Mental Health Matters: Acceptance (Part II)

I began Mental Health Matters with the acceptance of my own mental health issues, and so, as I shift to share how I’ve developed healthier coping mechanisms, I’m returning to acceptance.

Accepting my adoptee status has been no easy feat. I was ashamed for a long time that I didn’t know who my parents were. Everyone around me seemed to be raised by their biological families. Why wasn’t I? Also, I grew up in the 70s and 80s, where we watched TV shows like, Diff’rent Strokes and Webster and movies, like Annie. Each depicted adoption by wealthy benefactors. My mother was a woman who went to dialysis three times a week and received a disability check; my father was a pharmacy technician at Northwestern Memorial. Many times, I questioned why I got the seemingly short end of the adoption stick.

Accepting my mother’s death and my father’s abandonment has been challenging. I frequently wish that I had “regular” parents and a typical situation. I understand that many families are dysfunctional, but I also know that some familial relationships function with what most would deem normality. Some people have two living parents who call, visit, and have healthy relationships with their grandchildren. I know this exists because I’ve seen it with friends and other family members. Again, I believed I’d been gypped.

Accepting I don’t belong with my biological family has also been tricky. While I didn’t think each would hold me in a long embrace, I did think most would recognize me as part of their “family” and attempt a relationship. I figured they’d want to know what I’d been up to the last forty or so years. But I was wrong. I ignored the fact that I was entering the middle and end of their lives. With my father, specifically, it seemed I’d disrupted the carefully crafted lie man he’d constructed himself to be. For his wife and three of his children, my existence symbolized indiscretions and his flawed human beingness. It was too much for any of them to face.

But by the time I’d found my biological father, I was too grown to be ashamed of anything else.

Years ago, I began unravelling who I was and how I got here as a way to accept myself and my narrative. We…all…have…a…story. And each one is different. My story includes a schizophrenic mother. I mention her mental illness a lot because it’s a part of acknowledging her existence as a part of my own. Without my mother, Joyce, I wouldn’t be here. Equally important is my father, Jerome. During our initial phone conversations, he apologized profusely for inviting my mother up to his apartment that day. I assured him just as many times that there was little reason to feel regret. Without his lust, I wouldn’t be here.

In 2011, I decided to stop interacting with my adoptive father. He’d never understand my point of view or be the father I thought I deserved. Before I ceased communication, I created a ritual to forgive and accept the way he cast me aside during adolescence. A year later, he developed Stage 4 throat cancer. Two years before he actually died, he offered a face-to-face verbal apology. Accepting his “I’m sorry” helped me to accept our circumstances. My adoptive father was who he was, with his own set of challenges, and our lives had intersected and happened the way they were supposed to. In kind, I accepted my adoptive mother for who she was. She wasn’t always physically fit or financially secure, but she was mentally sound. And who am I to judge anyway? The same way I bore children with my imperfect an unhealthy self, she chose to adopt and raise me as her own with her imperfect and physically unhealthy self.

Accepting each of these parental parts has made it easier for me to accept myself. Additionally, acceptance for me has meant acknowledging my origin story. It doesn’t mean I have to like it, but I do accept the reality of it. Every now and then, I relapse into dream-like thoughts of the “perfect” family. But the majority of the time, I now know being me is nothing to be ashamed of.

Mental Health Matters: Acceptance (Part I)

Virtual Book Reading: Video and Update

Last Saturday, we held a successful virtual book reading via Zoom and FB Live. About 40 people floated in and out and we are very appreciative.

Also, y’all know I’m always writing about relationships and how we can do a better job with relating to one another, so I gotta say THANK YOU to my grannie and aunt and sister-friends from all walks of life who showed up. Sending gratitude to the following bloggers who also made a way to pop in from Nigeria, the New England area, Oregon, and Georgia:

Omo Ackin

E

Lady G

Pam

Kim

If you missed it, here’s the 2-hour recording:

 

Monday Notes: Virtual Book Reading

For those of you who have not been able to attend our face-to-face book readings, and because it isn’t feasible to convene in person, a few of the co-authors of Daddy: Reflections of Father-Daughter Relationships will be hosting a virtual book reading on Saturday, June 27th from 2:00-4:00 PM (EST). 

Here is the link: The Silent Pandemic: A Disease Impacting Daughters

Here is the password: 5LEDVW

We hope you’ll join us! If you cannot attend, then please ask any questions in the comments, so they can be answered during our talk.

Monday Notes: “Umi said shine your light on the world”

img_9353“Shine your light for the world to see.” It’s a quote from a rap song that I’d heard decades ago (Mos Def). But I’m really feeling it after our D.C. book reading. Just like the previous two, this one was completely different as well. The Jacksonville book talk was more like a starter event. The authors had never publicly read their stories before, so the energy was a mixture of excitement and nervousness. Though each writer’s voice was clear, it was quiet.

img_0768Three months later, we’d moved 345 miles north to Atlanta. Three women had read in Jacksonville, so they were a bit more familiar with expectations. Their voices were grounded, louder. This time the audience had changed. The energy was palpable in varied ways. Questions were about the writing process, as well as the healing process. How had any of us done this? This included forgiving our fathers for heinous shenanigans. This included writing our mini-memoirs for someone other than ourselves.

img_1904-1Seven months after the Jacksonville event, we convened in Washington, D.C. and everything had changed. Two readers were pros. Kotrish Wright declined the use of a podium. Instead, she used the space around her to give more of a performance act. Her voice rose and fell, like an experienced reader. Inflection was important for specific parts. Ishna Hagan read her narrative with confidence and poise. She stood in her truth, which seemed to give her power.

Tikeetha was a novice to this experience. But I couldn’t tell. She read her story with the ease of a famous author. Though her story is sad and heart wrenching, she managed to make the audience nod and laugh at all the appropriate times.

And finally, there’s me.

img_1919This time I felt like I was shining my light for the world to see. An attendee who had cried her way through a question and almost the entire reading thanked me for putting this together. She’d intended to find a way for her mother to heal from trauma and mental illness. Another woman recounted her own father-daughter situation. It was enough to be another chapter in our edited collection. She, too, admitted she needed to find a way to counter her childhood dysfunction. A friend of mine provided me with a list she’d brainstormed to broaden my reach: come to Richmond, VA and call her OWN network contact.

After this third reading, I feel like we’ve each come into our own. We’ve done much more than pour our hearts on pages for catharsis. We’ve demonstrated what love, forgiveness, grace, and healing look like. We’ve exposed ourselves in ways that neither of us believed possible.

“Umi said shine your light on the world; shine your light for the world to see.” With this project, we’ve shone brightly and come into our own. And we plan to continue in our own way.

Monday Notes: Atlanta Book Reading (Setting Intentions)

Some of you will recall that I had a book reading in Jacksonville, Florida. It was Women’s History Month and my intention was to introduce the book, Daddy in a public way with at least four authors. I did that and it was successful.

breeWith the Atlanta book reading, the intention shifted. One of my co-authors, Bree had a different purpose. She aimed to provide a space for healing.

It began with her creating another title. Instead of the book’s title, Daddy: Reflections of Father-Daughter Relationships, she decided the theme would be, Dear Daddy: Intimate Conversations about Father-Daughter Relationships. And let me tell you, her intention set the tone.

for_keepsAdditionally, Rosa Duffy, the owner of For Keeps Bookstore also had a goal. If you haven’t read about her, then please do so in this Atlanta magazine feature. Her intention was to have an open place for rare, African-American books. Her establishment is in an historical district, and she wanted a place for people to saunter by and say, “hmmm…let me see what’s going on in there.”

As you know, my intention when I write is to raise people’s consciousness, specifically women. I want us to see ourselves in writing and to connect with words and ideas, and then do, act, and speak differently.

Much like other happenings in the universe, these three intentions converged. We each accomplished our desired outcomes.

img_0805We had intimate conversations. A man in the front row pulled out his journal, started writing feverishly, and then held his partner’s hand for the remainder of the event. He didn’t share. He didn’t make eye contact. But I can tell he was moved.

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A woman happened to be walking past For Keeps Bookstore, opened the door, sat down, and connected with the stories being told. She even had an endearing conversation with one of the authors and will probably collaborate with her to continue healing hearts in some way.

Women spoke out about their experiences with their fathers. They shared their pain, and then the conversation took another direction.

Similar to the last reading, a few women expressed the fact that they didn’t realize not everyone had great fathers. But this time they communicated a growing awareness. They felt the need to thank their dads more; to appreciate the time they had left with their fathers; and to simply be more grateful. It became a time to honor everyone’s feelings, even if they were dissimilar. My husband even shared his sentiments. On that day, we were each mindful of one another; we created a dialogue and communicated in an empathetic space.

Once again I’m thankful for this reading. It was different. The energy was intense, in a progressive, Atlanta kind of way.

If you missed the first two readings, then no worries. We’ll be convening in Washington, DC in the fall.

Atlanta Book Reading

Do you live in Atlanta? Will you be home on June 15th? Are you interested in discussing the importance of father-daughter relationships? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then please come out to hear four of my co-authors read their stories and converse about familial ties.

There will also be free food and wine!

Details below:

Monday Notes: Listening to, Supporting, and Understanding Women’s Issues

In the States, Women’s History Month is a time “commemorating and encouraging the study, observance and celebration of the vital role of women in American history” (Women’s History Month). Isn’t that great?

While I believe people like Harriet Tubman and Helen Keller were influential to society as a whole, I use this month as a time to not only reflect on the important role that friends and family have played in my life, but also to pay it forward by encouraging and uplifting women with whom I’m associated.

img_9354Therefore, I decided to begin this year’s Women’s History Month by having a book reading. On Saturday, March 2, 2019, four of the authors from my most recent edited collection, Daddy: Reflections of Father-Daughter Relationships and I gathered together to share our stories.

img_9382It was a perfect writer’s scenario. It was a dark and stormy afternoon. Seriously, it rained the entire day. The independent bookstore was cozy. Stacks of used and new books served as a backdrop. Right next to us, sat a group of five doing black out poetry. They circled and highlighted words, while also half-listening to our talk. Afterwards, the group’s leader expressed her adoration for the women and the event, highlighting the importance of healing through story.

The support was palpable. This is no exaggeration. The space held supportive energy and the reason was because each author had invited guests who had their genuine interests at heart. Mothers, cousins, brothers, best friends, longtime high-school friends, and book club members were a part of the audience.

book_reading_2019Most importantly, they listened in an attempt to understand each woman’s point of view about her former dysfunctional relationship with her father. During the question and answer portion, a woman from a book club I frequent began by saying she was trying to relate because “she’s a daddy’s girl.” I’d heard her sentiments from other women with similar experiences. They had no idea that some men had little regard for their daughters. It was a foreign concept. But I was happy to know that she and others were attempting empathy.

To me, that’s what creative nonfiction is all about. We should attempt to understand life through another’s eyes. Reading another person’s story is one way to develop the type of empathy I’m suggesting. Think about it. It’s easy to remain in a bubble of understanding that privileges your perspective. But it takes a different level of relating to listen to someone’s story and try to place yourself in that position to feel what they may have felt.

And so I’m pleased.

I recently read someone’s thoughts on “empowering women.” I don’t remember whom, but she suggested that she does not empower women, but rather she creates the conditions for women to be empowered, and from that, they are able to liberate themselves.

That’s how I view this book and this weekend’s past reading. I’ve merely served as a vehicle and set up the conditions. These (and the other nine authors) have done the work to free themselves. Isn’t that a beautiful thing?

Monday Notes: Finding My Biological Family (Part II)

I’ve been trying to figure out how to begin this post.

Humorous? Those ancestry.com commercials are cute, right? White people finding out their brown, African roots; black people finding out their white, European roots. It’s all fun and games, until you click on that other link and find out who your biological father is.

Somber and Poetic? Aunt Catherine said she asked my pregnant mother one question, who’s the father? Joyce looked at her, lifted a finger, and pointed at the janitor, a lanky, white man. DCFS had reported a janitor found me as a baby. Not thinking there could be more than one, the storyteller in me put two and two together and made myself biracial. Turns out, I’m not. My father is an African American male. I know because of an ancestry DNA kit.

Straightforward, yet Cheeky? Like 4 million other people, I thought I’d spit into a tube, mail it off through UPS and find out from what part of Africa I hailed. Cameroon/Congo, Benin/Togo, and England/Wales are the top three. But ethnicity isn’t all you can learn there. When I clicked on the little green icon called, View DNA Matches, the full name of my biological father appeared. This is how I found him.

My feelings about finding my biological father, who we’ll call CB, are just as varied as these introductions. I’ve been trying to pin them down, but they range anywhere from a #KanyeShrug to elation. Those of you who’ve followed my blog for the past four years might understand clearly.

img_9137Much of my time has been spent healing and talking about my adopted father, who passed in 2015. His death brought pure peace to my being. An integral connection ended for good. Although a different person, CB is still my father, and finding him had the potential to open another relation called, father. Was I ready for this? Did I need this? These questions swarmed in my brain.

It is my belief that no matter what your head says, your heart and soul always know better. I’d released the idea of knowing my biological father, not because I didn’t want to know, but rather because I thought it an impossible feat. I’d forgotten my own 2018 mantra: Anything is possible, especially finding your father via 21st century methods.

So, I am ready for this. Relating to my deceased father and processing hurtful emotions has prepared me to connect with whoever CB is. I’ve learned not to judge as harshly as I used to. This has been useful. When CB described the circumstances surrounding my conception, a one-night stand, I felt liberated, not judgmental. Who am I to judge a one-night stand, or a baby born out of wedlock to two unprepared people?

img_8993I also needed this. It might seem shallow, but I finally have a complete picture of who I am. This is something I’ve noticed biological families take for granted. Growing up, I always felt physically out of place. No one’s skin color was like mine. No one shared my body type. No one walked like me. No one held their head like mine. In fact, the size of my butt was often the topic of conversation; I now know that comes from my mother’s shapely frame. I was also often told to stop walking slew-footed and to stop walking like a turtle. It might not be healthy, but now I see why these things were challenging for me to “correct.” CB and one of my sisters have similar characteristics.

I’m prepared for this. Learning to love myself has had one major impact. I no longer seek relationships to fill a void. This means I now enter situations as a whole person, with clear boundaries. Therefore, I am good no matter what may come from this new connection. And if I’m not, I’ll add it to the memoir 😉

Part I

Monday Notes: 3 Points of Clarity about Adoption from an Adoptee

Ever since I found my biological father, brother, and sisters by completing one of those Ancestry.com DNA tests, I’ve answered a barrage of questions. They seem to come from people who cannot seem to wrap their minds around what adoption is or from those who cannot conceive the relationship that adoption offers. So, here’s some clarity.

img_8185#1 “Your dad wasn’t your dad?” To put it simply, yes and no. I was adopted as a ten-month-old baby by two parents who did not birth me. Growing up, I called these parents mommy and daddy, the same way you called your parents something affectionate. I hope no one’s reading this with sarcasm. I find this is the first part that people just don’t get. When you’re adopted as a baby, you don’t call your parents, adopted mom and adopted dad. And when you find out you’re adopted, you don’t start calling them, Mr. and Mrs. Gregory. They’re just mom and dad, like your parents are. But for the sake of this post, I’ll add the adopted in front.

img_7197#2 “Aha! That’s why your grandmother took care of you!” No. My grandmother did not adopt me when I was a baby. My grandmother is the mother of my adopted mom. I know for some my history is a bit confusing, so here’s a brief explanation in less than 100 words. My adopted mom died when I was 16 years old. I never knew my biological mother, because she gave me up for adoption when I was a baby. The drama I write about concerning my dad is from my adopted dad. After he kicked me out of his house and gave up his parental rights, my adopted grandmother took care of me when I was 17 years old and provided whatever I needed from that moment forward.

Usually by this point, I get a blank stare or silence during a text message. But some people have returned with this one:

#3 “So, your cousins, aunts, all the people you visit and talk about…they aren’t your family?” <sigh>Like #1, the answer to this is twofold. No. These are not my biological family members. Yes. Of course, they’re my family. I’m 45 years old. These are the people with whom I was raised. Similar to your family, they watched me take my first steps, learn to eat solid foods, babysat me, played with me, shared secrets, bought me necessities for school, took me on family vacations, hung out with me at family reunions, paid for my undergraduate education, attended graduations, visited when I birthed my own children, attended my wedding, etc., etc., etc. They did family things, just like your family may have done for you.

Whew! Now that I’ve cleared that up, I’ll write what it means to find and know my biological family.

Until then, let me know what your family situation is. Are you adopted? Have you adopted children? Was it an open/closed adoption? Do you wish you were adopted? lol (I have someone who told me that) Do you have adopted children in your family?

Monday Notes: Who is Family?

Being adopted has shaped the way I view who is family and who is not. When I found out I was adopted over thirty years ago, I saw the people around me in a different light. I saw them as strangers, yet I still accepted them as family because they had taught me to do so. I instantly realized that any combination of people could make a family.

img_8185In this way, I accepted my mother and father as my family unit. These were the people who’d decided to raise me from infancy as their own. They loved me, and I them. But when my mother died and my father gave up his parental rights, I began to question the definition. Was my adopted father not my father anymore simply because the Court said he wasn’t? I mean the Court deemed him my father in 1974, and so he was. Was he not in 1990 because they said he wasn’t? He was the only father I’d known. Could the Court demolish sixteen years of relationship?

At the age of seventeen, I was briefly orphaned, until my adopted grandmother assumed responsibility. She became my legal guardian. I never called her mother or mom because I’d already had two of those. Plus, she was simply my Grannie as she’d been before. She was family, not only because she was my mother’s mother, but also because she’d provided love and comfort throughout my entire life, and at a time when I’d most needed it. She’s been the most consistent relationship I’ve had.

img_8191As I grew older and had children of my own, curiosity about my own background grew. By the age of thirty-two, with a lot of hassle from the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, I found my birth mother’s family. My biological mother had committed suicide five years after I was born. Few family members were easily contacted. One of her older sisters, Aunt Catherine, was found and I immediately felt connected.

Our shared name was odd. But what was stranger was the point of her nose and the idea that her face looked like mine. It’s a luxury adopted children don’t have. In fact, people who didn’t know me asked her daughter who I was, making sure she knew that I looked exactly like her mother. Aunt Catherine and I held long phone conversations and that lady, although I didn’t know her fully, felt like family.

My sister, the woman whom my mother had birthed five years prior to me, did not. She was cold and distant and didn’t seem interested in establishing or maintaining a sisterhood. Today, we’re friends on social media, but similar to former grammar school classmates, that’s the extent of our relationship. Our genes are stronger than our connection, yet we are family.

Fast forward thirteen years later, and I’ve found my biological father by accident via DNA website. When I looked at this man’s face, I knew he was my father. The parts of my face that Aunt Catherine and I didn’t share, were seen in him. Our eyes. Our smile. Our demeanor. He is my biological father and we are family.

After our first conversation, I learned that I have another sister. We are the same age. We look like twins. Pictures reveal the same wide puppy dog eyes as youth and the same curvature of our backs in our twenty-something wedding pictures. We are family because genetics says so; however, we’ve found that we are also family because we relate similarly. Conversing with her is like talking to myself. And once again, I’m left wondering, what is family? This newfound sister certainly is. It’s like I’ve found part of me I didn’t know I needed. Our immediate love for one another is evident.

I share all of this to say that family is whomever you make it. Being adopted has taught me that family is but another societal construct, but relationship is something altogether different. Like other relationships, familial ones can be maintained simply because two people want them to be. I’ve also come to believe that being born or adopted into a family is but one component of actually being family. For me, relationship, caring, and commitment are true connectors, and consequently what makes a family.

That’s my final answer. What’s yours?