I know brothers. Some of my first memories include my oldest brother. I remember the two of us sitting on the floor, and I’m “reading” him the book “The Chosen Baby.” I’m something like three-and-a-half, he’s about two, and we’re basically the same size. He’s a chunker and I’m petite. I have vague memories that coincide with my mom’s reports that I came home each day from Kindergarten and taught him what I’d Iearned that morning. I do recall him pleading to have his turn at going to school and feeling a bit guilty that I got to go every day while he had to stay home.
We were real siblings, my three brothers and I. It didn’t matter that we did not share DNA, nor that our parental connection was court mandated rather than biological. Didn’t matter at all. Yet these strong ties that did not diminish the longing to connect with biological siblings.
While I have no experience with older brother relationships, I’m pretty sure I would have liked having older male siblings. Close family friends who lived just down the road, (yes, road—we grew up in the country!) had two boys older than me, and one of them became like a surrogate older brother. And I liked that. I would have been the youngest if my birthmother had kept me, a middle child if I’d stayed with my birthfather, yet I was the oldest in my adoptive family. A mixed-up birth order scenario for sure.
The first biological family member I connected with was a maternal brother fifteen years and eleven months my senior. It was difficult for him to imagine that we were indeed siblings. It was much easier for him to consider the possibility that his then eighteen-year-old brother (now estranged from the family) had fathered a child and placed said baby on the neighbor’s doorstep than to fathom that his thirty-seven-year-old mother had kept secret from him a pregnancy and walked the baby across the backyard. He agreed to submit his DNA, got on board the train to solve the mystery, and readily shared photos and family history. He even spent a day showing us the family-related sites around “our” hometown.
This older brother and I share virtually no physical resemblance as he is the spittin’ image of his father. He dabbles in writing and shares my interest in family history, old photos, and other hard-to-describe things about us are similar, helping me to feel a connection to him. When he noted that “talking to you and looking at you is like sitting and talking to my mother”, well, I can’t even express how those words gripped me, how I clung to them and replayed them in my mind.
I listened in fascination as he described our mother’s brother and father, both history buffs, in particular, avid fans of presidential facts and trivia. My daughter, as early as the age of six, pored over books and anything presidential she could get her hands on. She loved to quiz her dad and I, often stumping us with her advanced knowledge of the minute details about our nation’s leaders. Eyes popped wide all around when we learned that both my uncle and grandfather gave presentations to interested groups, one on Grant and the other on Lincoln—her two favorite presidents.
Three months after meeting brother #1, the birthfather piece of the puzzle confirmed we did indeed share a mother. While the mystery was solved, the scenario left many questions unanswered, and did little to help my big bro wrap his head around the events of those long-ago days. Although the connection between us flourished in the beginning, the reality could not be denied that my dropping into his life had turned his world upside down. Because mom’s not here to fill in the blanks, we are left to surmise and ponder the details and the whys.
Despite my desire to work at developing our sibling bond, as he is the closest connection I’ll ever have to my birth mom, our differing perspectives have resulted in a strained relationship. Those unanswered questions surrounding what took place fifty-four years ago won’t be still. The fact that we live close enough to maintain a relationship—a mere fifty miles separates us—makes the divide harder for me. I’m hoping a mutual resolution can be found. That we can come to an understanding that allows the past to rest as we focus on the future.
Blood may be thicker than water, but the reality is that DNA isn’t always strong enough to bridge the divides created by secrets and years of separation, by a lifetime of different views and perspectives and realities.
Nearly every adoption reunion story I’ve encountered comes up against some point of contention. Even those that begin with open, welcoming arms—as ours did—often hit a sticky snag or rub up against a thorny dispute. A spot then smears across the emerging relationships, at the least blurring the new reality, sometimes even destroying the new, fledgling connections.
Just this morning I read these wise words from a dear friend–
Relationships are full of mountaintops and valleys. They are built by weathering both.