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007 – I’m Great With My Family, They Love Me For Me

As a child Denise’s family blamed her for a tragedy that took the life of her younger brother. They mistreated Denise and her tyrannical stepfather ultimately saw the children as a means to his own financial gain. She took drastic steps to get herself kicked out of the house on a path to her own independence.

Today, Denise has found love in a supportive husband. Now she knows what love feels like, and has the experiences that come from a supportive extended family. But her own son, who didn’t know his own father growing up, now has a similar nagging feeling that Denise had to connect with her own family. She has resolved to surround herself with positivity and love in order to move on in a positive direction with her life.


Denise: 00:02 I’ve always searched for him. I’ve always wanted to know him. I mean, I, you know, I always have, especially my dad. I mean his parents used to be the king and Queen at the fair and um, I went there every year, just tried to get a glimpse of him. I had no idea what they looked like, but I still wanted to know them.

Voices: 00:26 Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I?

Damon: 00:37 This is, Who Am I Really, a podcast about adoptees that have located and connected with their biological family members. Hey, it’s Damon and my guest today is Denise. I contacted Denise online after I read her post in an adoption support group on Facebook called I Am Adopted. I reached out to her to be supportive because I sensed some real pain and deep emotions from her online. It turns out she didn’t have a conventional adoption. The way I typically think of them and her childhood wasn’t a typical childhood at all. A tragedy in her childhood, left her extended family, blaming her for their sad loss, which turned into mistreatment and a hard childhood in the aftermath. She always wondered where her biological father was and why he never came to rescue her. Here’s what Denise shared with me.

Denise: 01:26 Hello Damon!

Damon: 01:26 How are you?

Denise: 01:28 I am good.

Damon: 01:29 Excellent. It’s really good to meet you.

Denise: 01:32 Yeah, online!

Damon: 01:33 I was so interested to see your posts in the I am adopted Facebook group. It sounds like you have just such an interesting story. So I mean you, it sounds really complex. So if you would just do me a favor and take me back to your childhood in the beginning in your family and tell me a little bit about what adoption was like in your family and in your community.

Denise: 01:58 Okay. Um, it’s not a typical adaption. Um, I was, had a happy childhood for the first three years. My mother and I, well actually, yeah, three years. My mother and I lived with her parents and, um, my dad, as far as I knew was in the service over, I don’t know, I was 1954 so I haven’t know where he was at that time, but my dad was over there and then all of a sudden we moved from grandma and Grandpa’s and there’s a guy that’s not my dad and he’s now my mom’s husband.

Damon: 02:31 Your stepdad.

Denise: 02:31 And so my Stepdad, right. So, um, things were okay until my little brother, um, died in the fire. I was four and he was three.

Damon: 02:44 Oh no.

Denise: 02:44 And that was very traumatic for my mother. Um, she was never the same since. So it was kind of left up to the stepdad to raise us when the meantime mom had six children all together.

Damon: 02:58 And was your stepdad the father of all six of you guys now?

Denise: 03:02 No, he was not my father. And I thought for many, many, many years that the little brother that died was my only real sibling.

Damon: 03:12 Oh, interesting.

Denise: 03:13 Yeah. They had told me that by his last name on the death certificate was the same as mine.

Damon: 03:19 I see.

Denise: 03:19 And so maybe they didn’t tell me, but that was just the same. But everything changed that when he died, my Stepdad’s parents no longer cared for me whatsoever. They ended up, um, the other kids could go in the house and, you know, I had to stay out in the car or out in the yard or, you know, I was never invited in. Um, and I, I think that they blamed me for the fire. What it could very well have been. But in reality, my mom left me and my little brother alone with a wood burning stove.

Damon: 03:53 Hmm.

Denise: 03:53 So that’s how the fire went. And years later I found out that, um, everybody thought I was going to be blind because I wouldn’t open my eyes and my gram, my grandma, my love of my life told me that, um, a nurse told me if I looked out into the stars, I would see my little brother Harry. And so I opened my eyes.

Damon: 04:13 Really?

Denise: 04:15 Yeah. So that was fantastic. Um,

Damon: 04:18 so you, after you and as a child, you just closed your eyes, tried to hide from the reality of what had happened.

Denise: 04:23 Yeah, I did. I was in the hospital and I just, I didn’t want to see it. I didn’t want to see with my eyes and see anything I guess. I mean I was only four, so I didn’t know. I mean I’ve remembered since then what happened, but I, you know, at that time I didn’t remember.

Damon: 04:37 I see.

Denise: 04:38 And at that time off on my mom had, uh, um, her first heart attack. She was only 29 years old.

Damon: 04:45 Wow. She had a heart attack at 29.

Denise: 04:47 Yeah. So she was in a home for recovery purposes and my stepdad separated us all. I went to live with people that were neighbors of ours and my brothers and sisters all went to other places, relatives and friends and stuff. And I was, ah, I didn’t see any of my family for I have no, I, there seemed like a year, but it was probably only about six months maybe.

Damon: 05:16 As a child, it would have been really long.

Denise: 05:18 It was a long time. It sure seemed like it. But then, um, since then, mom came home when I was about 10 when we finally got up and moved around from all of our different places and everything. And that’s when the Stepdad just really started not liking me at all. And, um, all this time it was okay until I was really being mistreated. I was being not really mistreated. I wasn’t abused. I mean, I was mentally abused. I was, um, he screamed and hollered and he beat my butt with this thing, that thing and the other thing. But, you know, it was not a fun childhood from 10 years old. And, um, I’ve always wondered, where’s my family? Where’s my real family? Why isn’t my real dad come and you know, rescue me? Why, why can’t, you know, I’ve got, I know I’ve got brothers out there, you know, why aren’t they rescuing me? And, you know, so all this time I think I’m, I’m alone in the world. My mom’s so sick. You know, I did send a letter to my real dad and..

Damon: 06:20 As a child

Denise: 06:20 It came back, as a child, came back. Um, and he had, he’d never opened it, returned to sender. And my mother found that. She was devastated, that I had thought those thoughts about my stepdad about wanting to leave and you know, all that stuff. I did not want to be around there anymore at all. It was, it was just not good. So.

Damon: 06:43 It sounds like an awful environment for a child.

Denise: 06:45 It was no fun. It was no fun at all. And so of course, in the back of my mind, I knew that my real grandparents owned an apple orchard and I knew that they were pretty, pretty well off. And, um, I didn’t, I thought, why didn’t they come and get me, you know, um, they just lived 30 miles away. I knew exactly where they lived and everything. And, um, I was just told to, you know, I would not be welcome there, so I never went there until I was a teenager and boy was, I disappointed they wouldn’t answer the door. So I went to my dad’s second wife’s house and that’s all she did was say, no, you don’t want to meet this guy. You don’t want anything to do with this guy, you just go away, go home, you know, and stuff like that. So.

Damon: 07:30 What age was this and where and where do you live?

Denise: 07:33 We were living at Michigan.

Damon: 07:35 And what age was this when you, when you sort of went out on a journey to try to find, you know, some of these other families?

Denise: 07:45 No, it was 15 when I tried to go out and find them cause I had friends that had cars, you know, and so I could ride with them and mom and dad wouldn’t have to, you know, know anything about it and stuff.

Damon: 07:57 Gotcha. So you were, you were, for all intents and purposes, adopted by your step dad, is that correct?

Denise: 08:06 Right, right. And I just found out recently that the reason that my mom had me adopted, my Stepdad was going to go to jail for child support from his first child. And so she told my dad, my real dad, that if you give me $1,000 you won’t ever have to see Denny, which is my nickname, again, and so that, you know, that’s how I got adopted.

Damon: 08:32 Oh Wow.

Denise: 08:32 They didn’t ask me none of it.

Damon: 08:35 Yeah of course not, where do you want to live? Who do you want to live with? So tell me, where did your mom go? It sounded like she went away for a while and then came back.

Denise: 08:45 Just went to a, uh, home, uh, a convalescent home and um, she was, she was real sick since then, so she couldn’t do anything. So four brothers and sisters that live in my home, I was left to the cooking and the cleaning, the everything with a stepdad that was just a tyrant. He was a neat freak, clean guy, you know. I mean, we had nothing, so I had to do what the wash and wash tubs and with the washboard, you know, we ate speas um, apple juice and a Gerber baby food because my step grandpa worked at Gerber’s. So that’s what we had to eat and eat when we were kids. Yep. That’s what we’re, that’s what we had to do with my mom was she was too sick to work anymore. She had worked up until she got sick and he was so jealous that she was sick and being able to stay home and bed, that all of a sudden he got sick.

Damon: 09:40 Oh, he had a little jealousy sickness.

Denise: 09:43 Oh yeah. Yeah. So he was flat on his back the rest of her life. She had died at 40. Um, yeah. And so, you know, and the only reason he got out of that bed was because his other four children were going to be taken away from him. And if he didn’t take care of them, you know, so he got out of the bed. He didn’t do it for my mom for so many years, but he did it, you know, so he could keep the kids and the agency money.

Damon: 10:08 Yeah. He saw them as a means to an end. So interesting. Yeah.

Denise: 10:13 And those children, they’re so screwed up and they had…

Damon: 10:15 So you’ve always wanted to locate other family members who could rescue you from this horrible childhood you were experiencing. How did you, how did you go about finding them and how did you end up connecting with those that you did find?

Denise: 10:33 My grandparents, my mom’s parents, found my real dad down in Florida and took some nice pictures with them cause they of course knew them. They wouldn’t, they had a big, my mom had a big wedding and everything like that, so they knew who he was and they had pictures and stuff. But I sent a picture of me and my son at that time and um, another letter in hopes of, you know, connecting with them and um, his wife at the time wrote me back and said, sent me the picture back and said he just left it on the table unopen. Yes.

Damon: 11:06 Oh, how old were you at this time?

Denise: 11:08 This time I was at 16. Um, I got pregnant so I could move away from the house.

Damon: 11:13 You got pregnant intentionally to get away.

Denise: 11:17 I intentionally got pregnant.

Damon: 11:19 And how did getting pregnant get you away from the house?

Speaker 1: 11:21 Well, it did because, um, he felt that he wasn’t going to support, my stepdad wasn’t going to support no, no other kid. And um, mom was still alive at that time, so I ended up getting a live in babysitting job. So I, I didn’t have to be there.

Damon: 11:37 So you got pregnant in order to basically be kicked out of the house?

Denise: 11:40 Yes, I did not, I mean I ran away and I went to the police. I showed the bruises, everything like that. Back in those days, it didn’t matter. Your parents could do what they wanted to you, you know, nothing like these days.

Damon: 11:54 Right, right. Wow.

Denise: 11:56 Yeah. So finally when I’m about to, Oh, I’d say I’ve had my second child about 27. I got up the nerve to go to Fremont and look for my two brothers.

Damon: 12:06 Okay.

Denise: 12:07 And, um, I went to, um, their house cause I had, um, people who had told me that, oh, they’re famous in this Fremont city that, you know, um, everybody knows the name. So I went there. They told me where he lived. I pulled in, their mother looked, took one look at me and said, I says “I am” and she’s, I know who you are and she says I don’t care if you see my sons, but I don’t want you to tell them who you are as far as being their sister.

Denise: 12:34 You could just be a friend. So I respected her wishes and I just told him, you know, I, I only met the one brother, the youngest brother, and you know, that’s all I did. And I was shaking the whole time and everything. And uh, but I respected her and did not involve myself until the kids get older.

Damon: 12:52 I see.

Denise: 12:53 And Facebook came out and so I started looking through Facebook and through high school, you know, that high school thing you can join. I went through Fremont schools and I found a friend of theirs that I got connected through Facebook through. And um, he didn’t want nothing to do. They never responded, never responded. So finally I saw that he was married and so I admired the youngest one. And so I asked, sent her a message on Facebook, asking if I could be a friend that I was his sister and stuff like that well, he finally got ahold of me and yelled at me and screamed at me and my mother told me, you weren’t any relation to me and, um, how could you possibly be a relation to me with a mother like you had and I mean, just terrible, hurtful things, you know? And I thought, well, you know, his wife now and his children are real nice to me, you know, and like me, but he wants nothing to do with me and he won’t even tell our other brother about me.

Damon: 13:53 So is this, these brothers are younger than you?

Denise: 13:56 Yeah, they are. They’re younger than me.

Damon: 13:58 And so you’re talking to the oldest of the other two?

Denise: 14:01 No, I’m talking to the youngest of the other two.

Damon: 14:02 Oh, you’re speaking to the youngest.

Denise: 14:04 Yeah, the youngest one. Um, the other, um, the other one, so I guess has, um, a few mental issues and stuff. And, uh, I mean, you’re looking at, you look at his children online and they look just like my children, you know, we have a prominent jaw, um, because our dad has, uh, a underbite so bad and I’ve had it and his Phil, our brother has had surgery on it, so how can, and his, his daughters look just like my daughters, you know, how could they be? Possibly say that, but yeah, I don’t know.

Denise: 14:34 There’s real strong physical connection to these folks. You look just like them, Huh?

Speaker 1: 14:37 Exactly. Exactly.

Damon: 14:39 Wow.

Denise: 14:40 So, and um, he says you go ahead and you talk to my mom and she’ll tell you that your mother was nothing, you know, and maybe my mom was, but that’s not the point. You know, the point is that I, there was real family out there and I thought maybe I got shot down again, family, you know, to me it wasn’t nothing. And my marriage was nothing that I looked out of the house to get, you know, away from her. They just went and made myself worse situation by a gentleman that beat me all the time. But that was okay until he started to go from my baby and I got out and got divorced and got remarried when I was 18 to have the most wonderful man that took me and my son in. And he adopted my son and his, this experience has been so much better, but my son still has that underlying need of wanting to know who his real family is.

Damon: 15:32 And how do you address that with him? How do you guys talk about it? What is your feeling about it?

Denise: 15:36 I mean, I will talk to him about that. I will, you know, and I told him exactly what happened and I told his father exactly what happened, but I was always going to tell our son the truth, why I left, why I couldn’t stay and all that. And um, so I told him, I says, I, you know, it was fine until he started wanting to beat up on you and I couldn’t do it anymore. He knew his name, he knew family. He’s actually went to his funeral and my husband is dead, was devastated. He’s still devastated about it and he doesn’t understand.

Damon: 16:07 Your son ..

Denise: 16:08 Went to his real dad’s funeral.

Damon: 16:10 I see. Had they had, they met?

Denise: 16:13 Apparently they had, I had not known, but I guess that he has, he had taken his whole family to meet, meet him and stuff.

Damon: 16:20 Oh Wow. How did that make you feel when you discovered that?

Denise: 16:24 Well, in a way I kind of wanted him to know cause he saw who the person he was. So he saw the truth of the matter. And he loves my husband more than, you know, more than life. So, but you know, I felt, I guess because of the way I felt when I was a kid that I understood why he wanted to meet him. You know, I mean this nagging feeling that there’s other family members out there, you know, that should love you.

Damon: 16:51 Right, right. But don’t always,

Denise: 16:54 But don’t always, no, he got luckier I guess. Um, this man or his real dad had a, had a child that he had even thrown acid in her face.

Damon: 17:04 Oh Gosh.

Denise: 17:05 Uh, yeah. So, um, but there, there, um, brother and sister now my son and his other son or daughter and so that’s going on and he does talk to some of his, um, fathers, uh, relatives and things. So, you know, if he does that, that’s fine. And He, I think he just hides it from my husband because my husband would be devastated because my husband has been so good to my son.

Damon: 17:29 Yeah. You don’t think your husband would understand his adopted sons desire to be connected with his biological father?

Denise: 17:38 Um, not really because he knows how horrible that man was to me and the time and to everybody that we’ve known and stuff. He says, how could he possibly, I mean, I’ve had a good life since I’ve been married my second time, I’ve had a great life and I, I, I, you know, I still try to get ahold of people that are, you know, long distance relatives and, you know, things like that. But, you know, I think it’s a dying need in me. It’s going to have to be because when my mom died, my side of the family, I don’t know hardly any of them anymore.

Damon: 18:11 I see. May I ask, how do you help your current husband understand your son’s desire to try to connect with his biological father when he was alive? I mean..

Denise: 18:21 When he was alive, I, I just told him, I says, you know, I mean, you know how I am curious, I am and not allow my family as you know, times gotta be doing the same thing, wandering this and that. And then Gary, he’ll say but why, after all, he’s done? In fact, I lost the baby because of him and the stuff I, you know, and my husband is just such a man who just can’t understand why anybody would want to involve theirself with someone that has been known to be so mean.

Damon: 18:50 You lost him, your sons?

Denise: 18:52 No, I lost a baby because I was beaten in that marriage. That was my sons sibling, yes.

Damon: 19:01 Wow.

Denise: 19:01 But I say thank the Lord for my husband now because you know, if it wasn’t for him and his family, I really wouldn’t know what a father is supposed to do. You know what aunts and uncles and all that are supposed to do and love and..

Damon: 19:15 Right, what love feels like.

Denise: 19:15 And that, uh, yeah.

Damon: 19:18 Wow. So where have you left things with your biological father’s family? I mean that I would imagine, and you said it yourself, like that’s a need that’s going to have to die it sounds like.

Denise: 19:31 if it’s going to have to yet, um, if he gets a hold of me, he knows how to get ahold of me. I have his phone number on my phone. He did say if I needed, he’d have my back. If I needed it, but more or less don’t contact me.

Damon: 19:45 What do you think he meant by that?

Denise: 19:45 I don’t know if I really warmed down because, um, we were talking about the, the jaw line. I said he, he said something about, yeah, we are, we all got that jaw line. That’s, yeah, my kids hate it just as much as us all had to or something like that. And he says, well, don’t worry. Don’t worry, I got your back. So, but that was about, I don’t know. Um, he has not tried to contact me since. Uh, and I won’t contact him because I’ve already been rejected, you know, I’m not gonna go through that again. But his, his wife and children, um, at least the two youngest I keep in touch with the older is a son. And I think he’s thinking, no, my dad doesn’t want to talk to her, so I’m not gonna talk to her. But he did accept my friend request, so.

Damon: 20:29 well, that’s, that’s a sign.

Denise: 20:32 Yup. I think so. It’s not his, his, his dad didn’t, but you know, my brother did not accept it, but.

Denise: 20:37 What do you hope will happen with your brother?

Denise: 20:41 Well, nothing now, now that I’ve heard him talk to him, I feel that he’s, um, he doesn’t want to let his brother know which, and I feel that they’re, they’re, they’re not my type of people anymore. I might as well stay with people that I know love me and I’m not going to have to fight for their love. So, that’s what I’m doing,

Damon: 20:59 That’s what you’ve got to surround yourself with. The people who could be positive, be uplifting, love you for who you are. Absolutely. So may I ask if, if they were to ever here this, your biological father, either of your biological brothers, what would you want them to know?

Denise: 21:14 That I’ve always searched for them. I’ve always wanted to know them. I mean, I, you know, I always have, it’s just, uh, especially my dad. I mean, his parents used to be the King and Queen at, at the fair. And um, Fremont, and I went there every year just trying to get a glimpse of him. I had no idea what they looked like, but I still wanted to know them you know? And I wanted to know my dad, you know, I go, to this day, every time I go by their old farm, you know? Yeah. That’s where my grandparents live. But I was never there, you know. But I would, I would, I would really, I would like to know who they were, you know, and stuff. So.

Damon: 21:52 Yeah, just at least make a connection because you’re biologically connected to them. That’s undeniable. But at least just so you know, say this is me who I am and I’d love to know you. I totally understand that it’s a, you may think that it’s going to die within you and you’ve been at this longer than me, but I would imagine that burning and yearning is going to be with you. Just like, you know,

Denise: 22:12 And I, I it is, I’m sure I keep telling him, you know, like, push it to the back and everything like that. But even my kids, they know, they know that, my husband knows. But, um, he’s saying, you know, you’ve got so much now, and I do, I do. I have so much now. I don’t need to bring anymore people in a negativity in my life.

Damon: 22:31 That’s exactly right. Surround yourself with positivity. I totally agree. Totally agree. Well, after such a crazy childhood and a tumultuous set of interactions with your biological relatives, it’s really nice to hear what sounds like a smile on your face. Love in your family, love in your heart for those who love you. So thank you so much for telling your story. I really appreciate hearing it.

Denise: 22:56 You’re welcome.

Damon: 22:58 Alright, take care, Denise. I’ll talk to you another time. Bye.

Denise: 23:01 Thank you Damon. You Bet. Bye.

Damon: 23:04 Hey, it’s me. I’m so glad Denise found loving, healthy relationships at this point in her life. I felt so badly for how she was treated as a child after that fire took her brother’s life. No child should have to experience that kind of loss, and certainly the adults in her life could have been more thoughtful, sensitive, and loving in the aftermath as an adult. Denise experienced some pretty severe rejection for her biological father and half siblings. But it sounds like she’s finding her way to happiness with a loving husband and his extended family that have shown her what family relationships should feel like. I hope you’ll find something in Denise’s story 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? If you would like to share your story of locating and connecting with your biological family visit, You can also follow me on Twitter at waireally.

Who Am I Really?

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