"Tragic Back Story:" How Adoption Taught Me the Importance of Identity
Wednesday 2nd November 2022
In the wake of National Adoption Week, our Director Ross O'Keefe, has reflected on what becoming an adoptive father taught him about himself and what he hopes to teach his children for to support their future success.
The best superheroes find a way to harness the pain of past trauma so that it fuels them to do future good. In truth, we are all shaped (to some degree) by our experiences whether we realise it or not. We are frequently the products of our environments, learning from those who orbit us, and teaching others whom we orbit, in sometimes overt and other times subliminal ways. It forms part of our story, and our stories are vital to helping us understand who we are.
For adopted children, things are not quite so straight forward; there is more to tell, and they must rely on others to impart what my eldest (adopted) son has taken to calling their 'tragic back story,' because he's a bit dramatic and almost definitely doesn't get that from me (cough).
My partner and I became fathers for the first time in 2016, and then for the second time within the space of a year. We were blessed with two beautiful boys, with wildly different personalities. To survive this process, you must remain objective. The sad truth is that lots of people treat their kids in hideous ways and many children in 'the system' (which is a dreadful expression) will bear these scars for much, if not all, of their lives. For an adoptive parent, it means entering the process with your eyes, as well as your heart, open, because you can't predict what traumas you will be helping your child deal with.
Our children may carry war wounds of their own. My partner and I might never understand the impact their early life journey had upon them (ours was the fifth household my eldest son settled in, for example) but we take solace in knowing they will never remember anything other than our love and, to be perfectly honest, subservience. This, however, places a large responsibility on our shoulders and the collective shoulders of adoptive parents the world over.
Unlike comic book superheroes, it's unhealthy for adopted children to have a secret identity. In place of memory, we must articulate, without judgement or self-interest (which is not easy) that their stories are a little more complicated than others, and that one day they will likely have to confront that other life as brief as it was, and the people they left behind.
This is probably something we will struggle with more than them but there's no hiding from it. It's vital they understand their origins; that they have their questions answered (they have two Dad's after all, and it's amazing how quickly they recognise that this is not a 'norm') as soon as they are old enough to understand. We don't want to hit them with some big reveal or a shocking twist in their tale; that will almost certainly hurt even more. It's equally important they understand that, while not devoid of tragedy (any circumstance leading to the removal of a child being from their birth family is tragic), said back story could have been much, much worse
It wasn't until my children arrived that I really got a handle on my own identity.