I participated in a roundtable discussion called a ‘Community Studio’ about adoptees and DNA Testing. It was facilitated by two adopted geneticists at the National Institutes of Health.
There were about 15 participants, most internationally adoptees. I was the only Indian-adoptee, but it included adoptees from Korea, China, and the Philippines. The non-adopted participants included an Ethiopian social worker and another participant’s spouse.
For two hours, we engaged in a lively discussion about DNA testing, using popular DNA kits. And we deliberated about our legal, ethical and moral concerns with the process.
Someone on Twitter asked, ‘where are the male adoptee voices?’ I tweeted a few responses. Then I decided to write a blog post about why I think this is true.
As a male adoptee voice for the last decade, the number of men that I have met or hear about who are active in the space is tiny. This includes both adoptees and adoptive fathers.
Here are some reasons why;
- Women dominate the entire adoption industry. The heads of adoption agencies, the leaders of adoptive parent groups, the social workers, the academics studying adoption, the adoptee-led support groups, the adoptee bloggers, the list continues. Women lead most adoption groups.
- Adoption language targets women, birthmothers, adoptive mothers, etc. There is rarely a mention of biological fathers and minuscule focus on male adoptees. Furthermore, adoptive dads are not typically blogging about their family experiences.
- Though adoption is marketed and discussed as a family issue, it is mostly a women’s issue. Father’s are part of the story and may have huge impacts, but one sees them mostly posing in family pictures. They are rarely part of the adoption narrative. Sadly, I feel they are usually ornaments, conveying stability and safety in their families.
- Male adoptees are not raised to discuss and explore their feelings. Historically men have no outlet to unpack their complicated emotions because vulnerability is perceived as weak.
Sports around the world potentially bring people together as nothing else can. Sports can unite countries, with myriad ethnic groups and language, or cities and states. The solidarity that perfect strangers can find through playing and watching sports cannot be overstated. Cheering for the same team, and embracing fandom can be a catharsis.
But racism threatens this vision, by sowing animosity, bigotry and in extreme cases hatred, between players and fans. Across the globe and throughout the sports world, racism and athletics have an unfortunate historical relationship.Continue Reading
The Atlantic Monthly magazine recently published a ‘Dear Therapist’ column about the adoptee experience.
A letter was written by a grandmother (Lynne) concerned that her daughter’s child whom she relinquished for adoption was not interested in knowing her biological mother.
The therapist’s response to Lynne was a reassuring piece valuing the adopted daughter’s experiences. I was shocked.
In the mainstream media and national publications, it is extremely rare for someone who is not an adoptee to articulate the adoptee experience as Ms. Gottlieb did. I commend her for writing an answer that centered the adoptee’s needs, and not the wants or needs of the biological mother or the grandmother.
Everyone should read this article
Her reply ‘legitimizes’ what so many adoptees have been saying and feeling for years. I use ‘legitimizes’ in quotes, because I think adoptees have their opinions disregarded as not professional enough or too experiential. Therefore, for a non-adopted therapist to say and use language that an adopted person would use, means we speak truth, not just personally, but objectively.
I double checked to ensure that Ms. Gottlieb is not an adoptee. I could scarcely believe that someone who is not adopted could write so eloquently about the feelings of adoptees and try to see things from their perspective.
One of my ‘adoption mantras,’ that I share consistently on this blog, and in person, is that ‘adoption is not about you, it is about the adoptee.’ People need to focus on them and their needs. This article reinforced that in a beautiful way.
In my experience the adoptee community quickly judges opinions and viewpoints which fail to recognize that adoption has two sides.
We (rightly) criticize writing and speech focusing only on the fairy tale adoption narrative but ignores the pain, loss, hurt, anger and other emotions that adoptees experience.
It follows we must also praise and support those writing about adoption.
Some clearly understand there are multiple angles to it. Like this therapist.
But, the adoptee community cannot just be one that tears down differing viewpoints, as wrong as those sentiments are. Everyone gains when adoptees are more engaged in the dialogue.
Can we really blame the non-adoptee community for being uninformed and ignorant about adoption realities – if until recently the entire narrative about adoption was written by adoptive parents and agencies?
I am glad this piece was written and was encouraged by its tone. The admonishment that ‘right now, there doesn’t seem to be much regard for your daughter’s biological child’s wants or needs—your perspective seems to be all about your daughter’s desire for this relationship,” was a welcome change to typical adoption stories.
I hope that Lynne and her daughter open their eye and see the harm in placing their needs above their grand-daughter and child.
And I wish that all answers from non-adopted people were this thoughtful and considerate of the adoptee experience.
The backdrop for the Netflix show Delhi Crime is the infamous Nirbhaya gang rape and murder on a bus in Delhi, India in December 2012. But if you were thinking about watching it, let me be clear: the show emphasizes the hunt and apprehension of the six rapists, using case files from the actual event. The crime is always there, hanging in the background. But that is not the show’s focus. Its focal point is on catching the rapists.
I watched the show because it occurs in places that I know personally and because it received solid reviews. The bus stand in Munirka, where the girl boarded her fateful ride, was a few blocks away from where Sasmita lived for years.
Plus, I love stories behind the story. I was unfamiliar with the narrative and details of the chase and capture of the Delhi bus rapists. It was informative to view Indian police operations and that was another of the show’s benefits for me.
The element missing in trafficking in persons (TIP), is prevention.
Recently, I have done much research into TIP efforts globally. And I have reached a potentially unpopular conclusion: how the money is being spent will never stop the problem and the amount expended is nowhere near as much as the tragedy requires.
Furthermore, there is little work to prevent trafficking from initially occurring.
Before continuing, I must clarify: I have friends working in anti-trafficking fields, and there are literally thousands of people around the world in the TIP field doing important and wonderful work. This post is not a slam or a criticism on their current efforts or on anyone battling this evil scourge.
Rather, my thoughts are coming from the mindset of evaluation and improving their labors.
Let us unlock my statement. Most money spent on anti-trafficking exertions, from governments to NGOs to the private sector either raise awareness, go towards law enforcement (prosecution, training police or similar), or fund survivor rehabilitation. All of those elements are necessary and needed in this war. But we lack hard evidence of those interventions’ successes.
Little research exists on the effectiveness of TIP efforts.
If you think this could not be the case, take a few minutes here.
I could find only a few studies in my extensive research examining TIP’s efficacy. What I discovered, however, is many people working in the sub-sector saying that good data about human trafficking and interventions is difficult to find and hard to convey.
There are good reasons for lacking quality data. Survivors are reticent to speak about their trauma. They suffer many social stigmas when they are rescued. The perpetrators are shadowy figures and those involved in the trade in human beings are usually hidden. The whole enterprise is hush-hush and out of the spotlight.
Some recognize that data evaluation of the value of anti-trafficking efforts is wanting. Which raises the question: if seemingly no one knows whether the money being spent is making a difference, why do organizations and people fund the struggle?
I think the answer is comparable to the ‘War on Drugs.’
We feel like we have to do ‘something,’ and that not taking action would be morally or ethically wrong. But just as the ‘War on Drugs’ has failed, so too has the ‘war on trafficking’ at a meta level.
For all the money spent on TIP, the problem grows yearly and ensnares increasing amounts of people. It is estimated that the trade in human beings is nearly a $150 billion-dollar enterprise. And this is a conservative estimate.
This brings us to another problem.
This is a list of US government agencies and initiatives involved in the fight against human trafficking. What I had trouble finding was the total amount of money the USG spent on anti-trafficking efforts in a particular year. The budget numbers I have seen from individual agencies demonstrate that the total amount is not parallel to the problem.
The drug business is worth nearly $600 billion (again a conservative estimate) and the amount of money spent countering drugs is more than $1 billion per year.
Many Americans believe trafficking happens ‘over there,’ and not in their communities.
People do not realize the problem’s universality. Therefore, they think that for example, implementing, a $25 million-dollar project in South Asia raising awareness and helping identify victims of trafficking will make a tangible difference. Twenty-five million dollars is not a small amount of money. But it is a pinprick, barely a pebble in the vast ocean of trafficking.
Trafficking is less visible to the public compared to the drug trade, whose stories fill our newspapers. One rarely hears about trafficking except for a random survivor’s story or awareness-raising efforts. Recently the arrest of the New England Patriot’s owner Robert Kraft brought human trafficking to the headlines.
But if trafficking received similar press coverage as drugs, we would all view the problem differently.
Trafficking is a global problem and it happens everywhere.
Another common fallacy is that sex-trafficking is the dominant form of human trafficking. That is 100 percent false.
Many more people are trafficked for labor than for sex.
But the more salacious story is sex trafficking and it gets coverage. Again, this does not minimize sex trafficking and its devastating effects. What I am saying is that the misconception that all human trafficking is sex trafficking is not only wrong but harmful.
Focusing only on sex trafficking can easily blind one’s eyes to labor bondage, substantially more pervasive.
Anti-trafficking spending is not making the problem smaller. An element of the fight against human trafficking that is absent and rarely discussed is prevention. Is there a way to use big data to identify potential human trafficking victims?
Anti-trafficking efforts require a transformative solution, but the current actions barely impact the overall situation. Click To Tweet
Perhaps a strategy similar to the law enforcement “Broken Window Theory” could be utilized. This is where patterns of criminal behavior are correlated with specific vulnerabilities of people at high risk of being coerced into trafficking.
By far the most dominant and headline-catching work against trafficking is arresting those engaged in it. But here’s the problem: merely removing a predator from an environment without changing the underlying situation which allowed trafficking to flourish will not preclude another predator from taking the first one’s place.
No matter how many human traffickers are being imprisoned, unless society eradicates elements drawing the trafficker and changes the incentives for their presence, there will always be more.
Returning to the failed “War on Drugs,’ more than one-third of all people undergoing punishment in the U.S. criminal justice system are there for drug-related offenses. However, the proliferation and usage of illegal drugs continue unabated, growing yearly.
Why then would we think that merely jailing traffickers would stop the problem? Global efforts at arresting those involved in human trafficking are minuscule. Yet, governments claim small victories, calling it progress when a country arrests and convicts handfuls of people for human trafficking yearly.
Global TIP efforts must focus more resources on identifying ways to eliminate the problem and the environment in which it thrives. If the current distribution of efforts and money remains unchanged, the problem will worsen, entangling more and more people and destroying their lives.
I frequently come across white evangelical Christians who are ardent proponents of international adoption and also strong Trump supporters. And the data seems to back up this personal experience: nearly 80 percent of evangelical Christians voted for Donald Trump for President and numbers show that large segments of the evangelical Christian population support foreign adoption.
Many of these individuals feel that they have a special calling for foreign adoption, believing they need to “rescue” babies across the globe.
They push this narrative, raising money for campaigns to create “forever families” with children from other nations through adoption. These endeavors tug at heartstrings with poignant stories of their infertility and their desire to make a difference. But, some continually, and wholeheartedly support or minimize the everyday vitriol this presidential administration spews about immigrants, legal or otherwise.
That is top-rate hypocrisy. And I am sick of it.
Trumpers tout their Bible bona fides, while also backing Trump’s caustic rhetoric about immigrants and the stranger. The two are incompatible. When Trump calls Mexicans racists and worse, your defense should not be “he got Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court…I do not like him personally, but that seat was crucial.” Nor is it an acceptable response to say “well I don’t agree with many of his stands morally, but he’s a true conservative and has our interests at heart.”
They talk a big game about all-encompassing love, yet at the same time, they will not welcome the outsider. While they believe it’s their God-given mandate to build a family through foreign adoption. That mindset makes no sense to me.
They must not see the disconnect between the words “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. (Leviticus 19:33-34)” and Trump’s or Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ language used to describe poor, desperate asylum seekers from the Middle East or Central and Latin America. Yet for me, this contrast is glaring.
Those escaping Libya, Syria, Somalia, Honduras, Guatemala, and other areas mired in war, famine, natural disaster, and/or poverty are leaving some of the most dangerous environments on earth. They have already experienced nearly unimaginable suffering.
The Christian right waxes glowingly about love, yet has no problem with kids languishing in border detention facilities, ripped from their parents whose only crime was seeking a better future for themselves and their families.
This is all fine, as long as we “own the libs,” they say. What a twisted way to think.
Then they turn around and pen a blog-post about how thrilled they are to adopt a child from overseas and are fervently praying for God to smooth the paperwork process so he/she can be added to their family.
What happened to biblical compassion and empathy?
We can and should debate immigration policy, but there should be absolutely 100 percent revulsion and disgust, especially amongst “Christians” about how Trump talks about immigration.
I wonder if they realize that through adoption, they are bringing a legal immigrant into the US to be a citizen. Yet they vigorously defend Trump’s arbitrary ending of DACA and remain silent as he uses kids’ lives as bargaining tools, pushing false accounts about crime and immigration.
If they cannot love someone different from them – in language, dress, culture or other variations – they should not adopt a child internationally.
The zealot’s absolute refusal to repudiate Trump means they tacitly agree with a racist President, and his Attorney General and closest advisors. Nevertheless, they plan to bring a non-white baby into their family. Newsflash: if you adopt internationally, then you are increasing your family through legal immigration.
They remain silent about racist and xenophobic policies deliberately targeting those who look different from them, yet desire a multi-racial family.
How will they teach their children about race and adoption? I do not believe it is fair to an adopted child to remove them from their birth culture and then further strip them of any chance to learn about their origins. Many evangelical adopters believe they need to “save” foreign babies not only physically, but spiritually and show them Christianity.
But how multi-cultural will that family be? It would be quite sanctimonious to celebrate their child’s non-American culture while holding opinions about “other” cultures and their inferiority. So, I am guessing that will not happen in their family. How does a fervent Trump supporter square their immigration policies and views about people who look different from them with having a family member who does not resemble them at all?
When someone says something offensive to them or to their child, how will they react?
Maybe the comments will be words they themselves said or supported others uttering. Being a part of a mixed race family brings specific challenges and yet it is an opportunity to build bridges and explore racial issues like white privilege.
If the adoptive family raises their family in a healthy way, adoption can assist families to embrace tangible multi-culturalism. In my own family, we have a beautiful blend of different cultures and a richer overall experience.
I believe in second chances and that we are all flawed humans. But if one consistently supports the vile anti-diversity talk arising from this administration’s policies, while also maintaining deeply held beliefs about the “justness” of foreign adoption, then you have not really changed.
The Apostle Paul said to obey the laws, but Jesus said to love the stranger because whatever you do “to the least of these, you do to me.”
The pro-Trump evangelical community supporting foreign adoption would do well to remember that.
A host of recent news stories are about the decline in international adoptions. The decrease in adoptions is staggering: 24,000 plus foreign adoptions in 2004 and less than 5,000 as of 2017.
But the State Department is not actively looking to stop international adoption as many bloggers and pundits suggest.
This issue cuts across both liberal and conservative constituents with each side, convinced of a nefarious Department of State (DOS) conspiracy against them regarding declining international adoptions. They see the falling adoption rates as an attack against them by a biased government.
The reduction in foreign adoption is occurring for a host of reasons and has happened for years. One of them is DOS’s increased emphasis on laws, rules, and procedures ensuring ethical adoptions.
Since ratifying The Hague Treaty on International Adoption in 2004, the State Department is the authority ensuring they follow The Hague treaty rules. The government contracted with the Council on Accreditation (COA) and the State of Colorado as their Accreditors, who reviewed adoption service providers (ASPs) to make sure they were following Hague mandates. The State of Colorado quit doing the work shortly afterward and the COA became solely responsible for agency reviews.
COA charged the agencies for their accreditation, but also did not follow all the rules and procedures that it should have and neither did the ASP’s.
There were issues under COA’s watch. For example, one group they accredited, was later disbarred by the State Department. The DOS realized it had to crack down. The government informed ASP’s in 2018 that they had four months to align their rules and regulations with the State Department’s rules or face repercussions via suspensions or even possible disbarment.
This incensed adoption agencies.
It’s crucial to mention, the State Department did NOT add a bunch of new rules; these were rules they should already have followed. Agencies were angry because they believed the DOS was interpreting the regulations more severely.
In October of 2017, faced with the mounting backlash from ASP’s, the COA informed the State Department they would discontinue as the State Department’s adoption accreditor. This caused a chain reaction from ASP’s, big and small with many closing down and others decrying the government’s lack of transparency.
A Florida-based non-profit called Intercountry Adoption Accreditation and Maintenance Entity, Inc. (IAAME) won the contract as the new accrediting body and will use professional reviewers and charge agencies for it. IAAME initiated a $500 dollar Monitoring & Oversight fee for each new application and most ASPs will charge it as a pass-through to families. Many believe because COA’s fees were less for peer reviewers, that IAMME’s increased fees are unfair and unnecessary. Because IAAME charges more, accreditation costs will rise.
If small adoption providers, cannot abide by the new interpretation of the rules, that’s unfortunate. The fee increase impacts both small and large agencies the same. Again, this fact refutes the notion the fee punishes smaller agencies. With families spending $30,000 plus on foreign adoptions, a $500 increase is statistically minimal.
Could the State Department have done a better job sharing these concerns with adoption agencies and being more transparent? Maybe.
But their mandate is not facilitating as many adoptions as possible, it is ensuring ethical and legal adoptions.
Plus, I have no issue with fewer adoption agencies. Foreign adoptions if required, need to be legal and transparent. If adhering to laws and ensuring they are followed to the best of the agency’s ability is too burdensome for APS’s, then it is time to shut down. Plus, with adoptions decreasing by 75%, there is no reason for so many agencies to exist.
As for the decline, there are more reasons than the State Department’s newfound adherence to rules. One is national pride. Countries are embarrassed they cannot care for their own kids and give them a safe and nurturing environment.
A further reason for declining adoptions is long waiting lists of potential parents wishing to adopt healthy infants from their own countries. If adoption occurs, then all should agree the first priority is keeping a child with an in-country family member. The second priority should be remaining in their birth country if a family member is not found or unwilling to adopt. While the last option should be a foreign adoption to another country. There is a further shift in adoption trends, as many internationally adopted children have special needs.
All of those are reasons why adoption is declining precipitously. Add to them that South Korea is sending fewer children, and Russia, Ethiopia, and Guatemala have either stopped facilitating or severely curtailed international adoptions. Even the main agency of the United Nations that deals with children’s issues, UNICEF, focuses more on family unification, preservation, and domestic adoption in the child’s birth country.
There are many reasons why international adoption numbers are decreasing, but it is misguided to blame the State Department and ignores the facts.
We are spending Christmas in India this year. It’s time for Sonali to meet Sasmita’s family. But visiting India requires a visa.
I’ve received multiple Indian visas in the last 10 years. The process requires many documents but is straightforward. I thought it would be simple this time as well.
I could not have been more wrong.
The Indian government contracted out their visa services to a company called Cox and Kings. To secure a visa, you must start an application on their website. I began the form and answered the question about where I was born. That brought another question, ‘what was your previous nationality?’ I chose India and then came two new questions.
‘Have you renounced your Indian citizenship?’ and ‘Do you have a Certificate of Renunciation from the Embassy of India?”The answer to both questions was ‘no’.
In January 2017, the Indian government changed the rules. India no longer allows dual citizenship. If anyone has ever held an Indian passport no matter how long ago, they must renounce their citizenship and turn in their passport.
The application asked if I possessed my original Indian passport. I don’t have it, which required a sworn Affidavit of its loss.
I was born in 1979 and received an Indian passport in 1980 when I was adopted to the US. It was only valid for six months. I’ve never considered myself an ‘Indian Citizen’ since I left India when I was one year old. My Indian passport says my birth name, Joseph. But no middle or last name is listed.
I’m 38 years old. My Indian passport expired 37 years ago. In 1981 I became a Naturalized citizen and legally changed my name from Joseph to Adam.
The Indian government was refusing me a 10-Year Tourist Visa unless I renounced my Indian citizenship.
I thought the situation was lunacy, but it got worse.
The application asked questions about my birth mother and father. Again, I don’t know anything about them. After finishing the online forms I printed them and realized a problem.
I wrote ‘NA’ in the last name field for all the questions about my Indian origins, and the application program had automatically input ‘Bryant’, my legal last name.
Both the Affidavit of Loss and the Renunciation Certificate said ‘Joseph Bryant.’
That has never been my legal name.
A bureaucratic nightmare was unfolding.
I called C&K multiple times explaining my dilemma, but they said it would be ok. They encouraged me to write an explanatory note to the Indian Embassy describing my unique conundrum. As sweet as they were on the phone, I knew they were clueless. It was going to be a huge problem.
The Affidavit of Loss form must be notarized. However, because ‘Joseph Bryant’ is not my legal name, I was unable to do so. Notaries cannot process documents if the person is not using their legal name for liability purposes. Without a notarized Affidavit, I could not submit my paperwork for an Indian Visa.
In addition to the Affidavit and the Renunciation forms, I presented documentation of my legal name change, proof of Indian origin, my Naturalization certificate, and provided my parents’ names, birth dates, and place of birth.
Naturally, I used my adoptive parent’s information, because I know nothing about my biological parents. The web application kept giving me errors. If I indicated I was a former Indian citizen, why were my parents US nationals, with no mention of their Indian nationalities?
It was as if the Indian government never considered the possibility that an Indian national infant would be adopted by US citizen parents and visit India later.
Stuck in notorious Indian paperwork purgatory, my frustration grew daily.
I went to my visa appointment, bringing all the documents needed. I included the unnotarized Affidavit and hoped to explain my situation to the Visa officer, wishing for the best.
As expected, they would not accept the application without the notarized Affidavit form. I reiterated my problem with the name and the impossibility of the form being notarized using a non-legal name.
Expressing my frustration, I told them that this was their problem because I had followed every direction, there was nothing else I could do.
The visa officer called his supervisor, and I explained the problem to him. After listening to my story he told me to wait and quickly returned with a hard-copy hand fillable Affidavit of Loss form.
I wrote ‘Joseph’, left the last name blank and got the Affidavit notarized. Returning to the processing center an hour later they accepted my application.
I had pleaded with the phone representatives for hours about sending a blank form to fill out, rather than using their web form. They repeatedly told me it was a computer program issue. After showing my displeasure in person with the process, voila! I received a blank hand-fillable form. Though the saga was complete, the process left a bitter taste.
60 hours I spent, securing a visa, between filling out applications, resubmitting paperwork, explaining my situation over the phone and traveling back and forth between my work and the Cox and Kings processing center.
The victory was eventually mine, but not without a huge amount of effort and energy. I was once again reminded how lucky I am to live in the United States because that paperwork maze is not the norm here, but is well-known in India.
For most of my life, I’ve said I am fine without knowing my birth/first mother. That is untrue.
The reality is somewhere in the middle. Pondering my roots is not keeping me awake at night, but I do wonder about my beginnings more often than I’ve previously admitted.
I am curious to know anything about my biological family. But I’m unwilling to sacrifice the enormous amount of time, energy, and emotional labor to find them.
As a speaker and writer in the adoption space for nearly a decade, the birthmother quest is one of the triumvirates of the international adoption arena. The other ones are: Have you returned to your birth country? And how was adoption discussed in your house growing up?
People consistently ask if I’ve met my birthmother, or hope to find her. I’m 38 years old and terrified to search.
The woman who raised me and who I call ‘Mom’ is one of my best friends. I love her immensely and cannot imagine any mother loving me more than she does.
I wonder about my first mother sometimes, but searching for and finding her is a scary thought. The woman who birthed me has been absent from my life for almost its entirety.
Finding my biological mother requires sifting through reams of historical records because the only identifying information in my passport is one name;
There is no last name or middle name. The address recorded is the foundling home where I lived until adoption. My adoptive Dad is listed as my ‘Father.’ No records exist about my biological father.
How could I search using such paltry information? Any birth record, if a hospital kept them, would be in my native tongue, Malayalam. Examining the logistics involved (staying long-term, finding readers of Malayalam and good English speakers, to direct me, ask questions etc.) would be a supremely daunting task.
Kerala is the size of Switzerland with a population of 35 million people.
My parent’s feelings would not be hurt if I searched. If I sought her, they would not see my wish to find her as a threat. Their attitude would be the opposite. I’m sure they would encourage me, support my quest and ask many questions during the process. They’ve always worked creating an emotionally healthy and transparent adoption experience for me and my siblings.
Once, I had a ‘birthmother’ hole that I longed to fill. I still do, but the void has lessened with my daughter Sonali’s birth. I don’t feel a gnawing for a biological connection anymore.
For much of my life, I pretended that I didn’t care.
But that was insincere. I respect my birthmother and wish her the best, wherever she might be. I think about her on Mother’s Day, my birthday and my adoption anniversary.
But I have no idea what I’d say to her if we actually met. When I run through the possible scenarios in my mind, some meetings are horrible and others are wonderful.
We could have a beautiful reunion. It’s possible we would get along splendidly, both respecting boundaries, developing a deep and lasting relationship. We might be able to ‘make-up’ for the lost lifetime away from one another.
Or it could be dreadful.
What if she does not want to know anything about me? Maybe she’d resent me for inserting myself back into her life. Possibly she’d reject me as an adult, cursing me for finding her. She might begrudge my American life, constantly ask for money, and use my position as her child to gain emotional leverage over me. These are not outlandish reunion scenarios. I’ve heard of them happening to other adoptees.
I’ll never know what the exact storyline might be.
Thinking about the added drama knowing my past would bring into my life is intimidating. Through much of my existence, I’ve viewed meeting my biological mother as a cost-benefit analysis. Would I gain as much finding her, as I would potentially give up by having my life upended so viscerally?
The answer for me is a resounding no. It’s too jarring and I’ll just live without knowing.
For many adoptees, finding their birth mother or father is of paramount importance. I’m still exploring how important it is for me.
I waffle about wanting to know my origins and I don’t know where I would begin. If I could salve the wound in my life, forever answering the missing part of my narrative I’d think about it. But finding her would be nearly impossible.
I visited the hospital of my birth in 2011. It was a powerful emotional experience.
It was the closest I’ll ever be to my birth mother and I am coming to peace with that.
I put off watching Lion for months now, afraid it would be too emotional for me. I’d built it up, heard so many other adoptees and non-adopted folks gush about it, say how gut wrenching it was and how I ‘had’ to see it.
Purposely, I stayed away from all reviews of it and only knew it was a true story. I was excited to watch it as an Indian adoptee.
Saroo Brierley is the main character (played by Dev Patel) and his story has similarities to mine. An adopted Indian kid, raised outside of India, by a white family and he seems well-adjusted.
Finally, an adoption story about India, not Korea, Russia or China. And it was critically acclaimed as well, nominated for six Academy awards.
Here in front of millions of people, the actors would voice struggles and thoughts about identity, loss, and culture, that myself and other international adoptees have ourselves.
We’d receive validation. People would see Saroo’s difficulties and hear the same ones I’ve had my whole life as well.
That’s what I thought about before I saw it. I was disenchanted.
Yes, I loved the movie. I thought it was fantastic. I’d recommend you see it if you haven’t. And I’m glad I watched it.
But, emotionally, there was something missing for me. Even as I type this, I’m trying to ‘will’ a sentimental response to the movie and I can’t. I’m numb.
I hesitate writing that because it feels like a betrayal of the adoptee experience. I can only imagine what people would say, if I, as an adopted Indian guy said I hated the movie. The backlash would be intense.
My divergence with the majority of the adoptee community about Lion doesn’t invalidate my opinion. I haven’t lost my influence (whatever I have) as an adoptee speaking about my story and thoughts as a person adopted internationally.
That surfaces another problem with the adoptee community; we aren’t monolithic in thoughts or deeds. But there is an unwritten code that says we should all agree on certain things. For example, some adoptees are vocal about non-adoptees seeing them all as one, but yet when an adoptee themselves voices a different opinion they can be ostracized. The hypocrisy is not lost on me.
I must be one of the only people who viewed it without tears.
Even now, writing this, I’m not sure what to say about it, but I’ll try.
1) It’s a lovely film. The story is heart-wrenching and beautiful. The acting is top-notch. Dev Patel has never been better and Nicole Kidman, who plays his adoptive mother is wonderful as well. That it’s a true story makes it more compelling.
2) The adoption experience for me, as one adopted as an infant, is much different from Saroo. I cannot imagine leaving the world that I actually knew, familiar with its sounds, sites, smells, people and culture and being adopted when I was six or seven years old. I left India before I could walk. While the sounds of Malayalam were familiar to me on a basic level, leaving India was not the upheaval for me, as it was for Saroo.
3) The images and scenes which resonated the most for me had nothing to do with adoption, but more the life of poverty and squalor depicted in the film. That surprised me. I thought for sure the lines about ‘my real parents’ and others regarding the adoption experience would tug the most at my heart, but that wasn’t the case. I was more drawn to the downtrodden, marginalized and exploited, the scenes of hopelessness and despair aroused emotions for me.
The problem about the film is this; for me, a movie is truly amazing, if it evokes an emotional response. But Lion didn’t do that.
I’m going to watch it again and see if this changes, but I doubt it will. I also judge a film’s greatness by how much I’m thinking about it immediately after watching and then the days afterward.
Again, it didn’t pass this test either. I didn’t consciously think about it, except for realizing that I should write a blog post about not having feelings.
My mind was not rehashing scenes that I observed. The movie didn’t invade my thoughts as others have, where I could not stop thinking about it.
None of that happened with Lion and I’m unsure why.
His name is Ram Nath Kovind and he’s Dalit (formerly known as untouchable). You may read that he’s Dalit, viewing his election as a great sign of progress against caste oppression. Here, you say, is an example of someone from the bottom of India’s development ladder. Now, he’s the President of the world’s largest democracy.
His election is important, but it’s definitely not a sign of less caste discrimination or violence.
Here are some quick thoughts about what this means for India and Dalits.
The Indian media made a big deal about him as a Dalit. It’s true he was raised in impoverished circumstances. He mentioned his humble beginnings during his acceptance speech, but he’s quite far from that life today. Prior to his election, he was in India’s Upper House of Parliament.
While he may rightly call himself a ‘Dalit,’ he’s not a suffering Dalit, as many are. Rather he’s an educated and savvy political operator. Don’t count on him to rebuke casteism and discrimination. He’s far removed from that world.
India’s ruling party, the ultra-nationalistic Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), led by Narendra Modi as the Prime Minister shrewdly put forth Kovind as a presidential candidate. With him as President, Hindutva’s (hardline Hindu mindset) government influence, increasingly strong, won’t receive opposition from the President’s office.
The BJP party brilliantly choose this man to be the President because though he’s a Dalit, he’s well indoctrinated in Hindutva’s mindsets and approaches. He espouses them himself.
But, and this is important, the BJP needs the voting block of Indian Dalits.
Their votes are especially crucial in its poorest states, like Bihar (where Kovind hails from) to continue their onslaught against religious pluralism, while enshrining Hinduism as the state religion.
Since he’s a Dalit, Dalits are reticent to fight against one of their own, even if they aren’t always of the same mind ideologically. They’ll spar in private, but are historically too downtrodden to turn against one another, denigrating someone from their sub-caste in public.
The spokesman for the BJP, Amit Shah, and Modi know this. They can rely on Kovind’s tacit ‘blessing’ of their machinations, bringing Dalit votes for BJP candidates throughout India.
Modi essentially ‘bought’ himself a large new constituency of the electorate. Even if what Hindutva stands for (Brahmin elites, anti-Muslim, anti-beef, against caste integration, etc.), starkly contrasts with many Dalit tenets, they are loath to reject him or his platform as President.
The Dalit community does not speak with a unified voice. But, Modi’s preaching on financial improvement plays well to educated, middle-class Dalits. They overlook his nationalistic rhetoric because he’s selling economic improvement of their lives.
The dynamic is similar to the conservative right in the US. They tolerated Donald Trump, despite his jingoistic drivel, leading to his presidency.
Unfortunately, Kovind’s election as President signals more rubber stamping of the BJP’s dangerous views about who is a real Indian, and what that means. Meanwhile, secularism’s death spiral continues.
Thanks to all who commented, shared and gave feedback on Part I. I did not realize that many stay-at-home moms felt similarly. I appreciated hearing your experiences and I’m grateful for your support as a stay-at-home dad and writer.
Playgrounds are alienating. Sonali loves them. I find them intimidating and uncomfortable.
I’ve entered a women’s domain – the dynamic is similar to standing in line to get my eyebrows threaded. I am the only man there. I’m the interloper. It is the same on the playground. The women will be happily chatting, we arrive and everyone goes silent.
Playgrounds are awkward because I’m usually the only male adult during working hours. Everyone else is a nanny/au pair, mother or grandparent. Most nannies are immigrants, usually Latin American or African, speaking broken English. In our neighborhood, many moms are foreign as well, due to the nearby locations of embassies and general international environment of Washington, D.C.
It feels very cliquey to me. It’s clear many caregivers know each other, banding together in certain sections of the park. For moms that don’t appear to know anyone, they still have security in being a woman around many other women and everyone seems generally welcoming.
Talking to me was probably always going to be a struggle for the nannies and au pairs. But as a stay-at-home dad, in their world, it’s near impossible. They have their relationships and jabber away with one another in Spanish or another non-English tongue. As I observe them and guess which country they are from, I presume many come from strictly gendered societies. For them, a man does not provide childcare and if for some reason he does, it’s definitely not outside the house.
I think most of their native cultures view men as tough, relatively unemotional creatures, not guys down on their hands and knees with their toddler making funny sounds. Raising children is not a masculine way to spend time in their culture’s eyes and they might think it’s weird seeing me with Sonali.
But the moms don’t speak to me either, except to ask questions or comment about Sonali. They usually say she’s adorable and ask her age. Then the conversation dies. I ask the same about their kid(s) and then we both smile and realize we have nothing else to say. Sometimes we’ll have extended smiles and hold eye contact a second longer because we recognize we see each other daily, but no words are exchanged.
I’m not really sure how to ‘break’ in. Asking if they are from around here seems like too much of a ‘pick up line’, as a man to a woman, so I let the interaction expire. Part of me wants to seek their advice about a child-rearing issue, but then I think, what if they are one of ‘those’ parents who once they begin speaking about raising kids, never stops talking?
I’ve noticed a marked difference between my interactions with women on the playground, versus walking with Sonali in the stroller around the neighborhood.
In many instances, I’ll come to a corner waiting for a stoplight and another mother is also there with a stroller. It’s immediately a much friendlier vibe. We’ll smile, say hello and sometimes say something more. Our interaction is as brief as the park, but it feels freer and easy.
We’re outside of the boundary, (playground yard) in a public and open space.
On the playground, everyone seems on the defensive towards me, the dad. Interactions appear stilted and uncomfortable. We’re acknowledging one’s presence and our children as a social duty, but not in an overly warm way.
People discussing their children is a universal conversation starter in almost every other social interaction between strangers, yet it is not enough for me at the local park.
I was telling my friend, an African-American guy, who grew up in the white suburbs about my feelings about playgrounds and he said something interesting. “I feel the same way when I go to a barber shop and it’s all black guys. What do I talk with them about? My life is nothing like theirs and I have nothing to say to them or in common, except that we’re all black.’
I feel judged, like everyone is watching me and measuring my interactions, seeing if I’ll meet their expectations of a ‘good father’, whatever that means to them. I feel silently evaluated; am I aloof with my daughter, or engaged and attentive? I envision them saying things like ‘can’t he tell how cold she is, or see hot it is outside and he has her in that outfit, she’s that high on the swing, etc.…’
I think people scrutinize how I handle Sonali. Our neighborhood is full of high-achievers, with very specific ideas about child-raising. I’m a first-time parent. I’ve never done this before. I’m learning every day and raising Sonali with my best judgment.
When we get there, it seems as though the kids move away. Part of this is because Sonali is often the youngest child at the park, and she can’t ‘play,’ like they are. But when the kids move to the other parts of the playground, I want Sonali to join them.
While this is annoying, I understand it. I’m more concerned about Sonali. We go to the playground, specifically for her interaction and observation of other kids. If immediately after we enter the park, the kids shift, then it becomes additionally awkward because I want to follow them with Sonali, but it feels strange and I rarely do.
Now the reason, beyond just leaving the house is moot because Sonali and I are alone again, as when we’re home, but now we’re in public.
Society still assumes women do all the child rearing.
Nearly every parent resource I’ve read online targets the mother, but never the father. The gender norms of child raising seem engrained and strict. I assumed with the reality of men more involved in their children’s lives this would be different in 2017, but I see scant evidence of this.
All the blogs, the internet message boards, even the neighborhood list-serves, automatically assume that women provide childcare. And all the activities offered to stay-at-home parents are stereotypically female interests (clothing swaps, shopping, personal grooming etc.) Nothing seems gender neutral.
As much as I crave personal interaction with adults, I don’t attend parent meet-ups, because I’m certain I’d be the only man there.
Sometimes I take Sonali to baby lap time at local libraries. For those unfamiliar, it’s a half hour period for babies who aren’t walking to bounce on their caregiver’s laps and sing songs. I’m always the only father.
If another male is present, it’s nearly always a grandfather. But we don’t talk either because again, often they are immigrants or I feel judged by them.
Another aspect of this experience to briefly mention is letting go of one’s inhibitions when interacting with young kids, especially babies is crucial. You must make silly sounds or sing nonsensical songs, whatever makes them happy as you communicate in ways they’ll understand.
But I’ve found when doing so in a mixed gender setting, it’s more trying. Everyone has a public persona we present to others, but for me, it’s much more uncomfortable to be ridiculous and fun with Sonali when I’m the gender minority or token member.
Maybe I’m over-thinking this whole situation.
This time is not about me, it’s about Sonali and giving her love, comfort, and affection while educating her about the world she inhabits.
Sometimes I miss my previous life, the intellectual stimulation, the collegial atmosphere of the office, spending time with peers.
But then I remember this; no one ever said they wished they’d spent less time with their child. It’s usually the complete opposite.
This season is special and won’t last forever. In a few months, she’ll be in school and I’ll be working outside the house again. Looking back on our time together, years from now I’ll never regret it.
It’s only a segment of my life and its benefits are exponential for Sonali’s growth while solidifying our beautiful lifetime bond.
I recently began the hardest and most rewarding job of my life, being a stay-at-home dad. I lost my job in March 2016 and after a year-long job search that yielded little fruit, I now watch Sonali 50 hours a week.
It’s difficult. Spending all day with an 11-month old that can’t talk, walk and requires constant stimulation is exhausting. I’ll forever appreciate just how taxing life is for full-time parents.
This article, pulling figures from the 2014 Census, shows Washington D.C. has the third lowest number of stay-at-home dads in the country. But it also says that nationwide 80% of these dads are not voluntarily staying at home. I fall into this category.
Sonali had a nanny for five months, while I received unemployment benefits, which ended late last year. It’s impossible to pay rent and childcare solely using Sasmita’s salary. In early 2017, we decided I would stay home and watch Sonali full-time and job search at night.
Our friends fully support this decision, especially ones with children. Everyone, parent or not, thinks it’s great that Sonali and I spend our days together, especially at this stage of her development. It’s the right choice, we have no doubts, but that has not made it easy.
When I meet someone new for the first time, and they ask me what I do, things get a bit awkward. The first few times I just blurted out, ‘I watch our daughter Sonali.’ But then there’s a silence as if they are waiting for me to say something more. I would smile and they responded ‘cool’ or ‘neat’ and we moved to other topics. I noticed this and now I say the same thing, but then add-on, ‘I also do business development for an international economics consultancy.’
The new addendum seems to satisfy them. But it bothers me. Why do I feel like I need to justify my role as a stay-at-home dad? I’m pretty sure when mothers say the same thing, no one thinks twice. But our society says being a full-time dad isn’t good enough. Dads have to provide more than child-care; they must have a job outside of the house. But people wouldn’t ask the same question to a woman, hear she is a full-time mom and expect her to say anything else. There’s a lot more I could say on this, but the double standard seems unfair.
As I’ve become more immersed in the day-time dad life, I’ve made a few observations.
Our neighborhood has few stay-at-home dads. We live in a section of Washington, D.C., where most households are dual income and I rarely see dads with their children anywhere during working hours. I’m not sure I’ve seen a single full-time dad in all our walking. I only see men with children in the late afternoons or early evenings, presumably after they are home from work and school is out.
Watching Sonali and hanging out with her in this way is precious. I could write for pages about what Sonali is learning, observing and ways she’s grown in the last few months. I feel privileged to spend all this time with her. I’m friends with a lot of great parents, and this was never an option for them. It’s a sacrifice for our future, but it’s well worth it. She and I are building bonds hopefully never to be severed.
To have someone so young, relying on you for all their needs and protection is awe-inspiring and intimidating. Sonali just began crawling and we’re waiting for her first teeth to emerge. She loves watching the rain fall outside the windows and recently discovered insects, particularly ants.
I’m speaking and singing to her constantly. A few days ago, we sat in the grass for the first time together, and she was very uneasy. She immediately lunged towards me, back into the safety of my embrace with gleeful giggles.
She’s become fascinated by shadows and reflections from the sun. I constantly remind myself she is learning everything. Everything is new, compelling and interesting to her. The simplest act or object will grab her attention. She’s a total sponge, and I’m educating her in ways I never could if I only saw her for one to two hours a day working outside the house.
But, this is an incredibly isolating job. I’m a social guy, thriving on communication and good conversation. Now I spend more than 55 hours a week with someone who cannot say a single English word. It’s a huge adjustment.
Coming in Part II, I’ll discuss more thoughts on my isolation, explore how I feel I’m perceived and reveal my least favorite place to take Sonali.
Readers, what do you think, does anyone have similar experiences to share?
I’ve become more aware of the infantilization of adult adoptees, due to my work with the Adoptee Rights Campaign to give adoptees US Citizenship. The Adoptee Citizenship Act fills a loophole in the Child Citizenship Act of 2001, which gave all international adoptees US citizenship age 18 and younger.
A common question I receive is ‘why is there an age limit of 18 for the original bill?’ As far as I know, it’s because the CCA was championed by adoptive parents (APs) who followed a historical pattern; viewing adoptees as children and never as adults.