ADOPTEES STORY CONNECT – Raymond
BIO: I was born in Canada. I am a high school teacher and a classical musician (organ). I taught in a high violence school in the Bronx and loved every minute of it. After a few years, I entered the international school system and taught in two foreign countries. I currently live in Europe where I continue to teach and play weekly.
Facts of birth
Adopted children often lack any reliable information regarding their origins. Late adoptees (those adopted later than 2 years after birth) often know nothing about the early years between their birth and their adoption. I only know that I was born on August 6, 1967 in the Grace Maternity Ward in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. I was adopted around age 4 by a British couple who after serving in WW II, came to Canada with 3 biological children of their own. At the time of my adoption these biological children were adults and parents themselves. I was adopted with another boy and several years later this couple adopted a third child.
To this day I struggle to comprehend why this adoption was ever allowed to occur: (1) at the time of my adoption, this couple already had 3 children and 6 grandchildren of their own, (2) they were of advanced age – he was born in 1918 and she was born in 1926. This means, when I graduated from high school a month before my 18th birthday, he was 67, (3) they flew from the Canadian west coast (British Columbia) to the east coast (Nova Scotia) – what agency was going to monitor this contrived family or be prepared to make an intervention if necessary? And, most importantly, (4) we were black children.
My first years with this couple in British Columbia had some good moments but the negative ones far outweighed the good. For example, around age 5 I had bleeding gums and severe nosebleeds regularly. The nosebleeds would start for no reason and I would bleed so much dark red blood that I had to bleed into a pail. I was never taken to a doctor for this, yet I was taken to the doctor for a skin rash on my fingers! Another vivid memory is that of our adopted mother teaching us to play the piano. She would stand over us with a bamboo ski pole and thwack us with the pole every time we made a mistake. Violence was her answer to almost anything she did not like about us and physical abuse was not limited to playing the piano. I hated pain and so I learned very quickly, never ever answer back, never register dismay or disappointment, don’t even ask questions. One has to wonder, is this why she adopted children?
After my adopted father had open heart surgery in the late 70’s, it was decided that a warmer climate would benefit him. This resulted in him taking early retirement and all of us moving to the sunny Okanagan Valley. Neither of my adopted parents told us we were moving until two days before the moving vans pulled up the driveway. Throughout the next 12 years, a pattern of making decisions without including or informing us became the norm. We were meant to be seen and not heard. It soon became clear that they did not even consider the three of us to be part of their family.
Move to the Okanagan and high school
Our adopted parents bought a very small house which sat on 1 square acre of land, all of which was lawn and pine trees. From age 1I – 17, my brothers and I spent every single spring and summer weekend mowing all that lawn (with push mowers) and raking every pine needle in the fall. Our teenage years were not spent with other kids our age, these years were spent either in school, working in orchards (I began at age 11), or mowing all that grass. Imagine my deep satisfaction when they had to sell the property after we three boys finished high school and left. They no longer had us to work their yard. They were now forced to move into housing for seniors.
During our high school years we were expected to continue our piano studies. Our teacher, who originally lived just down the road, eventually moved 1 hr. away. Rather than traveling to the city along the highway, our adopted mother took a much longer back road because it was full of peaks and valleys. This meant that at the top of each hill she could put the car in first gear, turn off the ignition, and coast down the hill in order to avoid ‘wasting’ gas. This type of conflict would become a feature of living with her. In this case, she demanded that we continue piano lessons, yet took extreme measures to avoid ‘wasting’ gas in order for us to do something she forced us to do. She also wanted us to play sports, but our adopted father would throw a fit because sports practice often conflicted with the dinner hour. Once again, he was unwilling to accept what was necessary in order for us to do what we had been ordered to do.
My adopted parents’ son got a girl pregnant during his high school years. They got married and their son was only 6 months younger than myself. Because of this teenage pregnancy, both of our adopted parents decided that they had to keep an iron grip on their three adopted boys and keep us away from females. Imagine my shock when 15 years later, one of their daughters told me that my adopted father divorced his first wife and then took up with my adopted mother and they had their three children out of wedlock – he was even forced to take her surname when they eventually married. The worst thing the three of us could ever do was to be caught talking to a girl or even attempt to have a girlfriend.
Both adopted parents had two separate personalities: one for their biological family and another for the three of us. They harboured so much anger toward us. Right up until the evening before I left home to go to university neither I nor my adopted brothers were allowed to talk at the dinner table, yet when their family (biological children and grandchildren who were the same age as us) visited, they talked like a normal family, as we three adopted children had to remain silent. I remember so many meals as the time where we received our daily berating being told how ‘stupid’ we were and how ‘we did not deserve anything.’ We were never allowed to learn to drive. I was not allowed to sleep with a pillow until age 16. We were never allowed to date as long as we lived in that house. We were never allowed to drink tea or coffee, yet their grandchildren were. When asked to lead school projects, they would sit at the table and ask: “why do you have to do it. Let someone else do it.” They wanted to keep us small. If I dared to come home with a debating medal, and I brought home many, there would be plenty of anger directed right at me. My adopted father would often say to me, “I sometimes wonder if you deserve anything.” We were rarely allowed to bring friends home or do anything with friends. If we even asked, she would say, “they don’t want you there.”
I had to ask myself if this couple were secretly racist people. We never interacted with anything or anyone who was black, we were not allowed to listen to black music, and never told how to navigate issues that black persons deal with every day. They forbid us to go in the corner store in our small town, she called up the store owner and told him. I thought, wow segregation was outlawed long ago, but these two people adopt three black children and go out of their way to segregate them. She often threatened to take us out of school and make us find a job. This was in the 1980’s and she thought that because neither of them had completed high school, we shouldn’t either. I could often lay awake at night and listen to them talking about us, to their biological adult children, behind our backs. They also felt that it was acceptable to berate us in front of their biological family. Is this why they adopted black children?
We never received any money from them. They felt that they should not have to spend money on us. I had to pay for my piano lessons, clothes, summer school, and university. Yet, they had plenty of money for their own family. Luckily I was able to make good money working in various orchards before and after school. When my youngest brother needed braces and my older brother needed glasses, they were shamed for needing these things, yet both adoptive parents wore glasses and he had dentures! Is this why somebody adopts children?
Both of them came from a time when most did not complete high school. In my senior year, my adopted father spent many evenings at the dinner table, at which we were silent, berating the whole idea of graduation and the various events a senior class holds during their final year. I only attended one of those events, and skipped the parent’s dinner because I wasn’t going to ask them, and I didn’t have any desire to introduce them to anyone. When I did graduate, they actually bought me a gift, which I accepted with an air of ambivalence. I could only wonder what they expected me to do when they had spent the entire year demeaning the concept of graduation. Sadly, my older adopted brother dropped out of school in Gr. 11 – and that was perfectly fine with them.
Off to University
During grade 11, I began researching and applying for universities. Neither of my adopted parents showed any interest. Instead, they would sit at the dinner table and ask me if I thought I was good enough to get into university. During my senior year I also competed in a competition to become a Page in the Canadian House of Commons and was chosen as one of 40 students from across the country to do this while attending university in Ottawa. Not one word from either parent. When it was time to start packing to leave home, not once did either of them assist or offer suggestions on how to pack. They did not give me one single cent, I was financially on my own. I was flying from the west coast to the centre of the country and they offered not one word of anything. The Saturday morning I left home, my adopted mother nonchalantly said she was not coming to the airport. My adopted father had a planned appointment in the city so at least I had a ride. During the 1hr. car ride, not one word was spoken, no father son talk, no words of encouragement, no discussions about my hopes and dreams – nothing. He walked me into the airport, shook my hand, and said ‘best of luck,’ turned, and left. That was it, he did not even wait to see me through the gate. There was no time for me to have any emotional reaction. I was free. I made it, I served my time. Twelve years of living with these people and now I never had to see them in person again, and I didn’t. Several years later, my adopted mother’s sister (my adopted aunt) told me that when I left home my adopted mother called her and said that she knew she would probably never see me again. I don’t know whether this was her admission of her abusive behavior or her thinking I was an ungrateful child who dared to want more than she thought I deserved? My decision to attend university and to be a Page in the federal parliament had earned me such scathing wrath.
At age 22 I had major surgery. I told my adoptive parents I was going into the hospital and when. Yet, they didn’t call me after the operation, I had to call them. It was now clear that the bleeding gums and severe nosebleeds I had as a young child were warning signs for the condition I now had. This condition could have easily been addressed then, but my adoptive parents didn’t want to ‘waste’ their time on taking me to a doctor.
I graduated from McGill University and the Julliard School (not bad for a kid who was thwacked with a bamboo stick every time he made a mistake and whose mother shamed him for having to pay for gas) and not one word of interest from either adoptive parent.
About two weeks before I entered the hospital for surgery, I found my biological father through the provincial adoption registry. He had also moved to British Columbia; however, I was now in Montreal. He was extremely honest and truthful and told me everything without me needing to ask. He told me who my biological mother was (she gave birth to me at age 15, he was 17), and that she had died of cancer at age 30. He was fully aware that I had been adopted with another boy, and it was my biological father who told me that this boy was actually my cousin! He told me about my aunts and uncles. He also told me that my mother had had another child – I had a younger half-sister. One of my uncles who happened to be passing through Montreal at the time, came and visited me in the hospital. My father and I are no longer in contact. I never met him in person or have even seen a picture of him. We only spoke over the phone and I appreciate his honesty and I sincerely hope that every adoptee seeking answers has someone as honest as this.
My mother’s side of the family was less than welcoming. They tried to prevent my sister from knowing anything about me, but I went around them and eventually contacted her. I was also put in touch with my adopted aunt (the mother of my cousin with whom I had been raised). As I was already scheduled to attend a music festival in Halifax that summer, I could now meet all these new relatives: uncles and aunts, including the uncle who had visited me in the hospital, and both sets of grandparents,
I spent a lot of time with my maternal aunt. She told me that both she and my mother, upon learning that they were pregnant, left home and moved in with another family on the other side of the city. Therefore, my grandmother had only just learned that I existed; this aunt was not ready to tell her own mother that she also had an unknown child. I asked my aunt if she wanted to meet her son and she said she was not ready yet, so I asked her if it was alright for me to provide him with her contact details. I took great satisfaction in being able to bring these two together and let my cousin meet his older brother (who was not given up for adoption). After my aunt met her son, rather than be thankful to me for facilitating this, she bad-mouthed me to him. No good deed goes unpunished!
Now it was time for me to meet my maternal grandmother. I arrived at her house alone. She answered the door, and said she was on the phone. From listening to her conversation I gathered that she had just returned from the drugstore without her medication. At age 22 I am meeting my maternal grandmother for the first time and she is wrapped up in a phone call about her lost pills! I would have readily offered to go to the drugstore and retrieve her package, but I realized she didn’t know me or have any idea whether I was trustworthy so I just stood there and waited.
When this call ended, rather than acknowledge me, my grandmother immediately phoned my aunt and ranted on the phone saying, “he is here…. he looks just like his mother… I’m not going to say her name, no I am not going to say her name….the devil is trying to make me say her name.” My mother had now been dead for 7 years and my grandmother was still traumatized. I moved to the living room and sat down in a chair, and waited for her to finish her phone call. Finally, after 20 minutes my grandmother came into the living room and sat opposite me. There was one moment where she pointed her hand at me and said, “your mother always sat in that chair just how you are sitting now.” Beyond that comment, my maternal grandmother showed no curiosity about me, did not tell me one detail about my mother, and displayed no emotion toward this previously unknown first-born son of her deceased daughter now sitting in front of her. My presence seemed to be a sore reminder of her deceased daughter. I could only feel very sorry for my grandmother and her focus on death instead of new life.
Today, I still wonder what these two adoptive parents were thinking. Why would they, after raising their own children, adopt three more children – black children – and then be so hateful. Was this some type of social experiment? It turned out to be a failed adoption completely absent of any oversight.
From my age of 11 to 17, my adoptive father was retired. He was at home all day every day yet never spent time with us or even spoke to us. At age 17 I left home and never returned to that house; I never saw them in person again. This was absolutely the right choice for me and I have never once regretted it. Seventeen years after I left home, my cousin’s girlfriend called me in a state of panic to ask me why he was unable to function. I explained the facts of the home environment in which he had been raised and how it completely destroyed him. She then told me that the two of them had flown to BC and met our adoptive parents. The four of them went to dinner, and according to her, both parents spent the entire time arguing and hitting each other. I really think my brother/cousin should have known better and kept any girl away from those two. What was he thinking?
I realize that many biological children grow up in less than happy households. But, most children can get out of the house. Unless we were in the orchards working or at school, we had to be at home to witness this dysfunctional relationship. We three boys who grew up together no longer have anything to do with each other.
I could have written so much more, but much is far too graphic to write here. The one irony in this entire life journey is, the only reason I studied at very fine universities and did the types of things I wanted to do in life, is because I refused to honour my parents!
How do I feel having been adopted? I feel cheated by what I was never allowed to experience, but at the same time, vindicated! The finest way to get revenge on my adoptive parents was to simply leave, and that is what I did. Nothing makes evil people angrier than when they no longer have control over you. So, I made that happen. I never ever wanted to be like either of them – so I got far away from them.
The greatest lessons this adoptive journey taught me are: (1) tell your story for what it is. Do not sugar- coat it. If other people can’t handle it, that is their problem, (2) become much better than your parents ever were, and (3) don’t do what you think or believe is right, do what you know is right even if it incurs the wrath of many.
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