I think about my dad and my father a lot. As a transracially adopted person I think about the man who raised me along with my mom, and I think about the man who made it possible for me to be born. These thoughts greatly intensify, naturally, around Father's Day.
At some point in my younger years I became very aware of my race and the differences that existed even between me and those closest to me: I was brown and my family was white. I also became aware that my biological mother was white, which meant my brownness came from my biological father. This fact made the non-existent relationship with my biological father even more complicated.
So I did what any child does when she is trying to figure out her world. I made up a story. My story involved a biological mother, Elizabeth Montgomery from Bewitched, and a biological father, Harry Belafonte. Harry and Elizabeth were too busy in Hollywood to keep me. All this seemed a reasonable (and entirely possibly) explanation to me, so I went about my childhood suppressing the unanswered questions swirling inside me with my imaginative narrative.
As I made my way into and through adolescence, Father's Day became an even more powerful and confusing time for me. I was certainly inspired to celebrate my dad and did just that along with my sister and brothers. He was the hardest-working man I knew, had superhuman strength (kind of like Paul Bunyan) and could do magical things like stack wood perfectly and make a rock wall with precision. He was worthy of celebration! At some point, though, in the lead-up to Father's Day, on the day of or in the days that directly followed, the questions would come...
I am thinking about my biological on Father's Day; is he thinking about me?
Who will give him a Father's Day gift?
Does he miss me?
Will I ever see him?
As time marched forward and I began to understand more about grown-up relationships, one doozy of a question blinked like a neon sign in my brain.
Does he even know I exist?
The very idea that the man who was partly responsible for giving me life might not have any idea that I was born was incredible to me. I was certain that it would also be incredible to others, so it stayed within me and it made me uncomfortable -- very uncomfortable.
As I entered young adulthood and came to terms with the fact that "Bewitched" and Belafonte were not my biological parents, questions of my beginnings, the circumstances surrounding my adoption and my mixed-race, became front and center in my consciousness. Having only communicated with my biological mother a handful of times before she left the planet, the truth of my beginnings may never be revealed and the questions about my biological father may never be answered.
Were they in love?
Were differences in race an issue in their relationship?
Was my mixed race a reason I did not stay with her or them?
What makes me brown?
Would I ever be able to ask them these questions?
As the questions about my biological father persisted, there is one thing I never questioned -- my adoptive dad's deep love for me and my siblings. Being a hardcore New England native with crazy good farm skills, the "Tom-Dog" Dinwoodie brand of love is simple and at the same time extremely complex. I may not always understand him and we certainly do not always see eye-to-eye, but I KNOW he loves me. The love and strength bestowed upon me by both he and my mom is like a neon sign blinking in my spirit that I feel and everyone can see.
On this Father's Day I am thinking about my dad, the man who raised me, and who I know loves me deeply. I think about the rare tender moments when I would sit on the bathroom counter and watch him shave, which he did with precision. I think about the man whose pride in me is rarely delivered directly to me but instead by the family friend that stops me in a local store, grabs my hand, looks me square in the eyes, tells me how proud they are of me and then spends the next several minutes telling me in great detail just how proud my dad is of me. They know he is because he told them so.
On this Father's Day I am also thinking about my biological father, a man I do not know and who may not have a clue I exist. I think of all of the questions I would want to ask him should I ever have the opportunity. I think about how deep and complex my racial identity is and how knowing him unlocks details and nuances related to that critical part of me. I may never know him and I hope for the day when more of my truth can be revealed through a connection to him. But until then I will keep looking for him in the mirror.
All that I do and all that I am is wrapped up in two men; one gave me life and the other raised me. I simply would not exist without one and can't imagine my life without the other. All that I know and all that I am still discovering reflect a complex reality, most profoundly in my commitment to children and families. As I move through spaces that are both professional and personal, I learn, I evolve, I ask questions and I hope that my passion inspires others. It's not always easy, but few things in life that we are truly passionate about ever are. But as I have learned sometimes, just when you really need a boost, you find yourself walking through life and someone grabs your hand, looks you in square in the eye and tells you they are proud of you. You smile and keep moving forward.
Learn more about the Donaldson Adoption Institute's work at AdoptionInstitute.org.