PUTTING THE PIECES TOGETHER
When I woke up on Tuesday morning in Calgary, there was a text message waiting for me from my sister, Michelle. Since she lives 90 minutes away, we were hoping to use this road trip as a chance to get together.
So far, you’re reading this and thinking – big deal. A guy on a business trip trying to coordinate a visit with his sister. Happens all the time, right?
Not with Michelle and I. Because until Tuesday night, we’d never met before.
And how is this possible?
I was adopted.
I was born in July, 1969 in Calgary, Alberta, and my adoption was finalized almost immediately. Less than a year later, my parents relocated to Toronto. This trip to Calgary was the first time I’d been back “home” since that time.
Being an adopted child has never been an issue for me. For as long as I can remember, my parents made it seem like something special. I can still remember seeing the announcement card in my baby book that proclaimed “I wasn’t expected, I was selected.” People would regularly comment that my brown hair and darker features didn’t jibe with my younger brother’s blonde hair and fair skin. I’d simply say, “I was adopted.” While I didn’t know what it really meant, I was proud to share the news with anyone who’d listen.
To this day, it still makes me laugh when people say that I look like my mother or act like my father. And speaking of my parents, I couldn’t have asked for two more supporting and loving people. Whether it was my dad being my baseball and hockey coach for all those years, or my mom encouraging me every step of the way as I searched my for birth mother, they are the ones clearly responsible for who I am today.
But when it came to my personal growth, a few things started to change as I got older.
The youthful innocence of being an adopted child started to give way to questions from a curious teenager. Who do I look like? What’s my ethnic background?
Some of this information actually came to light when I did a class project on adoption in grade 13. My mother had some adoption documents that she shared with me, with the most revealing being that my ethnic background was primarily German. This immediately debunked my long-held theory that I was part Italian. Regardless, it was a start.
As any expectant parent knows, the early stages of pregnancy involve numerous doctor visits. A staple of these visits are the personal questions that must be asked in order to ensure the baby’s health. When my wife became pregnant with our daughter, those were the questions that spurred me to pursue more information about my family history.
With every passing visit, my frustration grew. It was easy for Christine to answer questions about her family’s medical history, but for me it always came down to the same answer: “I don’t know. I was adopted.”
Shortly after my daughter, Alexandra, was born in July, 2002, I contacted an adoption agency in Alberta to initiate the search for my birth parents. Up until that point, Alex was the first and only blood relative I’d ever known. I wanted that to change.
The highs and lows of the next few years were unbelievable. Much to my surprise, the social worker assigned to my case was able to locate my birth mother within a matter of months. However, this didn’t result in immediate contact between the two of us. Instead, the social worker would act as a third party, relaying questions and answers between the two of us via email.
In all the communication I was having with my birth mother, the one thing I always tried to stress was that I wasn’t in this for anything other than trying to learn more about my past. I wasn’t looking for a new family and to become best friends. I’d grown up in a healthy and happy home, and this was more about me just trying to fill in some of the blanks in my life. And if she had ever wondered over the years, I also wanted her to know that I’d done alright for myself over the years: great parents, plenty of friends, and now a beautiful wife and daughter.
But it wasn’t going to be that simple. Just when I’d take one step forward with her, she’d go two in the other direction. She’d explained that there were some personal and family issues that were hanging over her, and she wasn’t 100 percent comfortable in continuing the process. As much as it frustrated me, I had to respect her wishes. This would delay things for months at a time. The social worker would stay in regular contact with me, but unreturned emails and phone calls to her by my birthmother had us in a holding pattern.
As the process played out over several more months, I’d also asked the social worker to let me know if she came across any information about my birth mother’s children. This unexpectedly resulted in my contact with Michelle.
The social worker spoke to Michelle and gave her my contact info. Our first phone conversation lasted three hours. I honestly couldn’t tell you exactly what we talked about; because it was more like what didn’t we talk about.
Through Facebook and emails, Michelle and I have kept in contact ever since then. It was a learning process for both of us, but one that we were both comfortable with. We’d often say how it would be great to finally meet in person some day, but were never able to make any firm plans.
Fast forward to Tuesday.
Knowing I’d be tight for time during the day, and that we were flying to Edmonton immediately after the game, I offered to get Michelle tickets to the game. A few text messages later, everything was all set. Michelle was coming to the game, and bringing her two daughters along for the ride. As the kids like to say these days, things were about to get real!
We’d hoped to see each other before the game, but Michelle was delayed by traffic. Our final plan was in place: I would come find them during the first intermission.
As you can imagine, the first period was a blur for me. It was 1-0 Buffalo, but the score could’ve been 7-6 in the greatest period in NHL history and I couldn’t have cared less. With every second that ticked off the clock, I just kept thinking, “I’m about to meet my sister.” As the period came to a close, I got up and started making the walk from the press box to section 228 at the Scotiabank Saddledome.
Anyone who’s tried to navigate an arena concourse during intermission knows what I was about to deal with. But in a way, the congested mass of humanity served as something of a distraction for me as I searched for Michelle and her daughters.
That’s not to say I wasn’t thinking about anything. My brain was moving a mile a minute. I’d thought about this moment so many times, and I still had no idea what was about to happen. How am I supposed to react when we first meet? What do I say? What if we don’t hit it off? You name it, I was thinking it.
Then it happened. I spotted the sign for 228, and turned to my left. While moving quickly through the crowd, I spotted a pair of familiar brunettes out of the corner of my eye. Until now I’d only known them from emailed pictures and Facebook photos. But I recognized Michelle’s daughters, Myranda and Jayden, instantly. Standing right next to them was Michelle. My sister.
What happened next? Couldn’t tell you. Pretty sure I made some awkward attempt at saying hi. Then we hugged.
After that, the four of us stood and talked for at least an hour. What about? Everything. Just like that first phone call several years ago, the conversation flowed as easy as I’d hoped it would. Michelle even took a jab at me for having an “American accent.”
And while I’m horrible for spotting familial resemblances between men and women, I could definitely see glimpses of my daughter in both Myranda and Jayden. Not just physical attributes, but personality as well. I could definitely see the three of them getting along famously some day.
As much as I could’ve talked with Michelle and her daughters all night long, I reluctantly told them I had to head back upstairs to the press box. We hugged again, and I thanked her for making the drive up on such short notice so that we could finally get together.
“Are you kidding me? I left work early today,” Michelle said. “I told everyone I was leaving to go meet my brother.”