By Dick Alexander
From my earliest memories, I’ve known I was adopted, and I’ve always been grateful.
When I was turning a year old, the doctor who delivered me, and who also was my adoptive family’s doctor, told my mother-to-be that he knew of a baby in foster care needing a permanent home. Otherwise the child would likely be sent to an orphanage.
My father-to-be was 41 at the time, and Mom was 37—both considered old to be starting a family back in that day. When I was old enough to understand, Mom told me with a laugh how the adoption decision was made. From the first word from the doctor, Mom was eager. Dad was a firm no, so she starved him out.
My dad was the quintessential old-school husband—completely helpless in the kitchen. Successfully boiling water would have been the high point of his culinary career. Mom told him she wouldn’t cook for him until he agreed to the adoption. He caved after five days. So I wound up being raised in a family instead of an institution.
That was the easy part of the story—how I came into the family in which I grew up. How I initially came into the world was murkier. At different times there were different versions of my birth—a myth, then an untruth, and then the real story.
The myth of my birth was one I created as a youth in the absence of other information. While I was told I was adopted, I was never told the circumstances of my birth, and I had never asked. I just always assumed I was born to an unwed mother—why else would a child be given up for adoption? I never asked about my birth because I never wanted to communicate dissatisfaction with my adoptive home and parents. The idea of being “illegitimate” never bothered me because I knew it wasn’t my fault. I was just glad to be alive.
A second version of my birth story emerged when I was in my mid-40s. During a conversation with my mother, I felt it would be OK to ask about my birth parents. I was just curious. Mom freely shared a story I had never heard—my birth father was killed fighting in World War II and his pregnant wife (my birth mother) gave birth two months later. Then seven months after my birth, she died of a broken heart over her husband’s death. Mom said my name for the first year of my life had been David Evans.
As I later learned, the only completely true part of the story was the name. I suspect Mom invented the story because she didn’t want to tell me the whole story about my birth. Her new information changed the narrative, but it didn’t change anything for me. What mattered was that at a year old I was taken in and given a home.
The Real Story
The real story surfaced a dozen years later in a quirky event. I answered the phone on a Sunday afternoon and the caller said, “This is the strangest call you’ll ever get—I’m your half-brother.” The caller told me we shared a common mother. When he learned of my existence, he hired a private investigator to find me. In the six-year search, I suspect he paid off a courthouse worker to get information from sealed adoption records.
Our conversation raised a raft of questions, but I needed to leave immediately for church. We made an appointment to talk by phone later that week; the intervening days were filled with speculation. My wife thought his call was a scam and he was phishing for money. But I assured her he knew too much—he knew my birth name and other significant details. If he knew that much, he would also know I was a pastor and wouldn’t have enough money to be worth his trouble. I was sure his story was true.
Upon learning I had a half-brother, my biggest question was whether my birth mother was still alive. If she was, would I try to contact her? My motivation would have been to thank her for giving birth to me and allowing me to be adopted, and to let her know things had turned out well for me. But I had known a number of adoptees whose contact with their birth parents did not end happily. For some of the parents, it seemed to peel the scab off painful wounds.
When my half-brother called later in the week, he told me the true story of my birth. My birth mother’s husband was off fighting in World War II. While he was gone, my mother had an affair, and I was the product of that affair. When her husband got a surprise leave, he came home to find her eight months pregnant. He told her things like that happen during war, told her he wasn’t interested in raising the child, told her to do whatever she needed to do, and he went back to finish his tour of duty.
When it was time for the delivery, my birth mother was a very scared young woman; she checked into the hospital using an assumed name. She gave me that fictitious familial name, and when she was healthy enough to go, left me at the hospital to be cared for by county social services. Her husband came home from the war some months later, they resumed their marriage, had a son together who died in childbirth, and then later she gave birth to my half-brother.
Maybe the biggest news of the phone call was my half-brother telling me my birth mother had died several years before. It was after her death that her second husband told him the story and showed him the newspaper clippings of my birth as “David Evans.” Knowing she was no longer living relieved the dilemma of whether or not to try contacting her.
Never a Negative
While some adoptees struggle with being adopted, it was never a negative for me. That wasn’t because our home was idyllic—far from it. Mom and Dad’s marriage was good, but their relationship with me was strained. When they got me, they got a fixer-upper. In retrospect, part of it was probably fallout from my first year spent bouncing around foster care. The formative years are formative years. And part of it was that I could have been a cover photo for James Dobson’s book The Strong-Willed Child. I think I was born with a genetic predisposition toward rebellion. Especially for Mom, it was more than she knew what to do with.
Teenage years were stormy, bordering on explosive. That said, it would have been worse had I not been adopted. Whatever I wished were different in our family, under it all I always knew that my mom and dad loved me, and that at a time in their lives when they were doing fine without me, they went out of their way to give me a home. I felt I owed them something—which I did.
Looking back now through decades of life, the things I value most in life came to me because I was adopted. From my first Sunday in their home, my parents took me to church with them. It was a rich community of faith, with down-home, salt-of-the-earth people—a great place to grow up. It was there I learned the truth of a Father who would never abandon his children, and it was there I embraced Christ. It was there I was challenged to enter ministry, which led to enrolling in a Christian college. There I met the woman who became the love of my life, my life partner, and the mother of our children. In a half-century of ministry, there has been tremendous joy and satisfaction, along with a global family of friends.
All this started with adoption into a Christian family, for which I will be eternally grateful!
Thanks Mom and Dad—I could never repay you.
Dick Alexander serves as international consultant with CMF International.