“You’re not my real brother.”
“Good!” I’d shout back, “I don’t wanna be your stupid brother.”
Ever since I was three years old I knew I was adopted. My parents were unable to have children of their own so they adopted me. As soon as they got me home from the hospital the pressure was off and my mother got pregnant with my younger brother. Over the course of the next ten years she gave birth to a total of five children—two girls and three boys.
Any family photo speaks volumes of the differences between us. I always stood out like a sore thumb. I spent my life surrounded by people that, while all unique in their own right, were very similar. They had each others’ laughs, ears, noses, eyes, toes, in varying combinations. Sometimes I felt that all I had were my differences. That being said, I love all my siblings dearly, and the “You’re not my real brother” confrontations were few and far between. But I watched how they interacted with one another, how they had this deep connection. One that I—literally and figuratively—could not relate to.
When I was nineteen, I asked my dad if he had any information on my adoption. He reached into a drawer and pulled out my original birth certificate. He handed it to me the way one might hand a valet the keys to a new car. I thanked him and went upstairs. Now, as a father myself, I have a deeper understanding of that interaction and how difficult that must have been for him.
It turns out that my name was supposed to be “John Thomas” which is British slang for “penis.” So, I’m glad that didn’t pan out.
There at the bottom of the form was my mother’s name. I immediately grabbed the phone book and found ten or so numbers with her last name, but none with her first. So I ventured out to do some detective work.
One of the few advantages to living in Salt Lake City is that there is an enormous genealogical library there. Upon my arrival a carousel of microfilm immediately caught my eye. I walked up, spun it around and grabbed some microfilm containing state census reports from 1968. Anyone who’s had the experience of using one of those old microfilm readers knows that when you turn the crank—it flies. Hundreds of documents blurred by, accompanied by a smell similar to when you first turn the furnace on after a long summer. When I stopped—there it was—Margaret, the youngest of nine. Above her I saw a name that I had recognized from the phonebook earlier: Ferris.
In hindsight this event was amazing. I was in that building for no more than fifteen minutes. I drove home like it was just this everyday thing that happens.
There were two Ferrises in the phonebook. I picked one and dialed.
“Hello?” A woman’s voice answers.
“My name is Brian. I’m nineteen years old and . . . ”
“Is this my little angel?” She interrupted.
“Ummm . . . yes . . . ” I said, fighting back tears.
“We’ve been waiting for you to call.” She said.
It was my grandmother. She invited me to come over, informing me that we would call my mother from there, as she would be very excited to hear from me.
I was surprised when my mom offered to come with me. She was very supportive throughout the entire process, and my respect for her grew immensely that day. We drove to their house, just a few short miles from the house where I had lived since the age of three.
We met my grandmother, grandfather, and an aunt or three. It was surreal. My grandmother dialed her daughter’s number on the speakerphone.
“Hello.” A woman’s voice answered.
“Hi, my name is Brian, I’m nineteen and . . . ”
“Is this my son?” She said.
“Yes.” I replied, instantly in tears.
“I’ve been waiting for you to call. There’s someone here that wants to talk to you.”
“Hey baby!” Chimed a raspy girl’s voice.
“What’s up?” I replied.
“It’s your sister. I’m so happy we finally found you!”
They had me on the next flight out, and the following few weeks were probably the most intense of my life. To experience that blood bond—that love—for the first time as an adult was remarkable. Finally I understood that bond that my adopted siblings had with one another.
Really it’s about more than blood. It’s about love. It’s about the varying contexts of love that help us define it; evolving our understanding of what love is; an understanding that continues to evolve to this day.
Speaking of this day. I appreciate both of my mothers, and all the amazing mothers in my life this Mother’s Day. And every day.
(And to all my siblings: I totally want to be your stupid brother.)
Brian is the founder of oneword.com.