Category Archives: unconditional love

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 …

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 Road Taken

The film, Adopted, was loaned to me to start me on a journey …

The problem is, I don’t want the angry journey portrayed in this movie through the adult adoptee, Jennifer. I am not her, nor do I feel as she does. I have never felt abandoned.

I identify more with her adoptive mother who says, “I think I probably remember a lot more details about picking Jenny up from the airport than I do about giving birth to Eric.”

Yet in search of her “core validation,” this young woman continues to lash out at her parents through snide comments and hurtful rejection. She forces a journey on her parents that they have made and are ending. Both her mother and father are dying of cancer.

I understand her recollections of racism outside of the home; I lived through those same racial jokes (see examples in this post). Unlike her, I experienced these moments with my family. When children chanted racial insults, my mother rushed up and confronted them. She faced their hurtful words as they shouted, “Come get us you big, fat hippopotamus!”

From day one, we all were a part of the journey. My mother was my best friend. I shared all the hurt with her. We talked through it. The adoptee, Jennifer, did not share, and now all the pent-up 9-year-old anger has surfaced in a thirty-something young woman.

She talks of “being authentic and real,” but I pose that your reality is what you make of it. I pose that individuals are different. While every adoption story does not end like Jennifer’s or mine, there are varying degrees of acceptance, abandonment and unconditional love.

The adoption story isn’t just about the well-being of the adoptee, as Jennifer would like us to believe. If it is, in fact, as Jennifer wishes, a journey they all take together, there should be some sensitivity for the adoptive parent.

Recently I have spoken of starting an adoptee’s journey, but more precisely, it is just a new chapter in my life … one of sharing parallel experiences, laughing at similarities (like all the vacuuming and couponing), and learning new stories.

I appreciate the different stories, but my life is full of wonderful things.

My daughter recently summed it up, saying, “If you weren’t adopted, I wouldn’t be here and we wouldn’t be with Daddy.”

I am content with the road I have taken.

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.