Category Archives: Tennessee

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 …

Separate But Same

Today, as I sat waiting, I combed through my coupon organizer, a blue plastic expandable folder. Miya and I had arranged to meet. She arrived and upon seeing me, produced an almost identical blue plastic folder. Eerie, right?

Our childhood photographs look very similar as well, despite the fact that she grew up in New York state and I, in Tennessee. Little square Polaroids of each of us playing with our siblings in our adoptive families.

We have been comparing our baby albums and our adoption letters and papers. Having seen her adoption paper cover, signed by one John W. Bligh, Jr., I remarked at how similar it was to mine. Of course all this was from memory.

Last week, I invited her husband and her children to our home so that the families could finally meet. My boy took her boy and wandered to his room. My girl took her girl and disappeared into her room. The men sat on the sofa and chatted.

Miya and I began looking at our legal adoption papers, side by side. I presented the thin tissue paper packet that sealed my adoption.  On the top was my Certificate of Acknowledgement, signed by the same John W. Bligh, Jr., the Vice Consul of the United States. “Strange,” we remarked.

Then, the date … my paper was signed on the 6th of December 1968, and hers was signed on the 9th of December 1968.

Two girls adopted in the same week in Seoul now sat as women, reunited by all of our commonalities.

Inspirational Children

Tonight, my son shared a video with me. His struggles with being happy in his own skin and his need to be accepted has been worrying me. He’s entering the age where one questions oneself and often takes on the attitudes of those around him.

As a parent, I know he must make the journey, but having gone down the same road, I know the conflicts he will face. He has faced some in the past … being called “Chinese” (not that China is bad, but it is often said in a very derogatory way). I explain that such references only means that the speaker is uneducated about the different Asian races.  While I say this as neutrally as possible to him, I cannot deny that it puts a pit in my stomach as it did when the same was said to me as a young girl.

I was called “Chinese” as well as “Cambodian Refugee,” and children would pull their eyes into slants to mock me.  In gym, I was paired with the only other Asian child, a boy, during square dances. While I struggled to just fit in, I was always reminded that I was different. I was not white, nor did I have a plain Jane name.  I wanted to blend into the background; I wanted to be white or black, for those were the two races in my hometown. I wanted desperately to fit in.

Before our decision to become parents, my husband and I talked about my childhood and what we could do to save our children from the heartaches I had felt in rural Tennessee.  We decided that we would always live in a racially diverse community. We chose the Wisconsin home we did because of the racial make-up of its public schools.

As my boy entered middle school this fall, we felt we had done all we could to make sure he would blend in. But in reality, we have learned that no matter what we do, there will be children who want to belittle others. No matter what we, as parents, have done, we cannot protect them fully from the growing pains of bullying and belittling.

What we have done is made sure that he knows that he is well-loved and that he is beautiful just the way he is. Tonight, I realized as I watched this video with him that he not only knows he’s special in his own way, but that he sees that he is not alone. He understands the lyrics of this Lady Gaga song, and he felt a kinship with this little girl.

This is just the kind of performance I needed to see … shared by my boy.

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 …

Tomorrow marks the day …

Tomorrow is my birthday … or rather the day that the Korean government gave me as a birthday. On my first birthday, one of the most important of a young Korean baby’s life, I spent it with my foster parents. They were college professors, according to my mother. The man took my photograph to commemorate the day.

According to my Korean friend, the baby is presented with four things: a pencil, a string, chopsticks and money. Which item the child chooses determines her future. A pencil indicates a scholar, the string indicates a long life, the chopsticks insure that the child never will go hungry, and the money indicates a child who will prosper. I have no idea what I chose that day, but I’m still waiting to find out!

Many birthdays followed.  Here you see my first birthday celebrated with my parents in Puerto Rico; I was two.

My next birthday, my third, was spent with my mother’s family in Tennessee. My father was stationed in Vietnam. I recall sending him a taping where I just said, “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!” My grandmother and my mother made it the most special of days despite my father’s absence.

Each year, my mother worked very hard to make November 15th the most memorable of all. She succeeded. This was one where she made my wishes come true with a cake she fashioned with dancing ballerinas around it.

As I turned six, my mother had been hospitalized for some time. She was carrying my little sister, a pregnancy that the doctors had told her might not make it to term. My father made the best of it and bought me a cake. He also fashioned a sign on posterboard for me. I remember visiting my mother in the hospital, she quickly gave me a wrapped present in the cafeteria. As I left, I remember looking longingly up at her hospital room window from the pavement below. She would tell me later that she cried that evening as she watched my little purple coat wave and walk away.

The next year was a big one. We had just moved to Lawton, Oklahoma. I had made a few friends, but it really was a party for our family. My mother spent late nights cutting the letters for the signage out of pieces of construction paper.

I became older, and birthdays passed. There was my 8th pictured here.

And then … I hit nine. We had once again moved. This time we moved to Tennessee, my mother’s birthplace.

This was a monumental birthday for me, because I started wondering more about myself and my background. Having been a military brat until this point, I had been surrounded by diversity. In Tennessee, it was difficult being a lone Asian in a small, rural Appalachian town. I looked more and more at the paperwork my parents had received, and I realized that I was different in another way. The day I had always celebrated as my birthday, may not have been my birthday after all.

When I had been turned into the police station, I had no papers with me. I was taken to a doctor, where my approximate age was determined. Then, the government gave me a birth date, the middle of November, as an estimated birthday.

So, every year, I wonder if November 15th is in fact my birthday, or if I could have been born on the same day as my sister, the 20th, or on the 11th, or the 17th or so on.

I know nothing about the circumstances of my birth. This never entered my mind until I had given birth to my children. Now, I do wonder at times if my birth was easy for my birth mother, if I was born early in the morning after a long night of labor, or born late in the day after many hours of daylight labor. Was I her first child? Or was I a subsequent one whose labor lasted only a short time?

While I am content with my life now, I still have unanswered questions. But I know that the answers make little difference in the person I am today.

The rich birthday celebrations that I have had were celebrations of not only my birth, but celebrations of my place in a loving family.

A snowy reunion

We were hit … hard. Snow drifts and crazy temps. In Wisconsin, that rarely constitutes a snow day. But today was our day.

I personally was very thankful for the extra time spent with my kids today. We were able to start the day with the four of us in our queen bed together. We all gazed at the white wonder outside. Once the moment was over, it was time for friends. Phone calls and arrangements. All in our house to keep the activity around.

Today was not only groundhog’s day or a snow day, it was the tenth anniversary of my mother’s death. The snow reminded me of the story of the little match girl. As a young girl my mother played this tragic figure in a play. She told me she was cast because of her red curls.

The Little Match Girl is one of my daughter’s favorite story books. It was also owned by my mother. In it, a young girl must sell her matches on the street as a snow storm brews. She lights one, then another to keep warm. Eventually, she freezes to death but is taken up to be with her deceased and beloved grandmother.

My girl has never known her grandmother, and I think she feels a connection through this book. She feels the tragedy of never having known her grandmother, but also wishes for that opportunity to see her in another lifetime.

The snow did not bring death today like it does in the story. Instead, it brought back lovely memories of snow days in Tennessee. My mother baking. Her inventive sleds of black trash bags and cardboard boxes. The photos she took of my sister and I dressed in multiple layers and sporting red cheeks and smiles.

For the last month, I had dreaded today. And yet, today was a day of happiness, filled with the joy of being a mother, my mother.