What I Want You to Know is a series of
reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their
personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the
unique issues each of us face. If you would like to submit a story to
this series,
click here. Today’s guest posts is by Annie Berical.

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I am the child of adopted parents. That’s right: both of my parents were
adopted as babies by separate families, grew up, met each other, and
bonded (I imagine) over their commonality. They were in no other way
meant to be together. They are chalk and cheese. It lasted long enough
for them to have my younger brother and I, and that was it.

Over
the years, I have noticed things about them, though, that I believe are
related to their being adopted. First, they trust no one. If their
birth parents abandoned them, then surely, anyone else could abandon
them too at any time. Including their own families and children. They
grew up in moderately normal, loving families, but also felt that they
stood apart from them. They were constantly made aware by relatives
(aunts, uncles, cousins) that they were adopted. They were constantly
reminded that they didn’t–in fact, couldn’t–resemble so-and-so,
because they weren’t actually blood relations. These things weren’t
meant maliciously, but just as statements of fact. Regardless, they have
a long-term, cumulative effect.

My parents can cut someone
off–cut them out of their life–and make it look easy. They do not
attach themselves to people because they have always stood apart–alone
in some respects. You must force the love out of them, and only then is
it painful for them. If I want a hug from my mom, I have to hug her. I
have to go to her and TAKE it. It will not be offered. And when I do go
in for a hug, her reaction is almost embarrassment that she finds it so
hard to reciprocate. Both of my parents have very strong attachments to
pets. And in the case of my mother, very serious animal hording
tendencies. Animals, after all, cannot betray or abandon you. They will
never lie to you. They love, as both my parents will tell you,
unconditionally.

Both seem to suffer deeply from the paranoia of
abandonment. So much so that they are very lonely because they will not
keep friends, and their attachment to family is just as tenuous. Once,
when my father was struggling with alcoholism, he quit his job and asked
if he could move in with me. At the time, I was barely 30 years old and
struggling to keep my head above water, after beginning the process of
repaying my student loans. My dad had lived a thousand miles away for my
entire life, and I didn’t feel these were the best circumstances to
really get to know one another. When I told him no, that I didn’t think
it was a good idea, his level of rejection was staggering. He sent me
several letters calling me things I shall not repeat, and that frankly, I
don’t care to remember. What I didn’t realize at the time was that he
percieved yet another person abondoning and betraying him when he was at
his weakest and most vulnerable.

Both of my parents have always
struggled with identity, too. They come from nowhere. They have no
lineage as adopted children. They know nothing of “their people.”
Neither of them seems to have adopted the family story of their adopted
parents. As a result, they have both preferred origin myths about
themselves over the years, and have, for a time, believed in them with
such ferocity that it borders on serious delusion. For a time, my mom
was the daughter of an Indian Princess. Dad has been the son of a
decorated World War II veteran and hero. Eventually, they shed these
personal metamyths, as others around them reject them. It is a sad thing
to watch a person believe wholly in a story they tell about themselves,
and then watch everyone around them laugh at it, until that story is
totally dismantled. Adopted children are much like hermit crabs in one
regard: they try on different identities, and when the old identity is
no longer suitable, they shuffle it off, and scurry away, naked, in
search of a new one.

One thing I’ve learned is that I have to be
forgiving and I have to be compassionate about these quirks. I have to
give what I can, but never promise more than I can deliver. I can never
expect trust from them. Each bit has to be earned. In this way I hope to
help them both settle into the skin they’re wearing now, to be who they
are. I want them both to know that who they are is “Mom” and “Dad” and
that who they are is just fine.