Wednesday, November 25, 2009

When Reunions Go Awry

ABC has this new show called "Find My Family" and it is just what it sounds like it is. People who have lost track of or who have never known family members (ie, kid gets put up for adoption and is searching for birth mother, or alcoholic father leaves family 25 years ago, but has now quit drinking and wants his family back, etc.) go on some sort of quest to find them. Actually, ABC goes on the quest and these people sit around and tearfully tell their story to the cameras. It's done by the people who do "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" so you know that you can expect the same sort of tragic build-up which culminates in some sort of spectacularly happy ending...only without the rusted plumbing and crumbling drywall. I think.

I kind of have an issue with this show. I'm not totally against families reuniting. But you have to admit that there are some people who are just better off without each other. Trust me, if you are separated from people who are related to you through no exodus of your own, there's a reason and it's usually not very pleasant. I'm not saying that it's always tragic, but you're going to have to define what that is to make that decision. Is getting knocked up as a teenager and moving across the country without telling anyone that you know what is going on and then giving birth to a child and giving it up for adoption immediately there in the delivery room and then going back across the country to resume your life, never having laid an eye on the child that just popped out of you and never telling a soul about it, is that a tragedy? I don't think that it is. It sounds kinda sad, but I don't think it sounds tragic. And just remember, I'm basing that assessment being the kid who popped out in that scenario. So it's not like I'm pulling all of this out of my arse like I do the majority of my posts. I have a little bit of investment in this sort of thing. I'm just saying.

I anticipate that this new show will focus on only the happy endings and will do absolutely zero follow up after the parties are reunited. Just because it's all great and tearful at first doesn't mean it's going to stay that way. I also highly doubt that this show will focus on the lives that the adoptees have had with their adoptive families. Someone, usually more than one someone, had to raise these people and I can only hope that their contribution to the searchers lives are not minimalized, though I doubt that will be the case.

Everything I've said up to this point pretty much sums up why I'm not exactly in favor of this show. This isn't someone's mortgage we're talking about, these are people's lives. And here's the perfect example of how this sort of thing could turn out, but that ABC is never in a million years ever going to air:
Meet Matthew Roberts:

According to The Sun, he had "...set about finding his biological parents with a mix of nerves and excitement." That seems reasonable. They also report that "...he hoped that discovering his father's identity would help him to work out what made him the man he had become." Yeah, see, I think that part is kinda crap.

He's hoping to learn about some dude that he's never met and understand how that made him grow up the way that he did? Um, shouldn't he be looking at the people who raised him for that knowledge? Yes, he should. Biology plays a pretty small role in how you turn out and I think that Matthew's case could really exemplify that position. See, Matthew did find out who his father was and it turns out, thank God, that Matthew was absolutely nothing like his father.

He learned that his father is in prison. Yikes. That's rough.

He learned that his father is in prison for the rest of his life. Um...uh-oh. (If this were a movie, that "pay attention" music would be playing right now.)

He learned that his father is Charles Manson. Oh, s**t.

ABC?? Calling ABC! Don't you want THIS on your little show?! Some guy who is searching for his biological parents finds out that his mother was raped and impregnated by Charles Manson during a drug fueled orgy! That sounds incredibly touching, doesn't it, ABC?! Hello? HELL-OH??

Huh. They don't seem to be paying attention to me. OK, back to Matthew. He looks an awfully lot like Mr. Manson, so I'm not really doubting his story all that much. Besides, it's not like something anyone would want to go around bragging about. "Hey, found my birth dad! Wanna guess who it is? Go ahead! You'll never get it. Nope. Nope. I'm just gonna tell you. It's Charles Manson. No, really! Charles MANSON! Yes! THAT Charles Manson. Hey, where are you going?"

But back to what I was saying about how it's more how you were raised than where you came from. Matthew says that "I'm not nuts but I've got a little bit of it. It's scary and upsetting. If I get worked up, my eyes get really big and that's really freaked some people out before....I don't even like the fact that I'm big. It makes me even scarier. My hero is Gandhi. I'm an extremely non-violent, peaceful person and a vegetarian." I'm not really sure what the vegetarian part has to do with any of this. It's not like Manson was a cannibal or anything. But I see what he's getting at. Manson was a guy who had a bunch of people killed and Matthew doesn't even have things killed for him to eat. Sure. I get that. Look, anything that the guy needs to come up with to convince himself and anyone else that he is not at all like Charles Manson, I'm thinking he gets to do that and he gets to do that however he wants. It's Charles Manson after all!

By the way, since learning of his offputting heritage, Matthew and Chuck have been exchanging letters. It's hard to tell what the letters actually say. Not because I haven't seen one of the letters, but because I can't read Chuck's handwriting enough to decipher his rantings. Behold!

It's a head scratcher. Here's the thing that Matthew says that I think ABC needs as a disclaimer on their show. "What I'm worried about is that you think you're going to meet your birth mother or father and they're going to love you and welcome you with open arms. But he's not that kind of person." No, I'd have to say that Charles Manson is not going to welcome you with open arms. A large butcher knife, perhaps, but open arms? Unlikely. I also think that Matthew is believing a lot of things that people in his situation, minus Charles Manson, of course, think when he says, "He's my biological father - I can't help but have some kind of emotional connection. That's the hardest thing of all - feeling love for a monster who raped my mother."

Matt...can I call you Matt? Matt, listen to me. I don't think that you are "feeling love" for the man whom you have accurately characterized as "a monster who raped (your) mother". I think you're still trying to filter out the "love" that you carried around all of these years for the father that you never knew. And now that you know, you haven't quite internalized how to deal with being OK with not loving the monster that is your father. Granted, I'm not a therapist or anything. Well, I'm not anymore. But if I still was, that's what I'd tell you.

I'm seriously hoping that this ABC show doesn't grow legs and stick around for very long. Don't get me wrong. I'm not going to protest or call ABC and claim to be offended or any sort of crap like that because I'm not offended. I just don't think that it's a great idea and I hope it goes away. At the very least, I'd like to hope that ABC would offer folks that participate in this circus act some sort of therapy before and after, but I think the chances of that happening would be slim to none. It's hard to say which would be more likely. Giving out the therapy or putting the Manson guy on there. Hmm. Definitely a coin flip.

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FL said...

I liked the show in many ways, but I agree with you that it can give adoptees unrealistic expectations about their birth parents.

The birth parents they showed ended up getting married to each other, have been married for over 25 years (their marriage has lasted longer than marriages in general!), have three kids, earn honest livings, and still care a lot about their birth daughter.

It's awesome that they show a birth parents success story, but I'm worried if that's all they show. Come on, how many adoptees wondering about their birth parents will find that their birth parents ended up as the typical all-American family and never stopped caring about her?

It'll be interesting if they show a case in which the birth parents are not people adoptees hope to find out about, but I'm not holding my breath.

Btw, lest you think I'm a stalker, I did a search to see the internet reaction to this show because I have worked with adopted children on identity issues.

Mare said...

Don't worry, FL, I don't think you're a stalker just for leaving a comment.

I'll be honest, I didn't watch the show. It sounds like it was about as I expected - an atypical situation with a happy ending. I'm glad you're not holding your breath for anything with an outcome that wouldn't be considered optimal, as I can't imagine that happening.

Out of curiosity, what was the Internet reaction to show?

And as long as you're here, let me just ask you, do adopted children have identity issues? Do adults who were adopted as children have identity issues? I ask because I was adopted and I never had any identity issue, but I was never told until I was 17, so that might have something to do with it.

Thanks for reading!

~ Mare