Whoa! This guy gets it, I thought. The piece--on the front page no less--tells us that Mr. Pettitt, 63, had a relationship with a woman when he was 19 and in Vietnam.Though he had not "meant" for her to get pregnant, she did. He returned home to New York, got a job as a truck driver, and raised a family. But when he retired in 2000, he "found himself haunted by memories of the child he left behind--a boy, he believes." Mr. Pettitt paid a man to find the boy in Vietnam but the trail went cold. A woman in Virginia called to say she thought her husband might be his son, but a DNA test proved negative.
"'I was hoping this was it," he says. 'I just feel so guilty about all this.'"
While at the previous blog a commenter said that we are "jealous" for not having raised our own children, it's so not simple jealousy that drives us to search for our children, or spend the rest of our lives, in one way or another, pining for them. Mr. Pettitt is certainly "jealous" of no one. The overwhelming trauma that we felt at the time of relinquishment, the deep shame that came with not only having it publicly be known we had sex outside of marriage, but also gave away the child--these are the emotions that we carry around with us. I'd say the fathers involved who left children they knew about behind felt not quite the same depth of feeling--they did not get that blast of oxytocin that left us incredibly bereft and crazed--but many of them have the same feelings toward their children that we recognize so well. Though fathers have always fought for their children, in the past several years, we have seen an uptick in fathers who want to be fathers. Dusten Brown is only one; the fathers of the Amerasian children they left behind in Vietnam are others.
'I JUST WANTED TO SEE HIM WITH MY OWN EYES.'
One estimate is that tens of thousands of such children were left behind. As a reminder of the ugly and lengthy war that devastated the country, these children endured harsh discrimination and often abject poverty. They hope meeting their fathers will provide at least emotional relief. "I wanted to feel more whole," said one them, Cuong Luu. "I just wanted to see him with my own two eyes."
Another said: "I need to know where I come from, said Trinh Tran, 46, a real estate agent in Houston, who has searched for her father in vain. "I always feel that without him, I don't exist."
Congress enacted legislation giving Amerasians special immigration status in 1987, and more than 21,000, and some 55,000 relatives, moved to the United States. Others came under different immigration status. But without any help on locating their fathers, only a very small percentage have been able to--perhaps fewer than five percent. So Amerasian children search, "typically working with with little more than badly translated names, half-forgotten memories and faded photographs." Any of this sound familiar?
Some of the stories have the kind of endings mothers- and adoptees-in-search long for: happy reunions. A Danish man, Brian Hjort, who fell into being a searcher after a successful first try, notes that often the Amerasian children have unreal expectations about finding their fathers, hoping doing so will heal deep emotional wounds. But the veterans they meet are often infirm and may be struggling financially, or not want to acknowledge their children. Again, just like in adoption reunions.
Others, like Mr. Pettitt, are fathers who search. In 2011 James Copeland read about the miserable conditions of the Amerasians in Vietnam, and contacted Mr. Hjort, who was able to track down his former girlfriend's brother. He came away with a photograph of the woman. Mr. Copeland instantly recognized his old girlfriend, whose daughter was living in America. He dialed her number and soon after he met his daughter in Reading, Pa., where she runs a nail salon at the Walmart. Tiffany Nguyen and her three children spent Thanksgiving with Mr. Copeland in Mississippi. She told him how she studied the men who came into Walmart, wondering if any of them could be her father. Mr. Copeland says: "There were a lot of years to cover. I can sleep a lot better now."
NOT ALL REUNIONS END HAPPILY
But that happy reunion brought unexpected consequences and some heartache. When his wife learned of his daughter--his only child--she was furious and demanded he not visit her; after 37 years, they are now separated and considering divorce. I couldn't help but think how different it might have been had her told her about the possibility of a child of his in Vietnam at the time they become a couple; I personally am grateful that since I was so "out" about who I was having published Birthmark, I never had that "reveal" conversation with my husband of 32 years, come Friday. For many of the spouses of "secret" children, it is perhaps not the child herself that is the shock: it's the knowing that someone close to you kept this secret from you all those years. It is certainly an issue with late-discovery adoptees--why not with spouses of birth mothers and fathers? Still telling later is better than never.
Mr. Copeland is secure that he did the right thing for himself and his daughter, and now helps Mr. Hjort contact veterans they believe are fathers of Amerasians. In his southern drawl, he tells them his story and urges them to confront the possibility that like him, they may have Vietnamese children.
Sometimes they hang up. He continues to leave messages, with children, with spouses, on answering machines. "They need to know, he said," acknowledging that some people want to move on and forget it. "I don't know how they can do that." What I liked about his approach is that as a father to one such child, he has fewer compunctions than a child himself might have about contacting other men in the same position.
I don't know how they can do that. Halfway through writing this blog, I had an errand to run and I thought about the women--the many mothers of sons and daughters from closed adoption era--who will not meet their children. I don't know how they can do that.
Do I understand them? Not completely. I know they exist and I know that everybody is different. Yet I wanted to know where my daughter was going and to whom before I gave her up, argued with the social worker about the insane and cruel law I was now hearing about before I signed her away, and from the first day after that I wanted to know where she was. I would have been thrilled to have gotten a phone call telling me at any point during the 15 years of hell between relinquishment and reunion.
But to my amazement at first, I do know of mothers who reject meeting their children; I have met many
of their children. I read the blogs of adoptees who have been rejected and it tears my heart out; I wonder if their mothers and fathers can even imagine what it feels like to be rejected, not once, but twice. I use the word "rejected" here though we first mothers did not "reject" our children--most of us wanted to keep them close--but could not, did not. Yet to the adoptee, not being raised by your own family reads as "rejection," no matter what happens next. My daughter understood as well as anyone, I think, how I came to give her up, and why; but did she suffer from low self-esteem? Yes. Was our relationship a continual stop-and-start, with me sometimes thinking I'd never hear from her again. Yes. Was that normal? No. Even in the best of situations, adoption is abnormal.
I know confidential searchers who thoughtfully ponder what might be the right thing to say when they are connecting with a birth parent, so the parent will not reject a reunion. In my own life, one of my male friends who I hadn't seen in a while called up one day to tell me that he had just discovered that he indeed was the father of a college student--at the same school he had gone to!--that he never knew about, and while they had met, his wife was putting the kabosh on telling their two kids or his father, the adoptee's biological grandfather because "it would be too much of a shock." Bollocks, I said to that, believing she was now concerned that her son was not the oldest grandson. I also knew there was a fair bit of money that would be dispersed among heirs when granddad died, and I believed that was her main concern. The guy has never called back, and I don't know what happened. Frankly, I was so upset with what he told me I didn't want to hear from him again, and I probably made that clear.
'YOU DON'T WANT TO END UP...'
I'm just musing here today, thinking how the drive to know where you came from, where you are going, feels like a universal; it's why shows such as Who Do You Think You Are? are on television and Troy Dunn's reunions--no matter what I think of Troy Dunn now that he is urging Dusten Brown to give up his daughter to the adoptive parents--always make me cry. But everyday constraints, long-held secrets from spouses and children, and a fear of what comes next can interrupt that natural flow and emotional pull, and leave the people on the other side wandering in the haze. Is it interminably sad? Yes. Life is like that sometimes. Unless we stay down in the depths, we have to make the best of what is and move on. I gave up my daughter and while I never forgot her, I did go on living and life has been more than a vale of tears. She committed suicide in 2007. Yet I go on. On Friday, my husband and I will celebrate our marriage of 32 years. And I will never quite get over hearing a psychiatrist tell his girlfriend (and my roommate at the time): You don't want to end up like Lorraine.
Who would? Yet life is like that sometimes.--lorraine
Vietnam Legacy: Finding G.I. Fathers, and Children Left Behind
Surviving Twice: Amerasian Children of the Vietnam War
"...the story of five Vietnamese Amerasians born during the Vietnam War to American soldiers and Vietnamese mothers. Unfortunately, they were not among the few thousand Amerasian children who came to the United States before the war’s end and grew up as Americans, speaking English and attending American schools. Instead, this group of Amerasians faced much more formidable obstacles, both in Vietnam and in their new home.--Amazon
Children of the Enemy: Oral Histories of Vietnamese Amerasians and Their Mothers Ostracized from Vietnamese society, many Amerasian children, fathered by U.S. troops, have emigrated to the United States; however, only about 2 percent have been reunited with their fathers. Revealing and often poignant, these 38 oral histories here give voice to the struggle that Amerasians and their families have faced.
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