My mom passed away a little more than 14 years ago. Today would have been her 65th birthday.
A year or two before she passed, she shared a secret with me that she had been carrying around her entire adult life. She told me that when she was sixteen she had become pregnant, that she had a baby boy and had given him up for adoption. She told me I had another brother somewhere out there in the world.
My mom told me that she often thought about that baby boy. She wondered how his life had turned out. She wondered if she made the right decision. She told me she hoped she would get to meet him some day.
At the time, I remember being taken aback by this new information. I was surprised to learn I wasn’t her first child after all. But the thing that struck me the most was realizing my mom had been carrying this secret around for so long. I was in my thirties before she told me. It was clear that talking about it made her uncomfortable. It was a pained conversation. I’m sure talking about it stirred up feelings of shame, guilt and worry that she had been carrying around and wrestling with for more than three decades at that point. I remember wanting to do something or say something to ease her pain, and not really knowing what to say or do.
After that conversation, we didn’t talk about it again. Sadly, my mom died before she had the chance to meet that baby boy and to answer her questions and put to rest the worries she carried with her most of her life.
Mom, I’m very pleased to share with you, and everyone, that your baby boy turned out just fine.
Mom, you made the right decision. You don’t need to worry or feel guilt. You should not be ashamed. Instead, you should hold your head high, with pride, knowing that the sacrifices you made, the anguish and doubt you endured, they were all worth it.
A few weeks ago, thanks to the wonders of Facebook and a change in Colorado state law that opened up previously sealed adoption records, I received a cryptic message from someone trying to locate my mother. He had her full maiden name and date of birth. I had a hunch who this might be when I saw that first message. My heart was racing. After a few more tentative exchanges with a few more details, and some fact-checking with some other relatives, I was able to confirm that my mom was, in fact, the birth mother of my mystery messenger. My long lost older brother had found me, at last.
My excitement of finally connecting with my newfound brother was tempered by having to break the news that his birth mother was already deceased. I sent him one of the last photos I have of my mom, sitting with my two young boys eating cotton candy at a school carnival. She loved her grandbabies. They called her “Nawie” (it rhymes with Maui).
I also sent a copy of her obituary, listing her children and surviving relatives. Pulling up those photos and re-reading that obituary stirred deeply buried grief in me. But it also underscored the hole that was still unfilled when my mom died. I was sad to break the news that she was gone, but sadder still to feel the regret that she would never get the chance to meet him, to get to know him, to hug him. She would have really liked that.
I don’t believe my mother shared her secret with many people. I’m sure she must have told a few close friends. I don’t know whether or not my mom would have made this revelation public if she were still alive today. And when I thought about sharing this story, I worried about revealing a secret that she would rather have kept private. But at the same time, I know my mom would have been excited to share this good news with her friends. She would have wanted to tell anyone she had confided in that this story had a happy ending. Because I don’t know who my mom shared her story with, and I don’t want a cloud of secrecy to hang over the relationship I hope to have with my new older half-brother, I have decided to share this story with the world. My mom took her secret to the grave. I think that’s plenty far enough for anyone.
If you know me, you probably know I already have a lot of brothers. Both of my parents had multiple marriages and between them and combinations of “yours”, “mine” and “ours”, growing up I had eight step and half brothers, and no sisters. It was like an all-male Brady Bunch, only bigger. The step- and half- designations have never really mattered. We have always just been brothers. And now I get to put another one on the board. My daughter Katie asked me when I told her this news, “How many uncles do I have now?” Believe it or not, I now have NINE brothers. Along with my two brothers-in-law, Katie now has ELEVEN uncles. I think that is freaking awesome.
A couple weeks ago, my new brother and his wife drove up from Houston to meet me and my wife for dinner. We traded questions and answers. We shared forty years worth of stories over nachos and margaritas. We laughed. We fought back tears at times. But most importantly we got to know each other for the very first time.
My newfound brother’s name is Dan. He lives in Houston with his beautiful wife and family. He’s a good dad and a proud father. He was a college athlete. He’s had a successful career. He’s built a good life for himself and his family. He’s happy and healthy.
Mom, he told me he wanted to thank you for giving him the greatest gift he could have ever asked for. He grew up in a great family with loving parents. He’s had a great life.
You would be very proud.