It sounds like an oxymoron. After all, one reason we chose open adoption was to avoid the difficulties in reunion.
We’ve always had an open adoption with Tessa’s birthmom, Crystal. But until recently, we couldn’t say the same about her birth father, Joe.
(I’m going to call this set of posts a reunion series, even though that’s not quite an accurate term. It implies that there was a prior union between Joe and Tessa, or Joe and us, and there wasn’t. But I’m sure the meaning is understood.)
We are just now looking back on this reunion, which had its seeds planted nearly a year ago. Some of it has been successful, and some of it has been, euphemistically, a learning experience.
Since before Tessa’s birth, Crystal had always told us that Joe was too volatile, too unpredictable to be in her life, much less ours. But seven years can mellow a situation. Crystal and Joe continued to have intermittent contact with each other, and eventually each went on to another relationship.
Last winter, Crystal told us she would no longer be the gatekeeper. If we wanted to judge Joe for ourselves, she would step aside.
We set up a non-identifying email account and gave it to Crystal to give to Joe. For three months, we got to know Joe by email. It seemed safe enough to meet — just us adults. We arranged for our adoption agency to facilitate the first meeting between Joe and his wife, Roger and me, at the agency.
For seven years I’d wondered what this man looked like. What pieces of him would I find familiar? How would he feel about us? Would he see us as the enemy? Would I find it easy to like him, as I did Crystal?
I was not nervous, not excited, but ner-cited as I walked into the room. He and his wife were already there. He stood to shake our hands and I was surprised at his height — over 6 feet tall and built like a football player (which he was at one time).
His manner was very straightforward. He started the meeting by saying that he didn’t expect anything from us and that he was grateful that we’d come and that he just hoped to fill the void in his heart that had been there for so long.
He explained that the birth of his daughter the year before had brought up a lot of pain he’d stuffed down. I was actually relieved to hear this because now Tessa can know that he has always loved her. We handed over some photos of her and he gave us some of him and his baby daughter to show Tessa.
Pretty soon we were chatting about a lot of things — sport team allegiances, common locales, interests, and how we each got from there to here.
The facilitator never needed to say a word.
Ninety minutes later we agreed that the next step would be for him to meet Tessa. But it would have to wait until a break in all the summer action — about two months in the future.
Next up in this series: Mis-step and first contact.