On Top of the World
John Coltrane’s Blue Train came on the loop at Starbucks this morning. It brought a smile to my face when I recalled how I used to rock you to sleep while whistling this amazing tune – precious, endless hours cradling you against my broad shoulders humming, whistling and swaying to the likes of Coltrane and McKennitt with my baby boy. It was just you and I, the whole wonderful world asleep on my shoulder.
And then again, in 2000, I was the luckiest man in the world, when you, my youngest, was born. And I once again spent endless hours rocking him to the likes of Knofler and Floyd.
Those sweet memories evaporated before my eyes as the reality of the present punched me in the gut and the tears welled up in my eyes.
It is so hard to step into those memories without paying the price of pain, heartache and tears just a whisper away.
I was on top of the world. I thought those times would never end.
Adoptee Lands the Role of a Lifetime … Your Father
I learned very on in life how to pretend, play a role, play make-believe, to take on many roles each with their own audience expectations, in short — to act. I was drawn to the profession like a moth to a flame. It was a natural extension of me — of my identity issues, my detachment from others, my inclination to seek the approval of others to validate myself. You instinctively know you need to adapt or die. I spent half a century pretending to be all sorts of things along the road of life, trying to fit in, but it wouldn’t be until my tender mid-50s that I’d come to understand myself, and feel comfortable with who I am.
In 1997, and again in 2000, I landed the role of a lifetime, father to you two. For many years, I surprisingly excelled in that part. I had no script and certainly little training. Here was another role I needed to adapt to, the stakes were higher than any of the other roles I’d taken on. Those were only tied to my survival; this one demanded that I help shape the futures of two young beings. It forced me to be a role model to your guys. This was a tall order for a man still grappling with identity issues, issues of dissociation, issues of loss, and grappling with my triple whammy – adopted, a broken home, the death of a father from alcoholism. I did the best that I could with the cards I’d been dealt.
Was I just playing the part of Dad … merely acting? Not at all, I was just being me. Of all the roles in my life, all the pretending to be who I was not, being your father allowed me to be myself … natural. Oddly, having been through all that I had made me a better father because I had a deep understanding of the pain of loss, abandonment, rejection. I was determined you guys would KNOW that you were loved and that I was there for you, now and forever.
My Father: WC, WB, and Me
It took me decades to visit his grave. It took a couple more to realize that the curiosities lying around my childhood home were the result of him earning enough money to surround himself with the things he dreamt of having or at least amused him — player piano, real piano, pinball machine, finished rec room, hi-fi stereo console, JFK and Nikita Kruschev masks, pool table that converted into a ping-pong table (both of which I was able to master with endless hours of practice), a fish tank built into the wall, his own wine-making operation, and root beer-making operation, a brick and pine bookcase, a straw hat as featured on Harold Bissonette’s head in “It’s a Gift”, even a giant cigar, and a new car every two years.
Some Saturday mornings, he’d take me to this little joke shop run out of the basement of a house east of Adelaide. I remember standing there just soaking in the ribald curiosities.
Decades later, I watch WC and know I’m watching WB.
WC laughed in the face of ‘White logic’, so did WB, and so do I.
He came from a tough home. The wrong side of the tracks, a drunken, abusive father, and meek mother. I remember visiting their home once. It was a ramshackle place, I recall tar paper on the outside. He was a salesman, had the gift of the gab, he was (or at least made himself) a people person. He was the best in the business for a while. He could walk into a handful of restaurants and the owner would go out of his way to please him. He would walk into the warehouse of his workplace with me and the guys would stop him to talk to him. He always had a word with everyone. I now realize, these little interactions formed me. I do the same.
I hated him for years, decades really, hated him without really knowing why. It was only much later that I realized I hated him for leaving my alone to figure things out.
It was only after going through what he’d gone through did I have a true appreciation for what he’d gone through and now I know he did the best that he could with the cards he’d been dealt.
It didn’t kill her. It did kill us.
You know only too well how sick Mom was. No doubt there are images – that bald head, that wig, that graying face – forever burnt into your mind’s eyes.
Mom battled cancer twice and beat it. Sometimes when people get sick and face death, they take a long, hard look at their life. When people sense they don’t have long to live, they sometimes decide to make drastic changes to their lives.
It was during those days, she decided to make changes. For the past 5 years, she’d been telling me to leave. I refused. Then, on Sunday 6 July, 2014, she had your uncle call the police and I was hauled away in handcuffs.
Now cast from the tribe, I have painfully little time with you guys. With such precious time, it’s become next to impossible to really sit down and talk about things like we used to and like we really need to now, more than ever. Now, it’s just fluff and surface conversations. As an adoptee, I have always valued the truth, not fluff; wanted to pull back the curtain on the Great Wizard of Oz and reveal the reality.
Now I’m facing my own mortality, and despite a lifetime owning a strong, healthy body, the old ticker’s giving me some genuine reason to think I don’t have long to live. Over the past two years away from you guys, I’ve plumbed the depths of despair, occasionally letting thoughts of suicide break through my defiance. It was that defiant nature that refused to go down with a fight, to be put out to pasture like your mom wanted, to stay away from you like your mom wanted. She misjudged the level of my defiant soul. So like the revenant of European folklore, I am back from the dead to haunt those you tried to kill me.
You deserve to know your past, my past.
There were some definitive moments that led to the day they took me away. One was Oct 31, 2007 when on the same fateful day, I learned that my job was being eliminated due to the economic meltdown AND later that day, that your mom had been diagnosed with cancer.
Watching helplessly as Mom battled Cancer
During the course of her two treatments, I watched helplessly as the woman I loved, your mom, the most vibrant, amazing woman in the world, get the life sucked out of her by cancer. Those days that ripped 5 years from our lives (felt like 50) and, unknown damage to yours.
(g)od … you Bastard, this is what you did to my family.
We suspected it when we got the call to see the doctor,
But, the day the doctor broke the news was the biggest shock in our lives,
IN A SPLIT SECOND, it ripped a clear line between the great, fun, adventurous lives we had … Euro-ventures, university, cutting edge lifestyles, the couple others wanted to be. Even as it tore us in two, our ONLY thoughts were of you guys and your future … not our past.
It didn’t kill her, but it killed us.
In retrospect, it was the last time we held each other, it was the last time I loved the her I fell in love with. And now, as you know, I never seem to sleep, but now it’s becoming evident as you get older, that I sleep on couch 1 or couch 2, floor of your rooms or the floor of the basement … anywhere, but where I longed to be … beside her.
And so, while mom was sick …
I had to stand by helplessly – castrated – as they ripped her insides out and slowly turned her grey and inhuman. It killed me. I couldn’t do anything to alleviate the pain. (g)od did not answer my pleas to give me the cancer that coursed through her. And so I suffered in silence, did what I could to ease her pain, tried to provide her solace when she cried rivers of tears when she thought she wouldn’t see you grow up, and quietly made her all those comforting cups of tea. Must have been gallons of the stuff.
I could only stand by helplessly and watch my once robust, beautiful wife – your mom – slowly turning grey with each treatment. Hooked up to the chemo machine, I could only stand by and watch her once infectious smile being gradually pulled downward. Stand by helplessly as her first instinct to liven up others lives turned slowly inward as barriers to her real emotions and feelings were erected and she stopped trying to give all of herself to others. Her way of fighting through it was to not let anyone know how she really felt – a natural impulse that went way back to her childhood as a 2nd generation immigrant picked on by her classmates because she and her parents were – different. Everyone picked up on her strength, endlessly commenting on ‘how well she was handling it’.
I was the only one privy to her real fears, doubts, pain and anger. Even then, she turned away from me as well. This sickness … It’s mine, I own it. She even started blaming it on me. No matter what little things I tried to do to comfort her, in the end, her final judgment was that I didn’t care!
She and I not only had to deal with the illness, but once again, as a contract worker – my job ended. She couldn’t even take time to deal with the cancer and heal, because my joblessness was first and foremost on her mind. That sad set of circumstances was constantly dredged up time and time again.
Not only that, but I too was trying to keep my emotions in check, to keep a lid on my fears of her impending death, to the extent that we both had solidified the walls built around each other that had begun years before. During the treatment and healing period, there came the deafening realization that she almost died and well, she naturally asked herself what had she done with her life. Her version of the truth was that all her dreams had gone up in smoke because of me, my setbacks and bad decisions.
As you know, she recovered and starting drawing a clear line between what she had and what she wanted out of life … started shouting at the top of her lungs, that I didn’t care one bit that she was sick, I wasn’t there when it counted, etc., etc. And I, in my silence, it turns out, went unnoticed.
Guys, I sat on your beds at night trying to say something poignant/uplifting, but I was silently screaming at the injustice …
She’d never done anything to deserve this, I was the one who deserved this fate. I angrily cursed that elusive bastard, (g)od, the ultimate joker, to redirect his wrath and let me take it all from her, even if it meant leaving you precious ones without a dad …
I had to think of how I would raise you guys alone.
But, as you now know,
In the end, it didn’t kill her, but it did kill us.
The Happiest Days of My Life
You deserve to know about my past. Mom and her family have relegated it to the back burner, but mine (and yours) is equally rich in colour, humour, and tragedy.
Highbury, where I grew up running around the farm, discovering streams, snakes, fields, cow, chickens, pigs, freshly squeezed milk, water pumped from the well, freshly grown vegetables, freshly hatched eggs, harvesting and chores.
Port Elgin. French fries with ketchup and vinegar on the beach, so a little bit of sand mixed in to make them extra crunchy.
St. Croix. Where I spent most of my young life. Wandering the woods, fields and hills beyond my elementary school. My place of refuge and daydreaming. My bedroom window where I’d press my nose against the screen and just look at things. Observing the world in minute detail.
Those crazy parties where Kel and I ran through the drunken partiers — and Uncle Wiggly.
Watching silent films at UWO’s film theatre as I started exploring ways of getting away from my mom and dad fighting. I’d later be the projectionist at that same theatre for 1st year students.
My first adventure to the West.
University. Burying my nose in History.
And then, I met your mom [Sadly, all the great times I had with your mom are now polluted by the last few years of her instability]
Still, during that time includes,
Breathtaking trips in Europe.
Watching you two run through the woods.
Being there through all the good and bad of your growing days.
Your mom refuses to let me move back in so I can help Alex get through his awkward years without his Dad. He needs me, but she won’t let me be there.
His blood will be on her head, but who cares. We’ll have lost him.
Sink or Swim
I recall when you were very young, perhaps too young, your mom wanted you to take sailing lessons because … I think because she was never able to and always loved the sea and dreamed of sailing the world, so living through you, she signed you up for sailing lessons in Barrie. All I remember now is that you told me you were so afraid of drowning when the lesson was to capsize your boat and get it upright. A similar thing happened when you were trying to learn to water ski at the Brown Cottage. And so much earlier when, hesitant to dive into the pool and stay underwater at the age of 6, your Kum threw you in — sink or swim he cried. Bastards!
Religion Poisons Everything
It’s a funny old world. Man’s lucky if he gets out of it alive.¹
The ‘do-gooders’ want to help us, doctors want to study us, partners want to fix us so we fit in. But, we adoptees cannot be fixed, ever.
There are no real physical manifestations of the problems associated with being adopted. We can appear just as normal as everyone else, but inside … we’re broken right from the start. Some show signs of wear and tear but can be patched up, held together with duct tape, or stitched up; some utterly collapse into fantastically brutal explosions taking the lives of all those around them down with them; but most suffer in silence throughout their lives taking the lives of all those around them down with them.
We can be patched up, held together with duct tape, stitched up when we tear apart, but apart from replacing all the vital organs particularly the brain and heart, we can never be fixed. Sure, they are ways to hold the pain at bay, and we do addiction spectacularly and destructively well.
My poison of choice has been over the years with astonishing commitment — sports at an early age, porn at an early age and for an astounding few decades, film, books, seual massages, and for the last 7 years, booze. Just as porn filled my every waking hour and took me to the depths of the ugliest side of myself, so too did the Liquid Vampire.
I didn’t need anybody’s help, or pity. I am alone in this world and I would solve this myself. I couldn’t turn to religion – this bastard has already felt the sting of being treated like the antichrist once it was revealed that I was adopted, and during a particularly dark time, the product of a broken home.
Just to survive, an adoptee learns he has to take on many roles as the actor in his own play. One such role is that of the grateful urchin. Unfortunately, it is a non-speaking part. Barely a walk-on role, and slightly above that of a background extra – a part of the scenery. I had been silenced by ‘the shame’, that was not of my own doing, all my life.
‘The Shame’ silenced legions of men, women, and children throughout the centuries, forcing them to bear the mark that symbolizes their exclusion from society. What is ‘the shame’? A girl gets pregnant out of wedlock, thereby tainting her, her family and the spawn of her sin. So sayeth religion. The girl will in all likelihood be shuffled out of town under cover of night to a home where she’ll join other wanton women, who will have already exchanged their real names for pseudonyms for the span of their stay, and signed on to give up their spawns in exchange for working off their sins and the more practical costs of their keep for a few years. She will unlikely go back to her town or village again, instead opting for the anonymity of the big city. Her family lost to her forever so they can live peaceful moral lives free from the shame.
Religion poisons everything.2
I am so made that I cannot believe.³
Like so many other things in life, we are the only ones who can fix us.
Music Soothes the Savage Beast
I’ve walked this earth troubled, depressed, alone and lonely, but happy to be alone and lonely, bitter, filled with hatred and sorrow, but happy to be so.
I’ve taken refuge in the cultural achievements of mankind since I was born unworthy of being ‘saved’ by jesus or protected by god. We adoptees don’t need some man-made religion or book of fairy tales to tell us we must grovel, scrape and bow to higher powers, we’ve known we were unworthy while still in the womb eavesdropping on the hushed and sometimes volatile conversations taking place right outside. We ‘felt’ the collapse of the dreams of a teenage girl as she comes face-to-face with the reality of her ‘future’. We’ve ‘sensed’ the dissipation of attachment she had been forced to adopt to protect her sanity and her heart from utter destruction.
This may be the reason we are more in tune with feelings, more so than the normal person. I have no doubt that’s why we either tend to become creatives or serial killers. On the latter, I didn’t say we were all in tune with the feelings of others, we protect ourselves against normal society by isolating ourselves, by pushing away all friends before they reject us, by pushing away all those we have fallen in love with before they can abandon us. We are loners. We are Steppenwolves. At once part of society, but apart from it.
Coming face-to-face with my adopted past, has enabled me to find my voice among the scattered seeds of a ‘sort of brotherhood’.
I have now am now that rare male adoptee willing to shout about it. I humbly applaud all the brave women who’ve been doing the same for years, but … we who never ask for directions, need a spokesman. Without a voice, we have no hope of understanding how the ghosts affect so many of our actions, our self-destructive actions, our anger, our self-esteem, our pasts, presents and futures, and those who want to fix us.
¹ W.C. Fields in You’re Telling Me, 1934
² God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, Christopher Hitchens, 2008, p. 13
³ Blaise Pascal, quoted in God Is Not Great, Hitchens, p. 6
Apparently, music offends (g)od
One such moment in the long journey to my current atheism came in the Summer of ’72.
The older brother of my friend, who lived next door, had an amazing (at the time with my limited worldview) record collection. He had all the latest early to mid-70s politely popular albums. Sadly, from my perspective, he’d gained official nerd status in my mind, having constructed a model of the Starship Enterprise. At the time, I was into Alice Cooper, Jefferson Starship, Joe Cocker, The Doors, Focus, Bowie, Mungo Jerry, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Deep Purple, Eric Burdon & The Animals, Procul Harum, but especially Pink Floyd. Zepplin only if the basement drinking party or high school dance last dance presented me with a nubile girl to feel up.
I first spaced out to The Dark Side of the Moon in the basement of the ‘Uke’s” townhouse. The ‘Uke. He had it all! Great linebacker on the senior squad. Cool guy. A place all to himself. His parents were still in the Ukraine.
A week later, I found myself placidly listening to bits and pieces of my best friend’s brother’s collection. That summer afternoon I distinctly remember listening to an album by The Moody Blues album. Days later, it and many others became a target of ‘christian’-inspired wrath. This was just about the same time when ‘religious representatives’ were claiming that certain albums contained Satanic messages if played backwards on the turntable. Boy, that was one whacky phase! Not to be outdone, some zealot trying to protect his flock of sheep (or more likely, his paycheque) came up with the brilliant idea to nip popular music at the bud. The (pastor) directed all (true) Christians to gut their houses of (god)less music. Next time I visited, the older brother had slavishly smashed and disposed of his entire collection, all but Pat Boone, and just maybe, Tony Orlando and Dawn.
I’m not sure which album it was, but because of the time of the incident, I’ve narrowed it down to the following late-60s/early-70s releases: Days of Future Passed (2nd, released Nov 1967); In Search of the Lost Chord (3rd, released 1968), and A Question of Balance (6th, released 1970). I’ve learned it’s a Quixotic exercise to try to understand why a representative of a religion might take offence with something or see it as a threat to ‘their’ children, but it can be fun to do anyway. The process of brainwashing had to begin in those days in the early teens to both keep them busy with inside-the-flock activities and to hammer home that questioning things threatened their very existence. After having put their trust and time into such in-the-flock activities, to question cast doubt on their suitability as a member of that flock. Most teens want to belong, so they’re easy targets. Those of us who’ve never belonged have a separateness button that cuts through the bullshit. It starts out as an itch when being told what to think, how to behave in order to be ‘saved’ by an entity that doesn’t exist. That itch gradually turned into a cankerous sore that must be ripped off
‘Days of Future Passed’ is considered an influential work of the counterculture period, “one of the defining documents of the blossoming psychedelic era, and one of the most enduringly popular albums of its era.” (Allmusic editor Bruce Eder), the two best-known compositions being “Nights in White Satin”(Side 2, Track 3: 5:38), and “Forever Afternoon (Tuesday?)” (Side 2, Track 1: 8:25). Now it’s unlikely Christians would object to a reference to Knights as they did loyally their bloody work for centuries, but maybe the intentional misspelling of it was seen as subversive? In all likelihood, it was lumped in with all evil music of the progressive/psychedelic era.
‘In Search of a Lost Chord’ was wrapped around a broad theme of quest and discovery, which could clearly lead to sinister questions posed to hapless religious representatives. Especially evil might be the themes of spiritual development in “Voices in the Sky”, higher consciousness in “Legend of a Mind”, and imagination in “The Best Way to Travel”. All would certainly threaten a religion’s right to interpret spiritual messages from above. To make matters worse, the lyrics of “Legend of a Mind” are about LSD advocate Timothy Leary. It may also have been the mysterious “lost chord” of the album title — revealed to be the mantra “Om” in the last stanza of Graeme Edge’s poem “The Word”. Here, an insecure religious representative might want to ban a work of art for drawing a close connection between a pagan chant and the all-powerful “The Word”, which of course, would have to be “of (god)”. These people take the Bible literally, so naturally, the literal interpretation of this connection would suggest that the Christian God is actually a pagan God, or possibly derived from it. However true that may be in the mists of piecing together that book of fairy tales, ‘modern’ religious representatives would be hard pressed to answer that sort of a question from some naïve soul in their flock of sheep.
So we come to the third one, ‘A Question of Balance’. It wasn’t bad enough that were progressive and psychedelic, but here, for the first time, The Moody Blues used political strife as a basis for songwriting with the British number two hit in May 1970, “Question”, which dealt with the controversy resulting from the ongoing Vietnam War. No matter how you slice this one, it was bound to raise the ire of good Christians who were fighting the good fight against the heathens in a far-off land of little consequence. If you were Christian, you supported your nation. If you dared to ‘Question’ that war, you were not Christian, not American, you were a heretic, and only by issuing a call to the ‘Nights’ whether they were wearing white satin or not, to smite the non-believers.
The Bad Patch
I feel like I’ve become the ultimate dufus Dad. That same portrait of a father I so ferociously railed against while watching all those lame sitcoms, a numbskull of ‘Homer-ic’ proportions without a clue in the world about how everyday things are supposed to work.
It happened despite relying on myself to do all things for so many years.
Then it happened. She looked like my musical lust object, Debbie Harry. She must be ‘the right one’. So I fell. We had a blast! We created a life together, travelled, bonded, married, and only then, did I find out that I knew nothing. Hmm!
My father, adoptive though he may have been, died when I was 17 leaving me to blindly sort through the amazing attractions and distractions of the library of life. I hated him for it just as I know you are now just starting to feel that anger towards me from time to time.
I go to sleep every night wishing I’d been the perfect father … but, to no avail. I wish it weren’t the case, but I was not meant to be placed on pedestal. I am flawed. I, along with every single ‘perfect father’ do not hold esteemed degrees in childrearing from the finest universities in the world. We’re all ‘winging it’, calling on everything and anything we learned from our upbringing.
Human beings are so fatally flawed, and that makes every one of us so very interesting.
Boys, we’ll get through this ‘bad patch’, and you’ll be stronger for it.