Super Bowl Adoption Controversy

After reading a compelling article by ESPN columnist Rick Reilly today, I shared my thoughts with him by e-mail. Here is that e-mail. He was kind enough to reply, saying that he doesn’t agree with me, but he appreciated the thoughts. I still agree with me, though.

Rick,

You wrote about an interesting and challenging topic in today’s article and I thought I might share my perspective as an adopted child who is ambivalent about meeting my birth mother. (I also happen to be a 49ers fan.)

The impetus for me writing is that I’m surprised you’re chiding Kaepernick in public for making a very personal choice. I think the situation would be different if Kaepernick publicly said negative things about his birth mother, but from your article, it just sounds like he’s not interested in connecting with her. It’s neat that your daughter was compelled to meet her birth mother, and it’s great that you were supportive of that choice. But just because Kaepernick has a different mindset than your daughter doesn’t make him wrong. It just seems odd that you would expect a stranger to make such a personal choice.

Here’s the line that really stood out to me–there’s a lot of judgment in this line: “That’s odd, since many adopted kids are crazy curious about their birth parents, and their adopted ones.”

Yes, many adopted kids are crazy curious about their birth parents. But some aren’t, and there’s nothing odd about that. In fact, from my perspective, it’s really odd to me that many adopted kids are crazy curious about their birth parents (but I don’t judge them for their curiosity).

My situation is fairly similar to Kaepernick’s. My biological mother made the extremely loving, generous choice to give me up for adoption because she wanted me to have a family, not a single mom. I was adopted by my parents (I don’t call them my “adoptive parents”–although that’s accurate, my parents are simply my parents) three days after I was born.

My parents told me I was adopted from a very young age, and they also told me whenever we received a letter from my biological mother. I had no ill will towards her, but, as you said quite accurately in your article, I didn’t want my parents to think for a second that I was more curious about a stranger than I was about them. None of this came from them, of course–my parents were incredibly supportive of any choice regarding my adoption that I wanted to make.

My sophomore year of college, it occurred to me out of the blue that I might have a sister out there who was my age, and I didn’t want to accidentally date her. So based on that (and a tepid curiosity about any inherited diseases I wasn’t aware of), I read the letters that had accumulated over the years, and I wrote one to my biological mother.

And you’re right–receiving my letter was incredibly healing…for her (I never felt like I needed healing). She wrote back that she had wondered for so many years if I had held it against her for giving me away, and I responded to assure her that the thought never crossed my mind. Giving a child up for adoption is an incredibly selfless, generous, loving decision, and I’m so thankful she made that choice. I think she likes to hear that from me, as it often comes up in the e-mails we exchange a few times a year.

My biological mother lives about a 4-hour drive from where I live. I could easily drive out there and meet her. And if she were ever in St. Louis, I wouldn’t be opposed to grabbing a bite to eat with her. But as it stands, we’ve never met, because I’m completely ambivalent to meeting her. I’m 32 now, and my adolescent concerns of protecting and reassuring my parents are no longer a factor at all. I’m just truly ambivalent to meeting her. I hung out in her womb for 9 months, and then my parents raised me. Why would I want to meet a random stranger in Indiana?

I think I can relate to Kaepernick, but I can’t really know. Every adopted kid is different. Again, I think it would be completely different if Kaepernick had a really negative outlook about his biological mother. I think that would be unhealthy for him, and as a public figure, unhealthy for other adopted kids out there who look up to him.

But as far as I can tell from your article, that’s not the case at all. He’s just ambivalent. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Your article isn’t particularly incisive, but there is judgment there about Kaepernick’s choice, and I don’t think that’s fair to him. I also agree that Kaepernick reaching out to his biological mother could be healing for her (but not, as you say, “A meeting like that could fill two hearts.”)

I think the crux of your article (as you say in the last line, “What better way to pay her back?”) is that Kaepernick OWES his biological mother. I guess I just don’t think that’s fair. Kaepernick didn’t choose to be born, nor did he choose to be adopted. That’s like saying that your daughter owes you for raising her–that’s not an agreement she opted into. Nor did Kaepernick.

So rather than focus on what Kaepernick isn’t doing for a stranger who just happened to carry him in her womb for 9 months, why not focus on the way Kaepernick loves his parents? It’s a subject I know nothing about because Rick Reilly chose to write a very different article. But based on that photo of Kaepernick in his Nevada uniform, he has a lot of love for the two people who chose to be his parents, and I think that’s awesome. I’d love to read more about that.

You certainly got me thinking, and I appreciate that. I will probably publish this letter on my personal blog, jameystegmaier.com. If you respond, please let me know if I have permission to post your response (I won’t speak poorly of you at all if you choose not to–I completely respect that).

Best regards,
Jamey Stegmaier

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AP Photo / Patrick Cummings


8 Responses to “Super Bowl Adoption Controversy”

  1. T-Mac says:

    I find it hard to see Rick’s side of this issue, although, like you, I respect his right to an opinion. I did find it interesting that, unlike most espn.com articles, there wasn’t a comments section with Rick’s article. I wish he would post your letter below his original article as a respectful counterpoint!

  2. Jen says:

    This is a really interesting article. I respect your perspective Jamey. It’s ultimately up to you and any adopted person whether they want to contact their birth parent. It has to be a two-way street. There are situations where, for whatever reasons, a birth parent doesn’t want to connect with their biological son/ daughter and situations where adopted children don’t want to connect with their biological parents. It’s certainly valid to feel that way I think.

    Do you think that being part of such a well-adjusted and open family helped shape your perspective about reaching out to your birth mother? Because it was never a mystery, there wasn’t any blatant curiosity–you always knew. Nothing was shrouded in secret. Also, do you think it’s because you have always felt so loved by your parents that you never felt the emotional need to seek it out from a woman who carried you in the womb for 9 months?

    I don’t know enough about adoption but perhaps certain adopted children feel the need to reach out to their biological parent because they don’t feel they ‘belong’ in their current family or because there was a lot of secrecy surrounding the adoption. I also think adoptees that come from a different biological background may be naturally curious about their ‘roots’ versus adoptions that occur between more racially or ethnically similar families.

    I think Rick Reilly’s article is not meant to be judgmental, even though it may certainly come off that way. In the Asian culture, children do owe their parents for raising them. The sense of filial piety is very strong–your parents took care of you, sacrificed for you, therefore when they are old and frail, you should naturally want to take care of them (whether out of love or obligation). I think Reilly himself is struggling to understand Kaepernick’s perspective, especially given that Kaepernick’s adoptive parents have reached out to the birth mother on several occasions (and vice versa). Clearly the emotional repercussions for Kaepernick’s biological mother still reverberate today. I think this article examines the feelings from that mother’s perspective. If you could do something to ease someone’s pain or suffering, why wouldn’t you? Why would it make it any different from a stranger in need of food, clothing, shelter etc.? So if spending some time with someone who once knew you would actually help that person and not really affect you, why not do it? I think that was the major takeaway from the article, at least for me…

    Thanks for sharing this!

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      Jen–Thanks so much for your response. You bring up some great points and ask some good questions.

      I definitely think that being part of a well-adjusted and open family (as you know, I’m an advocate of adoptive parents being open with adopted kids so that a stigma isn’t created) impacted my perspective on my biological mother. As for being loved by my parents…I don’t know if there’s a connection there. I went through ups and downs with my parents just like any kid does. But the thought never crossed my mind that I should seek parental love elsewhere–I didn’t feel like I had a “backup” mom out there.

      I think you have a great point about adoptees who come from different biological backgrounds. There’s something innately human about wanting to see yourself in someone else. I was surprised by how moved I was when I saw photos of my biologocal half siblings for the first time. They didn’t feel like my sister and brother–I have a sister and a brother–but it was really neat to see elements of my face on someone else for the first time.

      I see what you’re saying about some cultures bestowing that sense of filial duty upon their children (I saw it in Japan quite a bit). I should clarify that I think it’s great when kids are good to their parents as they grow older. I plan to do that, and sure, part of that is out of a sense of obligation to support them in the way they supported me.

      In regards to easing someone’s pain and suffering, even though my biological mother feels a connection to me because of the 9 months I spent in her womb, I wasn’t aware of the world at that point to feel any connection to her. I care for her just as I’d care for a stranger or a very loose acquaintance. And there are a LOT of strangers and loose acquaintances out there.

      So, sure, Kaepernick could ease his biological mother’s pain by reaching out to her, but she’s just a stranger to him. From his interview, it sounds like he would probably be more fulfilled by helping out a kid in need…in fact, Kaepernick’s charity of choice is a camp for kids with heart disease (a disease that killed two brothers he never knew).

      Here’s the thing: Kaepernick’s biological’s mother’s pain and suffering is her own. It’s her choice to feel that way. When she gave Kaepernick up for adoption, she did it because she wanted him to have a loving family. He has a loving family. Can’t she simply be happy for him, that he has everything that she wanted him to have? I think that’s all that an adopted kid owes to a biological mother: To live the life that she wanted him/her to have.

      Thanks for helping me think through this and articulate it better! 🙂

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