fears of being alone dispel.

We made plans, and I wrote the following letter to my mother.

Up next, the trip home …

Mi Papi

My name reminds me of my heritage. There are palms and beaches. I hear the constant beat of the rhythm of the island. Adobo Pollochon fills my kitchen with smells from my childhood. I am Puertorriqueña. It all began in August of 1968.

Prompted by my introduction letter, my father, recovering from surgery, took early medical leave to fly to Korea to meet me. He would forever wear a long scar, one that started small but stretched upon carrying all the bags for the trip.

Our meeting included several days of me becoming accustom to my parents. I think I was pretty comfortable.

I was instantly “Daddy’s Girl.” I followed my father wherever he went. I was his shadow.

His time in Korea, at the end of the Korean War, helped him acquire a taste for Korean food. When we are together, he often asks if there’s a Korean restaurant, and when he visits our favorite Korean restaurant in Knoxville, Tennessee, he texts me to let me know. He cannot have his kimchi without thinking of me.

Tucked away, I have his 1950s Korean/English dictionary. He tried to teach me Korean greetings, but I was more interested in the fun Spanish rhymes he would say.

Of course he had to cuddle me and our dog. She wasn’t going to be replaced by this new walking being.

I was introduced at the age of two to my Puerto Rican relatives. The island welcomed me, and I met mi Abuelita, mi Bisabuelita Ita and mi tio y las titis. The smells of the island kitchens still infiltrate my Wisconsin kitchen … especially in the cold months when I need the comfort of arroz y tostones.

My father’s family has committed the same unconditional love that forgets my biological race. In 2000, I brought my infant son to Puerto Rico to introduce him to the island, a land of abrazos y besos. My cousin, Richie, took us to the City Hall of Guayama and found my great grandfather’s portrait. He was the first Enrique. Richie proudly held my son against the portrait and proclaimed that my son looked just like his great-great grandfather, a former mayor of the town.

Quite a resemblance? ¿Verdad?

Enrique … that name has been passed on to every male in the family, but I broke the tradition. My stubborn will missed the subtle cues from my father in phrases like “What do you think about ‘Enrique’ or ‘Fernando’?” I realized my mistake when all the relatives asked how I came to my son’s name. Luckily, I have gotten some redemption now that my son is taking Spanish in school and has taken on the name “Enrique” for his class.

I speak of my mother often since I cannot see or speak with her, but my father is a constant presence in my life. I feel blessed for every day I have him to cuddle my children.

They are proud to have their Latino names and their Papito. They laugh when he uses his fart machine, they enjoy fishing with him as I did, and they admire his oil painting skills.

I am often reminded of the old audio reels from my father’s years in Vietnam. We were separated. I turned three in Tennessee, but I missed him. I cannot imagine now the pain my mother felt being so far away from her husband, or his pain at leaving us and not knowing if he would return. He tells me that he would often listen to the reel of me saying over and over, “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!  I want my daddy!”

He returned safely to later share one of the most treasured days of my adulthood.

I will forever be Daddy’s Girl.

The Holidays

Today, as I pulled into the post office and mailed my father and his wife’s package, I had a sinking feeling.  I wanted to be mailing a package to my mother.

As those who have read my blog before know, she passed away just after the holidays in 2001.

During my errands, my car brought me to an Arby’s.  I hadn’t eaten there in years.

My fondest memory of Arby’s was a winter’s day in the mid-1980s.  As the South does when snow is predicted, my county high school canceled classes for the day. My younger sister, a city schooler, had class.  So, it was a Mama and me day!

She drove us to downtown Knoxville, Tennessee. We walked around her old haunts.  She told me stories of her best friend, Service Merchandise and the days courting my father. She took me to Arby’s where we ate French Dips and curly fries, then washed them down with Dr. Pepper, her favorite soft drink.

So today, I did the same.  I ordered my French Dip, curly fries and Dr. Pepper. I sat in a corner, quietly cried and wrote this:

Dear Mom.  Today, my car took me to Arby’s as I remembered one of the most precious days I had with you. High school was out because of the threat of snow, but Angela had school.  We drove to downtown Knoxville where you showed me your old haunts. We had French Dips and curly fries. The holidays are hard when my thoughts rest on your memory. I love and miss you, Mama.

Oh, how they forget!

My family has accepted me from the first day. At times, they forget that I am adopted, though it is shockingly apparent to those who don’t know us.

My mother has had so many of those moments. Once as a teenager, I was fantasizing about what my own family might be one day. I said, “I wish I could have a red-headed child.” My mother said casually, “You could. I’m a red-head, your grandmother was a red-head … ” I asked her, as a smart teenager, “Have you looked at me lately?” And her response was, “Oh, I guess not.”

Another time, I sat with her at the Opryland Hotel bar. We ordered drinks, and the server asked for my identification. My mother was brooding as I produced proof of my age. She was fuming. I asked her what was wrong. She said, “I’m your mother. I wouldn’t allow you to drink if you were underage!” I tried not to laugh, and I calmed her by saying, “Mom, SHE doesn’t know that I’m your daughter.”

My sister is my parents’ biological daughter and six years my junior. We grew closer as we both reached early adulthood. One evening, we attended a Blue Nile concert in the Old Town area of Knoxville, Tennessee. We sat very close together, hugging and wrapping our arms around each other. Later, we noticed some disapproving looks. We were truly puzzled until we realized that we didn’t look like siblings.

In Puerto Rico, where my father’s family lives, they, too, have forgotten my biological roots. The first time my husband and I brought our infant son to the island, a cousin took us around to the city hall. There we found a photograph of my father’s grandfather, a former mayor. My cousin held up my infant son and said, “He looks just like him!” My husband and I smiled, enjoying the absolute love.