Category Archives: love

What about the child?

Radio Lab this week covered this story on adoption.

I encourage you to listen to the end. There are hard stories from our past, and frightening ideas that ask children to “melt into the wider culture.” What is culture? A source here points out that the viability of a culture lies in its children, but what if all the children were no longer immersed in their cultures?

What has struck me are the comments on the website that say that this little girl was better off with her adoptive parents. Perhaps, but now she has lived equal time with her biological father.

Adoption is complicated for all parties involved. Adoption is about love, but more importantly, adoption is about the well-being of the child. At this point, she seems happy with her birth father.

Perhaps he was naive and young at first, but he loves her. Just because he cannot offer what the adoptive couple can, does not make him a bad parent as some commenters allude.

This is a complicated story. This month, our Supreme Court will make a decision that could affect the 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act. Stay tuned.

How We Must Love As Parents (part 3)

Some time later, Patrick was found on a Padre Island beach in Texas. He had been a victim of a homophobic attack. As a result of the trauma, he lost his memory.

As the details became clear, a former co-worker at the Clarksville Red Lobster passed on the phone number for the hospice where Patrick was staying. I called and left messages, asking him to call me back. The Tennessee his memory afforded was not a place where he felt comfortable anymore. He needed to make a new life in Texas, one without the pain of the past.

I had lost a friend. But I still imagined Patrick coming to my wedding, playing with my children and becoming “Uncle Patrick.”

Over time, I continued to introduce my father to my gay friends. One night, just after my wedding, my father pulled me aside at a party and said, “I like Jeffrey! He’s so funny!” I revealed that Jeffrey was gay, and my father said, “So? That is none of my business. He’s a really funny guy.” Patrick’s words of wisdom came back. “He will come around.” My father’s fear was falling away.

In 1998, I was living in Fort Collins, Colorado, and news of Matthew Shepard’s death flooded the media. All the emotions from 1990 came rushing back. Matthew’s lifeless body on the fence became Patrick’s lifeless body on a beach. If I couldn’t connect with my friend, I would fight the hatred and fear that took him away. I devoted my time to human rights … rights for all.

I attended PFLAG (Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) meetings, and listened as parents warned, “Watch what you say. When you say, ‘Someday, you will marry a nice girl,’ to your son, you’re building a wall.” Along with the normal fears of becoming a parent, I was determined that I would never build that wall.  When I had my first child, I promised to teach him to never fear those who were different and to never fear being different himself. 

I still held the memory of Patrick and the hope of reconnecting with him someday. I called the hospice until they informed me that he was no longer there. I searched the internet for Patrick Goettl and found nothing.

In 2009, I moved to Wisconsin, his hometown state. This started my search again. Still, nothing emerged. 

Last summer, I decided to search for Patrick again. This time, I based my search on the crime of his abduction and discovered that he had changed his name to “Zach” and had passed away in Corpus Christi on March 16, 2000, a month and a half before my son’s birth. This time, my loss was final.

I connected with his former boss in Corpus Christi, Marco Mattolini. He filled in the years I had missed, and I told him of the man named “Patrick.” The man Marco knew as “Zach” was Marco’s “right-arm,” and his death affected him and his business. “I might cry now,” he said as he explained how Patrick had died of pneumonia, a complication due to AIDS. 

I wanted to be there at his bedside. While I was rejoicing in the new life I had as a parent, he was wasting away in a hospital bed. I have imagined and dreamed of what ifs … if I had made a different decision … if our society had been more like it is now … if he had found a partner to love … if his family had accepted him as the person he was.

I still feel the loss just as I did in 1990. This loss drives me. When my children are secretive about crushes, I am quick to say, “I respect your secrecy about your crush, and I want you to know that no matter who you may have a crush on, be it boy or girl, I will support and love you.” This dialogue has happened since they were toddlers and professed their desire to marry their parents. It happens so much that they now say, “Yes, Mom, I know you will love me, even if I am gay.”

At The Changing Face of Adoption Conference in Appleton, we were asked to talk about how our race impacted our lives. Interestingly, my fellow panelist, Alex, made it clear that his haunts were not about race but about his being gay. In the same breath, he punctuated the love and support from his adoptive family. He said he felt safe at home. 

I was reminded again of the pain Patrick had felt as his adoptive family slipped from him. I asked some social workers if they ever mentioned to prospective adoptive families that there could be the possibility that their child might be gay. They said they tell families that a child’s future self is unknown, but they did not specifically mention sexual orientation.

We talked at the conference about making changes in transracial adoption. There are huge waves of this spreading love for our cultures. But what about love for other aspects of our being?

Just as Tom French said, “To have a child is to embrace a future you can’t control,” we as parents can control our love. We can love our children without judgement.

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 …

Asian Attraction, Part 3

Another two installments of the “seeking asian female” series called “They’re All So Beautiful” has hit YouTube.

Here’s the third episode:

This one is interesting as it asks Asian men to join the conversation about Asian-Caucasian couplings. Some Asian men express frustration in the attraction that Asian women have for Caucasian men. In response, an Asian woman says that dating an Asian man would be “like dating my brother.” Personally, I have felt the same and refer to my two best, male Asian friends as my “Big Brother” and my “Little Brother.”

In addition, one man described Asian women in this way (I believe my husband could attest to this.), “quite belligerent, demanding, controlling, and not afraid to say what is on their [sic] mind … not afraid to act independently on what they feel.” This completely contradicts the first installment that asked Caucasian men what they sought in Asian women.

The most disturbing segment of this video (in minute 4:43) is the Caucasian women’s subtleties in descriptive language of Asian women.  These two women continue to describe the couplings as “white males and Asian girls,” and “Asian girls looking for white men.” Why refer to other women as “girls”? Demeaning, belittling, and just plain name-calling, in my opinion.

Installment four goes like this:

Here we dig further into the attraction that Asian women have for Caucasian men. The culture card comes up here. Stereotypes are being flung to all parties … Asian men, Caucasian men, Asian women!

One Asian woman says that what attracts her to Caucasian men is that they are independent (exactly what an Asian man called Asian women). Now we’re getting somewhere.

We learn that the highest percentage of interracial marriages are made up by Asian women married to Caucasian men. There it is. My love for my husband plays into a statistic that proves this Asian fixation.

Thankfully, Dr. Benjamin Tong, Professor at the California Institute of Integral Studies, comes to our rescue, saying:

“Love has nothing to do with selling out on a people, has nothing to do with disloyalty. Love is something that simply happens between two people, and it can cross gender and race lines … ”

I needed that, Dr. Tong, on this, our eighteenth wedding anniversary. Love is love.

Our Last Valentine’s Day

In 1993, my mother and I shared Valentine’s Day. Each of us would have been alone that Valentine’s Day, had we not had each other.

For me, that day was V-Day or VD. I celebrated it as a day to enjoy my independence from the vagaries of love [LUUUUUhV].

My mother saw it as a day to celebrate her role as a mother. Our 1993 Valentine’s Day was the last one we had before I found another love. She would always remember this day in the years to follow.

In those following Valentine’s Day phone calls she would say, “Remember our last Valentine’s Day alone?  We had drinks at Red Lobster and then moved on to the Spaghetti Warehouse. Remember?”

My response would be, “Yes, Mom.  I remember. You loved downtown Knoxville. It reminded you of your days as a single woman, right?”

“I loved that we were spending THAT night together,” she would reply with a little sadness in her voice.

In March of 1993, I found the man who insisted that he not complete me, but complement me. It was a whirlwind.

We dated and moved in together that following September, against my mother’s wishes. That Valentine’s Day in 1994 she would be despondent.

For my mother, I think she felt her love had been replaced. On outward appearances, yes. Deep inside though, I still loved my mother as strongly as I had that prior Valentine’s Day.

She would feel much better about this “replacement” when the man who had “taken” me “away from her” proposed in September of 1994. This became the point of healing.

She had a wedding to plan, but it was still extremely painful for her to let go of her first child. My mother was not shy about expressing her feelings … to me and my future husband.

I still see the mixture of pain and pride in her face in this photograph taken at our wedding (Image by Rob Heller).

Someday, I will feel this pain in the same way. But for now, I enjoy the valentines my children give me and remember that evening so long ago at the Spaghetti Warehouse in Knoxville’s Old City.

Love is enough.

The subtitle for Barb Lee’s Adopted film is “When love is not enough …”.  What kind of love is she talking about here?

I argue that love is enough.

The love I know came in the form of handmade, Korean clothes for me and my entire brownie troop. That love also displayed all my Asian dolls on shelves in my room.

That love stood between me and the bullies who hurled their personal insults and attacks at her.

That love forgot that I couldn’t bear her red-headed grandchildren.

That love wore small, silver Korean shoes (Hwahye) on her charm bracelet.

That love cried as hard as I did on the day I moved to Rwanda, shortly after my wedding.

That love wrote letters almost daily and sent them across the ocean to a post box in Kigali.

That love’s eyes twinkled the first day they set their sights on her first grandson … this, despite the fact that her lips were silenced by a stroke.

That love worked tirelessly to be able to have this moment with her first grandchild.

She left us twelve years ago on this day. But her love is here and growing in me, my sister and our children. Her love will forever be with us, and that is enough.

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.

This day …

Today, at my daughter’s parent-teacher conference, I signed a required form and finished by dating it 11-15-67. My husband said, “Well, you just told everyone your age!”

I’m 45 today, or at least, I’ve been conditioned to believe my birthday is today. It’s been quite a history for the fifteenth of November.

Many of my sweetest memories on this date include my mother. She always made my day. (See this entry.) Today, when the phone rang, I wished her voice would be on the other end. Instead, I heard a voice on the other end say, “If you are a senior citizen … ”

This week, my father also called to leave sweet serenades on the answering machine and my mobile voicemail. I loved my father’s heavily accented “Happy Birthday” as his wife played on the piano.

In November 2000, I sat with my sweet boy. I immediately knew the wonder of parenthood. We were preparing to surprise my mother for Thanksgiving. This was the last birthday with my mother. While she was recovering from a stroke, her pride in the newest addition to her family was unmistakable.

In 2002, on this date, I went for my 12-week prenatal appointment. My husband and my son had just given me a platinum band to celebrate our growing family. It had taken my husband several moonlighting overnight shifts in the animal ER to pay for it. I was on a high that Friday.

My OB said, “Let’s check on the baby with a birthday ultrasound!” My day was getting even better! There was excitement, then silence, then another OB, then blood tests. The news wasn’t good. I lost that baby on the Sunday, and a stone fell out of my new ring.

Within the year, we were blessed with our very sweet girl.

Forty-five years of many things … happiness, sadness and immeasurable love. What a path I was given! I’ll keep November 15 and all its memories.

Her scent …

White linen and the scent of comfort. That is how I remember my mother when I see this photograph.

I thought about this when I read an article today on the Huffington Post website. Find it here. While I am not adverse to having my photograph taken, I am often the photographer. So, the majority of our family photographs are of the kids, the cats and the chickens.

My husband is also frequently absent. We should change that. But in the meantime, for posterity I share this image of me and my peeps.

This was a memorable Mother’s Day a few years back. With full tummies, smiles and warm embraces, we sat for a quick photograph.  I love how our hands came together naturally. I hope my children look back on this image and remember that day at the Frank Lloyd Wright Cafe in Spring Green. It captured that fleeting moment before our lives went back into full gear, and we rushed off to the boy’s soccer match.
Time to stop and record. Make memories that bring back the scent of mothers and fathers.

Trade Offs

It is February 2nd.  February isn’t the best month for me.  If you have followed me for a while, you know that today is the anniversary of my mother’s death.  In addition, the second most influential woman in my life, my mother’s mother, died on February 10th.

These two women have left an indelible mark on my life, although my life path hasn’t exactly followed theirs.

As a child in Tennessee, I had my grandmother just a short walk from my house. When I was lonely or had argued with my mother, I had only to make the short walk … where my grandmother would offer me my grandfather’s leftovers of country ham and biscuits. She would listen to me and let me sit with her at the kitchen table, or she would ask me to help her snap beans.

My son could use a grandparent next door. He is adjusting to yet another transition in schools. He has entered middle school, only two years after our big move to Wisconsin. He is a sweet boy, but he longs for acceptance. I know that longing. It was that longing that made me choose this life path unlike my mother’s … to live away from my hometown and family. Moving away meant that my children would go to school in a more racially diverse community, but it also meant that we would sacrifice the proximity of family.

This week, after a nice spell of having my husband home in a holiday holdover, he resumed his travels for work. It has struck both the boy and me very hard. Our family is fractured, and we’re both lonely. We miss family and the comfort we had in Virginia with friends we had spent ten years knowing … they were our family there.

We are building friendships in Wisconsin, but it will take another ten years to have what we once had. Perhaps someday we will be able to impulsively invite our friends over for dinner like we did in our Virginia days. Or we could drop in and have leftovers at a friend’s house.

As a mother, I want to see my son build lasting friendships. But lately, his desire for friends is wound up tightly with the dynamics of middle school, and he is having a hard time untangling his feelings. I listen, but I also do not want to risk alienating him from me. It’s a fine line. We are our family here. I cannot risk that loss.

However my mother did what a mother is supposed to do, she risked that loss. She watched as her child move away, and I know that it broke her heart to be so far from me and my sister.

In the loneliness of February 2001 with the excitement of the holidays behind her, she quietly slipped away. February is indeed a hard month …