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108 – On The Outside Is Where I’ve Always Been

Pam, from Emeryville, CA, told me her desire to search started when she was a kid, but it was Oregon’s laws that changed everything for her search. When she met her birthmother she encountered a woman who couldn’t relay the details of her past, leaving Pam with only her paternal side of the story. He says that what is alleged against him is not true, but Pam is having a hard time forgiving the man. This is Pam’s journey.


Pam (00:04): So I thought that from the time I was 19, until I started meeting people in my mid thirties, that was part of my trying to identify what it meant to be alive. Even it’s like, Oh, and then I thought, gosh, my mom might not want me to come find her because maybe I’m a traumatic thing. She wants to forget.

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 Pamela. She called me from Emeryville, California. Pam told me her desire to search started when she was a kid, but it was Oregon’s laws that changed everything for her. When she met her birth mother, she encountered a woman who couldn’t relay the details of her past leaving Pam with only her paternal side of the story. He says that what was alleged against him is not true, but Pam is having a hard time forgiving the man. This is Pam’s journey. Pam grew up in a suburb of Portland, Oregon called Milwaukee and in Redmond, Washington and Pamela’s family. They didn’t ask about adoption when she was four or five. Her parents took time to convey that she was loved, chosen and special in her experience. She had everything a child could want and everything that came with what she called a privileged white, upper middle class upbringing and upbringing, devoid of emotion. I asked Pam what she meant by that.

Pam (02:06): I was discouraged from being an expressive child. They were very sort of stoic people. And so if I were to express some bright emotion, it would be tamped down somehow I would be told I was being hysterical or you know, these kinds of things. So it was just, I think we were really mismatched with each other. I’m a very warm emotive person and they were very cool unemotive. People.

Damon (02:37): It sounded like her passion and fervor for life were not at all meant by her parents’ personalities. She said, she always felt very odd and out of place. Pamela has one older brother non-biological to herself and her parents conceived one biological son as well. She’s sandwiched between her brothers and they’re all only about 16 months apart in age, she said in her toddler pictures, when you look at her adoptive mom, you can see she’s expecting their younger brother. I was curious about how the siblings got along, especially since she and her older brother share an adoption kinship. I wondered if it drew them closer.

Pam (03:15): Actually, not really. No. My brothers are very close with each other and I’m kind of the, the black sheep person in the family. My oldest brother was adopted at birth and I was adopted later. Um, I was five months old and kind of came to my parents as a, uh, a special case. This child has been hard to place. Can you please take her kind of a thing? And so they did, and I didn’t get returned, but I think as a traumatized infant, I think my mom just didn’t really know how to address my emotional needs. There was no training for parents about how traumatic it is to be separated from your, your birth mother in this sort of thing. I mean, I just know it just didn’t get discussed. And that the paradigm at that time was that, Oh, these children are a blank slate and they will never know any different.

Damon (04:18): Pam said she was a very rebellious teenager. She ran away from home. She even stole the family car and drove to Canada with her friends.

Pam (04:27): I was pretty awful to them. I think that, uh, I had issues that I didn’t have words for. So I acted out and it was hard for them or they just, they didn’t know how to address my needs.

Damon (04:43): I asked Pam what the catalyst was for her search. She said her parents sparked the flame that would burn within her when she was about eight years old.

Pam (04:52): When my parents explained to me about adoption and that I was adopted, they told me that I had parents who couldn’t take care of me because they already had five children. So I thought, what, there’s five siblings out there somewhere. And I thought, gosh, maybe, maybe some of those are sisters. Cause I had brothers didn’t have a sister. So that was super compelling for me as a child that I had sisters out there or maybe had sisters out there. So that was always super compelling for me. And I knew the minute I could find anything and I could look, I was going to do it.

Damon (05:35): She remembers being inquisitive about her adoption, but she sensed her mother’s unwillingness to discuss the topic further. So she didn’t broach the topic very often. Pam bided, her time listening to conversations between grownups waiting for them to divulge clues that she could hold on to. She said her mother had a baby book upstairs in her closet, but she didn’t make it available to Pam. She seemed to believe it truly belonged to her. And it was not to be shared with Pam, even though it was all about her,

Pam (06:07): But I would go in there and sneak it down sometimes and look for clues, trying to figure stuff out, looking at pictures. And I remember at one point finding a letter that looked like it might’ve been from a previous care giver. I don’t know who this person was, but I was obviously in their home. So I don’t know if it was a foster home or if it was one of the placements that didn’t work out. I’m not exactly sure. Um, but, um, I, I would just always be looking, looking for stuff

Damon (06:39): That letter from the caregiver or social worker or whatever, had some juicy stuff in it. And she was glad she found it. But Pam didn’t try to search until the internet began to blossom as an information resource. She didn’t know enough to search before then. So her efforts like signing up on adoption reunion, registries were purely shots in the dark at an unknown target. Pam decided to go into museum studies with the goal of being trained as a researcher, knowing that skill set would be really helpful in her search for answers about herself. But she said her search really began when the state of Oregon opened its adoption records in 1998, she went online, filled out the forms and sent in the application with her $25 fee. One summer afternoon in 2000 of very plain looking envelope from the state of Oregon showed up in the mail and she knew exactly what it was her unamended birth certificate.

Pam (07:39): And I thought, bingo, here we go. I’m going to have names now. Now I can really search. So I get this document. Oh my gosh. So I take it out and I look at it. I looked down at her name and her last name is Jones.

Damon (08:00): As Pam got older, her adoptive mother shared more details about her adoption that weren’t appropriate for her as a child. She divulged that her birth father was not her birth mother’s husband. So when Pam got her birth certificate, she was really surprised to see a man’s name on it and happy to see that his last name was far less common. So she keyed her search on him, on her laptop. She went to Yahoo people, search where you used to be able to get all kinds of background information on an individual that you have to pay for access to today. She didn’t find the man, but she found a woman with his unique, last name, Pam figured they had to be related. So she called the woman.

Pam (08:42): I said, I’m looking for this person. And she said, Oh, that’s my cousin. Here’s his number?

Damon (08:48): The next call was to the man whose name appeared on her own birth certificate.

Pam (08:53): And I said, I don’t, I don’t know if you know who I am, but you’re named on my birth certificate and I’m looking for my siblings. And he says, well, honey, I’m not your father. I was married to your mom and your siblings have been looking for you.

Damon (09:13): Whoa, what’d you think when you heard that?

Pam (09:17): I was so happy. I was really, it hadn’t occurred to me that I might be a secret, but I was really happy to know that they knew

Damon (09:29): The man put Pam in touch with her sisters. And they had lots of multiple hour telephone conversations. In July of 2000. Her sister, Margaret closest in age to Pam flew out West from Arkansas to stay with her.

Pam (09:43): Oh my gosh, we just, it sounds really silly, but we couldn’t keep our hands off each other. We were braiding each other’s hair and brushing each other’s hair and hugging and holding hands. And we were just so delighted to be together. And she delighted in my kids and her son was a charming boy. And we went on little excursions together and saw the sites. And it was really fun.

Damon (10:07): Margaret shared quite a bit about the family and the family members. Pam would meet in Arkansas. She described some family issues with drug physical and sexual abuse, sharing some horrific stories about her own childhood in the fall of 2000 Pam and her husband left their kids behind protecting them from potential harm to make the voyage to Arkansas, to suss out the situation for themselves. She and her husband flew into little rock. Then drove the hour South to star city.

Pam (10:39): My birth mother was still living at that time, but she’d had a series of strokes and she couldn’t speak. I couldn’t really have a conversation with her. Um, her husband was still able to care for her at that point. And um, we went and visited with her, um, spent an afternoon there and really, I just sat next to her and held her hand and my siblings and I kind of talk to each other while she could just sit and listen to us, you know? And she understood who I was. And she was so happy and delighted. She could say, I love you. Which was a lovely thing to hear. She could say she, she could say yes. And she could say, no, you could ask her yes or no questions, but sometimes she’d say no. When she meant yes. And vice versa, it wasn’t any way to have any kind of meaningful conversation or what happened or anything like that. So a lot of those questions I don’t have answers for, but it was good to meet her.

Damon (11:49): Do you look like her?

Pam (11:52): Yes. Just like her.

Damon (11:57): What was that like?

Pam (11:57): I couldn’t really see it when I met her. I couldn’t really see how I looked like any of them when I was there. And it didn’t really become clear to me that I look like them until I saw pictures of them from varying times in their lives. When we did resemble each other more, not ever growing up around people that you look like, you don’t really understand how people sort of morph. And sometimes they look like their mom is sometimes they look like their dad and you know, it, they, you change a lot as you age. And so it wasn’t obvious to me until I stopped pictures. So it wasn’t obvious to me when I saw her. And then after you’ve had a stroke, sometimes your, it changes your face because you can’t control your muscles. So it couldn’t really see myself. I saw pictures of her as a younger woman. I thought, Oh my God, I do. I was just like her. And now that I’m older, I definitely look like her.

Damon (12:53): So the guy on Pam’s birth certificate was not her biological father, but her sisters knew who the correct person was. And they gave her his identity. He was a man who lived in the sisters area. They always knew who he was. And he was always in their lives.

Pam (13:10): He was their father’s cousin. So the man on my birth certificate, my father is his cousin.

Damon (13:20): Oh, so she was with her husband’s cousin?

Pam (13:26): Yes.

Damon (13:29): Oh. Are the other five siblings? All the product of their marriage?

Pam (13:36): Yes.

Damon (13:38): So you were an outside child.

Pam (13:41): Exactly.

Damon (13:43): Pam’s birth mother’s husband’s name is Lou. Lou worked for the phone company back in the day. And he frequently traveled to the West coast for cable linemen work. Her siblings had a migratory life where they go out West with their dad then returned to Arkansas. That was life.

Pam (14:01): One of their reasons for coming out West was that my mother was expecting me and they were hiding it from everyone. And so they left town and came out here, left me here and went back.

Damon (14:17): Wow. Crazy. How did it make you feel when you found out that you were this outside child?

Pam (14:27): I feel like being on the outside is kind of where I’ve always, always been in my adoptive family in, in that sense too. So really my focus as an adult was to create my own family. Right. And so, you know, I have a beautiful family and that’s where I center myself. And so I have these families that I’m related to and I love them, but I really feel like I sort of float around them and I’m not uncomfortable there because that’s where I’ve always been.

Damon (15:09): Pam spoke with her birth. Mother’s husband’s cousin, her birth father on the phone a few times. She asked him to recount for her, what happened.

Pam (15:19): He told me that they were partying. This is 1965, that they were partying trading around with each other. And, and that she was unhappy in her marriage and she wanted to run away with him. But, um, he didn’t ever really stay with any wife or lady for very long. And so he has a lot of kids and a lot of ex’s.

Damon (15:50): Oh, so you are one of many in your paternal family.

Pam (15:54): Yes. I have seven siblings, so I have seven paternal, half siblings and five maternal, half siblings. I’m one of 13 kids and several of them are cousins with each other. My dad and their dad are cousins.

Damon (16:15): The family dynamics can be complicated. There are siblings who feel a certain way because they were born first. Some feel legitimacy over others or whatever the thing is that makes some feel superior or inferior to others. She said, she spoke with her birth father a few times by phone. Then she, and one of her brothers went to meet the man in pine bluff, Arkansas.

Pam (16:37): We had a very interesting meal together and I queried him a little more closely about what had happened. And my siblings were told that he raped her. And so they had a lot of animosity against him that he doesn’t tell it that way. And I’m not sure what to think. So, um, I’ve always kind of kept him at arms length because I don’t really know the story.

Damon (17:10): Yeah. You it’s impossible to know what to believe it is. And you’ve got it. You’ve got the outs, the fact that he had an out, she had an outside relationship with him. I mean, wow. And you’ve got two very conflicting stories. You’ve got one version that says she was in love with him and sort of ready to leave her husband and in the complete opposite that he raped her. I mean, that’s crazy. I can’t even imagine how you reconcile something like that. That’s unreal.

Pam (17:38): It’s weird. She told the social workers at the hospital that he raped her. And so I think this was subterfuge. I think it was a to sort of like make, um, sort of make it morally okay. What she was doing, I guess. Does that make sense? Or maybe just sort of make it work. It must’ve been so hard for her. And she told this story also to her sisters, my aunties and my advice to anyone, if you’re going into a family and you’re not sure you’re getting the straight scoop. Go talk to the aunties as they will tell you.

Damon (18:19): Yeah. So what are the aunties tell you? Yeah,

Pam (18:22): So the aunties told me the, the rape story and I thought, okay, that’s interesting. And um, one of my sisters, my oldest sister out of the, I don’t remember how this came up, but she says, I really think mom had feelings for Kenneth. That’s my bio dad. So people have said these different things to me. And it just, I really think she was using that story to hide shame and that she really did want to run away with him, but he didn’t want to,

Damon (19:00): As you start to piece everything together, one could see how a woman in her mother’s crazy situation might have needed to say something impactful to try to get out of it. I asked Pam what it was like meeting her birth father.

Pam (19:15): I was kind of wary. He certainly is a very warm, outgoing, very good looking man. And, um, I can see how he was charming the ladies he can’t read or write. And so I can’t write him letters. I can’t send them emails. We could talk on the phone and we have occasionally, but we don’t really have anything in common or a lot to say. So we just sort of fill each other in on newsy things. And that’s about it. And I haven’t talked to him in many, many years.

Damon (19:54): And why is that?

Pam (19:54): He really wants me to absolve him. And I’m just not, I don’t feel like that’s my job.

Damon (20:02): Pam is in touch with her sister, Tammy, the closest in age to herself on her paternal side. She said, Tammy really wants Pam to grant forgiveness to their father.

Pam (20:12): She really pushes the forgive him kind of talk. And she wants to talk to me a lot about what a great dad he was and how he is her rock and all this kind of stuff. But all that is so hard for me to hear, especially knowing how he treated a lot of his other kids that he didn’t take care of as well as her, remember her seven of them. And we’re spread all over town. And I have stories from some of them that are so sad. He was not there for them. He was drinking and violent and cheated on their mom, you know?

Damon (20:47): So you get further conflicting stories that he was a good dad in one space and not the best dad and others. Yeah. So that’s gotta be really hard to reconcile. You’ve got all of this, this one guy in the middle who, it sounds like you kind of want to like, or want to connect with, but you’re having a hard time getting past all of the, this tornado of stories that, that circles around him. Right,

Pam (21:14): Right. That’s a really good description. So, um, I just try to keep the door open and, um, I, I do plan to go back and the next time I go, we’ll be more focused on spending time with him. And it’s 20 years since all of you know, I’ve learned all these things and I’m an older, wiser person now. And hopefully so is he, and maybe he’ll be more forthcoming the next time we sit down and talk, that’s my hope.

Damon (21:52): thinking about Pam’s adopted family. She reminded me that she was forthright with them about her desire to search when she could, they were supportive of her search. And when her maternal sister Margaret flew up to meet them in the West, Pam’s adoptive family made sure to meet her at Pam’s house. But Pam said, one person wasn’t very supportive.

Pam (22:13): My oldest brother was not delighted with me that I wanted to search. And he really felt like it would hurt their feelings and that what I was doing was hurtful and that I shouldn’t do it. I don’t think he ever looked. I think he might’ve requested non-identifying information for health reasons, but I think that was it. I don’t, I still don’t think he knows. And he, and I don’t talk about it. So I don’t have any idea.

Damon (22:44): So your parents came and met your sister and were they, you said they were receptive to her, but in general, I mean, you you’ve, you’ve had some other squirrel around the parents that you share the stories of the parents. And how were your parent, your adoptive parents with the greater detail about your biological? Yeah,

Pam (23:06): I think that it, um, when my mom heard details, she would kind of nod go, Oh yeah, I remember that. Or so it seemed to jog her memory. These weren’t things that she shared, but maybe she just couldn’t grab onto them, you know, under she’d forgotten them or whatever. I do remember learning about the rape piece that my mom weaponized at the Thanksgiving dinner table. Um, it was, it was, it was very horrible. I was sitting at the dining room table and there was a knock at the door and I had come, I was living in a different community and had come home for Thanksgiving. And I had mentioned offhand to one of my friends that I grew up with that I would be around on Thanksgiving. So she stopped by cause she saw my car and she came up and knocked on the door.

Pam (24:03): She visited me at my parents’ house when we were kids, many times. My mom welcomed her in Saturday, down at the table. She had dessert with us and this friend and I resembled each other. And so my mom looks at her and she says, I wonder if you guys are sisters. And then she asks my friend questions about her dad. And then she goes, Oh, well, no, that probably wouldn’t be right because Pam’s mother claims she was raped. The floor fell out from under me. I was so shocked and upset that, that got that. That was a thing. First of all, that it got said in front of everybody, dining room table was mortifying. And just, I just, I was flabbergasted. And then when my friend left, I find out that my mom was upset that I had invited her to our house for Thanksgiving without asking her permission. So she, it was, it was a passive aggressive way to be cruel to me at the table. Cause she was pissed. So that’s how I found out. So I thought that from the time I was 19, until I started meeting people in my mid thirties, that was part of my trying to identify what it meant to be alive. Even it’s like, Oh really? And then I thought, gosh, my mom might not want me to come find her because maybe I’m a traumatic thing she wants to forget.

Damon (25:31): But it’s interesting because you, you went ahead anyway though. How did you, how did you get past that? Because it sounds like you knew that part first.

Pam (25:39): I did. I wanted to find my siblings. That was the driving thing. I knew there were people out there that no matter what the circumstances were, didn’t have anything to do with those circumstances. And they were my, my siblings,

Damon (25:56): Pam went into this journey wanting to find her siblings, but she ended up discovering so much more. I asked her how she was doing. She raved about her life with her wonderful family, children and grandchildren and her service to God. But she says, her story is still revealing itself today.

Pam (26:15): I’m well, I’m older and wiser. That helps a lot. I can’t say enough about talking to a therapist. One that is versed in adoption. Trauma is helpful, but just talking to somebody about your experiences and having somebody to hear your truth is, is powerful. And it’s really healing. I also forged a nice family for myself. I’ve lovely husband. I’ve loved the children. I have grandchildren. I work in ministry, you know, working for God is very grounding and it’s still kind of an onion that’s unpeeling. Um, I found a sibling just two years ago, a paternal sibling that I hadn’t known about previously. So this is still unfolding. And um, as I come to terms with all of this and um, I’m looking forward to that conversation with my biological father, um, I just feel like it’s going to be more and more sort of settled in my heart and mind as time goes by.

Damon (27:32): Well, that’s good. I’m glad to hear that you found some help in appropriate therapy cause not everybody can find somebody who’s well versed or even sensitive to, you know, adoptions. Yeah, I think he probably did. Um, and I, but I think also you probably, it sounds like God grounded at first with the acceptance of your sister and the fact that you were able to link up with someone from the jump that accepted you and wanted to be near you, that probably helped you have a solid foundation and some background knowledge. It sounds like about everything else that you were going to experience. So that’s really good.

Pam (28:15): My sister, my, my maternal sisters are amazing and always opened their home to me. And, um, we’re really a wonderful base from which to go meet all these other people or they would just invite all the people to their house. So I didn’t have to go anywhere. I would just be in this room full of laughter and people I’m related to. It was amazing. And uh, when I went back in 2005, when our mom passed away, um, my sister called me in enough time for me to get there, to be able to say goodbye to her. And that was so important to me to be able to tell her that it was okay to go, wow,

Damon (29:04): That’s really sweet and thoughtful of them to make sure you got included.

Pam (29:07): And they included me in all the funeral preparations, I went with them to buy her the dress, the outfit they were going to bury her in. Um, amazing. They were so kind and sweet to me.

Damon (29:20): That’s awesome. I’m glad to hear that. Well, Pamela, thank you so much for sharing your story. I appreciate you taking time. This is, it’s always fascinating to hear how a person makes the link back to their family. And it sounds like of all things, your desire to find your siblings was key in your heart and it ended up being the thing grounded you foundationally for all of the other news you were going to hear. So that worked out really well. I’m happy for you.

Pam (29:47): Thank you. And that is so true.

Damon (29:49): That’s cool.

Pam (29:51): Other thing I want to say is that podcasts like this and Haley Radke’s wonderful podcast are so important for adoptees to be able to witness each other and support each other. And what you do is been so important to my healing personally.

Damon (30:18): Oh my God. Huge smile. That’s so cool. I appreciate it very much. And you’re right. It’s almost.

Pam (30:23): like you deserve it. You’re welcome

Damon (30:25):Thank you. That’s really kind of you, it’s almost like, um, it’s almost like having some of that appropriate therapy that you need. Right? You get to hear the stories of others and you get to hear them say very clearly how they coped or how they didn’t. And uh, and you’re able to find a piece of yourself in someone else’s journey. And uh, and that’s exactly what I like to do this. Yeah. Very good.

Pam (30:49): Thanks so much.

Damon (30:49): No, thank you, Pamela. I appreciate it. Take care all the best. Okay.

Pam (30:53): Thanks. Thank you. Take care. Bye.

Damon (31:00): Hey, it’s me. Pamela’s desire to search for her siblings was something she grew up with, but in reuniting with her mother, it must have been hard not to have a real conversation with her, still seeing her face to face and getting to say goodbye before she passed our priceless experiences. We all hope for at the very least in reunion, Pam said that her siblings on either side are cousins to one another. I found that so fascinating. I could understand her hesitation to fully forgive her birth father and the absence of all the facts and in the face of how many children, the man conceived. Pam said, her story is confusing and complicated, but she’s forged some strong relationships and has a wonderful family of her own that she cherishes. I’m Damon Davis. And I hope you’ll find something in Pamela’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, you can find the show online @ and, or follow me on Twitter at waireally you can subscribe to who am I really on? Apple podcasts, Google podcasts, or wherever you subscribe to podcasts. If the show means something special for you, I’d really appreciate your support. You can find me at or Venmo at Damon L Davis. And as always, I hope you’ll leave a rating for who am I really wherever get your podcasts so that others can find the podcast too.

Damon (32:57): Oh, and one more thing. I just wanted to let you know that my own adoption memoir, who am I really is now available on I hope you’ll add my story to your reading list.

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