Is It Time to Change My Genes?

I am currently obsessed, I mean really obsessed, with my ancestry. It all began when I decided to give my husband for his BIG 5-0 an Ancestry.com DNA kit. A little background…

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My husband is adopted. He was formally adopted when he was about 15 – 18 months. Prior to that, he lived with a foster family and then with his adoptive parents until the paperwork was finalized. He LOVES his adoptive parents (his mom passed away two years ago), and they gave him a life where he was loved and cherished and blessed. However, my husband is a romantic of sorts. He romanticizes life. He attended CSUF, majored in Comm with an emphasis in Radio-TV-Film, and he never entered the field. It felt to fickle to him, so he went the way of the teaching field. I tell you this because, I think, he has had this affinity to make his life “movie-like,” hence my comment that he “romanticizes life.”

Anyways, he told me pretty early on in our dating days that he had attempted to find his birth parents, but it was hard. Back then, the internet did not exist, and you had to go to the places where you were born or the county courthouse to find any information. Even then, you needed an act of God (or a court document) to find out anything. When the internet became a “thing,” his trusty wife (me) began digging, and I found an adoption registry wherein “TA DA” we found out information about his birth parents. (For those of you still interested in my rambling, sadly, his birth mother had died the year we were married, BUT we eventually met his birth father and his half-sister by his mother. Yay…sort of “happy endings.”)

Long story, long…he wanted to know more. Remember…he romanticizes life, so I purchased the DNA kit for him and one for me.

I love family trees and learning people’s stories in the process. After sending in our kits, we now have to wait 6 – 8 weeks for the results. In the meantime, I began digging on the Ancestry site. I’ve spent HOURS working on building the “hole in my life” (my bio dad’s line – see this blog) and I’ve spent HOURS working on my husband’s lineage. And it’s not done. I’ve only taken a break from it the past few days because I’ve been busy with other life responsibilities. However, I know there are many hours to go, AND we haven’t even received our DNA breakdown which may also make more connections than the ones I’ve already found. CRAZY!

Family Tree

So here is the purpose for my blog…I have an interesting issue on my biological father’s paternal line: absentee fathers. For four generations. For five generations, including my brother and me, we have divorces. Five generations of divorces. My mind has been ruminating on this. A LOT. What does this mean? Doesn’t it seem strange that there have been five generations of divorces that have lead to fathers leaving their children, not looking back? I’ve started thinking of nature vs. nurture. Is this a nurture or nature situation? Wouldn’t it be strange to think that it could possibly be a nature issue? How does that happen even? I have so much to consider and research and write on about this topic that I thought I’d start the conversation out here.

Here is what I know for sure: I have four generations of extremely brave and wonderful women who did the very best to raise good citizens. Every one of the men on my father’s paternal side served in the military. They have served in every major war since the Revolutionary War: War of 1812, Civil War, WWI, and WWII. These women nurtured these men without the help of their fathers, and that amazes me. Maybe that’s more important than considering the nature vs. nurture of fatherless homes. I’d like to think so…(to be continued).

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#kindness.

Okay, I have been thinking about all of these movements and days of honor that have been celebrated in the past few months. Since I’m a professor, I’m sure some of my students have wondered why, for example, I didn’t wear red yesterday for #internationalwomensday or #adaywithoutawoman. Or why I don’t really talk about movements like #adaywithoutimmigrants a few weeks back. I need to be honest with you. I care about people. A LOT. In fact, a whole lot.

That being said, I am not a fan of social media-constructed movements, the #movements that have become so popular. Why?  They last for a day, and, in my opinion, they make very little lasting difference except to get people focused on their social media a bit more for, what, five minutes (five minutes too long). Yes. You can call me cynical. I understand that everyone should #ProtestAction. But it’s the word “action” that keeps me cynical. See, putting a hashtag phrase on your social media account doesn’t do anything if you aren’t living #kindness every day to everyone.

I decided to write this post because a friend wrote a post on her Instagram that got me thinking. Here it is…

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Take that in. I have been thinking for a long time now that the bully/”mean girl” culture should have ended. I mean, if we really are evolved primates, shouldn’t we have evolved away from the need to demean, gossip about, post horrible things about, say something catty about, push/shove/punch, etc. other people? Why do parents allow their children to grow up thinking this is “normal?” It’s not.

Ladies, we’re fabulous (Men…you are too, but there was no #internationalmensday yesterday. And by the way…there should be.). To each other? Not so much. That #movement from yesterday needs to become the true action of loving and supporting each other. Affairs should stop. Why? Women don’t allow yourself to go after another woman’s husband or fall for his BS. Horrible comments or thoughts about another woman’s body shape/wardrobe/hairstyle/makeup/[fill in the blank]? That should end. Why? That is woman on woman “violence.”

If we really truly want to make a difference, we need to join the movement #kindness and live it. Every day. In the way we think (those judgmental thoughts in your mind about another person…gone), in the way we act (rolling your eyes or showing aggressive body language…gone), and in the way we generally live our lives (hold open a door, say “thank you” to everyone, make eye contact and smile, let someone move in front of you when you’re driving…). We don’t need #movements. We simply need to do life better for everyone through our actions. #justsayin

Amy

P.S. Remember this. When you become a parent, don’t let your children “off the hook” for bad behavior and call it “kids being kids.” Your children will not be angels, and they need to be taught how to be kind compassionate human beings no matter where they come from.

The Office Visit to Learning

Every Tuesday and Thursday, I sit in my office hours, waiting for keen students to come visit me. I will admit that I do like the quiet afforded me during this time, but I would prefer eager, dedicated students to seek my help.

Today, Tuesday, I was visited by a former student, Enrique. Enrique was a student in my summer English 99 class. This class was a lot of fun, and the energy was palpable over the course of the summer semester.

Enrique came to me feeling a bit discouraged. He is an English major, one of very few in my experience as a professor. He is enrolled in his first English class this semester, a survey course entitled “American Lit: Twain to Modern.” To be honest, I loved the literature of this course (I had a stinky professor, though, when I took it).  Literature courses can be difficult. They oftentimes make a person feel “stupid.” Since literature has some subjectivity to it (you can read something and come up with a bazillion meanings behind it), one can enter a classroom of English majors and feel overwhelmed and downright stupid. For those of us who are perfectionists and think we’re pretty smart creatures, this can be unnerving. So much so, it can lead people to seek a different path.

This, my friends, is the process of learning. For some reason, I think we walk into math, science, engineering courses expecting that we will encounter this process of learning. We come to accept it better there. However, in the Humanities and Social Sciences, when we think the subject is a bit obvious, we balk at the learning process. Learning is HARD. It makes us feel uncomfortable because we think we should know it already. However, that isn’t really the case, though.

We don’t come pre-programmed with knowledge. Wouldn’t that make for an easier life? However, it would also make for a boring one. We would never have to think or talk because recall would be easy. Yet, we would miss out on the “highest of highs:” success. And the “lowest of lows:” failure. There is power in the process of learning because it helps us understand our place and our significance in the world. When we use our minds to develop ideas, we add to or change life.

Since we’re focusing on learning in our first essay, I thought this blog post could be a set-up for the power of learning. I spent a great deal of time talking with Enrique today. I told him to go to this professor’s office hours and tell him about the way in which he was feeling about the reading for the class. I told him that the person he is right now won’t be the person he is in a few weeks. And I also told him that a wise professor once told me when I was struggling with feeling dumb about my learning: “You might not be the smartest person in the class, and you certainly aren’t the dumbest. Instead, you are right in the middle, and that is a GREAT place to be.” Get comfortable with learning; embrace feeling the discomfort of the learning process. It will make you a better person in the end.

What I Think…

Okay, I’m going to be bold and political, and I might offend someone, but I have to get these thoughts out of my head before I explode. Over the past several years, we have watched gruesome moments in our society. We have stared horrifically at our television and computer screens as the deaths of innocent people have been reported due to the actions of one person with an arsenal of weapons entering a public facility and shooting. President Obama chastised the American People the other day as becoming “numb” to these moments. I don’t think that fairly characterizes our feelings about it. For me, this recent tragedy touches me in ways that the theater shootings or elsewhere might not have so greatly (well, that’s not necessarily true.). Why? It’s easy: I’m Lawrence Levine. I’m a writing professor at a local community college. I am him. Those students are my students. The disparate ages and lives of his students are similar to the students I teach at Fullerton Community College. I can imagine that classroom. I can picture this classroom, and it looks just like the one I sit in every Tuesday and Thursday evening. I don’t agree with President Obama that I’ve become numb to it. Instead, I am all too aware of this situation. Like him, I want something to change. Unlike him, however, I don’t think focusing on guns is the issue. For some of you, that might be surprising.

Personally, I really don’t think “guns” are the problem. Guns have been a part of our culture since it began. The second “law of the land” relates to guns. That isn’t a mistake. I think more people need to think about the fact that it was important to our founding fathers to protect that right, so much so, that it was the second amendment they wrote and set as law. People think the world or our society would be better without guns, but the reality is someone is going to own them. If the populace doesn’t, then who does? The government? If you’ve read any of the post-modern/contemporary texts such as Brave New World or 1984, then you know how that can turn out. Criminals? Someone will always have access to something that is unlawful or banned. It’s human nature, I think, to want what you can’t have. Take away the guns from the general populace, and you’ll find people who will find ways to own them. I find it interesting that many of the same people who want the legalization of recreational marijuana are some of the same people who want strict gun control laws or no guns at all. It doesn’t matter if it is guns or marijuana, restricting personal freedoms tends to lead to more illicit behavior. Right? Even more, there is much being written about the problems with gun-free zones. This article comes from Breitbart, a column written from a libertarian point of view. It touches on the issues with gun-free zones. If you’re not familiar with this, you should read up on it and determine if this might be part of the problem: http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2015/10/01/former-us-marshal-oregon-gunman-chose-gun-free-facility-umpqua-community-college/

Believe it or not, I’m not writing this blog to discuss gun control. That isn’t really my point. What I really want to voice is the idea that this issue isn’t a gun issue (and feel free to disagree with me. That’s the beauty of the USA where we can have and hold different opinions). For me, the issue is a people issue. With the last several mass shootings, we have seen killers who are clearly mentally unstable. Whether it is diagnosed or not, these are people who have lost a semblance of sanity, which has lead them to horrific killings. The question I put forth is “how does no one in their lives notice this?” That’s where I want to sit for the rest of this blog post. How do we live with, eat with, and go through life with people who, one day, decide to walk into public places with arsenals (yes, arsenals) of weapons and begin shooting? How do we not see their pain and misery and mental instability? For me, that’s the problem.

As many of you know, my life’s work isn’t totally teaching; it’s raising my son, E. If you’re a student in my class, sadly, you hear me talk about him always. Why? Because I am closely connected to him. I am THE one person who spends the most amount of time with him. While I know this will change as he gets older and eventually goes away to college, I do know that I need to maintain that contact, to make sure he is a healthy, vibrant human being who adds to this world. Did these killers’ parents see their children? Were they aware of the dysfunctions? If not, why weren’t they aware?

What about their friends? Even if they were solitary individuals, most people have ONE friend. If you are “that” friend to someone, can’t you see changes or notice odd behaviors? Can I be honest? I think this is the problem. It’s one we don’t want to talk about because it isn’t easy to fix since it deals with the lives of people.

I think families are broken. I think society is distracted. These two issues are the biggest culprits in these situations. Parents have no idea what is going on with their children because (1) they are distracted by life, (2) they are distracted by technology, and/or (3) they simply don’t want to infringe on their children’s freedoms. Instead, we have children raising themselves, being exposed to adult situations before they are ready to handle them. They are anesthetized through technology to the real world that, coupled with mental health problems, leads to damaging situations. Call me crazy, but I think this is a bigger more potent issue than someone’s right to carry a gun. People will get and keep guns whether you make it terribly difficult to obtain them or they find them through illegal means. What we need to do is more decisive and difficult than controlling guns.

As a parent, I call out all other parents to stop staring at your phone, stop giving technology to your kids, start knowing what they’re doing in their lives, and take the time to really get to know your kids EVEN when they want nothing to do with you. Our society needs to wake up and notice each other. Maybe then, we can eliminate these tragic moments…and save a few lives.

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Being “PC” and Wholly Inclusive Seems Dangerous…

I need to preface this post with an obligatory “I’m sorry” so as not to offend any readers. What I might say may anger or hurt some readers. That isn’t my intent. You need to understand that I am not someone who tries to live my life as politically correct. I think that’s dangerous. Having to live, apologizing for one’s background or worrying if you will offend everyone, makes us complacent in my opinion. When we don’t allow for individuality, when we try to make everyone “the same,” it seems as though the shades of color in the world turn to gray…or beige…or nothing. That’s frightening, don’t you think?

I’ve watched a lot of sci-fi, futuristic movies in my life, and I was always struck by two things: (1) how these movies were typically shot in dull, dreary colors (gray, beige, browns, tans, etc) and (2) how people or characters in sci-fi, futuristic movies were without individuation. It was always a little shocking, and it left me questioning how these worlds came to be. I get it now, though. I know why the future looks bleak, without color. It’s been “corrected” out of the culture in these movies. Everyone has been made to be “the same.” Scary, right?

I see this happening in our culture. Had you told me this could have happened five or ten years ago, I would have dismissed it. But it’s starting…very slowly, very covertly. Some might say I’m being a bit melodramatic. Maybe. Yet, most social change comes about gradually, not in one bold change. People typically reject change. If I took the time to research that, I’m sure I’d find some pretty substantial research to back it up. However, I teach 6 classes and homeschool my kid, along with being a wife, mom, university teacher, etc that I don’t have time to research for this casual blog post. Anecdotally, I know I fight change, as do most of my friends and family. So…any kind of sweeping social change comes over time, bit by bit, piece by piece. Then, one day, it’s done, and we haven’t realized how insidious the change has been (disclaimer: not all social change is bad. In my opinion, a social change is problematic when it silences a majority for a minority – to be clear).

And it’s starting…with what makes us different—gender. This past week, the University of Tennessee proposed moving towards gender neutral pronouns (WTF?). In fact, they introduced this concept in their freshman orientation, I believe, (read here: http://www.tennessean.com/story/news/education/2015/08/30/university-tennessee-gender-neutral-pronouns/71416632/). Really? Again, don’t get me wrong, I want people to feel comfortable. Yet, why are we working to override the comfortability of the majority? Why are we working so hard to be so “PC”, so “inclusive” that we disregard the individuality of the majority? Does this make sense to anyone? I can’t be that person. Will I love on the person who doesn’t seem to “fit” a gender type? Sure! But why are we working so hard to erase what makes us individuals for a minority?

I am a female by birth, and I identify as a female. I think there is great power in being a female. To force me to erase what I find power in, OR to ask me to apologize for identifying as female, OR to ask me to not self-identify as a female is wrong. And I think it leads us to a dangerous place, that place I talked about at the beginning of this blog, a place without color, without an individual spirit. We’re moving into a world where “color” (individuality) will be dangerous, and monitored, and discarded…

Little changes here and there at the expense of the whole for the small minority…where do they lead us? If I recall, they lead us to dangerous places like Nazi Germany or Cold War Russia…or our distant future.

Reading Blogs Has Me Nostalgic

I have been teaching for seven years. You would think in seven years that the nostalgia of college would leave me. But it doesn’t. For some reason, this graduation weekend, I am feeling even more nostalgic. I think it has to do with the fact that the students I had post-furlough leave are graduating. Let me explain…

I was a TA from the fall of 2005 through the spring of 2006. These students were amazing. They have long graduated and gone on to bigger and better places in life. When I realized they graduated, I didn’t feel super sad about it because I had been a brand new teacher. While I care about every student I have ever had (literally!), I was too new to really fully engage with them.

I began teaching as an adjunct professor the fall of 2007. Once again, I was new and still figuring out who I was as a teacher. When those students moved on, I wasn’t as invested because I was still figuring out my identity as a teacher.

In 2009, I left CSUF due to a lack of classes. I was gone for a year. In that year, I taught elsewhere, but I missed CSUF because it has been a part of my life since the early 2000s. It’s my home away from home. There is something homey for me here. I have my own space, my own people, and my own identity distinct from my identity at home.

When I came back in the spring of 2011 (I think…), I had changed. I had more teaching “under my belt” and began to understand myself as a teacher. In that semester, I had a great group of students who made teaching so much fun. That’s when I realized who I was. And those students marked me…

This graduation season, some of those students are graduating. And it makes me a bit sad. They represent a moment in my teaching career. While I’m so happy for them, they are moving on and it’s a moment that is marked as a memory.

As I was reading and grading the blogs of my students, I had the same feeling. These blogs are marked now as memories. They are no longer current. I feel privileged to have read every single one of their blogs because it helped me know each of them a bit more. They will now be forever in my memory…and one day, I imagine, the nostalgia I feel now, will rush over me again when they graduate and move on to a new place and time…

Kids of Today (Or Maybe Its Parents of Today)

I was going to start this blog talking about the ways that “kids” today are different than my childhood, but, after much introspection, I have realized that it is probably the parents. Quite frankly, I think parents today are just plain crazy (and I think I am one of them).

Let me explain. I grew up in a family of four (my parents and 1 sibling, my brother who is 15 months younger than me). My parents worked full-time; they were working class people. They weren’t blue collar; instead, I’d call them lower level white collar workers. Neither of my parents has a bachelor’s degree; my mom has an AA in child development and my father has college credits, but felt he was too smart (he literally believed he was smarter than his professors) so he quit before finishing college and went to work. Basically, they worked five days a week, 8 – 10 hours a day. As such, you would have called my brother and me, latch-key kids. In elementary school, we attended a school across town so we took the bus. Through fourth grade, we would get off the bus and stay at our neighbor’s house until my parents came home. After fourth grade, we would get off the bus and go home, locking the door behind us. I was responsible for making the dinner, so that when my mom or dad came home, it was almost ready to eat. We were expected to keep the house clean and do our homework before my parents came home. If we made any kind of mess or our homework wasn’t done, we were punished in any number of ways.

For junior high and the first part of high school, we didn’t have a bus service for our neighborhood, so we walked a mile or so to school each way. When we returned home, again, no one was there, and we took care of ourselves until my parents came home from work.

On weekends, they were supportive of our endeavors: baseball for my brother and color guard for me in high school. They could be counted on, and they loved us.

However, they didn’t indulge our whims, and they certainly weren’t present…enough. It wasn’t their faults necessarily. Based on choices in their past, their futures were dictated by the requirements of working class jobs. They put food on the table, they bought us the clothes we needed, they made sure we were safe, and they loved us. Beyond that, they didn’t necessarily dare us to dream big.

We didn’t have any video games (no Atari for us), we had minimal toys (for me, my favorite was a Barbie and a plastic record player), and we wore basic clothes. Did we want more? Sure. Our neighbor’s kids, who were our best friends, definitely had more than we did. But we seemed to be a bit more adjusted. We lived a simple life.

Today, everything seems different. Parents buy on a whim. They indulge their kids with everything technological. You have a PS3…well, why not get the PS4? And they seem to want everything for their kid. This isn’t necessarily a “bad” thing. However, I think it has created higher expectations for incredible success in our kids. It also leads them to want more and more and more.

I was thinking about this because I am currently “fostering” my son’s love for all things Star Wars, Doctor Who, Marvel, DC, LOTR, Sherlock, etc. Mentions on Twitter? We let him know. New FB posts about Marvel or Arrow? We give him the information. Comic-Con tickets? Check! We tell him constantly: “You can do anything you want to do if you work hard.” We are so much more invested in his psyche, his spirit, than my parents were ever in my brother and me. And I think that’s a condition of our parenting generation.

It leads me to wonder…should we? Are parents getting in the way of their kids industry, their creativity, their fortitude? I keep thinking that I’m giving him “access”, but am I making life too easy for him? Am I too engaged? I wonder…

Some Ramblings from Someone Who May Be Getting Too Old for the Grammys

Just like many people around the world, I tuned into the Grammys on Sunday evening. To be honest, I haven’t watched this awards show in many years partly because I hadn’t listened to contemporary music in years. Additionally, I have issues with the fact that the movie, television, and music worlds have TOO many awards shows. I mean, seriously, do we need two or three awards shows per pop culture genre? I think not. These people already receive more attention than is necessary for most human beings.

Anyways, this year, my husband, son, and I watched two thirds of the Grammys. In recent months, my son has become more interested in music. I wanted to support his new interest, so we tuned in like millions of Americans. And…this is what I learned about myself: I think I have officially become the grumbling old woman beyond her prime. Below you will find some of my grumblings and you be the judge:

(1) Madonna just needs to STOP. People talk about how cutting edge she is; how it is awesome that she still “does what she does” at her age. When I see her (and her Grammy performance is the perfect example), I see desperation. I was alive during her hey-day. I saw all the videos for “Lucky Star,” “Papa Don’t Preach,”Like a Virgin,” et al. I owned her records (well, cassette tapes). I LOVED her growing up, so I’m a fan. In her twenties and thirties (maybe even forties), it worked. I was okay with her shocking behavior and clothing. But now, IMO, it just looks like a 50-something (almost 60-something) year old woman, trying to hold on to her youth. And it looks desperate. Everyone else was “googly-eyed” at her dress, her ass hanging out, and her performance. Me, I simply don’t get it. I would love to see her move on. I don’t want her to embrace her age and suddenly become matronly, but I don’t think she needs to try so hard.

(2) I preferred AC/DC, ELO, and Annie Lennox way more than Ed Sheeran and Hozier. I wanted more of them and less of…everything contemporary. And Annie Lennox with Hozier blew my mind. I tweeted as much to her…

(3) Kanye West needs to go away…and get an attitude adjustment. Seriously, I want to send him to his room for a timeout.  He needs a serious spanking (and not in a good way). I’m not saying I’m a Beck fan. That isn’t the case. I’m tired of Kanye’s persona. In my mind, he is persona non grata. His rant about artistry is problematic. Since I teach writing (and a bit of rhetoric), I think I might be sensitive to arguments, not sure. When he goes on about someone’s artistry being better than someone else’s, you better have “proof” for that. Instead, you simply sound like a bigoted ass. Quite frankly, that’s what I think he is. Why is Beyonce’s “artistry” better than Beck’s? What’s your proof? Even more, what about your credibility? Yes, I know you have “hits” to your name. But what’s your ethos in saying one’s artistry is better than another’s? Fan popularity does not provide you this. You recorded with Sir Paul McCartney? Is that your ethos? I’m not sure, but Kanye sure makes me cranky.

(4) Why does one’s breasts or butt have to hang out for it to be Grammy-worthy? Put it all away and let your talent speak for itself. Just saying…

So, am I old? Is it time to not tune in to a bloated, overwrought awards show? I miss the old days of simplicity. Yeah…I think I’m getting too old for this…

Time to Share…

I realized after reading all my students’ narratives that I hadn’t shared my narrative that I wrote several years ago. I haven’t revised it or touched it since. I need to spend some time with it soon, but it’s a moment I cherish a bit too much. Anyways, here it is…

Half Made Whole

            I never felt whole. I never understood why I never felt whole. I just didn’t. It felt like I had gotten out of a line for an event, but I didn’t know why and it had been a mistake. Every year that passed, I felt a void. An emptiness I couldn’t express. I showed this emptiness, this void, in my relationships with people. Whenever I had trouble with a friend, instead of facing them, I would run. I would hide. I escaped into the void that I didn’t comprehend. When my husband wanted to get close, I ran to the void, ignoring him, pushing him away. It seemed safer there. One day, however, I was confronted emotionally, and eventually physically, with the void. The “halfness” of me. It changed my life; it changed me.

I barely remember him. My last memory of him was from the back seat of a car. I cannot tell you what the car looked like, or even what he looked like. I was nine years old. Nine is a strange age, I think. I felt like the most innocent little girl. I loved dolls. I loved to dance. I loved to roller-skate. I loved being a girl. Yet, every time, I had to go with him, I felt different. I loved the dolls he bought me, not because they were dolls, but they were from him. I didn’t dance in front of him. I don’t remember roller-skating with him. I wanted to be his girl, but he had moved on to a new family. And I resented that. I was no longer just his girl. He had a new wife, a new son. They were his priority. They were with him every day, every second, every minute. I got a weekend every six months.

Sitting in the back seat of his car (which I don’t remember), coming from a fun weekend of Disneyland and Sea World, he asked me the question that would change my life, change me.

“Do you want Roger to adopt you?”

What did that mean? In my innocent nine-year-old mind, I couldn’t understand or fathom the extent of this question. Looking back on this moment with my thirty-eight year old mind, I ask myself, can a nine-year old really make this type of decision? Should I have ever been asked this question? From this time, I don’t think so.

With butterflies in my stomach, I looked down, a bit pale from the confrontation, and in a soft, almost inaudible voice, I said, “yes. I want Roger to adopt me and Kevin.” I don’t remember his look, but I do remember the deadening silence of the car. No words were spoken for awhile. And, to be honest, I don’t remember his response. Maybe there wasn’t one. Maybe I don’t want to remember it because it may not have been the response I wanted to hear. Did I really want him to allow another man to adopt me? Even more, did I really understand the significance of it? Did I know it would create my “halfness,” my void?

Shortly after that day, we went to court, became “Hunts,” and he left my life.

After the birth of my son, Ethan, I missed him. I had given birth to Ethan a year before and was trapped in wondering about my dad. Even though I had told him as a naïve nine-year-old I “wanted” a “new” dad, I could never understand how he had easily walked away. How does a person walk away from his own “blood”? Sitting at my computer, I typed him a letter, telling him about my life and my brother’s life. When I had completed it, I re-read it to insure I didn’t sound crazy or had made any grammatical mistakes. I made some changes, printed it off, and put it in an envelope. With my hands shaking slightly, I addressed it with his name, my former name, and added the correct postage to it. As I placed it in the postal slot, it felt like I was in a strange dream where I could see myself from above but I couldn’t feel or connect to me. The letter was gone…

He never responded.

August 28th, 2008. I sat looking at his obituary and news articles which described him as a “wonderful father and community leader.” Was this the same person I knew? Was this the man who failed to respond to my letter, or the e-mail I sent two years after the letter? What happened? How could this man, the man who had five hundred people attend his memorial, be the same man who walked away all those years ago because a nine-year-old told him she wanted a “new” dad? In my mind, I did not know him as this “wonderful father.” I knew him as someone who left my mom and eventually my brother and me. That void I felt, my halfness, was highlighted, on fire. I needed to know. I wanted to know this man.

I sat at the computer, pulse pounding, my heart racing faster than a thoroughbred. I began typing. Hello, Beth. My name is Amy Dickinson. For some time, I’ve wanted to contact you, but I didn’t know if I should. I’m still not sure if it’s right. But, I just found and read about [our dad’s] passing, and it’s sent me and my brother into a bit of a spiral. I don’t know if he ever told you and your brother about me and my brother…I hope this message doesn’t bother you too much. I just wanted you to know that my brother and I are here…All my best, Amy.

I knew I needed to contact my half-sister who I had never known and who I wasn’t sure if she even knew about me. As I finished the message, my hands were trembling beyond control. I re-read my message, pressed “send,” and it was gone into the internet ether. What if she didn’t respond like him? How would I handle it?

I grabbed Ethan and my dog, Savannah. We needed to walk. I needed to get out of the house to calm the adrenaline that was pushing through my veins. As we walked down the street about half a mile from my house, my mind was spinning. Would she respond? If she did respond, would she know about me? Had I “opened a can of worms”? Maybe I shouldn’t have sent the message. I had lived the past twenty-eight years without him. Why was it important to know these people now? As we continued to walk, I worried; I also secretly hoped and prayed to God she would respond. Thirty minutes later, we were back from our walk. I wanted to run to the computer, but I was terrified. After putting the dog away, finding other things to do around the house, and holding off the inevitable for as long as I could, I sat down at my computer.

It was there: the response.

My hands were shaking even more than they had when I sent the message. With my heart pounding like a jackhammer; I opened the message. Amy, Thank you SO much for contacting me! My brother and I do know about you and were planning on trying to locate you when things settle down a little. Wow, where to begin!…Despite him not talking about it much, by reading the agreement, knowing my father, and talking to my mom about it, I think he was deeply hurt by losing you and did it more for your sake than his…He was a very devoted father to my brother and I [..] can’t help but wonder if his devotion to us and the youth in the communities (which I’m guessing you read about) was partially fueled by the guilt of losing you two….Please, please be in touch and tell me all about yourself and your brother!!!!! I cannot begin to express the emotions that are going through me right now! Beth

In the moment I read “he was deeply hurt by losing you,” hot tears streamed down my face like little rivers. I began sobbing as I finished the message. The void, the halfness, was filling. Our dad did not tell my sister these things; she knew them from everything he had given her and others. For some reason I cannot comprehend, I believe it. I needed to hear he wanted me, and it seemed in his own way he had.

As the days progressed, our written conversation taught me about him, my brother, and my sister. Each message that came filled a little more of the void, and it taught me about me. Before long, my brother, Kevin, and I met Beth and Patrick in person in Maryland. They too have never understood the decision our father made to stay out of our lives. It didn’t seem to make sense with the type of father he was to them. All of a sudden, it didn’t matter to me. In that moment of meeting them, my half became whole, and I felt like that innocent nine-year old again, who truly loved her daddy.

Friendship: Then and Now

I’m struggling today. Well, actually, I’ve been struggling for weeks now with a friendship. I have a friend who I thought was a best friend. I’m struggling because I am not sure that she is actually my best friend after all. What makes a best friend? From my experience, a best friend is that one person who is your “person” (to borrow from Grey’s Anatomy). This is the person who you are never afraid to go to with any kind of emotion, thought, anything. You know that no matter what you tell him/her he/she will still love you and “have your back.”

But what happens when your “best friend” calls you and tells you she “doesn’t love her husband any more”? She has decided to “get a divorce” for nothing more than “falling out of love”. Let me be honest, folks. I don’t believe in that. Yes, I think love can be diminished with the stresses of life. However, it doesn’t go away; it diminishes and it requires a lot of work to build it again. What do you do, then, when a best friend decides she doesn’t want to work at it, and you think she should? Her husband is a GREAT guy. He isn’t mean to her, he does everything to provide for her and their daughter, and he loves her with all of her issues. In my mind, there is no reason for this. Even more, if she had “fallen out of love” with him, where was the call to me when this began? If we were best friends, why wasn’t I the first on her list?

What this has shown me is I am not really her best friend anymore. I’m not really her “person.” I have been struggling with this because I don’t really want to walk away but I can’t sit by and agree with any of this. I have decided to build space between her and me, as she has found another place or person to go to in this situation. I want to be able to “have her back” on this, but I can’t. If he was mean, had cheated on her, or didn’t take care of their family, I could…but I have found that there is a line I can’t cross. And it’s made me terribly, terribly sad to walk away from this.