“If it wasn’t for family, it wouldn’t be.” My father’s toast sums up what’s most important to him. The adopted oldest son of a proud Irish family, my grandparents loved their young Billy to bits, and ensured that he understood a family’s love and heritage runs deeper than blood.
As a boy he quickly identified with all things Irish, particularly “the gift of gab,” which is our family’s version of the Talk of a Lifetime. Within these stories of love and heritage, he learned some of the circumstances surrounding his adoption; however, he never had the urge to seek out his birth family because, as he says, “my soul is just fine.”
My dad’s head is filled with a troubadour’s songbook, his heart carries a rebel’s pride, and his soul is nourished by laughter and story. Part W.B. Yates and part Michael Collins, he uses the gift of gab to find common ground, to entertain, and to teach. His stories talk about what matters most. My dad’s most requested stories are those that end with everyone around him laughing through tears; the best have become tall tales. (I was there the day he stormed Blarney Castle. I don’t remember being chased by a feuding clan, but I won’t tell him that.)
Sometimes my dad’s talks of a lifetime mean convincing his grandchildren that he is one-quarter leprechaun. But after his parents died he better understood that sometimes the talks mean sharing medical history and other vital information. This was the compelling factor in his decision to seek his birth family.
He recalled the adoption information he learned from his parents and began the laborious task of petitioning the state. Apart from learning that both his birth parents were deceased, and that he was baptized on St. Patrick’s Day, he received very little information regarding the closed adoption. But our state rescinded a law earlier this year making closed adoption information available to children whose birth parents are deceased; learning about his birth family was as easy as a phone call.
My dad’s record was opened and we learned that he wasn’t just the 100% Irish with which he’d identified his entire life…he was in fact born to Irish parents, and had SEVEN younger biological siblings, thus making him, as my brother Timmy says, 200% Irish! My dad also learned that he had given his youngest son Timmy his own birth name.
This initial excitement segued into Do I contact them? What if they don’t know about me? What if they do know about me? How will my brother and extended family react? Golly, this is really a big can of worms. Our family discussed the impact of contacting my dad’s birth family and recognized that this was undoubtedly the most significant talk of a lifetime we’d ever had. My dad made the delicate-but-informed decision to reach out to his birth siblings.
After a bit of soul-searching (and several drafts), he sent a registered letter to the family introducing himself and our family. He addressed the letter’s magnitude and said that he was open to meeting them in person if it was something they also wanted. He assured them that his “soul was just fine.”
The next afternoon, my dad picked up the phone. “Hi Bill,” the caller said. “I’m your younger brother, Mike. It’s nice to meet you. We’ve been waiting for you, and we love you to pieces.”
The brothers talked for several happy hours. It was the phone call of a lifetime.
This late-afternoon conversation was proof that my dad’s biological parents also believed in the significance of talks of a lifetime. They had made the difficult decision to share with their seven children that “a little Timmy” was out in the world, and should he ever come looking, he should know that he was “loved to pieces,” which was his birth mother’s favorite saying.
My mom asked the natural question, “Did you find out why you were given up for adoption?” to which my dad replied, “You know…we didn’t get that far. We couldn’t stop laughing! We just kept gabbing!”
After a flurry of Facebook friend requests, text messages, phone calls and photo sharing among all of us, my parents met the family in person the following weekend (St. Patrick’s Day weekend, naturally). The gathering was filled with somehow-familiar hugs, thoughtful toasts, and non-stop gabbing.
My dad is thrilled to have a new audience to hear his tales. We’ve all since met in person and are happily navigating the new relationships with siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins. There’s a comfortable joy that surrounds us when we’re all together, and we can’t seem to tell the remarkably similar stories fast enough. They’re all steeped in love and heritage, but feature different sets of characters…the beginning of a new chapter of talks of a lifetime.
He may have said his soul is just fine, but in the same way a parent’s heart grows bigger with the birth of each new child, I can see my dad’s nourished soul swell with each story told in his same jovial style. I also see his troubadour’s tears brim with a wistful gratitude as he listens to his siblings, whose cobalt eyes twinkle just like his own.
He’s wistful for a little Timmy who would have been another puppy on the pile. And he’s grateful for the couple who chose little Billy as their son. But most of all my dad is profoundly thankful to two sets of parents whose talks of a lifetime stemmed from loving the same little leprechaun to bits and pieces. Because “if it wasn’t for family, it wouldn’t be.”Kelly ManionDirector of CommunicationFuneral Service Foundation