HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BE ADOPTED?
Fifty Years of Secrecy
The question of how it “feels” to be adopted fits with my idea of being spiritually connected to your birthparents and potential siblings. How many stories of psychic connection between separated relatives, both adopted and separated by force, have we heard? This is one of those stories and how my existence is tied to grief and pain. I was conceived around Halloween 1965 inside a twenty year old babysitter. According to her, the deal to have me was set up by “men” who offered to abort me but allowed her to put me up for adoption after my birth. My parents adopted a son in 1962, a daughter in 1964, yours truly in 1966 and another daughter in 1971. My mother has commented she always knew I would be the one who would look for my family and my parents always supported my efforts to find my family. Every birthday you wonder what your birthmother is and also, the birthfather. This is an overlooked void nobody considers as the male contribution to your existence is brief and often callous at best. Does this brief moment exclude us from inheriting the spiritual connection to our fathers? Also, what if he had offspring? Do we feel the joy and sorrow of our potential half-brothers and sisters in addition to our own emotions? I say we feel it all if we want to or not.
Marylyn J. Hickey was one month shy of twenty-one years old when she gave birth to me in July 1966. I was born in Rochester, N.H., adopted at one month and raised in Bradford, N.H. My brother and sisters were also adopted and this diversity sparked a natural curiosity for personal identity. “Who am I?” If Alex Haley can trace his roots then why not me? I visited the adoption agency in 1993 to initiate the process to find my birthparents. They could not help me find them at that time but provided non-identifying information stating my mother was a waitress and my father was a truck driver. This was the reality handed to a twenty-seven year old man and I hoped it was true but had reservations until I could find the truth.
In August 1998 the adoption agency offered an accelerated search and I was third on that list. The social worker, Paula Pierce, found Marylyn in Missouri, contacted her and then informed me she was found on December 16, 1998. One of her initial comments to the social worker, which Paula thought odd, was that I was “after the money” and “he must have another reason for looking”. Marylyn also expressed her “umbrage” when she learned I thought she was a waitress. The idea of serving people seemed beneath her dignity in a way that can only be described as snobbish. She expressed nervousness and apprehension towards the case worker, but said, “I have to face this.” I was beyond elated and felt a great door was about to open. We exchanged Christmas faxes and planned to meet. Still, there was part of me wondering about what was really going on and what I would learn.
Marilyn and I met in January 1999 at the Kansas City Airport and her boyfriend, Curt Connell, was with her. They operate a trucking business called Connell Transport in Barnett, MO and she also keeps Morgan horses on her hobby farm. During the ride in Marylyn’s Black F-350 to their home, Curt drove and Marylyn asked me how I felt about money, politics, football, skiing, sailing, Palm Beach, Cape Cod and if I wondered if I had brothers and sisters. She said she never “considered” that I did. I took this to mean the man who impregnated her was a father and someone else’s husband. Marylyn recalled a story of how she was in her mid-twenties and skiing in Aspen with “one of her cousins”. It snowed so hard, the flights in and out of Aspen were cancelled. The cousin paid four hundred dollars for their cab ride to Denver. I felt tormented when she asked me “who could do that” when I had no way to know and she obviously did. We were in her barn feeding horses when she informed me she would NEVER tell me who my father was, how the deal was set up “by men” and how they offered to abort me but settled for adoption. I could hear anger, confusion, fear and restraint in her voice. Marylyn noted my disdain but felt no urge to reveal the truth. Curt had a different view and stated, in her presence, “He just wants to know who his kin are.” Curt and Marylyn had been together for ten years at that point. Curt had been to Hyannisport and met everyone Marylyn knew from having lived there from 1967 to 1995. He informed me she knew, was great friends with and went to church with Rose Kennedy. Curt said she was friends with people who owned JFK’s limo and before I left Missouri on my second visit he gave me a million-dollar bill with JFK on it saying, “You should have this.” I believe he was trying to tell me something without actually speaking.
I returned to Colorado trying to piece the puzzle together. Who would get a twenty year-old pregnant, offer an abortion but settle for adoption and cause such a need for secrecy? It certainly was not Richard Rushford who was the presumed father in 1966. He was found in Massachusetts, DNA tested and excluded. If you factor in Hyannisport, a familiarity with the Kennedys and Curt’s gift with the name “Kennedy” on it, one might begin to think the clues are true. Marylyn called me and said she had been in touch with my father’s family and they told her to say my father had been killed in an airplane crash in Colorado shortly after my birth and it was odd I was living there. According to the NTSB there were no fatal crashes in Colorado after my birth. However, there was a fatal crash in Idaho during August 1966 and one of the fatalities was George Skakel Jr., brother-in-law to Ethel Kennedy. This was a red herring holding a flag. I began to wonder who would try to pass a Skakel as my father. The obvious answer is undeniable. Which one? Bobby or Teddy? After examining pictures, comparing body types and noting things like the extra furriness on Bobby’s left belly like mine, Robert was the answer. Marylyn had recoiled at the mention of Los Angeles, shook her head and said she had no reason to go out there. I now know why she responded with quick anguish.
This anguish turned to cruelty in February when, “after talking to his relatives back there”, she called to cut relations and ties. It was a black hole vortex and heart implosion of sadness and rejection beyond any breakup in history and I could not understand the forces in play at the time. On the eleven hour drive from coaching in a hockey tournament in Las Vegas I finally began seriously considering if there was a connection between my birthmother and what Curt had said about Rose Kennedy. Upon finding the name of Mary Augusta Hickey as Joseph P. Kennedy’s mother, it was another sinking feeling but this time of becoming aware of the truth. My sadness began to turn to sympathy for what was certainly an impossible situation. A young woman impregnated by a powerful man forced to make lifelong decisions under duress. In late May, I sent her a care package with several items including a framed “Legacy of an Adopted Child” hoping to send love and understanding. A week later she had a gruesome horse training accident and Curt broke silence to let me know. We began communicating again and I had hope she would take her near-death experience as an opportunity to tell the truth. Then came July 16, 1999, when I awoke feeling something was dreadfully wrong but I didn’t know why until a small plane crash took over the news. We continued to communicate and I drove to Missouri in November to visit with Marilyn and Curt. It was during this aforementioned visit when I lived a moment of comedic irony for there is nothing more ironic than watching the movie “Who Am I” with the person who won’t tell you who your father was. I also had to decide if the George Magazine tribute to JFK Jr. issue on her coffee table was a sadistic message or subtle clue.
In September 1999 our country music band flew from Steamboat to Phoenix to compete in the Jimmy Dean Country Music Showdown. Two friends of the guitar player drove to Arizona and they had volunteered to bring our instruments. Ann MacArthur was one of those friends and was adopted by the Shaugnessy family. She was meeting with her birthmother in Phoenix. While trading birthmother stories, Ann said the Shaugnessys were direct relatives of the Fitzgeralds in Boston and made the comment that I had “Fitzgerald Hands.” It seemed to be a common expression in the Fitzgerald family circle. While describing my exchanges with Marylyn, Ann exclaimed, “You’re Bobby’s kid and that makes us cousins!” She claimed it was an example of kismet. We were two adoptees trading birthmother stories and discovering a connection in a way that cannot be random. Some force in the universe was sending messages.
I had wondered where my twisted index fingers came from and close inspection of pictures with Bobby’s hands revealed undeniable similarities. I had the feeling of knowing I was right but because of who my father was I may have a hard time connecting and having some kind of relations with my kinfolk. Still, I began to reflect on parallels in our lives which might explain difficult times in the past. As a school child, I would get severely sick the first week of June every year. I also have to consider David’s pain and struggles until his death in 1984. Does an adoptee feel his brothers and sisters in their collective joy or pain? I have to believe it.
There is more to this story if dreams are believable and the idea close relatives share spiritual bonds is accepted. I will give three examples in reverse order although I could probably cite more. On December 31, 1998, we had friends in town to ski and celebrate new years with us. Despite having free passes and excellent snow, I did not want to go skiing. It was a deep and unexplainable feeling I could not shake all day and there are pictures where I can see the pain in my face. At this point, Marilyn and I were just planning to meet and I was not then aware it was a year since Michael died on Aspen. I had a dream in 1993, while living in New Mexico, where I was visited by someone who said she was my grandmother. She informed me I was a Kennedy and they would not like me much. This dream occurred around the time of Margaret’s (Marylyn’s mother) death in NH and I believe sharing a common spirit is how she found me at the end of her life. Something strange happened while meeting a man in Portland, Maine, in 1988. I was visiting a friend and she introduced me to her neighbors. When I shook this man’s hand the strangest thing happened. He told a story of when JFK came to Portland in 1960 when he was ten and he got to shake the candidate’s hand. He said shaking my hand was exactly like shaking John’s hand, dry, bony and firm, and how shaking the future President’s hand was something people don’t forget and how it gave him the chills. I dismissed it at the time. Now it seems like a message. It is also important to note my adopted older sister was born on November 22, 1963, in Boston. Add to that the coincidence of my younger adopted sister having the birthday of July 25th, the same as my first son and Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. When does it stop being weird and start to become real?
New Hampshire began allowing access to OBC in 2005 and I was in the first twenty applicants. As the lies of the non-identifying information were erased by family members’ testimony and an exclusionary DNA test on the person whom Marylyn initially claimed was responsible in 1966, I was fascinated to discover what my OBC would yield. The name “Michael Richard Hickey” had an obvious reference to Richard Rushford, a classmate and person Marylyn implicated as my father to her family. He was 100% excluded by DNA testing and therefore, his name was a documented distraction. They could not have foreseen this science would undo lies. My wife took three seconds after reading my OBC and said “I can’t believe she named you ‘Mickey Dickey Hickey’.” The name Michael is interesting because it is the same name her sister chose for her son four months before my birth. What compels one sister to give her son the same name as her sister’s son? My deep thoughts turned to the time of a Halloween party and perhaps Michael was her favorite or maybe, a witness. Perhaps this witness displayed the same behavior with the babysitter later in life as he emulated his father. It’s a sad and painful truth to be attached to a family with a fog of grief. It’s even more painful knowing they could reach back but choose not to. Sixteen years is too long to wait and every time I see a reunion story, Ancestry ad or Who Do You Think You Are, I want the truth. I have the right to know who my father was no matter who he was.
I believe Robert F. Kennedy impregnated Marylyn J. Hickey and is my biological father. In 2004, I was paralyzed with Guillian-Barre Syndrome and promised myself if I lived, I would finish this somehow and connect with my family. Several attempts have been made to as many sons and daughters of RFK as I can contact through e-mail and social media. I had the naïve idea that because Rory and I both did not know our father, we might have some common ground. My earnest attempts to contact her through Moxie Firecracker were never reciprocated. I have the selfish notion Rory made the movie “Ethel” to show who was important to her and not a bastard brother. Although I feel sorry for their position, I cannot be sorry that I am alive. I sent many e-mails to the late Senator Edward Kennedy’s office when he was alive telling him he was my uncle with no response. Indeed, I am friends with Maxwell Kennedy and a few others on Facebook. He has not responded to my DNA requests to prove we are brothers. Many tweets to Kerry Kennedy, the RFK Center and the JFK Library claiming kinship have not gained response. I find it incredibly dehumanizing to be denied a basic intrinsic right by people who espouse human rights. At least Courtney Kennedy’s response of “GO TO HELL” after learning of my existence is what I would expect besides silence. I’m sure it’s hard to know your father was unfaithful and I certainly feel sorry for Ethel. It is my hope that as a person of Faith, she might see my existence as part of God’s plan and not some bastard abomination.
I am human, alive and seeking closure while genetically and spiritually bonded to other humans who, because of their notoriety and wealth, seemingly cannot acknowledge my existence. The truth can be cold but ignorance is colder.
Luke C. Keith – Adult Adoptee