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011 – From Childhood Rebellion to Thankful Reunion

When Sean was a kid, he found out he was adopted. That news created some conflict in him and challenged his identity. He began to rebel against his adopted parents, but some sage wisdom from his grandmother quickly set him straight. Sean returned to loving and appreciating the family he was a part of, but his desire to understand his identity never left. Older and married to his high school sweetheart, Sean’s family began to grow. He said that seeing his world in his oldest daughter’s eyes made him even more sensitive to his biological mother’s tough choice to let him go. After Sean finally mailed his introductory letter to his biological mother, which he had re-drafted several times over the years, he was finally able to reunite with her. He learned some of the ways that he’s just like his mother, and how one of his childhood sports heroes is actually his cousin!


Sean: 00:03 It wasn’t until Macy was born and you know for any first time father to look in the eyes of his child and I realized right then like at some stage, not so long ago, someone looked in my eyes when this happened to them and I thought, you know, where is she? And I thought for the first time, like as a parent like they had, there must’ve been a lot of pain to say goodbye.

Speaker 3: 00:29 Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I?

New Speaker: 00:41 This is who am I really a podcast about adoptees that have located and connected with their biological family members? Hey, it’s Damon today. I have the pleasure of introducing you to Sean as a kid. When he found out he was adopted, he created some conflict in him and challenged his identity. But some sage wisdom from one of the elders in his family set him straight again so that he could return to loving and appreciating the family he was already a part of. When he got a little older, married his high school sweetheart and their family began to grow. So did his curiosity about his biological mother’s experience, giving birth to him and relinquishing him to adoption. You’ll hear Shawn talk about connecting to his mother brothers and how he feels fortunate to have had the opportunity to say thank you for the life he leads.

Damon: 01:29 You and I talked quite a while ago about your story. Um, and I’d love to hear some of the details about how, how you grew up as an adoptee. Tell me about your, your family, your family structure when you found out you’re an adoptee and what it was like being an adoptee in your community.

Sean: 01:47 Sure. Uh, well, you know, uh, it’s kind of a funny story. Well, at least I’m able to laugh now, but you know, this whole journey for me started in the first grade when I, uh, I’ve found out what adopted meant about a year prior that my, my parents told me that I was adopted. They just didn’t fill in all the blanks for me. They didn’t really tell me what it meant except that I was special and I was chosen and you know, I was loved and all of that, you know, I just didn’t register with me that that’s anything other than it than an incredible thing. And Man, I’m, I’m like great special kid. Unfortunately the guy that filled in the gaps for me was a bully on the playground. And when he was a beaten me out on the playground, I asked him to back off because I was adopted and it was special and chosen and loved and welcome.

Sean: 02:34 And luckily he did stop for a moment and he said, what do you mean you’re done? Like your parents didn’t want here, they gave you when I said, no, no, that’s not what it means. And he said, yes it is. And the kids kind of chimed in and laughed and you know, I wound up in the principal’s office and in a small town that I was in, my dad was a bank manager and the principal’s like, hey, Sean fighting is one thing on the playground. But you know, telling stories lying like that, saying that you’re adopted son other. And he told me what it meant and he did. I didn’t believe that that’s what they actually meant by that. And I wound up running home at lunch. I live like half a mile from the school and my mom was there and I said, I am confused and crying.

Sean: 03:14 And she said, I better call your dad to come home from work. And I knew in that moment what they really meant and uh, it was a start of a rough couple of years, you know, and just trying to reconcile all of that. But anyhow, you know, the, the structure was a, I was, I was adopted by two wonderful parents who had already had two children on their own, had believed that they couldn’t have any more kids. They wanted to have a son, have another child. And they adopted me when I was a three or four months old. And I, uh, grew up about five hours, four hours from where I was born in a, in a house full of love. Um, turned out my mother could have other kids cause I have a younger sister.

Damon: 03:54 So you haven’t read biological siblings then?

Sean: 03:57 I do. Yeah.

Damon: 03:59 And you’re in between them.

Sean: 04:00 That’s right. Yeah. Second youngest wonderful family gave me everything I could have asked for more. You know, that that’s with all the things you’d expect and life experiences and guidance and love and everything else. So I consider myself very fortunate.

Damon: 04:16 Yeah. So you found out pretty young that you were adopted. I’m curious to know how did that at all affect your relationship to your siblings? You know, did you make the connection that you were now somehow different from them even at that young age?

Sean: 04:32 Well, you know, the, the connection with my sisters, even at that young age, I, I recognize that up to that point and then during that tough time where I was really trying to reconcile what was going on, like those three girls never treated me as anything less than full and equal member of the family. There was never any inkling before, during or after, you know, that I wasn’t one of them. Um, the disconnect for awhile was with my adoptive parents, which as a, as a young kid, immature and trying to deal with something difficult, you know, I resorted to calling them by their surnames, you know, Mister and misses and um, and had a really hard time reconciling what I considered a lie. You know, they, they hadn’t been truthful with me and I was also like many adopted kids confused as to how anybody could have given up on me. Um, and it, and none of it made sense.

Damon: 05:29 Yeah. You had some of that inner confusion, some of that anger that can be prevalent in young boys no matter what the situation is. You can just be angry with your parents for whatever reason. But it, when it comes to your own identity as it applies to being related to them, I could see that being really challenging, especially as you got older and, and you really are starting trying to figure out who you are. What were your experiences with your desire to reunite with your biological family members? Cause I know you told me previously there was a situation that really made you question whether you want to do it

New Speaker: 06:04 Well, you know just to go back a step. And you know, having been dealing with that, and I know how long that period of, of confusion and feeling lost was, but I’ll just share with you one moment that kind of snapped me out of it or you know, felt like I was emotionally punched in the face of the time. But my grandmother, my mother’s, my father’s mother, tough but wonderful. My, uh, one of my daughters, we named her middle name is after her cute. She, uh, we showed up for Christmas and Ottawa and she said, ah, I got into the house and now I had two misses. Finters you know, my mom and my grandmother. And she, uh, she tolerated that for about an hour. And I remember it being summoned to her bedroom, which I had looked in before.

Sean: 06:50 I’d never been in there before. And I sat up on the edge of her bed where she told me to sit and she kinda got down at eye level with me. And the expected, uh, uh, a hug or, you know, hey, this is going to be okay. And she basically said, you know, listen to me a little sh*t. Those people out there love you more than anything in the world. And there they, they’ll give you everything. And she said, at some point you’re going to have to accept that or continue to punish them. She said, they’ve done nothing but love you and I get it. I get your hurt and angry and it doesn’t always make sense. But she said at some point when you let them back in, everything’s gonna be okay. And then I thought, she taught me and Jesus got up and walked out!

Damon: 07:35 She left it to simmer with you, huh. Think about that young man.

Sean: 07:38 And you know, in that moment I just, I decided that she was right. You know, they hadn’t done any right and there was still a reconciliation for me, but I emerged from that bedroom with a very different view of the world and thought I, Alright well here I am. And if you’re going to land anywhere, you know, it’s pretty good spot to, to answer your question, you know, um, between that time and um 14 years ago when my first of four children was born, I had really rationalized that I was okay, you know, that I, and I was complete. I, you know, I’ve met a lot of people that were adopted that had this hole in their heart that needed to, you know, I need to find things out. And maybe it was just my self talk and convincing myself that it doesn’t matter and I’m okay.

Sean: 08:23 I’m in a good place. And, and I, and I, I was rich, you know, I had all these rich relationships in my life and felt full, um, it wasn’t until Macy was born and you know, for any first time father to look in the eyes of this child, and this was sound a little bit silly, but I just like saw the whole world. Like I just realized, man, we’re all connected. Yeah. And that this is a part of me. And, and I realized right then like at some stage, not so long ago, someone looked in my eyes when this happened to them and I thought, you know, where is she? Where is he? And I wondered, you know where they were. And I thought for the first time, like as a parent like they had, there must’ve been a lot of pain to say goodbye. So that’s when the sort of journey started to start to figure this out.

Damon: 09:09 So you’ve been catalyzed by the birth of your own child. And I know that feeling of looking down, you know, at your child, I’ve said this before, you know, when I saw my son for the first time, I was home alone with him and I was just like, oh my God, you’re the first biological relative I’ve literally ever known. And it’s just a moment of, of seriality. So what did you do then? You’ve now had this, this reconciliation with the sage wisdom of your grandmother. You’ve, you’ve gotten to a good place in your mind in terms of growing up and maturing into your identity and with your family. But now you’ve, you’ve had this moment where you recognize that someone had the same look about you when you were an infant. What, what did you do next?

Sean: 09:50 Well, I did what I normally do and I started to write. So I, I was living in Sydney, Australia and I started to write a letter. And the letter, um, started out very simply, you know, there were three things that I wanted to communicate to her, to my biological mother. Um, I said, uh, firstly, you know, I, I’d heard from, you know, I’d met over the years a lot of people that both had been adopted and had and had given up their kids for a better opportunity. And what really rang in my mind at that time was the moms and dads that had to say goodbye. And when I, uh, I started writing a letter, I just, I said to her that, you know, every time I see a young pregnant girl, I realized like, especially if you’re carrying a baby to term, to give them up for a better opportunity.

Sean: 10:48 And, and I just said, you know, I am, I am so grateful that you had the courage to do that. Secondly, I thought it was important for her to know that as a result of that, that it worked. Everything that, uh, that a mom would have wanted for her, her son came true. Right. The family and the circumstance experience. And for that, you know, we were, she was fortunate cause you don’t know where your child’s going, but I thought it was important that she know that, you know, I kind of won the lottery in that regard. Yeah. And then finally I said, you know, as a dad now, and I had been a dad for 10 minutes or a day or two. {laughs} So now I’m able to speak from the wisdom of a father. I know now that you’ve wondered like what happened to me, you know, it’s been at that point and again, you know, almost, well it’s 30 some years, you know, three and a half decades.

Sean: 11:53 And I said, this is me. You know, this is now, I grew up in Canada and I’ve traveled, I’ve been to over 50 countries, businesses all over the world. And Best of all, you know, I’m married a girl I fell in love with in high school and you know, we’ve now started a family and, and I said, this is who I am because of what you did for me. So that was it. And then it was supposed to be a two page letter and it turned into 10 pages and photos and all of that. And, and I wish I could say I just wrote this beautiful water and popped it in the post. And that was that. But it sat in my drawer for years and then did iterations of that letter. And I don’t know why, I just didn’t, I didn’t know where to send it or I didn’t have the courage to do something holding me back.

Sean: 12:40 And luckily my wife Jenny one day just, hey, you know, why don’t, why don’t I send this today? You know, we looked up and she said, why don’t I just send this today? Like all my way or the door? I said, well, we’ll talk about it tonight. And she said, no, no, no, I think I’m going to send it today and we’ll just see what happens. We had the last known address, which was a farmhouse or parents lived in, in Canada. And A, it turns out that my, um, half brother lives in that farm house today and they received a letter and, uh, and got it to, uh, to Sandra, my biological mother.

Damon: 13:15 So, so let me pause you for a quick second. How did you locate this farm house? How did you identify where your biological family live?

Sean: 13:23 What I believe happened was that a few years back in Canada, the government, for whatever reason, decided that after a certain date, children that were more past the date, they basically posted records up online. You can go and find them. And um, you know what all it had was a little bit more information because at adopted kid in Canada got a card when you were adopted. It said, you know, my, my biological name, which was Anthony and last letter was as my father’s height and weight. A few things that they wrote about themselves, like personality and that sort of thing. So that’s all I had. And then they put up basically last known address and um, names, they told me her, her name. So we, uh, we sent it there as a first stop. And as I say, we got lucky because that property was still in the family.

Damon: 14:14 So you, you’ve sent the letter off, it’s reached this farmhouse. What happens next?

Sean: 14:21 Well, so I wrote this letter and I had just done a talk in, uh, in La to a bunch of leaders in my industry. And after you do that and you kind of put your email up if they want to get any more info and you get a lot of, sometimes you get a lot of Nice feedback. So I’m actually in Washington DC at the National National Press Club and I’m on the board for Entrepreneurs Organization on the education chair. So I picked up our guests, our speaker, and he’s in the bathroom and I just scroll through my emails and I’m getting all this nice feedback about the talk. And there’s one that says, you know, when one door closes, another opens and there’s a little thumbnail, you know, someone’s picture. And it was the first time I saw her and the minute I saw her, I knew who she was amidst hundreds of emails.

Sean: 15:08 I knew that’s exactly who it was. And it literally, you know, I’ve, I’ve nearly fainted twice in my life once when I proposed and then my knees buckled in the lobby and I, you know, teary and I read this beautiful email that she sent me. She basically said, Hey, I’m glad you reached out. And so she had just gone through some issues in her life and she was going through some big changes and she said, um, this is great. I’m taking off for a week. I think she was going on holidays and she said, I’ll be back in touch. And that’s how it all started.

Damon: 15:47 You’re standing there, you’re completely in their professional zone, not even amongst the support group of people. And you get this, this email with your mother’s face as a thumbnail.

Sean: 15:58 Yeah. That is unbelievable.

Sean: 16:02 I guess, you know, as a father of four now and as I said, I have a lot of friends that um, or adopted, I’d seen people reconnect and you know, you have some beautiful stories of reuniting and part of that. And I’ve had a few friends close friends reconnect and it was awful, um, for everybody involved. But my instinct was as a father and a husband, like, you know, my instinct was, hey, I’ve got a really good thing going here and if there’s anything I protective of it’s that, and uh, that’s a pretty personal relationship. I’m your biological mother’s. I set up with her a structure that I, that I hoped to work for everybody that hurricane sandy had just happened and she was actually volunteering. She went down to New Jersey and she was volunteering, um, to help the storm victims.

Sean: 16:52 And I said, hey, while you’re there, you know, do you want to come across to Maryland and then we can meet. So I kind of had a tiered structure that she is going to come to my office, um, we’d screen her a little bit as he with some people. She got through my team, then, uh, I, you know, we, I agreed to meet with her and we spend a couple hours together and if that works, we’d go to dinner. At which time my wife Jenny would join us. Uh, so Jenny was waiting by the phone for me to call and say, Hey, this is a, you know, she fully assume that we’re going to be having dinner together. And then, um, we had this amazing night, you know, we had two hours on our own at the office to which there were, you know, some, some tears. And if I was to sum it all up to a couple of words, um, from her on a couple from me, you know, she’s said, I’m sorry and my couple words would have been, thank you.

Sean: 17:51 You know, so we were at that stage where she was trying to reconcile as I was. Um, we went out to dinner and talked and laughed at Jenny joined us and that was great. And then the next morning and we picked her back up at her hotel. My daughter’s made pancake breakfast and she came and met her, her four and only grandkids. And uh, I don’t mind buying them a bit. Like she’s got the four best grandkids in the world, you know, they’re just amazing little kids and, uh, she became a part of our life that morning.

Damon: 18:22 Wow. What a gift you’re able to give to her kids, the family, the connection to your people and to be able to say thank you face to face, man. That’s, that’s really unbelievable. You said that she opened her email or, or the subject line was when one door closes, another one opens.

Sean: 18:42 She, um, met, uh, another guy after I was, I was born and they, uh, they got married, they were together, married, uh, that entire time right up until about a week or a month before she got my letter. And she had just decided to separate at that point. So they had two kids together. I have two, two brothers. So, you know, imagine going through that and then suddenly this chapter of your life that’s since past kind of reopened. So real time of transition for her.

Damon: 19:14 Oh man, that’s unbelievable. Tell me a little bit about your half siblings. Did you connect to them too?

Sean: 19:21 I did. I reached out to both of them after Sandra and I reconnected and uh, there, there are two wonderful guys. I always joke that I don’t do anything in half so I don’t have half brothers. You know, we look alike, we think like, like we look a lot more like, you know, full brothers than most people that I know. So I reached out to both of them since there are two very different different guys and they’re six years apart. Um, Wlll and I like if you lined up our playlists are political views are, you know, we, it’d be like we grew up in the same house, that whole nature versus nurture because my three sisters that I have virtually nothing in common, uh, where they allow, you would swear that we not only grew up the same house, but we shared a bedroom for 20 years.

Damon: 20:09 Wow, that’s unreal.

Sean: 20:11 Yeah. Sense of Style, our wives like it is amazing how much of that stuff is baked in. And I would say that, you know, between those two I’d be somewhere right in the middle because my that are younger brother Matt is equally as wonderful. They’re very different. So Matt’s much more reserved and he, uh, is a brilliant craftsman, works with his hands and runs his own business. He’s entrepreneurial and Matt, I haven’t seen nearly as much. I’ve only met him a couple of times and I hope we’ve invited them here. I hope to spend a lot more time with them in the future, but Will it has become one of my closest friends, um, I just talked to him this morning, it’s his birthday.

Damon: 20:50 That’s so cool. It’s amazing that you find those common bonds of nature versus nurture amongst siblings regardless of what percentile sibling they are of yours. It’s just, it’s really surreal when you, when you reconnect with somebody and you see similarities. I mean even with your brother who seems to have the entrepreneurial spirit, not unlike yourself, you told me when we spoke previously that your mother had remembered you throughout the years. What kinds of things did she do to remember you?

Sean: 21:23 Well, she, and this is part of, uh, part of the story that hasn’t quite unfolded yet, but she had written me, she said she wrote me three letters a year and I believe it was Christmas, my birthday in April and Valentine’s Day and kept these letters in a box part of the separation. She hasn’t been able to get that box yet. I wonder, you know, it’s something that is kind of cool to know. I thought there and uh, that’d be a pretty, a pretty big emotional hit to read through those. But you know, I imagine she just wrote to kind of write in her thoughts and thinking about me being out there and hoping that I was in a good place. But she took, took to writing her thoughts down a few times a year and stored them in a, in a box. It’s kind of hidden away somewhere now.

Damon: 22:14 What did you think when she, when she said that you said one of the things that you do therapeutically, it sounds like his writing, you’ve now identified this as a characteristic of your mother’s as well.

Sean: 22:25 Okay. Yeah, it’s true. You know, when I, when I’m struggling with something or I’m trying to think through something, um, I run it in my head a lot and then I always ride and I usually write with pen and paper. I’m surrounded way now by notebooks around me with just thoughts and you know, a lot of it’s business but sometimes it’s personal and um, sometimes when I can get things out of my head and onto paper, it really helps me process things. And I think in a way that’s what she was trying to do. I know they say, luckily she decided to do the incredibly brave thing of having me. I found out that uh, yeah, in subsequent talks that she actually did something quite unorthodox when she had me, that she wanted to keep me for a little bit to say goodbye. And I think, I think the timeframe was a few weeks, which the hospitals aren’t really keen on.

Sean: 23:14 And she basically said that, hey, I’m not going to go through it most. I can say goodbye. And she took me to her aunt’s house where I stayed for three weeks with her and then she brought me back to the hospital and I entered into a foster home that day and I guess in Canada have a bit of a cooling off period. So I remained there for three months with a woman who was a part of my life until a decade ago. My foster mother, Mrs Rigrock, who was an amazing woman who adopted a, I don’t know how many, at least 1215 kids over years that couldn’t get a chance elsewhere. Um, but I was at for three months and amazing that she made that impact on my life and I used to, I lived near Canada’s wonderland are like Disneyland. She’d raise money to bring all these kids who are kids and foster kids every year and I’d connect with them. That was her story. Yep.

Damon: 23:59 It’s really unusual that you would one know who your foster caregiver was, let alone continue to be connected with her. Do you mind if I ask, how did you manage that? How did you get connected back to her?

Sean: 24:11 Well, my parents knew her and I guess that’s why they picked me out. You know, they, they were incredibly grateful for what she did and left details. And then, uh, when we moved from there to this little town called Schomburg about an hour north of Toronto, and it was, she mentioned one year, she’s bringing the kids and my dad said, hey, we’d love to connect, bring shot along. And, and we did it several times until they got older. And so, yeah, she remained a part of my life. And obviously we didn’t spend a lot of time together, but all of the emotions in adoption, all the lessons that you learn, you know, I put her up there with like some of the heroes in my world, although I was only in her care for 90 days. I watch these other kids and I, and I looked at how beautiful another person could be selfless to take these kids in. And its one thing that provide foster care, uh, another to adopt the kids that she just felt heartbroken that they couldn’t get the chance and didn’t want them as custody in the province or whatever it might be. You know, a lot of heroes in the story.

Damon: 25:11 That’s really fantastic. Wow. When I was thinking about trying to locate my own biological mother, it didn’t even occur to me to try to figure out like where I had been in foster care. Just that wasn’t my goal. And you’re so lucky that that that woman was somebody whom you were able to remain in contact with and presumably say thank you to and tell the story of having found your, your mother. I see you. I mean, that’s unbelievable.

Sean: 25:36 Well, you know, I’lls hare one other thing that still is hard for me to wrap my head around. So I, I grew up in this small town. I played hockey, I’ll put it mildly that I don’t have fleet feet. I’ve got two cinder blocks for feet, so I was never very fast. And in hockey, you’ve either gotta be, you gotta be faster, you’ve got to be mean. So on my wall at home at that time in the 80s, you have picture a poster of Wayne Gretzky. I had Bob [inaudible] who was a tough guy. And beside that I had a poster of the first defense, may never get paid $1 million in the NHL. They played for the Toronto Maple leafs. Last name is Gill. And the reason I had him up there, I was, one of my coaches said to me, you’ve got, you gotta become technically better on the ice.

Sean: 26:19 You gotta learn angles. You model after this Guy Gil. Gil, the thrill they used to call him cause he was slow, but he was almost perfect on the ice. It turns out, I mentioned that I was taken out at the hospital by my mother taking her aunt’s house. And, um, the reason that not a lot of people knew that I even existed was because of the rheumatoid arthritis isn’t my biological mother could disappear for, or six months where she’d be hospitalized and out of school. So it wasn’t uncommon that she just wasn’t around. And, and this instance she was kind of hiding out at her aunt’s house. Well, she told me that I was there and I said, wow. You know, she sent it, I was at her house and you know, with her, her family, her sons, and, those are the only people that really knew I was around. Um, because they saw me, I was staying there. That is her last name is Gill. And that hockey player on my wall was one of the kids in that house. One of my heroes was, turns out to be my cousin.

Damon: 27:14 Are you serious?

Sean: 27:16 You imagine of all the people in the world? I was in his house for three weeks and his aunt provided us shelter while she, uh, she said goodbye to me. So just shows like what a wonderful and weird and crazy world we live in.

Damon: 27:29 That’s unbelievable. That’s, so, where are things with you and your family now?

Sean: 27:35 They’re good. You know, it’s still all a very new, and I, you know, I’d say we’re in a good place. It’s still kind of unfolding and you know, I’m optimistic, I feel, feel very fortunate.

Damon: 27:48 Is there anything that you would’ve done differently along this journey you think?

Sean: 27:51 Yeah, I even think about that. The timing of when I reached out would have been better earlier. Why do you say probably not, you know, her husband at the time was insistent that this didn’t happen, so that probably would have just created conflict that she didn’t need. So the timing actually worked out to be quite right, that we’re fortunate. We’re now at a place where we’re kind of planning, you know, our next memories together and getting together and having fun being with my brothers or with her. So yeah, I think we’re in a good place.

Damon: 28:21 That’s really awesome man. Well, thanks very much for taking time to share your story. This is, it’s really been amazing. You’ve had some crazy coincidences and courage of your mom to know, puts you in a safe place. The ability to stay in touch with your foster mom, the loving home that you came up with, really fortunate. And it’s an amazing story. So thank you for sharing that.

Sean: 28:48 Cool. You’re welcome. It’s great talking to you.

Damon: 28:50 Yeah, you too, Sean. Take care. All the best. Okay.

Sean: 28:52 Okay. Thanks a lot. Bye Bye

Damon: 28:55 Hey, it’s me. Sean’s journey was really fascinating to me. He faced some of the rebellion that many adoptees feel inside when they discover additional truths about their identity, but he was able to recover and give and receive and lots of love from his parents and sisters. He talked about seeing the world in his eldest daughter’s eyes and immediately turning to his favorite medium writing to express his emotions about the life he had been given by his biological mother, but it really made me feel good to know that he had a relationship with his foster mother well into his adult years. I’ll be honest, I sometimes forget the importance of the foster caregivers in the lives of those they touch, and I’m sure they often wonder for years about the many, many babies and children that pass into and out of their lives. I hope you’ll find something in Sean’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 to your biological family visit,

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