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234 – The Lost Coin

Steven, from Bainbridge Island, Washington—across the Puget Sound from Seattle—shared his that when he was a kid, it only took one incident to solidify his resolve never to ask his adoptive mother about his adoption.

In a maternal reunion, Stephen was confronted with the reality that, while his birth mother was not mentally capable of taking care of herself, she never forgot about her son.

On his maternal side, it was DNA testing that finally gave Steven the breakthrough he needed after decades of inquiry.

This is Steven’s journey.

Who Am I Really?

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Transcript

235 - The Lost Coin

[00:00:00]

Cold Cut Intro

[00:00:00] Stephen: I asked her if she ever Thought of me on my birthday. And of course, the answer she gave me then also brought me to tears. It almost is right now. She said, of course I do. You have a great mom and dad, but you know, you're, you're my son too.

[00:00:12] Stephen: I never forget that.

[00:00:14] Stephen: So then she told the story about my half sister that they always, almost as they had saved a place for me at their, at the kitchen table always wondering almost prophetically, he'll show up one of these days.

[00:00:51] Damon: I'm Damon Davis. And you're about to meet Steven who chatted with me from Bainbridge island, Washington across the Puget sound from Seattle. When [00:01:00] Stephen was a kid, he only needed one incident to steal his resolve, to never ask his adoptive mother about his adoption. In maternal reunion, Stephen was confronted with the reality That while his birth mother was not mentally capable to take care of herself.

[00:01:15] Damon: She never forgot about her son.

[00:01:17] Damon: On his maternal side, it was DNA that finally gave Steven the breakthrough he needed after decades of inquiry. This is Steven's journey.

[00:01:27] Damon: Steven

[00:01:27] Damon: was adopted at six months old and grew up in Burlington, Iowa. He said he always knew he was adopted. So it was never an issue for him until he was a teenager. Stephen's father was a physician well-known in the community. And upon reflection, Steven realized he had a bit of a privileged life. Their community was pretty homogenous.

[00:01:48] Damon: They are in Iowa, a predominantly white area. Stephen was the oldest in his family where his parents went on to conceive three other children after his adoption. I wondered how Stephen got along with his [00:02:00] adoptive parents when he was a kid and whether he noticed any differences between himself and them.

[00:02:05] 235 Stephen_Rowley-Damon_Davis: not until probably until I was late elementary years and I began to notice through high school. They were all into hunting and fishing and I was , big time into sports, but also had a budding young sort of intellectual side to me. I'd like have thrown into literature and philosophy and theology at the time.

[00:02:25] 235 Stephen_Rowley-Damon_Davis: So I was really different that way. And I think somewhere probably in high school I began to realize, oh, I'm really different than they're,

[00:02:31] 235 Stephen_Rowley-Damon_Davis: Did you look like them? Were you all brunettes, all blondes, same, like same looks or did you?

[00:02:38] 235 Stephen_Rowley-Damon_Davis: no, I all alike. Although, I often got told that I look so much like my dad, which always struck both as a little funny. Now, my wife and I have a son who's adopted. We got him at age four and he is third, almost 35. And people tell us that we look a lot alike too. So I don't know, maybe it just goes with the territory.

[00:02:56] 235 Stephen_Rowley-Damon_Davis: No, we were, but it didn't seem to matter that much. I mean, no one was really, [00:03:00] I think friends of my parents knew I was adopted. I knew I was, but I wasn't spreading it around. It didn't really seem to matter except that, I excelled. athletically and my mom and dad were certainly not that type and nor did my intellectual taste have anything in common to them.

[00:03:17] 235 Stephen_Rowley-Damon_Davis: So at that point, we really began to diverge.

[00:03:20] Damon: Gotcha. Really fascinating. It's funny. I've often heard other adoptees say that people out in the community will say, Oh my gosh, you look just like one of your parents. And you and , the adoptive parent kind of know it's not inherently true. But I think that what people see is, your connection to each other, right?

[00:03:41] Damon: My dad and I were very gregarious, outgoing, smiley guys. And I suspect that was probably a connection that they saw, even though it wasn't an actual physical likeness, if you catch my drift, you

[00:03:53] 235 Stephen_Rowley-Damon_Davis: Yeah, and I suppose, sort of a bad pun, but I mean, when you're a white kid with white parents, you can, you can kind of [00:04:00] pass, but if you are a black kid, Adoptee with white parents, it's not going to, people are going to think something's up. Or to have, have an Asian, there's a couple here, they're both in their 50s, who are Korean twins who were adopted, well adopted, they were given away, they were sold basically, into evangelical parents here in the Santa Clara, white.

[00:04:18] 235 Stephen_Rowley-Damon_Davis: So it's a big issue. how well or poorly adoptees are paired with prospective parents. I mean, for some places, just whoever wants to pay is going to get what they want, but with no thought of culture or race or whatever. But others in my case, as I understood much later, not too long ago, that the adoption agency did a very thorough screening of the parents and tried to To match what they could tell it by testing at some age, six months what they could tell.

[00:04:45] 235 Stephen_Rowley-Damon_Davis: I'm not really sure to try to make sure that you were you had somewhat of a similar pairing. And so I think they did a good job. I got a couple of my buddies from high school where we were adopted from the same place, but could not imagine being with their parents, [00:05:00] nor can I imagine them being my parents.

[00:05:01] 235 Stephen_Rowley-Damon_Davis: So it was really lucky in that way to have a really yeah. sophisticated adoption agency who , help make the match. Wasn't, wasn't just like the parents would walk in and go, well, that one's cute. We'll take him or her and off they go. It was, it was a more extensive than that.

[00:05:16] Damon: That's really interesting to hear. And I've not really heard other adoptees say that they learned that there were more stringent criterion placed on the process. That's really fascinating. You're, you're probably one of the first people I've heard to say that.

[00:05:31] Stephen: Well,

[00:05:31] Stephen: one of the directors, there's in my book, I mentioned two directors. One was the original one who I didn't think very highly of because he was so paternalistic, but I found out from the second director, Who is still alive and I've become friends. We, he's not that much older than I am, told me what the guy was doing, even though he didn't want to give me any information and patted me on the head and said, you don't need to know anymore.

[00:05:52] Stephen: Just go and have a happy life. Then I later understood that, yeah, the guy was doing, he and his team were doing a lot more than I ever had a clue about without him, the [00:06:00] second director, who also turned out to be the mayor of Ottumwa, Iowa. I wouldn't have known that, and he's actually, Tom Lazio is one of the heroes in my book.

[00:06:07] Stephen: He's the one, even after I found my birth mother actually gave me this, my sealed record after she had died. I got access to those and he printed them all off and gave them to me. So I was really lucky in, in a lot of different ways.

[00:06:20] Damon: Stephen said things were going along just fine as a teenage boy. To set the timing of that era in his life. On his 15th birthday, February 9th, 1965, the Beatles made their first appearance on the ed Sullivan show. But before that momentous moment in America, Steven had a major moment in his family. At the age of 13, Steven decided to ask his adoptive mother about his birth mother.

[00:06:46] Stephen: it was my first, ,

[00:06:47] Stephen: first and only expression of curiosity about my adoption to my mother.

[00:06:51] Stephen: And there was no reason for her to flip out, but she did. And he said, what's, don't you think we're, we love you enough. Why do you [00:07:00] want to know anything? Aren't you happy? And so I got in a rage and ran up to my room, slammed the door and vowed, vowed that I'd never, ever talk to her again about my adoption.

[00:07:10] Stephen: I never did. I mean, to my embarrassment, I never did she knew that I found my birth mother. I never told her and she never told me that she knew, but I knew she knew.

[00:07:19] Damon: Talk a little bit about this moment of, You expressing curiosity to your adoptive mother about your birth mother and she lost it. , what did you ask her? And why,

[00:07:33] Stephen: Well, I just said I wanted to know more. I didn't get. I didn't know enough to actually be more specific. I was still pretty young. I just indicated. I forget exactly what I said. she just didn't take kindly to the question, but it was, but that was , the pivotal moment for me where I vowed I was, then I knew I was on a search.

[00:07:50] Stephen: So I realized I'm gonna have to be in college and have my own mailbox. Before I can actually do some writing. So it wasn't until the early seventies, when I was finishing college up, [00:08:00] I began that extensive letter writing requests for records kind of process that went on a really long time, long time.

But stay with , your younger days for a minute because that was a traumatic moment for you. You've expressed some curiosity about something about yourself and it was not received well. As a matter of fact, it was. Shot down in an aggressive way, but the thought doesn't go away. As a matter of fact, it probably gets more intense because someone has thrown fuel on what was smoldering for you, and now it turns into big flames, right?

[00:08:38] Damon: I really wanted it. You don't want me to know. Now I really want to know. to, your college years. Tell me about your thoughts that you had in between then. Because the fire had been sort of, fueled.

[00:08:52] Stephen: In all honesty, I can't, I don't think consciously I was lugging much of that stuff around. I'm a psychotherapist, and [00:09:00] so I have other kind of insight through that. What may have been going on with me unconsciously, I don't really know, but as I look at parts of my life, and I think there's this disconnection, The primal wound of separation of mother and child is a form of trauma, and it stays with us, not every adoptee, but many of us.

[00:09:18] Stephen: So, it creates a sense of longing, of yearning, of wanting connection. I did a speech with a friend at the Kansas City Library, where I was born, a couple months ago, and I mentioned to them, the group that, we, the adoption community, had a theme song, it would be Bob Dylan's Like a Rolling Stone. "How does it feel to be on your own, no direction home, a complete, no, like a rolling stone?"

[00:09:41] Stephen: The room resonated with that. They're like, yeah, you're right. I mean, so that kind of, you see patterns because of the trauma of difficulty maintaining relationships, moving a lot never feeling quite stable to make lasting connections and always sort of like on the move, always trying to, on the look for something.

[00:09:58] Stephen: Now that's, now I'm looking [00:10:00] back and realize that was my behavior. I don't think it was cognitively there, but I,, I didn't get married until I was, uh, 40. but you know what I mean? So now was that all just because of of the adoption. I can't really claim that it is. And I can't also want to make clear for me and others that just because we have this sort of primal wound doesn't for most of us, hopefully, that certainly was my case, doesn't turn us into victims.

[00:10:25] Stephen: It doesn't or we certainly would be a tragedy. You could be caught in that. And some people do because if they are unable to resolve finding a birth parent or not finding a birth parent, and it leaves things hanging in the air, or it's not the person who thought it would be you can begin to kind of ratchet yourself into that victim mentality.

[00:10:43] Stephen: And that, of course, is a huge mistake and maybe unavoidable for some. But of course, through therapy and other means, there's ways to move beyond that. But I didn't have That particular problem. But but it haunted me until, not until my late thirties when I picked up the hunt again

[00:10:58] Damon: Up until college [00:11:00] Steven was too busy with sports girls and school to focus any energy on adoption reunion, search. In college, Steven initiated his search With the limited strategies he had back then. It was the late 1960s. A time of turmoil in our nation due to geopolitical conflicts that fueled domestic political disputes. Stephen was at the university of Wisconsin, a radical campus compared to most.

[00:11:25] Stephen: And so it was a really disruptive period. I mean, I've got through in seven semesters. And I think three of those seven campus was closed because of riots, strikes, tanks on campus, bayoneted we all got gassed from CS gas and tear gas. So there was a disruptive time. So in the middle of that, somehow, I think maybe there's, there's a connection between all the other, the question of, I think, kind of like, who am I? I mean, I was with, on the line with lots of the protests and stuff, but I wasn't a, I wasn't a, hardcore SDS member, so, but it was around that rambunctious [00:12:00] time, I think, that's when I began,

[00:12:02] Damon: Stephen was born in Missouri at the willows maternity Sanitarium. He wrote to Jackson county to get information, but back then, Steven didn't know enough to ask for his original birth certificate or OBC. He simply asked for his records. Stephen's first clue to his birth mother's identity was the receipt of some information that had the woman's name, her hometown in Iowa, and his birth father's name. Unfortunately, his birth father's name had been misspelled, which since Steven on a misguided search for the man for years, Coming back to his birth mother. Steven traveled to her hometown in the middle of the hot summer. After realizing the high school was closed for the summer.

[00:12:44] Damon: And there was no chance of accessing their records. Steven turned to the local library.

[00:12:50] Damon: Standing before the small town librarian in his Hawaiian shirt flip-flops and long hair. He asked for a high school yearbook from [00:13:00] 1944.

[00:13:00] Stephen: And

[00:13:00] Stephen: the woman, of course, looked at me like I had three eyes. Like, why do you want that? But she gave it to me. And then, after looking, doing through the index, I found her picture.

[00:13:08] Stephen: What I think might've been her junior year picture. When I saw that picture, it's like, I'm looking at me. It's like I, if I had been a girl, I don't look like her.

[00:13:16] Damon: Really?

[00:13:18] Stephen: So then I had her name, I had her hometown, I knew what she looked like. So I stole phone book, brought it back with me.

[00:13:24] Stephen: I was living in the Bay Area at the time, and I wrote everyone in the county that had the same last name being pretty oblique and just sort of saying, I'm looking for her name does any of you know her current location? Got no response for several weeks, nothing, nothing.

I must have sent out 30 of these. One day I got this small little, like a, size of a thank you card, little piece of paper in it, didn't say who it was from, said, hope this might help, had a name, it was a new married name, it was her original first name, last name, and then a new married name, and an address, and that's all I needed.

[00:13:58] Stephen: And so I, [00:14:00] within a short amount of time, I wrote her a letter, I kept, thank God, I kept a copy of that letter. I recopied it for myself, but the difficulty was that I got a phone call back really quite soon it was on my phone, phone machine, announced herself as, as her name, but saying, my mother is, I think your, your mother as well,

[00:14:20] Stephen: Whoa

[00:14:21] Stephen: But we're not sure.

[00:14:23] Stephen: She can have this letter. And then I wanted to explain, we have to have the approval of her psychiatrist. She's been in a halfway house for some time. And then later on the phone, I found out the whole story. She'd been wandering the streets, the variable bag lady with a shopping cart and

[00:14:39] 235 Stephen_Rowley-Damon_Davis: uh,

[00:14:39] Stephen: adult over the years, she had early signs of organic brain dysfunction, Alzheimer's.

[00:14:44] Stephen: eventually it was like, well, we don't know if you can come. She's able to see you. That's it. With all due respect, I'm coming. If I can't meet her, I accept that. But I gotta see her from across the streets at least. So we did. And then I got my, I flew out and that didn't take very [00:15:00] much time.

[00:15:00] Stephen: And then So I flew to San Francisco, from San Francisco to this town back east. And then the middle part of the book is called the mother and child reunion, which is the whole characterization of what the book is.

[00:15:09] Stephen: those extended moments were like with her, which to me was like one of the two or three most important moments of my life that would, I could not have predicted and could not have wanted for more. And among the surprises was of course, to discover how much she had been hoping I'd show up, but she wanted to find me as much as I wanted to find her,

[00:15:26] Stephen: Really? Wow. Tell me a little bit about this moment of revelation that your, it sounds like maternal half sister says, basically our mother has been homeless or a bag lady or roaming the street, whatever. What did, what did it evoke in you when you learned that your mother had been in this state?

[00:15:48] Stephen: I think I would have mentally been saying, okay, I'm Okay. I mean, kidded by friends, one friend earlier, much earlier, who said, by the way, if you ever get successful finding your birth mother, it's not going to be Elizabeth Taylor on the other [00:16:00] end. It's like that came true, but I, but I was so determined to meet her.

[00:16:04] Stephen: I was so determined. I didn't, it was like, okay, so I'm still coming. I, whether she's living in the mansion or she's walking the streets at the time, which I knew when I got there, she was in a, State sponsored housing. She had a roommate who was also part of a state program who was schizophrenic or had schizophrenia.

[00:16:23] Stephen: And I didn't meet her the first time I was there. But anyway, I knew it was pretty Spartan and it was, it was a pretty dreary part of town. But, um, so, but I, but I was surprised, frankly, when I did meet her it wasn't as bad as I thought it could have been. And so now it was still plenty of surprises in our meeting, but was quickly reassured that despite her many problems, she was as sharp as a tack. She was right out of the heart. Our, our, our moments together after we warmed up with one another were as direct and as impossibly unlikely and as deeply learned, yearned for by the [00:17:00] both of us. So it was quite, quite an experience. But the predicate

[00:17:05] Stephen: a moment,

[00:17:05] Damon: if

[00:17:05] Damon: you don't mind. I want to go back because there's a long process to get to this meeting. You're flying across the country. That's a lot of thinking time. You're going to probably meet, I assume, your half sister so that she can take you to this place. So guide me through this process of actually contemplating this meeting on this cross country flight, and then meeting the sister that I make the assumption didn't know that you existed, but end up.

[00:17:35] Stephen: but

[00:17:35] Stephen: By the time I got there, she did, and there was another house since we lived up. Not too far from the area that my birth mother was living, but I didn't meet her till the second day. So I would just say I was a bundle of nerves. I was probably, pitted out and just kind of going, what's going to happen?

[00:17:49] Stephen: And so we met my half sister and I met at my hotel for an hour or two. And we were like, she goes, God, you don't look anything like me, but you look more like her than we, than my other sister and I [00:18:00] do. So we, we nervously chatted around and then she drove me out to this pretty dismal apartment complex.

[00:18:06] Stephen: And so she knocked on the door and it opened just a crack. So Patty goes, Mom, we're here. Steve's here. He's all here, all the way from California.

[00:18:14] Stephen: And I'm newly admitted from Stanford, okay? I got my, I hadn't been out of, I got my PhD from Stanford. I looked like West Coast. I was like, just casually dressed up, okay? So, hair, hair, perfectly done and so forth. And kind of the Tom Selleck look at the time. Anyway, so she opens the door crack, and she, I could just see her barely, and she just put her head up to the crack, and she says, Who the hell gave you the right?

[00:18:39] Stephen: I didn't tell, I didn't give you my address. What makes you think you can show up at my, at my doorstep? So it was a little bit of a, I'm thinking in time, like breathe, breathe. I had a box, a long white box with long stem white roses I brought for her. And my sister, her, said, mom, are you kidding, open the door, he's here all the way, stop what you're [00:19:00] doing.

[00:19:00] Stephen: So, as she opened the door a little bit more, I handed her the flowers and said, Well, first of all, I said, Let's just say I didn't just sort of show up. I've been looking for you for a while. I just left it at that. And I said, Here, these are for you.

[00:19:13] Stephen: And she took the flowers a little gruffly. And I kind of humped and said, no one's ever given me flowers before. Well, that was just like a, that was just a dagger to the heart. Like my God, you've never had flowers. So we came into the kitchen. It was very barren, very Spartan. It was clean, but very worn down, all old for Micah and, tile and plastic chairs.

[00:19:38] Stephen: And so we sat across from each other, the three of us and I making a little small talk. I said She said, Oh, you'll have to forgive me. Some of my stuff isn't here, particularly my books. And I said, Well, how many books do you have? Anyway, I just idle talk. And she said, Oh, I don't know, about five or six hundred.

[00:19:55] Stephen: And it's like, Five or six hundred. Then the lightbulbs started to go off, [00:20:00] just like, oh, I'm coming out of an academic world, right? So I've got books all over the place. So, then I noticed just to our side of the wall, only decoration, if you can call it, was a poster from the National Gallery.

[00:20:12] Stephen: And I said something like, oh, I see , you must have been in the National Gallery. Do you, do you like art or something? Something like that. And she just nonchalantly points to the picture. In fact, it's ironic because if you, you can see my. See where I picked pictures here? That's a Kandinsky. It's

[00:20:27] Damon: Uh Huh,

[00:20:28] Stephen: not the same one.

[00:20:30] Stephen: She goes, yeah,

[00:20:30] Stephen: had something similar at her place. That's crazy

[00:20:33] Stephen: the only thing she said, Oh, that's a Kandinsky. Now this is about 1933. This is about the time that he moved, he immigrated from Russia into Switzerland or France, wherever he came from. In that particular period, he was experimenting with circles and this was kind of his expression of his spiritual essence and blah, da, da, da.

[00:20:49] Stephen: It's like, I just sat there, my mouth was hanging open. I got this lecture on Kandinsky and modern art. It's like, I, my brain was just reeling. I just, So, [00:21:00] this was the same year that Ronald Reagan was running for president, it was the primaries, and I was not a big fan of Reagan's, nor was she, but she recited to me all of the other both Democratic and Republican contenders at the time, and there were a lot of them, I think the Democrats had ten.

[00:21:17] Stephen: At that early stage of the race, and the Republicans had several, she told me about every one of them, and I just happened, praise the Lord, I had a Reagan joke, and I'm bad at jokes, I have a good sense of humor, I'm bad at jokes. I told my Reagan joke and she just exploded with laughter. Just, I mean, it filled the room.

[00:21:38] Stephen: It got just like a, tidal wave, a blast. And at that moment, it was like a Spock mind meld. Suddenly everything opened up. She opened up, I opened up, it's as though we were like a Spock mind meld. I suddenly, I heard her voice. I heard her mind work. I heard her sense of humor. She got me. It was like beyond words.

I didn't say that at the [00:22:00] moment. Later, I said it to myself. This is why I came. This is why I came. This is beyond what I could have expected. And then, then to follow it, then, then was the thing I didn't need to ask really.

[00:22:11] Stephen: And I told her, what actually was even maybe more important. I asked her, after we calmed down for a second, I asked her if she ever Thought of me on my birthday. And of course, the answer she gave me then also brought me to tears. It almost is right now. She said, of course I do. You have a great mom and dad, but you know, you're, you're my son too.

[00:22:28] Stephen: I never forget that.

[00:22:29] Stephen: So I, then she told the story about my half sister that they always, almost as they had saved a place for me at their, at the kitchen table always wondering almost prophetically, he'll show up one of these days.

[00:22:41] Stephen: So they kind of saved that place for me. And I think both physically and, in here. So, we spent the rest of that day, settled Walt Whitman saying we were together, I forget the rest. I mean, I had notes for that day and I lost those like an idiot. I don't know where they went to, so I have to rely on memory.

[00:22:58] Stephen: So, anyway, briefly, [00:23:00] the following day, I went out to meet my other half sister, who was only 11 months younger than me, and that was quite something in itself. And then the following day, I came back to say goodbye, because I had to leave to go back the following morning, and she introduced me to her roommate as her son, who was just like, wow. So

[00:23:20] Stephen: hopefully I've done a good job writing about just , that last moment. And how long we held each other. And then, it didn't last forever. So at that point, it's a one last, touch of the face, kiss in the forehead, and then I was out the door into the dark and the cold, and I never came back and I never saw

[00:23:37] Stephen: her again.

[00:23:38] Damon: Really? So this is, you're describing your last moment of sort of hugging her, touch of the face and saying goodbye, I assume at that moment, not knowing you weren't going to see her again. Is that correct?

[00:23:51] Stephen: I don't

[00:23:52] Stephen: think I thought yes or no. I knew she was in bad health. It was clear on both sides that she had no expectation that I was going to, [00:24:00] or an invitation to enter her life, nor did I have a notion that I was going to suddenly now I was going to be a permanent member of the family.

[00:24:07] Stephen: I didn't have any expectation I was going to help her financially. It didn't really occur to me what, what, Needed to happen happened, and I think we both got that and I was busy with my career And I was in my wife, and I moved from the Bay area to of all places, Moscow, Idaho for a year I don't know how we get there, but when we were there Then my sister, half sister called me and said that she had passed.

[00:24:27] Stephen: I knew she was in bad health I think we, I think we may have Written maybe one letter back and forth and it was just not, it didn't, it didn't have the same

[00:24:35] Stephen: salience. It was so, so I kept contact with the one that was closest to me in age, still alive and lives back in Virginia. And the other one passed away couple of years ago.

[00:24:46] Stephen: And there's another, a boy, one of her boys, her only boy who I've never met, I think he lives in the Midwest. she had three, she had three kids with another man,

[00:24:55] Stephen: I understand. Gotcha. How did

[00:24:57] Stephen: a disastrous marriage with that.

passing?

[00:24:59] 235 Stephen_Rowley-Damon_Davis: [00:25:00] Um.

[00:25:00] Damon: Hmm. Tell me how it hit you when you learned of her passing.

[00:25:04] Stephen: Can't actually remember where I was. I can't remember if this is the night and we were living in, by then we were living in Pullman, Washington, where Washington State University is. sometimes the imagery gets mixed up, but I, I think I just remember wanting to be alone, told my wife. I need some time.

[00:25:20] Stephen: it was like, okay, this is not unexpected. It was just that kind of a big, heavy impact. And to think of all the stuff that I had done to find her and was still fresh as could be inside me and her memory was and is still very fresh.

[00:25:36] Stephen: I kept her. Pictured by my, it's not here now, but from all, during the two years of both writing the book and going through all the publicity and I've kept it with me. And so I think that's symbolically, she's, I mean, she's right over there in the shelf picture of her when she's about 19 or so. Cute as can be, I liken her to kind of a young, young Jean Tyrion, 1940s movie star.

[00:25:58] Stephen: Cute all can be. [00:26:00] But, but you could see by comparison, knowing what she looked like at the end. it wasn't any Elizabeth Taylor life had taken a big toll and I think drugs, drugs, pharmaceuticals, she was a nurse and had been stealing pharmaceuticals from nursing jobs she had as though she got nursing jobs just to get, to get her hands on them, for all I know,

[00:26:19] Stephen: Really? Wow.

[00:26:20] Stephen: it was tortured life in that way.

[00:26:22] Damon: it's

[00:26:23] Damon: a tough moment when you learn of any parents passing. So I can remember where I was when I learned about my adoptive mother, my adoptive father and my biological mother's passing. I remember them all vividly It's this weird finality and severing of a relationship that you've had your entire life.

[00:26:47] Damon: And even in the biological sphere, you didn't know her, but you came from her and you know that you did. So inherently you, you felt probably that some kind of connection to another person out in the [00:27:00] universe. And now that connection is gone. That person's life is ended. And whether you had had one or 100 conversations with them, you still can never have another one.

[00:27:11] Damon: And there will never be another hug or touch of the face. It there's the finality of death will hit you regardless of how close you are to a person. And that must've been, that must've been tough.

[00:27:22] Stephen: I will say

[00:27:22] Stephen: that there's nothing like writing a memoir.

[00:27:25] Stephen: Yeah.

[00:27:26] Stephen: dig, and you dig, and you dig, and you dig. I surprised myself for as much as I've been around the material you were talking about now still how emotional. It's as though I'm really in communion in the writing and I mentioned even in the book.

[00:27:38] Stephen: When I finished it, I just felt like this ancestral presence behind me. That takes nothing away from who I, my adopted parents never thought of them that way. They're just my mom and dad. In fact, I think I, I honored them more now than I did, probably even growing up a bit, even though my dad died some years ago.

[00:27:56] Stephen: My mom died in 101 about five [00:28:00] years ago. But I never I know I never, I never, I, I appreciate more than ever my, my upbringing and all the advantages it gave me and the kind of constancy of. Of their love and the ways they express their love to me and my other siblings, too. They have three of their own, they have three of their own natural kids.

[00:28:18] Stephen: I was the oldest in the family, so. So it's, it's heightened my appreciation, I think, for all of that, so.

[00:28:25] Damon: Yeah, I can imagine. So I want to go back in her story for a moment. Because I think what I heard you say early on was that you were born in a Kansas City sanitarium. Is that correct?

[00:28:38] Stephen: The willows Maternity Sanitarium, February 1949. And I went back there on my 75th birthday, at least not to, not to the Willows doesn't exist anymore, but the, but the place is still there. I mean, the building's not there, but I know where it is. So they put a big plaque up, but it was at the Kansas city library.

[00:28:56] Stephen: And another guy who's the, who's a historian of that maternity [00:29:00] sanitarium and I did a presentation. We did two, but the one was at the library. We had, we had about 80 people there and probably 60 or 65 of them were. like me were born at the Willows in the 1940s and 50s and even the 30s Kansas City was the hub of adoption in the United States because of railroads, airlines, all, so people came and they advertised through, all through New York and California and so forth.

[00:29:25] Stephen: So they, there were 30, 000 of us that were born during those years. And Even there, the adopted daughter of the couple who started all that was still, she's still alive. She's only a couple years older than me. She was there to come. Carol Price is her name. but it's quite a thing because it was, the Willows was considered kind of the ultimate, was considered the worst.

[00:29:44] Stephen: It was more expensive than the others, really well run, almost like a finishing school. When you went there, you got your own room maybe you shared a room, but you had, you were expected, even if you didn't have the clothes they give to you, you had a dress for dinner. You taught or retaught [00:30:00] proper table etiquette and things to learn, like sewing or whatever in, in your off time or time for reading.

[00:30:06] Stephen: You were expected to do all that. So it was like going to a school almost before up the time that you gave. And then, after, I think for many of us who, after in my case it was 10 days after I was born, then the arrangements were made and she signed the initial papers. And I dunno how I got from Kansas City to ot, Iowa. I departed at her her, I'm assuming it was her father drove her back to Midwest. He went, they went back to her small town and I went back to And she still had to sign off officially six months later, just before I was adopted. So I have to believe it was a wrenching, experience giving me up. I don't think she ever got over it.

[00:30:41] Damon: Yeah, I can imagine. And so, would you mind clarifying for me, because the word sanitarium to me suggests some level of mental illness that has placed the people here. But I'm not getting that impression from what you're It sounds a home for unwed mothers [00:31:00] more than a psychological or psychiatric facility.

[00:31:04] Damon: Is that right?

[00:31:04] Stephen: Oh, oh yeah. It's a, it's a, it's an old Victorian home nicely furnished. The, the the couple that started it were, certainly strong members of good standing in the community. Kansas City was, is not much bigger today than it was back then. It was a town of 500, 000 people. And so it had, it was a town of money, obviously the Midwest, and all kinds of other stuff that go with that, but Now it was, and back then I think hospitals of this kind, by whatever name, were quite popular.

[00:31:31] Stephen: I can't remember, I just read it and I can't remember now how the date of adoptions versus abortions at that time, but nevertheless. There was no pill and so you get pregnant if you're not getting married then you're gonna have you're gonna choose one one of the Other you're gonna either adopt it.

[00:31:45] Stephen: You give your baby up for adoption. You're going to be where they say relinquish or you're going to You know, you're gonna get an abortion

[00:31:54] Stephen: Yeah.

[00:31:55] Stephen: even though it was illegal It was still pretty widely popular. It was, it was not [00:32:00] that tough to get in. It's probably easier in some places to get an abortion back there than it is in some states today.

[00:32:05] Damon: Stephen was among the first to join 23 and me years ago when the platform was first stood up. Where there are millions of users today, Stephen joined among the first 60,000 or so users. With that in mind, Stephen is used to receiving lots of notifications about second, third, and fourth cousins. After nearly 40 years of searching and making progress, then dealing with setbacks, like tracing the identity of a man with the wrong name. As he said before. Searching for his birth father.

[00:32:37] Damon: Wasn't the first thing on his mind in recent years. One day, Steven received a notification from 23 and me that indicated he had a first cousin match. Steven emailed the man, someone 20 years, his junior and young enough to be his son and inquired about their relationship. The man determined that Steven must be related to his mother. [00:33:00] Within an hour, Steven received an email from the man's mother Stephen's paternal half sister. The woman was able to share Stephen's birth, father's name, what he did for a living as a young man and where he went to school, the whole paternal connection became real.

[00:33:16] Stephen: So within a couple of days, there was a huge flurry of, of pictures and photos. They sent me a picture of what he looked like. He died in 1985. I will say that the, in those initial conversation, the guy that I talked to said something, well, I guess you shouldn't be too surprised.

[00:33:32] Stephen: You should grandpa, whatever was we think he was a bit of a player back then,

[00:33:37] Stephen: oh boy.

[00:33:38] Stephen: but what that meant in terms of doing the math that in time I was conceived and or born that he already had a child and it's with his wife at the time. And I was another one either had just been born was she was pregnant with him.

[00:33:50] Stephen: So it's like, He was traveling. I think it's part of his job. And, she was certainly an attractive young woman. Easy for him. He was much older. He was going into the Navy. College [00:34:00] educated. I assume it was just a one night stand.

[00:34:03] Stephen: Maybe it was more than one night, but not much more. And so how people did that back then, I mean, just think, no, no phones, no email. I mean, how do they even correspond without spilling the beans? I, who knows? So, but he was but I saw, I saw pictures of him, through the early pictures of him.

[00:34:21] Stephen: I thought, both, both of them were very good looking people. I mean, She was gorgeous. He looked like a year, literally a young 19 year older, just anyway. Very athletic. He majored in four sports at a major university in the Midwest. And, and but I, I think, but, but then they all settled with all four of the girls and his wife in Indiana.

[00:34:43] Stephen: And and then they now have, I'd say a very traditional kind of Republican Midwestern family. I mean, all girls, all the girls are married. They all have kids. Those kids all have kids. I've seen pictures. It's a gigantic family. I mean, and I, when I look at all the [00:35:00] pictures is like, yeah, I do see myself in quite half of them anyway.

[00:35:03] Stephen: So, so we we've corresponded. I've not met any of them in person. One may be out here this summer. But I, it was also part of my own. Understand. Also, it turned out they did tell me that there have been well, this would have been from the time this was going on a year before that or less. Another woman who lived in San Diego, who was roughly my age, maybe a year older, had contacted them and claimed that she was that she was the daughter of him love child.

[00:35:30] Stephen: So they didn't, as I understand, they didn't take kindly the news and they didn't try to keep much correspondent, although she shows up on an ancestry.com that they put in there. So, but they were more welcoming my, I, my, my wife, my son we're on their family tree and so forth. So it's been, it's been cordial, but I, but I, it's a different thing for them.

[00:35:48] Stephen: I was a big surprise. And they read the book and they know a little about me and. A lot of my other deeper curiosity went cold a little. And I think at some point wanted to [00:36:00] know more, connect more deeply with them, just didn't, it didn't rise to the occasion. It was always way.

[00:36:05] Stephen: It was like connect with her. So I know enough to know, I know enough. And then, but once that happened, that's when I started writing the book within, within a day or two, I started writing and I didn't stop. Well, imagine it was today. It would be, I finished the first draft by a labor name.

[00:36:21] Stephen: Wow. You are really rolling. Yeah, man, that's incredible. Fascinating.

[00:36:26] Stephen: I got, then I got an editor. That was another five minutes, five months after that till the draft got done. But yeah, so, but it was, but, but it was, it was a sense of like, Oh, isn't this ironic? I did nothing for this except sign up for 23 and me. I did nothing. I was totally split the whale. I'd lost interest.

[00:36:41] Stephen: I didn't care cause I knew I'd never find out. So put it away and then suddenly out of the blue one morning, bam, there it is. So it

[00:36:47] Stephen: That is wild. I love

[00:36:49] Stephen: Yeah. That's really cool. And it's interesting too, sometimes. One piece of the search and reunion actually does [00:37:00] satisfy enough of you that you don't feel you have to dig into the next piece. And if they had been more welcoming, maybe you would have, been more receptive to trying to go and see them.

[00:37:09] Stephen: But in the absence of that, if you had already felt like you had gotten what you needed by, Reuniting with your birth mother, it kind of loses its flair. I recall when I found my birth mother, I mean, I had this, I won't go into it, but incredible story of finding her very close by and surprising her on her birthday, literally, I mean, my birth father would have to come down from space with balloons to do better than the reunion, you know what I'm saying?

[00:37:34] Stephen: It just,

[00:37:35] Stephen: that's

[00:37:35] Stephen: no way, there was nowhere to go, but down from that amazing, incredible experience. And so I'm sensitive to what you're saying about having come face to face with your birth mother,

[00:37:46] Damon: Well, you've mentioned your book multiple times. Tell me, what is the name of your book?

[00:37:52] Stephen: It's

[00:37:52] Stephen: called the Lost Coin, A Memoir of Adoption and Destiny.

[00:37:57] Stephen: Fascinating. Really, really cool.

[00:37:59] Stephen: picture [00:38:00] of it.

[00:38:00] Stephen: Wonderful.

[00:38:02] Stephen: adoption, a memoir of adoption and destiny.

[00:38:04] Stephen: Very good.

[00:38:05] Stephen: use my in addition to my own story so to speak, the I utilize my background as a psychotherapist to shed more light on the inner, the inner life of adoptees.

[00:38:15] Stephen: Now I can't claim that's. True for all adoptees. I have suspicion that is, but there's certain dynamics about what happens in early childhood when mothers , and their children are separated and whether they end up in a really happy home or not a very good home. Or whatever it happens to be, there's still that, that thing that happens to most of us.

[00:38:32] Stephen: And we carry that around. In my supposition, many of us carry that around. Now other people, I've heard other adoptees say, I don't carry around nothing. I don't know what you've been complaining about. I go, I'm not complaining. My adoption is the happiest day of my life. I go, well, so is mine. But it's like, it doesn't mean that I can't still have that other kind of, that searching, that, that it was the impetus for, a bigger, almost existential question, like, who am I?

[00:38:55] Stephen: So, and that's it. So that, that question is kind of runs through the book through the different phases of my [00:39:00] life. And so it's not just who our parents are. I talk about, who am I? But nevertheless, I realized, oh, I lucked out. I mean, I, I, my life wouldn't have been this way had I not been adopted.

[00:39:09] Stephen: So there's that part of that stream through there about the, with the ways in which I was, I think, felt obligated to take advantage of privilege. Not assume it's just a God given right. Cause I'm smarter and better looking at everybody else. It's like this, you do something with it. So that came, the Midwestern upbringing was, was good in that way.

[00:39:28] Stephen: It gave me a certain humility. I think that's shown proven true. I think of what I do, 40 years in education, eight years now in this, in this profession, my capacity to have empathy for all manner of folks. And I think the way I was raised by my dad and my grandparents, But everybody was like, in their eyes, I think everybody was the same, including people who were from the black part of town.

[00:39:52] Stephen: I mean, we were treated, they were treated with equal respect, and that wasn't true a lot of places. So I was really at an advantage in that, in that [00:40:00] way, even though in school and town, it was not that, it was not, of course, that way. It was, sports was fine, but outside of that, but I was like, very early on, very aware of that.

[00:40:11] Stephen: And frankly, I realized later after I was out of high school, a whole underground gay community and had no clue and realized only in retrospect how, how dark and how vicious it really was for a lot of young guys my age who were in my class who got kind of absconded, so to speak, by other, other men who were on the, who were predators and the things that happened at that.

[00:40:31] Stephen: So there's a lot of kind of that shadow side of understanding my own upbringing.

Well, Steven, this has been wonderful. I, I loved hearing about your drive to find your birth mother in your thirties, right? You just said, this is the moment and you kind of went for it. And it's also interesting and unique. It's not a lot of people who find a birth parent and realize [00:41:00] that they are so far from what you potentially hoped that they were going to be.

[00:41:03] Damon: Right. We often raise our birth parents to hopeful pedestals in a desire to try to find somebody that we can, attach ourselves to and feel good about. And you didn't necessarily find that, but it sounds like it was still a wonderful experience for you guys to have sort of boisterous bursting of laughter that

[00:41:24] Damon: Yeah, yeah.

[00:41:26] Damon: cool.

[00:41:27] Stephen: mean,

[00:41:27] Stephen: you think of kind of the, this gets into Wanderers in Psychology a little, I mean, you think of the outer self, the outer life, yeah, it wasn't what I would have wanted for her, and, and it wasn't like she, lived, was, The wife of an ambassador in Washington, D.

[00:41:41] Stephen: C. It wasn't like that at all. But on the inside was what I was more interested that that connection, that mother and child connection, that ineffable quality to connect and want to connect in a way that only she would understand. I don't expect anybody understand. I know other adoptees who have their own version of this.

[00:41:58] Stephen: But for me, that was the that was the [00:42:00] one thing, , only she and I know what it's like. When my birthday rolls around to know all those years, I don't know where she is. Someday, someday, we're going to make this happen. I think she thought that I did. So it's, but, but that's just, that's just wishful thinking, right?

[00:42:16] Stephen: But you, but nevertheless determination can win out. Not always, but if you're persistent enough, it can. In my case, was just, I was darn lucky. I was still

[00:42:25] Stephen: Yeah. That and it did for you. That's really amazing. Well, Steven, thanks so much for being here. I appreciate your time The The

[00:42:33] Stephen: lost coin. I hope folks will find some level of insight power Strength or just some empathy for for your story. So thanks for

[00:42:43] Stephen: I hope so. You're welcome, Damon. Thank you so much for having me. my pleasure you too.

[00:42:48] Stephen: Take care Bye. Bye.

[00:42:53] Damon: Hey, it's me. Steven grew up the oldest of four children in his family. The following three were [00:43:00] biological To his adoptive parents. When he asked about his birth family at 13 years old, he was met with resistance. That assured him he would have to satisfy his curiosity when he got older. I'm sure it was tough for Steven to learn that his birth mother was suffering with Alzheimer's and was unable to take care of herself, But it was so amazing to hear how he won her heart with the flowers he brought and that through all of her mental illness, she always remembered her son. More than anything. I think that's the thing most adoptees want to hear that we were remembered and loved long after the separation that is adoption. I'm Damon Davis, and I hope you found something in Steven's journey that inspired you. Validates your feelings about wanting to search or motivates you to have the strength along your journey to learn. Who am I really. If you're taking anything meaningful from the show, please take a moment to leave a five star review in your podcast app or wherever you listen. [00:44:00] While you're there.

[00:44:00] Damon: Please leave a comment too. I read them all and they helped me understand how the stories of other adoptees are helping the community. Your ratings and comments, help the algorithm to share the, who am I really podcast with others who may appreciate the show, the way that you do. Also stay tuned.

[00:44:18] Damon: I'm working on another book that I'll share more about as my writing continues.

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