I am the spitting image of my father. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind when they see us together. We are definitely father and daughter. Everything from my red hair and freckles, to my eyes that get squinty when I smile, down to my taste in music and sense of humor, my dad and I are one in the same. Growing up I never had the slightest feeling of not belonging. However, for my dad, growing up to be a 6-foot tall redhead in a house full of short, dark-haired people, he always felt that he did not belong.
My father was born on Christmas Day, 1950 in Roscrea, Ireland. He lived in a mother-baby home called The Sean Ross Abbey until an American family adopted him at about 3 years of age. My dad grew up always wondering about his true identity, where he came from, who his real parents were. So in the 1970s he tried to get information from the nuns who run The Abbey, but he had no luck. Discouraged, he put this quest on the backburner and focused on his own independent life.
I always knew that my dad was from Ireland. I would tell all of my friends and teachers thinking it was the coolest thing in the world! It wasn’t until I was about 10 years old that I began to learn more details about my dad’s adoption, that he did not know who his real parents were, and even then I couldn’t quite grasp the seriousness of it all. When I was about 12 years old, my dad read an article in a local newspaper about a fellow Irish adoptee who was reunited with his birth mother through a woman who specializes in Irish adoption. Intrigued, my dad contacted the woman. It was not long before she was able to track down my dad’s mother and her family. We learned that she now lives in London with her 4 other children, who have children of their own now. My first thought, as a 12 year old, was “we’re going to go to London and meet all of my new cousins!” However, it was far more complicated than that.
My dad was given his birth mother’s phone number and he decided “why not?” and called her. At first she was interested in talking to him, they chatted a few different times on the phone over the span of a couple weeks. Then one day we got a message on our answering machine. It was his mother asking to no longer be contacted. You see, she had only mentioned my father to her husband once, when they were young and had first started dating, and she was too afraid to tell him once again. The nuns at The Abbey would tell these young girls that they were sinners and no one should ever know about what they had done. In my grandmother’s mind, she still felt shame for what had happened.
A few years passed, we still sent Christmas cards with family photos to her home in London, hoping to get a call but did not hear back. My dad had to go to London for business and decided while he was there, why not try to see her. He already had her address so he went over and walked right up to her front door and ring the bell. When she looked down from a window and saw my dad standing there, she jokingly yelled “Oh, go back to America, wontcha!!!” She did however let him in to her home. They spent a few hours together that day getting to know one another, and when they parted ways, my dad knew he probably would not hear from her again; she was still too afraid to share this with her family.
In February of last year my dad was interviewed for a local newspaper about his adoption story. The movie Philomena had recently been released and created a lot of buzz about Irish adoption, the characters in the movie had spent time at the same mother-baby home as my father and his mother. At the end of the article, my dad stated that his mother had still not come around but he was hopeful that she would soon. Well, quite ironically only a few days after the article had been published, the phone rang. It turned out that my grandmother’s husband had passed away and she felt that she was ready to tell her children about her secret; she was inspired by the movie Philomena. She was very nervous though, and looked to my dad for support during this time; she asked his advice on how to approach the subject with her other children. When she finally got up the courage to do so, they were all thrilled and immediately wanted to meet my dad, and the rest of our family. Just 3 weeks later, my parents were on a plane to London…