Another Chicago Tribune article that, on the face of it, does not appear related to adoption until you take a closer look. It’s about a doctor who is helping a homeless man get back on his feet. Scroll down a bit and you’ll see how this is related to adoption:
A talkative man, Atkinson [the homeless man] traces his downward slide to a defining event of his youth: finding out at 18 that his parents had adopted him as an infant. His father had died eight years before; as an only child, he was extremely attached to his mother, who passed away in 1973.
“[She] used to tell me: Whatever you do, Everett, tell the truth. And then I found out, she never told me the truth [while I was growing up] about who I was,” he said, sighing. Atkinson said his drinking and drug use started after he found his biological family — a father who was abusive, a mother who got hurt, and a dozen frightened brothers and sisters.
While I can’t claim to speak for Mr. Atkinson, I understand how he feels. Although I was always told I was adopted, I didn’t find out til my mid-20s that my adoptive father knew the complete details of my adoption including my birth name. I know how much that rocked my world. Imagine what you’d do if you found out as an adult that the people you called parents lied to you your whole life. Your life might take a turn for the worse too.
What annoys me about this article is the skewed way in which it is presented. Little mention is made of his adoptive family, yet many negative details are included about his birth family. To me that second paragraph implies that Mr. Atkinson’s problems stem from the “bad stock” of his birth family rather than from being lied to by his adoptive family. This, despite Mr. Atkinson himself tracing the “defining moment” back to the lie. In fact the reporter makes a point of mentioning that Mr. Atkinson was “extremely attached” to his adoptive mother, as if issuing an apology to any adoptive parents who might be reading, as if excusing the fact that he was lied to. This kind of biased reporting perpetuates the myth that all birth families are teetering on the brink of destruction and to find them is tantamount to destroying your life. Is there any family out there that is perfectly unblemished? Instead the article could have explained that lying to your adoptive child sets them up for emotional difficulties later.
Now, if original birth certificates were available to adoptees in Illinois instead of being sealed, it would not be possible for adoptive parents to lie about their childrens’ origins. People justify sealed records by saying the child should be “protected” from the truth of their biological families. But if this man had grown up knowing he was adopted and knowing about whatever problems his birth family might have had, he would have been able to deal with it slowly and with support rather than having to deal with it on his own when it was dumped on him at the age of 18.
Let this be a lesson for all adoptive families: TELL THE TRUTH! I wish Mr. Atkinson much success in his fresh start on life.