AN (INTERNATIONALLY) ADOPTED ADULT TELLS HIS
international adoption stories are of cute babies being placed with American families. This is the story from an interview with an adult adoptee in the international adoption triad.
Although Mark celebrates his birthday on July 6, his exact birth date is a mystery. He was abandoned in Seoul, Korea in August, 1965.
“Instead of being taken to the shelter I was placed on the steps of the police station,” he said. “The police saw the note in the basket and took me to the orphanage.”
July 6 became his birth date when Korean authorities estimated he was a month old when he was abandoned, and assigned him that date.
His abandonment not only denied him knowledge of his birth date—it deprived him of information others usually have about their biological parents, their racial make-up and their medical background.
Mark said he was “sick, real sick,” when he was abandoned. Soon he was in the hospital having surgery. “I needed medical care or I would have been six feet under.”
At the time of his abandonment a Pennsylvania missionary couple was dealing with the postwar poverty, disruption and rebuilding in Korea. Sam and Annette met Mark when they visited a Seoul hospital to visit parentless children
undergoing treatment for a variety of medical problems. While there, “One child, about 3-months old, looked different. He reached up and Karl carried him around,” Annette said.
Mark said the missionaries felt compassion not only for him, but for his biological mother. She was probably a poor woman unable to handle her newborn’s medical problems and expenses.
Sam and Annette became Mark’s foster parents, he said. They were in their mid-twenties and hadn’t started their family yet.
Several months later thee Korean social services found an African American military couple who wanted to adopt him, Sam said. .
“People thought it would be better if I went with black people for adoption. Koreans didn’t easily accept mixed races,” Mark interjected, saying his race was determined through features of his eyes and nose. “I wouldn’t have been accepted in Korea because I was mixed race, half black.”
However, the adoptive parents couldn’t handle Mark’s medical problems. “They backed out after two weeks,” said Mark, who again was taken in by Sam and
Adoption, especially biracial adoption, wasn’t in Sam and Annette’s life-plan. However, the deep bond that developed between the foster parents and the child. thrust the missionaries into the world of cross cultural adoption before biracial families became the norm, Mark said.
“We vacillated back and forth whether we should adopt before we came to the decision,” said Sam, who noted that in the late 1960s many Americans adopted biracally to make a statement. “We did it because we loved Mark,” he said.
“God put this opportunity in our path,” Annette said.
Their families’ reservations about the biracial adoption ended when the adoption was accomplished, according to Sam and Annette. Then the families completely accepted the situation.
During Mark’s childhood he wondered “Why me? Why was I chosen?” He smiled as he said “My parents told me I was the only one in the orphanage smiling.”
Annette said Mark delighted in his adoption story during his childhood. “Every bed in the huge hospital had two kids in it,” his parents told him. “You looked different. You smiled at us, you put up your arms to us.”
“I picked you up and carried you around,” Sam would continue. “I hauled you around on my back a lot. So story became you were chosen.”
When Sam, Annette and Mark returned home in 1969 people tried to piece together their strange family, according to Sam.
“We were a curiosity, sometimes considered saints and sometimes criticized,” Annette said.
Mark recalled shopping with his parents. “People often asked them ‘Are those your kids or are you watching them?’”
The young couple discovered their adoption would affect all their major life choices—where they lived, who they associated with, Sam’s career path and plans for a future adoption.
Sam needed to continue his education, and chose a graduate school based on its greater degree of diversity.
“We chose a graduate school with more diversity,” said Annette about their 1965 choice of schools in the western part of the country, where they settled in with Mark and their first biological child, Paul.
“Then they adopted my biracial sister Martha for me,” Mark said. “Then they had Luke.”
By 1972 Sam was teaching at a Pennsylvania college. Their social circle includes close friends in biracial families and a church supportive of cross cultural families, Annette said.
Sam believes adopted children come with a particular set of genetically determined traits and “If adoptive parents try to impose a structure on that it can rub them and create problems, Part of an adopted interracial child is that the structure will definitely be different.”
Mark believes his father “never really wanted Martha and me to be like him. He was more or less laid back. He didn’t tell us what we had to do. We had to make our own decisions. He said ‘If you make a decision you more or less have to face up to the consequences.”
Sam acknowledges Mark and Martha tend to think “white,” but said that’s not good or bad. “It’s something to be recognized,” he said.
Mark agrees. Only three youth in his community weren’t white, and by absorbing the white culture surrounding him “most people see in me a white attitude, not a black outlook. I see it that way too.”
“African American children in cities will color themselves white, they don’t recognize themselves as different,” Sam said.
Annette and Mark recall one of Mark’s kindergarten drawings that indicated his color awareness. “I colored my skin and made it brown,” he said.
“And I said, ‘You recognize you are brown,” Annette said.
Mark responds to inquires about his nationality with the question, “What do you think?” The responses include Spanish, Mexican, Hawaiian and Philippino,” he said. “People just rattle on until I ask if they are done guessing. Then I tell them I am Amer-Asian, and they say wow.”
The family didn’t associate with other families with adopted Korean children, and Mark had little exposure to Korean culture. “I can’t speak Korean, I can’t use chopsticks,” he said.
In his early teens Mark considered searching for his biological parents. “My dad brought it up once,” he said. “But my bio-mom is unknown and any records would be in Korean. I am happy with parents who care about me.”
Mark didn’t want to attend college, and considers himself a laborer. According to Annette, Mark is physically fit and “never minded labor. People said he was the hardest worker. He likes being outside.”
At the age of 16, while still in high school, Mark began living on his own. Two years after he left high school he joined the Army National Guard. Between guard commitments he traveled cross country several times.
“I think I went to find where I belonged,” Mark said. “On my first trip I was impressed at the friendliness of Americans who accepted me at face value.”
When Mark lived in Florida for a brief time Southerners identified his northern accent. “There was nothing but black people in the town. I had a weird dream that this black guy, and he was like my dad, I thought he was my dad. I think
it was because I was in this town with all the black people. It was weird, and after a while I thought wow, maybe I’ll find my real dad.”
He felt “kind of odd being with the same skin color. I knew I was black, but not in the sense of the way they were. They said I acted white. I said my parents were white.”
Annette recognizes that many kids need to separate and differentiate from their parents. “For Mark, separation was tough,” she noted. “Taking off and traveling the country was his way of doing this.”
During these six years Mark maintained contact with his family, calling from where ever he was, Sam said.
In the late 1980s Mark returned to Pennsylvania, found a job and briefly dated a black woman with a child. It ended when he decided he “didn’t want a prefab family. I wanted my own kids.”
He since married. The biracial relationship produced two sons before the couple separated.
Multiculturalism is natural to the man who understands all people are the same, regardless of color. “I don’t think you should look at individuals as they look on the outside, colorwise. Color shouldn’t have to be the issue.”
Sam and Annette feel enriched by their cross cultural living that “opened us up to broader racial injustice issues in our country,” according to Sam.
“In the broader spectrum of culture, how wonderful it is to have diversity,” Annette said. “People of every color of the rainbow. What God created was good.”