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005 – Part of Her Memory That She Lost Was Me

Terry shared the story of his biological parents’ wartime extra marital affair that brought him to life.  He said his adopted parents felt he was “the sun the moon and the stars”, and spoiled him that way. As a teen, Terry wanted to apply for a job and needed his birth certificate from his parents. But that simple request worried his mother deeply about her place in his heart because she thought he was beginning a search for his biological family. He didn’t connect with his biological mother until his own parents were in failing health, but what an emotional day it was when he did finally meet his first mom!


Terry: 00:02 My Mom, her dad are dying and I’m going to beat my birth mother for the first time and my two half sisters that I’ve never met before. So I pulled up and Mary came out and we hug, but she was very, I don’t want to say distant, but she certainly wasn’t real warm.

Voices:                        00:27               Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I?

Damon:                       00:34               Who am I? Who am I? This is who am I really a podcast about adoptees that have located and connected with their biological family members. Hey, it’s Damon on the show today is Terry who located his biological family at a time before the Internet allowed easy searches for facts and information. He was born in the 1940s a time of war for our country, but it’s also when his story begins and his journey, you’ll hear about his path to learning who he is in so many ways and a very emotional day that he met his biological mother for the first time. I’ve been really excited to talk to you since Carmen may the introduction, so thanks for making time. Tell me a little bit about your childhood and your community, a little bit about your family and just generally how you grew up as an adoptee.

Terry:                          01:26               Well, um, my parents had tried to, uh, have a child for like nine years and they were unsuccessful. They had a good friend. My mom’s best friend, um, had a boarder in her house who’s husband had gone to war and, uh, she was having an affair and I was the result of that affair. So when her husband came home, uh, he was pretty upset about the fact that she was pregnant and my moms friend knew that they’d been trying to have a kid, so they worked it out that I could be adopted by..

Damon:                       02:06               Wow.

Terry:                          02:06               Anyhow, Clarence and Charlotte were the only parents that I ever knew. They were wonderful parents in one respect, except that they were over over protective. I mean, they did not go anywhere without me for the first six years of my life, I was never outside of my mom or dads vision, you know. But I adapted to it and it was, it was okay, but you know, one o the classic examples I give is that Christmas really doesn’t mean all that much to me anymore because when I was, I don’t know, five or six, I came out of my bedroom and the entire living room floor was covered with packages and they only have my name on it and I just thought life was supposed to be, you know, and uh, my cousins always remark about the fact of how spoiled I was and how, you know, my mom just doted on me and all of that stuff. I didn’t know anything different. I didn’t know the world was any different than that. I didn’t know that there were, I didn’t know there was evil in the world. I didn’t know there was, you know, I mean, I was so incredibly protected because I was the sun and the moon and the stars for them.

Terry:                          03:16               Now they told me from when I was a young child that I was adopted. I mean, there was a period of time, till I was 18 that we really didn’t discuss that at all. My mom, when I was going through puberty, my mom was going through menopause. Oh, that was just a horrible time. It was just a horrible time. But we were, yeah, we were always fairly close, except she couldn’t, accept.. Really she wanted me to be a doctor. She wanted me to be an MD and nothing else would work. And I went away to college. And so I flunked out of Denison University after a semester and a half, and she was just devastated. And then I went to Kent State and I was there for the massacres, unfortunately on May 4th.

Damon:                       04:01               Oh no.

Terry:                          04:01               Um, yeah, yeah, it was, uh, probably one of the things that changed my life more than anything.

Terry:                          04:08               And I was a Hippie and she hated that. She just, she thought that was awful. And, uh, I was living with a woman at the time. Uh, she was real unhappy about all that stuff, so I wasn’t turning out the way she wanted me to. And I also came out and we barely ever, I think I told them that I was gay and, um, we never discussed it after that. Never mentioned. And I moved to San Diego and that nearly killed her. Uh, she thought I was moving away from her, but I was just moving away from the weather in Akron, Ohio. She had talked to Virginia, I talked to Virginia after I moved here and she said, Oh yeah, your mom cried for a solid year. She just couldn’t believe that you had left her. And you know, I’m missing my twenties for Heaven Sake.

Terry:                          04:58               You gotta be your own person. You know, she liked her the way she thought was the way things should be and that was what was right. And that was what was going to happen. And anything that went afoul of that was not, she just couldn’t quite handle that one. So there were some difficulties. There were definitely difficult times in my, uh, post puberty, puberty and post puberty times when I was becoming my own person. I then, when I went to get a job and they needed a birth certificate, so I called my mom and said, I need a birth certificate. And boy, that was just dead silence on the other end of the phone. And my mom’s not happy about me wanting to delve into it because she thought that I wouldn’t love her anymore if I found my birth mother and father.

Damon:                       05:44               She felt a little bit threatened. If you found your biological family that she would be relegated to a lower status in your mind.

Terry:                          05:52               Right. So anyway, I got the paper that she had, which basically says, you were born. My dad said well I’ll give you your adoption papers if you want them? I said, no, no, all I need is this paper should suffice. You know, he was pretty cavalier about the whole thing. It was my mom that was pretty upset.

Damon:                       06:08               And how did you comfort her over that? That’s a, that is a pretty, that’s a valid concern of hers. Do you recall how you comforted her into being at peace with you having this internal desire to look

Terry:                          06:19               well, I didn’t do much. I didn’t do much because I thought it was kind of silly. I didn’t, first of all, I didn’t know that it had affected her that much. I knew it affected her somewhat, but I laugh, you know, it wasn’t really a major concern. It’s like, oh, for God’s sake, I’m not gonna, you know, I, all I care about is that, you know, I get the job, that’s all I really cared about. So I got the paperwork and I, and I got the job and all that good stuff. And then when I was, you know, by probably three or four years later, it just started, you know, I started thinking about it and thinking, well, I, I would kinda like to know, I would like to know if my mom and dad are still, if my birth mother and father are still alive, I would like to know, you know, and maybe meet them if they wanted to.

Terry:                          07:07               I wasn’t going to push anything. I did some real preliminary stuff and I didn’t do a whole lot. Uh, and I really didn’t get anywhere, so I kind of dropped it. It really wasn’t a big deal to me. So I kind of gave up the search in 2003 my mom and my dad were both in their late eighties and in failing health. And, um, I just thought, well, you know, this is a good time to find out. I’ll see what I can find out. Things are a lot better. Oh and the adoption records had been open. That was another thing. Adoption Records were closed I believe when I was first looking at it in the 70s.

Speaker 3:                   07:50               And sorry, just tell me Terry, what’s, what state are we in?

Speaker 1:                   07:54               Oh, Akron, Ohio and I just found that it’s a certificate of live birth from the Ohio Department of Health. That’s the only thing I had to go by and it doesn’t list anyone on there at all except my, my birth except my mom and dad. Clarence and Charlotte.

Damon:                       08:12               Your adopted parents?

Terry:                          08:13               Yeah, my adopted parents. And so that’s all I had. That’s, that was the dead end that I came to. So then after the, after the records were opened up and my parents were in, uh, failing health, I thought, well, I’ll just see. It’d be interesting to see. So I started nosing around and I found out that the Mormon Center in San Diego has a lot of information on genealogy. So I think I went there. Then I got the name of a group in Cleveland, Ohio that does searches for adopted kids. Anyway, the person I contacted was very nice and she said, yeah, I’ll do some research. It’s going to take me a little while, but I’ll, I’ll do some research and then I kind of dropped it. She was emailing me back and forth. She found the record of my, my birth mother’s husband.

Damon:                       09:12               Oh, okay. Army guy who had been away. I see.

Terry:                          09:16               Yeah. So anyway, from there she found that my birth mother and in a, in a census in 1930 census she found Mary and she was married to Ralph, the Army Guy, her husband, and that she had an affair and she had an affair with Forest. From there, she determined somehow that my mother and my two half sisters had attempted to find me at one time.

Damon:                       09:43               Oh, that’s interesting.

Terry:                          09:45               Yeah. And I don’t know how she came up with that. I have no clue. And she called me and told me and I said, well you know, do you think it would be okay for me to call them? And she said, Oh yeah, I think it would be, I think it would be fine.

Damon:                       10:00               So you were trying to figure out if it was okay if you could speak with your half sisters. Gotcha.

Terry:                          10:05               Well to mom, my mom was still alive.

Damon:                       10:07               Wow. How was it when you found out that she was still alive?

Terry:                          10:11               It was kind of exciting. I thought it was, you know, oh wow. You know, let’s see what.. I was taking it a step at a time cause I didn’t want to open any old wounds or cause any problems in the family or do anything that would, you know, really cause any trouble for anyone. I was taking it very slowly and very cautiously. But when she said she was pretty sure that they had tried to find me at one time, I went ahead and called the number and she was living in Toledo. When I called, I talked to her husband and he was very protective of her and I said, I’m not trying to cause any trouble or anything, I just want to, you know, hang out if she’d be interested in meeting my, my parents, my adoptive parents are in failing health and I just thought this would be an opportune time to find, to find out.

Damon:                       11:05               Did you identify yourself to him as her biological son?

Terry:                          11:10               Yeah. I said, I think I’m pretty sure, but I’m not certain. I said it and I’ll, I’ll be in Ohio and I would really like to meet. And he said, well, I think that would be good and I’ll prepare her for all of that and we’d be happy to meet you. And I said, well, I’ll drive up. So on, um, mother’s Day of 2003 I went to the skilled nursing facilities that my mom was in and you know, we celebrated a little mother’s Day there and my dad was on a different floor because he was really, really, you know, and then I drove three hours to Toledo to meet my birth mother and two half sisters. So, you know, it was pretty emotional.

Damon:                       11:54               That’s an emotional day Terry. Wow.

Terry:                          11:56               Yeah. Cause my mom and dad are dying and I’m going to meet my birth mother for the first time and my two half sisters that I’ve never met before.

Damon:                       12:04               Right. And presumably your birth mother is about the same age roughly as your adopted parents. So it would stand to reason that she might also be elderly potentially in poor health. This is a really emotional time for you. So tell me about what it was like when you, you, you, you meet her for the first time.

Terry:                          12:23               One of the things that John had said was that in, I believe it was the 80s they had lived in Florida and my mom had been in a car accident and had a stroke. And she lost part of her memory.

Damon:                       12:40               Oh No.

Terry:                          12:40               Part of the memory that she lost was me. But before then she had told Sandy and Candy, my two half sisters about me. And that’s when they had tried to find me and couldn’t, I don’t know what they did, but they didn’t get very far, I guess.

Damon:                       12:56               So if I understand correctly, she had a car accident, lost part of her memory, presumably you as an early, early memory and therefore probably very faint, were lost in the stroke. And she happened to tell your half sisters about your existence prior to that memory loss.

Speaker 1:                   13:18               Right. Absolutely.

Damon:                       13:19               Wow. That’s really lucky.

Terry:                          13:20               Yeah, I (inaudible) it’s just a b-movie ready to happen. So I pulled up and John met me at the door and sat me down in the living room and then Mary came out and we hugged. But she was very, I don’t want to say distant, but she certainly wasn’t real warm, you know, it wasn’t un-warm or unfriendly, but it was very neutral.

Damon:                       13:48               Right.

Terry:                          13:49               And, which was kind of off putting to me a little bit, if I hadn’t seen someone in 40 or 40 years, 45 years, something like that, I would have been a little happier about it. But you know, she didn’t, I think she knew who I was. And John had talked about Candy and Sandy and I think they had worked on talking to her about who I was and all of that. So there was, it was nice.

Terry:                          14:14               It was pleasantly, I had a pleasant interaction. It wasn’t, I wouldn’t say it was like a family reunion or anything until my sisters came in and when they came in it was just, Oh my God, we’re so happy to see you. We’re so happy that you found us and we found you. And they were just very exclusive and, and you know, very happy that they had found me. And my one sister who is older, she knew she was a little more cognizant of everything. Candy, who is much younger, I think candy’s three years younger than me. But yeah, we would get get Yak, Yak, Yak and it was all fun and all this. And, but mom was just a little, you know, she was a nice older woman who was just very pleasant, but certainly not, oh my gosh, this is so wonderful. I’m so glad to find you. And how have you been for umpteen years and what are you doing and all that stuff.

Damon:                       15:03               So may I ask Terry, did you get the impression that a portion of the, for lack of better words chilliness that you felt was associated with the lack of memories that she had of your very existence. And it would seem like in her defense, the stroke had basically removed both the memories and anything that would be emotionally attached to those memories. Therefore your reappearance, it just seems like would not necessarily evoke a whole lot of emotion.

Terry:                          15:32               Oh yeah. Yeah. I mean, I totally understood it. It wasn’t like it was a slam to me or anything. It was just totally understandable. You know, things that happened and so yeah, I think you described it absolutely correctly. One thing I do remember is when I was trying to figure out whether or not, uh, I should call and I can’t remember who told me this, it might’ve been my mom’s best friend. She said that my birth mom would go over close to where I lived with my parents and watch me as I was growing up. She wanted to make sure I was okay.

Damon:                       16:09               Wow.

Terry:                          16:10               Touching to me, you know, that was, that was very, very touching and I guess she did that until she moved away. Now I don’t know how many times she did it, where she, whether did she get it once or what did she did it on a monthly basis or yearly or..

Damon:                       16:22               Either way. The fact that she had both of the ability because you were close and she knew where you were and the desire to come peek in on your life and just see you living healthy, presumably happy. That’s really, really touching and quite amazing actually. I’m sure that’s something that many, many biological families wish that they could do is just peek in on someone whom they know is out there to see.

Terry:                          16:49               Oh that meant a lot. And that overrode anything about meeting her in person and or not being just the most warm, friendly person I’ve ever met. I mean that, that meant a whole lot to me.

Damon:                       16:59               I was going to ask you about your biological father. He, he’s identifiable. Were you able to or did you have any desire to connect with him at all?

Terry:                          17:08               Well, I did, but he has died.

Damon:                       17:11               I see. So Terry, I’m wondering, you had an interesting set of circumstances in your attempt to search. You attempted to use public agencies, adoption agencies, volunteer agencies with limited resources and and overextended and too much demand. I’m curious to know a little bit about what you wish could have gone differently in your search. Do you wish you had done it earlier? Could the Internet have been more helpful to you? What do you wish had, what do you think about when you think about this? Well, I wish something had happened.

Terry:                          17:45               No, it just unfolded the way it was supposed to unfold. I didn’t really think that much about it. I don’t know whether it would have been good for me to have found out earlier. It certainly would have, you know, if my mom had even smelled the fact that I was looking around, she would have been really upset cause Virginia told me that after that telephone call when I was 19, she had called Virginia and um, she was crying and was really worried that I wanted to find my, that I would want to find my birth parents and that I wouldn’t love her anymore and all of this stuff. So she was, she was real, there was a very sore subject for her, I think sore subject because she couldn’t have any kids of her own. And it was a sore subject because, you know, just because she was afraid she, there was fear and I, I probably would’ve never brought it up to her in the first place. And I, I’m not upset that it took that long. It was just one of those things that happened. I had tried. Yeah. I’m not really upset about it. It’s just it, it just happened the way it happened.

Damon:                       18:56               But you got some good closure.

Terry:                          18:57               Yeah, I got some real good closure. And then I went back to Toledo, uh, two more times to visit my mom because she, after my parents died, they died in, uh, my dad died memorial day weekend of 2003, and then my mom died and six months later he died just shy of their 66th wedding anniversary.

Damon:                       19:19               Oh, dear Terry, you’ve, you sound like you’ve had an incredibly rich life both from an array of experiences to the phenomenal luck to be able to locate your biological mother and siblings and find out some sort of rich details about your history. So I just wanted to say thank you very much for taking time to share your own personal history and your journey and, and I wish you the best of luck over everything going forward.

Terry:                          19:46               Well, thank you. I appreciate that.

Damon:                       19:48               My pleasure.

Damon: 19:52 Hey, it’s me and I hope you enjoyed Terry’s incredible story. While I was listening to Terry speak, I was simply amazed at his courage in a single day to visit his ailing parents in a skilled nursing facility, then jump in the car for a three hour drive to meet his biological mother for the first time. It was definitely sad to hear that for their reunion, she was not capable of remembering her own significance in his life, but it was so heartwarming to learn that early in Terry’s life she had been peeking in on him to make sure he was growing up alright. I spoke with Terry after the interview to ask him about what I realized were two very impactful existential questions he had to answer. Who am I really as an adoptee and as a gay man coming out? Here’s what he wrote in reply.

Speaker 2:                   20:35               I have always been independent. Also, I have always believed that once an individual has matured, it’s no longer acceptable to blame any psychosocial problems on your parents. I’ve also worked through therapy to not accept guilt from others, so when my parents were unaccepting of my being a Hippie, being gay, moving across country to work in aids, I was staunch in my belief that it was their problem slash belief system and not mine. That was sometimes difficult because everyone wants acceptance and sometimes I used to rationalize that they weren’t my biological parents, so no wonder they couldn’t accept all of who I am. I realize how incorrect that thinking was. I doubt that my birth mother would have accepted many of those differences either. My half sister had talked with her about my being gay and she was fine with it. Of course. Had she been part of my life during my exploring who I am, who knows what her reaction would have been. I want to thank Terry for being so open and as always I hope you’ll find something in Terry’s journey that inspires you, validates your feelings about wanting to search or motivates you to have the strength along your journey to learn. Who am I really? This episode was edited by Sarah Fernandez. If you would like to share your story of locating and connecting with your biological family visit, who am I really?

Who Am I Really?

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