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099 – We Were Both Missing Something In Our Lives

Joseph is a really outdoorsy guy who lives in Edmonds, Washington, about 30 minutes north of Seattle. He likes mountain biking, trail running, camping and skiing. Joseph grew up in a family of several children, some biological, and one other adoptee you might already know. He told me that he never could have pinpointed what it was, but he always seemed to be searching for something. Joseph started his journey searching for answers from his biological mother about his adoption. Instead he found mystery surrounding her life, unanswered questions and a connection to his brother that means the most to him out of everything. This is Joseph’s journey.


Joseph (00:03): I’m not going to fault her. I mean I was adopted by by great parents and they’ve had a good family life. I’ve had a good life, but I was, it was hard to hear that the things behind my adoption were because of her addiction possibly. I guess the first thing that came to my mind was like I was not her priority.

Damon (00:32): Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? 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. I’m Damon Davis and on today’s show is Joseph. He called me from Washington state. Joseph grew up in a family of several children, some biological and one other adoptee. You might already know. He told me that he never could have pinpointed what it was, but he always seemed to be searching for something. He started his journey searching for answers from his biological mother. Instead, he found mystery surrounding her life unanswered questions and a connection to his brother. That means the most to him out of everything. This is Joseph’s journey.

Damon (01:30): Joseph is a really outdoorsy guy who lives in Edmonds, Washington, about 30 minutes North of Seattle. He likes mountain biking trail running, camping and skiing, reflecting on his childhood. Joseph said his was pretty normal for the most part. He was adopted at almost two years old and they lived in central Washington. It was a middle class upbringing with five children in the family. His father was a civil engineer, so their family moved around occasionally for him to take jobs in public works. I asked him about his memory of being adopted at the age of two years old. I was going to ask you about whether you remembered a transition at two at all, if you had any sort of stark memory or any even general memory of just a transition of, of scenes. Like one minute you’re in one place and even at two year old, two years old, you recognize like, Hey, this is a different place.

Joseph (02:28): What I can remember I have one memory, uh, prior to living with my adopted family and, and that was confirmed by my mom when I told her. I said, you know, I would have, I started having this reoccurring dream, which was me and this other girl playing with a red ball. And we were just bouncing it back and forth to each and for some reason I don’t, I don’t know how it happened, but when the ball came back to me, it hit me in the face.

Damon (03:08): (laughter) Oh no.

Joseph (03:08): And uh, you know, I just remember crying because I think it just kinda, it wasn’t anything out of malice or anything. I just remember we were applying and the ball got out of control and hit me in the face. And I remember the girl like really holding me and saying, you know, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. And my mom said, you know, that was probably your foster sister Stacy. I was in foster care leading up to my adoption and that, that is my one and only memory.

Damon (03:41): Joseph said that it wasn’t until he was four years of age when he actually remembers his life when they lived in Richland, Washington. Recall that Joseph had four siblings. The two oldest are biological to their parents. His sister, Leslie was also adopted and their parents had one more biological child after Joseph and Leslie. Joseph said his earliest pictures of himself that he had seen before reunion were from the transitional period when his adoption was being processed. He was visiting with his adoptive family meeting and playing with his new siblings and staying the night.

Joseph (04:19): I had never seen any pictures of me as an infant, as a child, like a baby or anything like that, which was kind of significant for me. I’m someone who’s really into photography. I love the medium and so, you know, like having pictures of me, were really important, you know, it, it really helps me look at, you know, my life as an adopted kid, so to speak. I don’t know, I just, that’s something that always resonated with me. And so I know that I was, was really curious to see, you know, pictures of me maybe with my biological mom or as me as an infant and my adopted mom and I, you know, we would talk about that a lot as well. Like it would just help me kind of complete the picture.

Damon (05:12): Joseph said he and Leslie bonded over being the adoptees in the family.

Joseph (05:17): Uh, knowing that we were adopted was significant for both of us. Sometimes, you know, I can’t speak for my sister Leslie, but for me, I felt like when things were, I dunno, like when we are frustrated with our parents or something, you know, like, you know, being told to do something we didn’t want to do or having to go to bed at night early when the rest of the family got to stay up and watch television, we were like, this is, this isn’t right. You know? And we’ve been, you know, the bonding of like us to say like, well, it’s us against them. I certainly had that feeling. I had nothing against my family at all. I love my parents and I love my brothers and sisters tremendously. But, you know, when you’re a little kid and you’re feeling like it’s you against the world, knowing that my sister was also adopted, you know, that was something that we really connected over. And to this day I still feel that way. It’s, um, my sister’s experience and finding her biological family was really important to me. I watched and listened with bated breath, like as she was going through this whole process. It was a great, it was great to have another kid in my family that was adopted.

Damon (06:37): I was glad to hear that Joseph really felt loved in his family. That’s an important point for adoptees to clarify when it’s applicable. I guess I should tell you that Leslie Joseph’s sister is someone who story you’ve already heard. She was my guest on who am I really on episode 56. ‘I feel whole finding him was the key.’

Leslie (06:58): It was just surreal to me because it’s like, here’s this perfect stranger that all of a sudden I’m thrown into his life and he’s thrown into mine. And you know, with the history of my mother, I was very cautious because I was expecting him to not be so open about it. But yeah. And when I flew down to see him, we both started crying. I mean, it was just amazing and he just would stare at me, you know, like wow.

Damon (07:24): Turning back to Joseph. He shared that Leslie’s reunion was fairly recent in his life just a few years ago and he was intrigued as a man in his forties contemplating seeking reunion. He found himself intrigued with her path and wanting to hear her story as much as possible as it unfolded. At that point he was still deciding for himself whether he wanted to pursue reunion because he was okay with being adopted to that point. his parents and siblings were open about their adoptions, but he admits when he was younger. He was a little curious about finding biological family members.

Joseph (08:00): I was always curious. I think as a younger person I was definitely curious about finding biological family, but as you get older I just started wondering how important is it for me to do this search because I thought have a great mom and dad. You know, we weren’t a perfect family. I don’t think there is a really perfect family, but I just, I felt like my upbringing was very good. I was supported. I have great brothers and sisters, you know, it was this question of is this really enough for me? Does this complete me? So as I was kind of thinking about all of that, my sister lastly began her search in earnest. And so then that really got me thinking, you know, what, you know the what if like what if I did the search as well and who would I find and what would that mean to me in my life and would it complete me in some way?

Joseph (09:01): And then I started realizing you kind of, I might’ve internalized having this feeling of um, a sense of not being complete. And so what I mean about that is I’m going to go back a little bit farther. When I was much younger, I always had this sense of wanting to go somewhere. I was a bit of a wonderer as a child, meaning I certainly enjoyed my environment. My parents said I was a rather well adjusted little boy, but I was constantly just walking out of the house, as a four year old toddler and walking down the block and I would go and meet other people, you know, kind of a scary situation for a parent when you realize where, you know, where’s my son? And my parents would have, you know, my dad would hop in the car and start driving around the neighborhood and eventually they’d find me. You know, I’m, which I found really odd. Like people would just, you know, think like, Oh, here’s this little kid and he’s talking to us, but shouldn’t he really be at home? I think through a little bit of therapy, um, I was starting to get in touch with this sense of loss. I wasn’t sure if I had a sense of place.

Damon (10:25): Joseph speculates that he was a bit of a melancholy child. He lacked a sense of belonging and he attributes that to his adoption. The sense of loss early in Joseph’s life was rekindled when Leslie began her search. Joseph told me that he sought therapy to talk about what he was feeling. He said when he was younger, he was really open to seeing people he looked like and wanting to meet biological relatives as an older man. The family he knew and loved sort of felt like enough for him and he appreciated his adopted family for what they meant to him. When he decided to search, he admitted it was scary because the idea of opening Pandora’s box and not finding the story he wanted to hear could be tough to handle.

Joseph (11:11): I attribute the way I’ve thought about my adoption. It’s been in my thought process to uh, my adopted mom. She was, she was very open about talking about the adoption. She was, she made me feel very good about, you know, that I was a special, kid they, they wanted me, they loved me, you know. So I did talk to my mom quite a bit about being adopted and that always felt like a good thing, you know, it was never, you know, I didn’t feel bad or anything.

Damon (11:45): Yeah. Cause if you felt like it was a secret, if there was something being hidden or kept from you, it can lead to some additional feelings like, well, what are you, what are you guys hiding from me? Like how bad is this? Right? But if someone could speak openly about it, it changes things about how you feel going into into search and reunion. I’m, I’m with you.

Joseph (12:09): Definitely. Yeah. I had a good foundation as far as like if I wanted to search for my biological family, my parents and my family were behind me 100%

Damon (12:20): when he was 18 a woman in his church who knew he was adopted, shared that she had learned of an organization with an online adoption registry that was trying to rematch biological families. He filled out their forms hoping for a match, but no results were ever returned. Later, his older sister, Laurie, a real supporter of Joseph finding his biological family would call from time to time to ask if he’d been searching, checking to see how it was going, and generally offering to help. In the early 1990s she noticed that in the Seattle times newspaper, people were submitting classified ads with information about their adoption in search of their biological families. Joseph did the same, adding his birth name and last initial the hospital he was born in and the fact that he was searching for his biological mother, adding her name and last initial, we’ll get to how he knew that information a little bit later.

Joseph (13:14): The day the ad ran, my sister receives a voice message and unfortunately my sister wasn’t there to take the call, so it went to her answering machine or voice message. My sister calls me, she’s like, are you ready for this? And I’m like, you cannot. I mean like somebody actually just called and she’s like, I missed this call, but there’s a message and a woman is on the other, you know, leaving this message saying, you know, I’m calling and response to this ad in Seattle times. And um, I’m really curious what the last name is, or and is in shame. And my sister said, the voice kind of pauses a little bit. She can hear children in the background and the woman said, you know I think this might be my child.

Damon (14:10): Oh wow

Joseph (14:12): and she just says, you know, I’ll just call back later. And that was it. Like she didn’t leave a phone number or anything?

Damon (14:18): Oh no. Oh man.

Joseph (14:23): So really up until very recently, that was like the closest I felt that I got to learning something about myself.

Damon (14:35): Time goes by. The strength of the internet search capabilities was growing in the 1990s and Joseph sister Laurie was periodically digging online for this Susan woman. Joseph decides to cold call one of the phone numbers for a Susan lives in North Carolina. He explained to the woman who answered the phone that he was doing some genealogical research. The woman who answered the phone said, Oh, you must be looking for my mother. She gets a lot of calls about her genealogical work. The woman offers to have her mother call Joseph back when she does, he’s immediately super honest with her, shares his birth name and that he’s looking for his birth mother named Susan. Then he asked her,

Joseph (15:18): so I’m wondering are you, my biological mother, maybe they can’t imagine getting a call, but, um, she started crying and I, my chest just like clinched cause I thought, Oh my God, you know, I found her and she’s like, I’m so sorry I’m not your mom. The reason she started crying is because her daughter, she was sending her first daughter off to college for the first time, you know, so I called her at a really awkward moment and that’s why she was crying because her first born was going off to college and leaving the nest, so to speak. And it felt really awkward and it was uncomfortable. And I just remember hanging up and I not kidding you, I passed out. I woke up like the next day.

Damon (16:10): You were just drained,

Joseph (16:10): I was so emotionally drained and that was really, you know, I guess early on I should have said like that was the moment in which I, I set it aside. You know, I was probably in my, I was in my mid twenties and I just thought, I can’t do this. I’m also trying to finish college. And I just told myself, I’m gonna, I’m just gonna set this down for a while and live my life and I’ll get to it if I want to. I’ll make that decision later.

Damon (16:42): Joseph confided in Leslie to learn more about what she did first in her search, Leslie had taken a DNA test with 23 and me. So Joseph did the same. When the test results came back, he immediately had a significant match with his second cousin, Stephanie. Joseph sent her an internal message through 23 and me highlighting their close relation and right from the jump sharing that he is adopted and that he was on a search, no minced words. Stephanie’s exchange with Joseph reveals she was a really nice person.

Joseph (17:15): She’s like, that’s awesome. You know, if we’re related, we should figure it out. They do a lot of genealogy on their family and so she said, my older sister is actually someone who’s really into genealogy, so we will, you know, we’ll, we’ll try to figure this out. Then that was it.

Damon (17:35): Stephanie and her older sister were sharing the 23 and me account and the older sister began messaging Joseph, but the message exchange with her was more guarded and cautious. Then the conversation went cold. No more messages. Joseph turned to Leslie and her husband Tom because he’s a pretty good genealogist and detective of sorts, so given his prowess with Leslie’s journey, Joseph felt he needed to talk with them about his search. All the while, Joseph still new to 23 and me was reaching out to the gangs of biological connections he was making online.

Joseph (18:11): It did become somewhat emotionally draining because people were like, wouldn’t respond. Saying like, yes, we all related. I don’t know how I’m so sorry. You know, people would say sorry all the time. I always find that really odd, but they’re like, you talk to them that you’re adopted and you’re searching for your biological family and they’re like, I’m sorry, don’t be sorry.

Damon (18:32): But there was someone who showed up as a connection with a guy named Nielsen for the longest time. Nielsen’s profile, didn’t have a picture or an avatar until one day someone updated the profile to add a picture. When Joseph got a message that Nielsen had updated his profile picture, he messaged Nielsen to make contact, but he never heard back. Joseph asked Stephanie about this Nielsen guy, but she didn’t know who he could be. However she offered something else, a meeting. Stephanie asked Joseph if he wanted to go meet her and her family in Portland. He drove down to meet Stephanie, her mother and her father. Stephanie’s mother. Robin is Joseph’s first cousin.

Joseph (19:18): No, I meet them and uh, Robin, who is Stephanie’s mom, you know, she just looks at me and she’s like, you are our people. You look like the Stanfords. And that was the first time I heard the last name Stanford, you know, as, as you know, like part of my DNA, you know, part of my history. And of course I’m looking at Stephanie and I’m looking at her mom, Robin and I can’t quite see the relationship.

Damon (19:52): They had a really nice dinner where Robin offered to take Joseph to a family house. The home was vacant, but the family’s history was documented well within the house in photographs, historical artifacts and artwork. The family has an interesting history in the timber industry, immigrating from Europe to New York to British Columbia and down to Bellevue, Washington where the family raised four sons. At the family house. Joseph could see images of family members. He’s related to.

Joseph (20:22): I look like those men. Like that was the first time that I saw myself a physical relationship or a physical characteristics, you know, like my face, especially the men who are, you know, like the great, great men if you will, like the great, great uncles or grandfathers and stuff. Like I have a, you know, kind of a longer face and you know, uh, kind of a pronounced chin and stuff and I’m just seeing myself. It really blew me away.

Damon (20:53): I could imagine that must’ve been crazy.

Joseph (20:55): So they’re like, and that’s when Robin, my first cousin, so she’s like, do you see what I mean? And I’m like, yeah, I see that. But we have no idea. We have absolutely no idea. Like, is it my biological mom or is it a or a or my biological father, you know, that comes from this family.

Damon (21:15): Joseph met another cousin named Jill who visited him in Washington and she also said he looks like one of their people, but it just wasn’t clear whether the relation was maternal or paternal. It left Joseph with so many questions that he went back to Leslie’s husband Tom to commit himself to his search. Around that time, Leslie was meeting her biological mother and half siblings. She was having a mix of positive and challenging reunion experiences.

Joseph (21:45): I believe. Eventually she’s meeting her biological mom. I think there there were some really positive things that happened for her and then you know, there were some other things that were a little more difficult in that, in that reunion. And you know, so I’m, I’m watching and I’m listening, you know, and some a little nervous because it’s like, gosh, do I really want to go down this road?

Damon (22:08): Leslie filled with positivity, encouraged Joseph to press on while coordinating with Tom. Joseph learned about the Jed match platform, which allows users to upload their DNA files from other sites like 23 and me. Immediately Joseph starts getting emails from cousins who are also doing genealogy work, but he rarely responded. He was emotionally exhausted from being on the other end of those same messages going out from his account on 23 and me to other people. And he really wanted to keep his focus on his first and second cousins or closer matches. One day, Joseph got an email from a woman named Lauren from Knoxville, Tennessee who said she’d been using Jed match for a while and that she was really into genealogy.

Joseph (22:55): And the reason I’m emailing you is that you and I actually have a very strong relationship to each other and that’s the first time that’s ever happened. And I think that’s significant.

Damon (23:08): Wow. That must have been cool.

Joseph (23:10): That was received lots of emails from people because that database, you know, your information, you know, people can just contact you very quickly. Um, but that was significant to me. Obviously it was, it was a much more personal email and it was clearly, she’s like, you should, you know, she’s like, get online or go into the database and you look at this, look at this, look at this, and you’ll see what I’m saying.

Damon (23:36): Joseph followed Lauren’s instructions and he quickly saw she was right. They were a close match. He emailed her back to schedule a phone date to introduce themselves Lauren shared the history of her family and her speculation that Joseph was on her maternal side of the family, but that still didn’t clarify whether it was a maternal or paternal connection for him. They agreed to keep in touch and Joseph turned over what he had learned to Tom, Tom and Joseph augmented their own search with the new information and Joseph’s biological mother’s name. Susan. I paused him for a moment to ask how he already knew his birth mother’s name.

Joseph (24:18): The adoption was always considered kind of an unfortunate situation. So my biological mother was actually 25 when she had me, so she, you know, she was a little bit older and she also was a nurse and she, um, got pregnant and she had me and she kept me. But there were, her situation wasn’t very stable and that eventually, you know, the state took me away from her because there was issues of neglect and that was kind of what people, I think considered unfortunate that if she could have kept me, I think people were trying to help her stabilize, but it just didn’t work out. So I went into foster care.

Damon (25:09): During the adoption process, Joseph had a social worker and an attorney assigned to him. They transferred information about Joseph’s vaccinations and pediatrician visits to his adoptive parents. Those records contained his birth name, Jason, his birth mother’s name, Susan and an address in Seattle. Joseph’s adoptive parents being open about his adoption, said he could look at the papers anytime he wanted back in 2009 before Joseph ever got on 23 and me or jed match, he and his adopted mother went on a little search of their own

Joseph (25:44): with my mom. We went to that address one day. This was several years ago, but I went to go look at where I lived when I was first born.

Damon (25:56): And how was that for you to go to that address with your adoptive mom?

Joseph (26:02): I was, I was really, really nervous, you know, doing that really showed the kind of impact it had on me. You know, like I was starting to really feel and understand my adoption, so to speak. You know, like there’s parts of my life that are unknown and going down that road to understand, well, here, here’s the beginning of your history that, that really weighed on me. But my mom, she’s a trooper. She’s like, well, let’s get out of the car. You know, we looked at the house there, it was, um, it’s in a neighborhood of Seattle called Ballard. Ironically, I work really close to that house. Yeah, I drive. I’ve delivered mail to that house. I’m a mailman. Actually. Got to that house a couple times and delivered mail there,

Damon (26:49): walking up and down the block. Joseph’s adopted mother suggested they knock on some doors looking for a longtime resident who might have some info. Joseph picked the door where an older gentleman answered and a younger woman came to the door behind him. Joseph just kind of blurted out his story of adoption and search for his biological mother. Susan. Unfortunately the older neighbor had lost his memory to Alzheimer’s and his daughter who answered the door with him didn’t have any solid information. Joseph said Alzheimer’s and memory issues will play out later in his journey.

Joseph (27:23): You know, we said our thank you’s and when we’re walking back to the car I said mom I can’t do this anymore. I’m just like, I could just feel the drain on me cause I, it, it’s just really emotional.

Damon (27:39): Yeah it is

Joseph (27:39): Yeah I just have feelings that I’ve never, you know, like it’s, I just, I, I could tell like something was coming over me and I said, I think we should just go home because I can’t do this anymore.

Damon (27:49): So that was about 10 years ago. Well, before Joseph started his more recent searches back in the present, Tom took Joseph’s birth mother’s name and did the easiest thing he could think of. He looked for her on Facebook. Joseph had done so himself and didn’t find the woman, but when Tom searched, he found her and she had two Facebook accounts. Tom and Joseph are on the phone together, clicking through both of her accounts and they find that Susan has a son. The man is in family photos on both accounts. Joseph has a brother.

Joseph (28:23): We’re just doing this real time. It’s unfolding. And I’m just like blown away. I can’t believe it. And the gentleman that he believes is my brother has a YouTube page. So, um, he’s got some footage of he and his family, uh, up here on the islands, uh, whale watching.

Damon (28:49): Hmm.

Joseph (28:51): And you don’t see him, but you hear him talking and he’s, you know, cause the footage is of the whales, but the guy is talking and you hear his voice and Tom was saying, you’ve got to play this by then. My sister lastly is like, in the conversation, she’s like, you have to listen to this guy’s voice. He sounds exactly like you. There’s no question. So they send me the link and I play it and sure enough, I mean the voice that you’re hearing is the voice of my brother, my half brother and you know, Leslie is like, do you believe me? And I’m like, you know, I’m just like, I can’t believe it. Yeah. He sounds totally like me. I mean it’s just the same intonation and everything. It was very surreal.

Damon (29:37): What did you think when you heard that? Man,

Joseph (29:40): I was really, I was feeling a lot of things. I was very excited and equally really, really scared. You know, there’s this, this feeling of, you know, I’m getting closer and closer, I’m making these connections and it’s a real unknown. Right. You know, I just feel like I don’t know what to do with this, but I’m feeling really excited about it at the same time because it’s like my whole life, just fast forwarding to present day, you know, like I’m catching up to something that was from the past. I don’t know if that makes any sense, but you know, it’s just my whole life coming down to this moment. Uh, it was, it felt very surreal.

Damon (30:24): Tom suggested Joseph should message his brother through Facebook, but by the next day, Joseph was just too scared. He asked Tom to message his brother for him and act as their intermediary. Tom sent the message saying he was acting on behalf of his brother in law and adoptee gave their mother’s name and then asked this,

Joseph (30:44): did she ever tell you that you may have a brother, you know, that or that she actually had a child and then put it up for adoption. And so Troy responded saying, you know, I know the stories and he’s like, yeah, my mom did have a son and he said he can’t get into the whole story here. But I wasn’t sure if that was ever true or not, but that I had heard that I may have a half brother.

Damon (31:15): Joseph said, the way Troy phrased his response was foreshadowing his relationship with their mother and the uncertainties he had about what was true and what was untrue about her past. Tom facilitated a connection between Joseph and Troy. They start instant messaging on Facebook.

Joseph (31:32): He’s very funny and he’s like, dude, like there’s nothing that meets this in my life at this moment. Like I’m completely blown away. And I said, well, you know, we shouldn’t meet. Right. I mean that’s the next step here when he’s like, yep. So you would not believe that. Actually I hear this all the time in adoption stories, but the guy lived 10 minutes away from me.

Damon (31:55): Is that right? That’s crazy. Wow. I love when I hear it as stuff. I mean when it works out well,

Joseph (32:04): What’s funny is that we both moved to our homes in about the same time.

Damon (32:10): Oh, of course they lived right near one another, right when the brothers met. It was one of those moments you just can’t even anticipate because the connection was deep and immediate.

Joseph (32:21): So we, we met, um, kind of right in the middle and uh, totally blew me away. I’m going to get super emotional because it was, you know, we look alike and um, we chose the most public place to meet. Uh, and uh, and I think we both just started. We both started crying. He’s huge. He’s really tall. He’s much taller than I am.

Damon (32:51): Are you tall also?

Joseph (32:54): I like to think I’m five, six, but I didn’t really five ten.

Damon (33:00): Nobody ever says that. Usually people are like, I like to think I’m six one, but I’m five, 10. You went the other direction. That’s pretty funny.

Joseph (33:09): Um, you know. Anyway, whatever. Um, I meet Troy, we’re, you know, we’re standing at the table. We used to be sitting down at that, you know, you give each other a really big hug. I think we just looked at each other. I was crying. We noticed like we sound like each other. We were having a very surreal moment in a very, very public space.

Damon (33:35): Yeah. Weird, right?

Joseph (33:37): And we’re like, we need a beer. So we had to, we just had to order a pint of beer and kind of sit there for a moment. And uh, you know, we just started talking.

Damon (33:49): And how was it? Did you connect?

Joseph (33:51): Oh man. Immediately. Immediately. It was, you know, I, I just can’t really explain it. I loved him immediately and this then vice versa. Right. I mean, we just, I think we both felt like we were both missing some kind of connection in our lives.

Joseph (34:12): You know, as we, as we kind of dove into our lives, it became pretty apparent that we both had these similar experiences. What’s interesting is that, you know, when our mom had him, she kept him. It was not, it was a tough life. I mean, there were definitely some difficult moments. She had me, she put me up for adoption, but we share a very similar feeling, feeling a disconnection, like something just part of our life wasn’t really pieced together. We met each other out like, Oh, here is the piece of the puzzle. You know, we just just put it right there in the puzzle. It completed it. Ah, here we are.

Damon (34:53): That’s incredible piece of the puzzle. Just walked right into your life that’s in, that’s really unbelievable.

Joseph (34:59): Yeah, it was a really great moment. I mean, he’s like me, you know, he just said, what do you want to know and what do you really want to know?

Joseph (35:12): You know, he’s like, I can give you two, I can give you the lighter version, or if you really want to know some stuff, I can get into it. And I’m like, let’s get into it. There’s no reason why not to. I, you know, I, I want to know. He was saying, you know, there’s some things about our mom that may be difficult for you to hear. And I said, I, you know, I want to know who is and I’m willing to hear it. You know, I’m in this, I’m invested in it, so I’m willing to hear the story.

Damon (35:42): Their mother has had a rather difficult life. She’s been an addict who’s had a lot of high and many low moments. Her addiction made life tough for Troy because it created a difficult relationship between them. Her addiction got her fired from her job as a nurse and she nearly lost her life.

Joseph (36:01): She was high and she got into a really bad car accident and I think she almost died. Oh my gosh. She got into, a head on collision, had a traumatic head injury and she lost, she had unfortunately lost her leg. It was, as a matter of fact, I mean as we speak, I’ve been in touch with my brother and she is, she’s close to passing away. Oh man. I’m sorry. Um, because her health is very, very bad. And because of, you know, the loss of her leg, that, that’s created a lot of medical issues for her. It’s never been good for her since. And you know, he said, um, if you ever want to meet her, you know, you should be prepared to maybe not be able to get any story out of her because she has a hard time remembering things.

Damon (36:52): And what did you think? Did you think, did you still want it to do so or no?

Joseph (36:58): You know, my heart sank a little bit to be honest. I, because I realized I probably had a much, I guess, uh, I had a different picture in my mind or a different story in my mind and I, you know, I knew when I was getting into this that, you know, maybe I’m going to find some things out about her that will be difficult to hear. And if anybody knows me, I mean the people who really know me know that I am free of judgment. I really do not judge people. You know, I don’t think that’s a fair position to take on someone’s life. And I, you know, I am not going to fault her. I mean, I was adopted by, by great parents and I’ve had a good family life. I’ve had a good life, but I was, it was hard to hear that the things behind my adoption were because of her addiction possibly. I guess the first thing that came to my mind was like I was not her priority or if I was, you know, I just, I was too much for her to handle.

Damon (38:09): I asked Joseph about those thoughts. I felt like he was taking his mother’s challenges with addiction and kind of owning them himself. We talked about his birth mother being an addict and not necessarily being at a place in her life where she could be sober, let alone care for an infant. Joseph said he just wished there was a way she could have maintained her sobriety enough to stay in control of her life. Then he told the story of how everything went down. He said she was having a hard time in her life and that he was put into foster care.

Joseph (38:41): She was about to relinquish me and then she would stop the process and I guess take me back and that this happened maybe two times. You know, there was a little back and forth. I think you know that there was a really chaotic period in her life and that, that eventually the state took me away, that they declared her not competent to be my parent. I don’t know. And the funny thing is, as I was going through this, my mom, my adopted mom tells me the story which I had never heard before, which was the straw that broke the camel’s back was that she set me up. So she had me, she had custody of me and that she had set me up with a babysitter and um, was supposed to come back that night, but she didn’t really appear for a week.

Damon (39:38): It was then that the local department of social services began the core proceedings that removed Joseph from her care permanently. His adopted mom told him that story. Joseph wondered why he had never heard that pretty significant story before. She told him that as he was going through all of this in his reunion, that particular memory triggered for her that on his birth, mother Joseph told me he tries not to judge her for that time in her life.

Joseph (40:06): The thing that I remember about myself in the story is that is that I never felt mad or angry or had any resentment towards me being adopted or that my mother was negligent and what happened happened. I just, I don’t have those feelings. Whereas, you know, some of the friends that I’ve met, you know, have, there’s some they Harbor, which I get, I, everyone has their own feeling about it. It’s a little bit different. You know, there, I’ve had conversations about like, don’t you feel mad at her? Don’t you have any resentment or anything like that. And you know, I’m like, Oh, I, I kind of feel for her. I think it must’ve been a really difficult period in her life. So I don’t know if that really answers your question.

Damon (40:48): No, it, it, it does. It sounds like you’re still trying to figure it out. Honestly. That’s, that’s what I’m hearing, that it’s, it’s both. Why wasn’t I a priority enough for you to kick the habit such that you can keep your child versus it sounds like you also very much recognize the reality of addiction and how challenged she might be to do so. And how I would imagine, you know, she tried to keep you, she attempted to bring you back several times, which to me says you were a priority, but that the specter of addiction was just so strong that she wasn’t able to kick it and, and I’m sure that then fed further, which it sounds like your brother had till they’re four live with. So that’s really tough. After their meeting, the brothers were in touch every day and early into their reunification. Troy asked if Joseph wanted to meet their mother. Troy flew Joseph down to Colorado one month after the brothers met. I asked Joseph how it was,

Joseph (41:56): well, the whole experience because Troy was there, my brother, I mean that was everything for me. You know, I, I just can’t say enough like how much I love this guy like we’ve met and he is a really important person in my life immediately. So the experience of doing that ultimately had more to do with us then I think it did between me and my biological mom, meaning that I met her, I was very happy that she agreed to meet me and I met her and there was just not a connection

Damon (42:37): really.

Joseph (42:39): I met her, she was a lovely person and I, you know, I gave her a hug but like I didn’t break down and start crying. It wasn’t, it just wasn’t emotional because she is in my PR from my perception, she’s very detached.

Damon (42:58): Their mother’s most recent health issues had taken hold at the time of their meeting. She was at an assisted living facility in Colorado and Troy took time to handle some of the business associated with her stay while Joseph and his birth mother had time alone.

Joseph (43:13): We just sat down and, you know, we just sat there and we kind of looked at each other. There was a rather awkward moment, you know, I wasn’t really sure what to say, so like totalling our thumbs. So, uh, you know, how are you doing? You know, we, we exchanged, you know, niceties and, and, and then she just, I just remember she just looked up and she looked at me and she’s like, what do you, what do you want to know? Which was a rather funny question because when I got into it, she couldn’t tell me anything. But I said, you know, I had heard, I just went right to the story, the moment that she, I was taken away from her and I, I said, um, you know, I just want to know, did you know, did you leave me for a week when, you know, you’re supposed to be just going out for the evening?

Joseph (44:06): And that was the moment in which the state started the proceedings of, you know, taking me away from you. And, um, and she’s like, she, she said, no, that was not, that was not the reason. That was not what happened that she said, um, she was essentially coerced into giving me up for adoption. That, you know, they kind of laid out some explanation of why she wasn’t fit to be a mother. And I’m paraphrasing, but she, she said that she was basically duped. She didn’t realize when she was signing the final papers that she was actually relinquishing the state.

Damon (44:54): What did you think when you heard that?

Joseph (44:58): Well, I said what happened then and she just couldn’t tell me. She didn’t have any recollection of that period of time. So did you believe Troy, and this is what Troy had kind of prepped me for that he said, you know, when she was in the car accident she had a serious brain injury, the traumatic head injury. And so she has a hard time remembering things and it made things problematic I think for him because you know, she was having a hard time even taking care of herself. And I said, well, so if you, so all I know is that she seems aware of this story, but she’s like, that’s not how it went down. And I said, well did you go away for a week? And she’s like, I can’t remember. You know, you didn’t leave me alone with a babysitter for a week. She’s like, you know, I don’t remember. It was so long ago and I have a hard time remembering things.

Damon (46:01): It’s interesting that she would, it sounds like very clearly indicate that she was coerced, but then indicate that she doesn’t have a recollection of the rest of the circumstances surrounding that timeframe.

Joseph (46:16): So my take on that is I think, I think she might’ve just been high. I think she was on drugs. Yeah,

Damon (46:25): I wondered that.

Joseph (46:27): So I believe her like it was probably a blur in that sense and that’s a bitter pill to swallow, you know, it does confirm like, you know, I was not a priority in her life. She, I was competing with other things.

Damon (46:44): There were more cloudy, uncertain elements to his birth mother’s story that were hard to nail down because her memories were so sparse from that time in her life. Joseph did ask who his biological father was, but his birth mother was unsure. She said his father was also Troy’s father, but a DNA test revealed that isn’t true. It seems that point of her life was truly a blur. Joseph asked other questions about where they lived outside of Seattle or for any memories at all, but she couldn’t recall details from that time in their lives. Their conversation got really awkward and uncomfortable after that meeting. Joseph has never seen his birth mother again. The evening they flew out of Colorado. From that visit, the guys were doing some more investigation into their birth mother on and 23andme where they learned their mother had been married before Joseph was born.

Joseph (47:43): Her life is a real mystery. That is what we’ve concluded and we’ve have since discovered. I discovered there’s this whole story behind my mom and she, she actually has biological siblings that she’s never even known about, but I did tell my biological mom, I said, you know, I found out some things about your life. Do you want to know about it? She said, yes, and I said, you actually have an older sister and a younger brother, do you? Did you know that? And she absolutely never knew that. But what we found out was that they were all put up for adoption in Montgomery County in Ohio, and they all lived at the same orphanage.

Speaker 4 (48:28): Oh wow.

Joseph (48:29): And um, but she was adopted and moved to California and we haven’t found her brother or sister yet. However, that person that I talked about early on that I connected with, his name is Nielsen, I believe that is her younger brother. My biological mother’s younger brother,

Damon (48:53): Joseph said his cousin Lauren clued him into the extended family whom she has connected with on his maternal side. He has a lot more to discover about his birth, mother’s difficult story from them. The pieces are still coming together.

Joseph (49:08): It is fascinating. It’s putting pieces of my family lineage together, which I find really fascinating and I am probably more invested in learning my biological mom’s story than our connection. Like I found my biological mother. I’m glad she, uh, agreed to meet with me and that she provided me with the DNA test because I think that’s going to help me down the road. And, um, but beyond that, um, what came of that was that I found out that I have a half-brother and that’s been a really great thing for me. So I appreciate that about her.

Damon (49:52): All of this has sparked so much curiosity about the past for Joseph and now he’s digging into his story more than he is investing in connecting with his birth mother. On his paternal side, Joseph has met with a gang of his cousins that have learned of his existence. They met for dinner at a lodge in Snoqualmie pass, Washington in the cascade mountains, which used to be a favorite place for their family. The cousins were really nice people and a few of them even thought they could be siblings. Still they’ve narrowed down the possibilities to two men in the family that could be biological father, but there’s one relative. The family believes is the plug in the dam of information they’re interested in.

Joseph (50:34): You know, everyone seems to think that if this one cousin of ours who is hoarding all this genealogy would just give us information. We would discover who my biological father is. For some reason this one cousin of mine is very protective of the family information and that’s just become very clear that she’s not going to be of any help. And I recently sent out an email to everyone and said, I really want to know who my biological father is and you guys are the ones that can help me. And they said, well, we know we’re at the mercy of this person. And I said, we don’t, we don’t need her anymore. If everyone, you know, if we can start taking DNA tests, I really believe the DNA will just tell the story

Damon (51:19): and public records and all kinds of other things can start to trace back to where people have been, who knew who, who was married to, who, and all kinds of things that will help you to, to unfold this mysterious box. It’s really unbelievable. You know, it’s, it’s so hard you sometimes you want it to, to just unfold. I just want my answers and, and it just doesn’t always come apart as cleanly as you would like for her to, it’s really, really tall.

Joseph (51:51): You know, I’ve listened to other people’s stories and you know, there is, there seems to be just kind of this clear path, you know, that gets them to their biological parents and the story unfolds and they learn a lot, um, or they discover many things and um, I just have realized that that is not going to be my trajectory, you know, that I’m learning bits and pieces as I go. And you know, there’s just some things I may not ever know and you know, when I told myself, okay, you’re going to do this. If you’re going to search for your biological family, you just have to be prepared to maybe not know everything or you’re going to discover things about, um, your biological parent. That is hard to hear. And no, I feel that that’s kind of the path that I’m on and it’s, um, I’m okay with that. What it really has done for me to be perfectly honest, is that it’s actually brought me even more closer to my adopted family because they’ve been super supportive and I’m really grateful that I have the family that I have. I mean, they raised me. Um, my parents did a good job and it’s okay.

Damon (53:13): That’s really cool. I love hearing that. Joseph, I wish you had more answers. I wish people’s memories were better. I wish folks weren’t sitting on top of or hoarding answers that could be helpful to you, but I think you with time you’ll probably discover a lot more and I know you’re craving that right now, but just I would encourage you to have patience and hopefully something will unlock the damn soon. Okay. Absolutely. Yeah, take care of Joseph. Thanks so much for taking the time to share your story, dude. I appreciate it.

Joseph (53:44): I like your podcast. It’s a good thing.

Damon (53:46): Thank you man. I appreciate that. Thanks for being a partner. All right buddy. All the best later.

Joseph (53:51): Bye. Bye.

Damon (53:56): Hey, it’s me. It was interesting to hear in Joseph story that his search was ignited by his adopted sibling Leslie’s reunification. He approached reunion with caution and rightfully so, what he learned from his birth mother was confusing and may have left more questions than answers, but how incredible to hear that the brothers not only found each other but deeply connected. I guess sometimes we seek reunion with a person in mind and a hopeful narrative in our heads, but what we actually receive is very different and in Joseph’s case, a mutually missing piece from both men’s lives. I’m Damon Davis and I hope you’ll find something in Joseph’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? So that’s it. That was my last double-digit episode because next week we’re going to cross a milestone together. Who am I really will hit its 100th episode. I don’t know about you, but I’m excited for it. This has been a project of passion and an educational journey for me and a therapeutic resource for others. I’m truly thankful to be able to bring this show to you. I’ll see you next week for a special guest that I think you might already know.

Who Am I Really?

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