I shared the story of my youth in foster care in the entry entitled, “One Child’s Horror.”
Throughout my twenties, my concern was about my career, my life partner and the things any normal twenty something would be concerned about.
I laid my childhood and adolescent years aside and hoped they would be memories of the past. I had hoped that those memories would stay locked up deep within me, never to reveal to anyone the heartaches they had caused. However, my life was soon about to change and never be the same again!
In May, 1981, I was supposedly a very healthy man of thirty-one. The night before my life changing event, I had jogged my usual three miles through the streets of Brooklyn Heights, NY; had eaten a healthy dinner and went to bed early enough to get the rest I needed.
The next morning I did my usual exercises before getting ready for work and felt great as I left for Manhattan. When I arrived at work, I had a meeting and suddenly found myself grabbing my chest and collapsing to the ground. I had suffered a massive heart attack, the first of three heart attacks.
Until that day I had not spent any time in the hospital since early childhood…for eye surgeries and to have my tonsils removed. One of the routine questions doctors ask is “What is your family medical history?” I was quite embarrassed and turned red faced to have to answer the question with an “I don’t know.” When I returned to health, I went on with my life and thought no more of the episode.
In the spring of 1982, my partner and I decided to travel to GREECE for vacation. I needed a passport to do so, and to get it I needed my birth certificate. I knew where I was born…so I applied for it from the state of Michigan. In a few weeks it arrived. I was not ready for the impact this little piece of paper would have on my life until this very day.
On the certificate, I saw the name of a birth mother for the first time in my life… ROBERTA ADAMS. To see a mother’s name blew me away. Could the story the Monshors had told me so many years ago be untrue? Could this name be made up by the nuns that supposedly found me in a dumpster? I continued reading the content of the certificate. It listed the hospital I was born at. It listed a home address for her. It gave her age of nineteen at the time of my birth, even gave a birth date! It even gave her place of birth. No father was listed. Finally it indicated I was her first born. The nuns just could not have made all this information up. For the first time since the Monshors had told me “the story” so many years ago, I had the sinking feeling it was untrue!
I made the decision at that moment…I must find this woman! I had to find out if in fact she was my Birth Mother. The questions began!!!
Who is this woman? Why did she give me up for adoption? Is she alive? Does she think of me? Where is she? I remembered my heart attack of a year earlier and questioned what is her medical history? Is her or her family’s medical history impacting me?
THE SEARCH BEGINS
Upon my return from Greece, I began the search to get a few answers to those questions. Little did I know of the process I was about to enter into. I went to the hospital where I was born…PROVIDENCE HOSPITAL in Detroit, Michigan. They would not release any records of the birth. I went to Catholic Charities, whom I was a ward of until my eighteenth birthday…they would not release any records…they said…”Forget the past, it doesn’t matter.”
I tried various organizations for almost three years, but to no avail. I scoured books that had to do with adoption and foster care for clues as to how I could do my research…again no answers. I thought I was at a dead end and would never have the answers I was looking for. I had already spent thousands of dollars and hours too numerous to count; all in vain I thought!
Finally, in late 1985, the first big break I needed in my search came. I wrote to BOYS TOWN, where I had spent 7 1/2 years of my youth, asking if they through their records since I had spent over seven years their in my youth, could help me. They indicated since I was now an adult, I could have a copy of my records from my days at BoysTown and sent them to me. What a treasure chest!
On the application form filled out by Catholic Charities twenty-four years earlier, they listed not only my mother’s name but my father’s name ROBERT IRWIN MARX; my maternal grandparents JOHN & SARAH ADAMS and two aunts DORIS & FRANCES. They gave a description of my birth parents and what they were doing at the time of my birth, as well as that of my grandparents. I could not believe all that I was reading.
I also saw for the first time that my last name should have been PIECHOWIAK and my heritage is POLISH. I quickly remembered all the Polish jokes I told during my school days and even adulthood.
I knew now that YES, I had a family out there somewhere and I had my OWN heritage. But this was only the beginning…how do I find them??? I was determined they would be found!
I lived in New York City at the time. They have a great research library and I spent week upon week devouring records with no results. Finally, I decided, on a whim, to check DETROIT phone books going back to the time of my birth, which the library had.
I did not find my birth parents, but found my grandparents. I tracked them in the phone books. My grandfather had a unique way of listing his name, from 1950 thru 1971. Suddenly they were gone. Had I reached another dead end?
On a second whim, I decided to apply for a Michigan death certificate for my grandfather…in the event he had died. Three weeks later came the envelope bearing the seal of the state of Michigan. Indeed, he had passed away. The certificate listed the funeral home and I called them. I was in for the shock of my life!
The funeral home agreed to send the obituary notice to me. I couldn’t wait, and asked them to read it over the phone. My birth mother was alive, at least in 1971. My aunts were also listed as survivors. Suddenly they stated ROBERT, MICHAEL, CLAUDIA, SHERRY…grandchildren of my grandfather…children of ROBERTA…I had BROTHERS AND SISTERS!!!
It was a race back to the phone books which had provided the answer before. Scouring all the phone books from cities the survivors were listed from, almost came up empty.
An aunt from TUCSON, ARIZONA was listed. Tense feelings began in the pit of my stomach…should I call her? Would she remember anything? Would she tell me anything if she knew the answers? It took over a week to work up the courage to face what I might face and make the call.
THE CALL TO CHANGE MY LIFE
Doris is the aunt that lives in Tucson. It was a Saturday night that I sat down to call her. She answered on the third ring (yes, I remember the details)…”Hello.” I stumbled for words.
Finally I asked her a bunch of “do you remember” questions. After letting me ramble questions…she asked very clearly…. “ARE YOU ROBERTA’S MISSING SON?”
I said “YES, I am Larry.”
The tears began to flow…the spine is tingling as I write and recall this experience all these years later. “Yes, your mother is alive…you have brothers and sisters…your mother has been waiting for this phone call for over 36 years” were her next statements.
She then told me the story of my birth and my placement for adoption; not the reason for it. The tears overwhelmed me as I heard the story for the first time…I sat in stunned silence and let her speak and the tears flow.
After a long period…my next question; the important one… “DID SHE THINK MY MOTHER WOULD WANT TO TALK TO ME?” “Yes,” was the immediate reply. Doris wanted to be the one to break the news to my mother and asked for my phone number. She indicated it might be a few days before my mother called, as this would probably put her in total shock.
My partner and I went to dinner later that evening. When we arrived home, there was a message on our answering machine; “LARRY, THIS IS YOUR MOTHER…I WILL CALL BACK…I CAN’T BELIEVE AFTER ALL THESE YEARS YOU HAVE FOUND ME!” Needless to say, more tears followed. I don’t know how many times I listened to that message that night before we decided to go to bed. Less than a half hour after calling it a night, we were startled by the ringing phone. My partner answered the phone and could only say: “LARRY, YOU WANT THIS CALL!”
That phone call will always remain private with me…it was and is, the best phone call I have ever received. My mother and I spoke for almost 4 hours that first night. We talked about everything but why she gave me up…I wasn’t ready to hear the answer. We ended the call by agreeing to write, do phone calls and hopefully someday meet. I wasn’t ready to meet…it was ALL happening too fast for me.
The search had begun to find a family medical history and have a few questions answered. Now I faced; did I want to face the woman, no matter what the reason, who gave me up at birth? I did not know.
My birth Mother and I continued to write and talk on the phone for a few months. Finally my partner and I decided it was time for us to meet.
I invited her from Pontiac, Michigan (only forty-five miles from where she lived when I was born) for an ALL EXPENSE paid trip to New York City, knowing she would not be able to afford the trip herself.
I knew the meeting would be difficult for both of us, so I arranged a suite for her at a nearby hotel. This way, we both could spend some time alone to collect our thoughts and feelings. She accepted the invitation.
May 24, 1986…a day never to be forgotten by me. Newark International Airport…the day has arrived…36 years, 3 months and 17 days after I was born…I would meet the woman who gave me life. To say I was tense or nervous would be putting it mildly. I arrived at the airport hours before the flight was due to arrive.
I brought with me 36 long stem RED ROSES, one for each year of life I had thus far been blessed with.
Should I call her mother? Should I hug her? What should I do? Let nature takes its course was the only answer that came back to me.
The plane taxis to the gate…there is no turning back now. There she was (I had an old photo of her that she had sent) walking down the ramp. We shake hands, then hug…I call her ROBERTA; not mother.
After getting her settled in her suite, we strolled down Fifth Avenue for a while. I took her to lunch and Central Park. As the day began turning to evening we went back to her hotel suite.It was time to hear the answer to the question that had yet to be asked or answered…WHY?
My father was her next door neighbor. He had fought in World War II as a MERCHANT MARINE and had returned to live with his folks. They had a date…..I was conceived on that date! My father wanted nothing more to do with her. He had gotten what he was after.
My grandfather, being a strict Polish Roman Catholic, would not allow her to remain in the house and sent her off to a home for unwed mothers (SARAH FISHER HOME) and told her “not to bring that bastard child home with her.” She had two choices, either give birth and having no place to go…give me up for adoption and return home or have a back alley abortion.
She gave birth in the early hours of February 7, 1950, and saw me only briefly before they took me away. She went home to go on with her life, but was never able to forget the baby she left behind, and hoped that one day I might look for her.
She hated her father for what he had forced her to do and even though I learned he had been dead 15 years, the remaining hatred was still obvious.
She didn’t realize that I was never adopted, but rather moved to various foster homes until eventually being sent to Boys Town. She thought I may have gone to Vietnam and been killed.
We both shed many tears that evening in her suite. I told her she made the only choice she could have made and was thankful she had not chosen abortion…for selfish reasons of course! We talked, cried, talked some more that first day deep into the night…we had over 36 years to relive!
She stayed a week in NYC. I treated her to Broadway shows, and we toured all the sites of Manhattan and Liberty Island.
During that time, I learned other things. It became obvious very quickly she was an alcoholic. She told me of my youngest brother’s drug addictions; my one sister’s fancy for a different man each night, though she had two children. She also told me of the brother and sister who made it. In short, within the week she was in NYC I became even more thankful for her giving me up for adoption, for Boys Town and the life I have had.
A few months after our initial meeting, I took a trip to Pontiac, Michigan to visit her and also meet my half-brothers and half-sisters for the first time. Two brothers and a sister, after meeting me, told her they wanted nothing to do with me, as I wasn’t their brother, but a stranger and it was best left that way. One sister (Claudia) did reach out and we had developed a warm, loving relationship over the years.
While on my visit there, my Mother took out several photo albums to show me. She didn’t realize how painful it would be for me to look at pictures of her past holidays, family events and the likes. Though I was thankful she gave me up, I did not want to see pictures I could have and should have been a part of.
Our relationship over the years following the initial meeting was strained at best. We had never developed a mother/son relationship. Of course, I had not expected that, since at 36 I did not need a mother to raise me. She remained an alcoholic in denial.
The relationship we had developed would be destroyed Christmas night 1998.
I share the story of this event in then entry entitled, “Final Letter to My Birth Mother.”
BIRTH FATHER’S SEARCH STORY
I did not begin a search for my birth Father until I had found my birth Mother. I purposely chose not to do so until then. Though I had his name, I felt I had enough on my plate just searching for my birth Mother.
During the initial meeting with my Mother, I had asked her about my Father. Other than telling me that he was the next door neighbor and agreeing the name I had was correct, she provided no information. I would have to attempt to find him by myself.
It was back to the NYC Library once again to scour the phone books for Detroit from 1950 through 1986. There was not a single Robert Irwin Marx listed, nor was it listed in any other variation.
During my earlier search, I had learned many things about searching for someone. Thus, with the above result, I did not feel like I was at a dead end. I tried various other resources but each produced the same negative result.
I was down to my last avenue and I thought it would be a just shot in the dark. I had earlier checked the Polk City Directory for 1950. I had found my grandfather’s listing, but did not see a Marx listing. The listing given for my grandfather’s neighbor was a Clarence/Ruth Weikert. However, if I was to believe my Mother, my Father was her next door neighbor.
I decided to write to the Wayne County Board of Elections, my last resource, to see if my Father had registered to vote. I gave the neighbor’s address as his.
Three weeks later, an envelope came from the Wayne County Elections Board. Bingo…I had hit pay dirt. There was my Father’s name, date of birth and address, as I had submitted it, and his Mother’s maiden name: Ruth Goode. Ruth had obviously married Clarence Weikert. The question arose as to why was my father’s father named Marx? I didn’t waste too much time on that question at the moment, as I figured if I found my father I would get an answer then.
I remembered the company listing for Clarence Weikert in the Polk Directory. I checked with the Detroit phone book for 1990, (four years had passed since this search began) to see if the company was still listed. It was!
A simple deduction by me concluded that Clarence had long since retired from the company, but maybe they could provide me with a little information.
I took time to make up a story for my calling and placed the call. Yes, Clarence had retired and according to their records was deceased. They could give me the phone number of his daughter that was listed on their records as the person to contact in the event of an emergency. I gladly took the phone number.
I took a few days to sort through my thoughts and approach before making the call. I remembered the awkwardness of my call to my birth Mother’s sister four years earlier.
Finally the call was made. I babbled some story about doing genealogical research; a partial truth. After asking Judy several general questions about family, I asked her about her brother Robert. Why was his last name Weikert and not Marx?
She indicated that her mother remarried after Robert’s father ran off when he was a child. After confirming that information, I determined it was time to tell Judy the truth.
I simply said, “I was looking for Robert in particular.”
Her reply, “OH MY GOD! ARE YOU WHO I THINK YOU ARE?”
“If you think I am Robert’s son, the answer is yes,” I said.
She repeated, “OH MY GOD!”
After we got a few more OH MY GOD’S out of the way, we began an hour conversation. She asked my name? I asked how she knew about me and did my father know?
She said it was family conversation many years ago and that yes, my father did know about me. Judy was close to my mother’s age when I was born, she remembered my mother going away in late 1949. Her mother told her it was because she was pregnant and that her brother was the father.
The Weikert’s and my Grandparents being neighbors, were close and shared family information. My paternal step-grandmother also shared with them when I was born, my name and that I was being placed for adoption.
I continued general conversation, asking questions about my father and then came the key question. “Would my father acknowledge my existence and would he talk with me?”
She felt that he would not deny I was his son, but could not answer if he would talk with me or not. She and my father had not communicated with each other for a couple years, due to a family quarrel. She felt the best thing for me was to call my father directly and proceeded to give me his phone number since, it was unlisted. She also gave me his address in case I decided to write him instead.
I made the decision that I would not wait for the mail, but would call him. After working up the courage for a few hours, I placed the call. It seemed the phone rang forever. Finally a woman’s voice answered. I asked if I could speak to Robert and was told to hang on. The heart raced and hands trembled as I waited.
Suddenly, “Hello.” It was my Father. I responded with, “hello, is this Robert?” “Yes,” came the reply. I made an instinctive decision to not beat around the bush. “Robert, if you’re not sitting down I suggest you do so for what I am about to tell you,” I said. “I’m okay, go ahead,” he said. “Robert, THIS IS YOUR SON LARRY CALLING,” I blurted out.
The silence was deafening. “Robert, did you hear me?” I said after waiting a few moments. “Yes, how did you find me?” was his reply. Without saying it directly, he was acknowledging I was his son!
I needed to hear directly from him that I was his son! “You know you have a son named Larry,” I asked. “Yes, I do. Did my sister Judy help you find me?” he answered. He seemed more concerned about how I found him, rather than the fact that I did find him and it was his son talking with him for the first time in forty years.
I told him of the search for Roberta, my birth Mother, which had concluded fours years earlier. He asked a few general questions about her. I then told him of the past four years of searching for him and how it had all fallen into place just a few days earlier.
He seemed shocked by what I was able to do. He asked a few questions about me. It did not turn out to be the type of first conversation I had with my birth Mother. It seemed somewhat distant and cold. I chalked it up to the suddenness of this being presented to him. I felt we might just need some time.
We agreed to communicate further through letters and maybe one day plan on meeting. With that, a thirty minute or so conversation was over. I did not have the elated feeling I did when I hung up from my birth Mother for that first time. I felt somewhat numb and out in the cold.
We did keep our commitment to write each other. He wrote his first letter to me a few days after our conversation. Though more feelings were expressed in it, it still seemed to be rather general in nature. I do still have his first letter, though it is beginning to fade with age.
My Father and I met one time. In the spring of 1992, I was on a business trip to Detroit and called him. I asked if we could finally meet. He was hesitant, but finally agreed and gave me directions to his home in Taylor, Michigan.
He greeted me at the gate and we went around to the back patio. He introduced me to Angie, who then went into the house. I can’t honestly say I have any feeling about the meeting. He appeared cold and distant as he had since I found him. The fact that I was there in person, didn’t seem to cause any change in him. I stayed only an hour, as I did not feel comfortable. During the time there, I was not invited into his home nor offered any beverage or anything.
At least I could say I met the man, who because of sperm, was my father. He did not fill the role of father or even friend in the way most would understand the terms.
After my meeting with him, our letters became less frequent. Part of it I know, was due to the cataracts he had in both eyes, making reading and writing difficult, I also believe it was partially due to his wanting to keep a distance between us.
My Father had cataract surgery performed in April of 1994. On July 24, 1994, he suffered a heart attack and died. Though I sent condolences to his sister Judy, I did not feel the need to attend his funeral. Aunt Judy and I have maintained erratic communication in the years that have followed. She is the only one on my father’s side of the family to do so. I have never met her or any other member of my Father’s family. Angie, his wife, died just three months after my Father in October, 1994.
It is amazing how history has repeated itself in my family. My birth Father came from a broken home. His father had deserted his mother when he was a young boy. His Mother later divorced his father and remarried…he had no memory of his birth Father.
My birth Mother also came from a broken home. Her Mother deserted her Father shortly after her youngest sister was born. My Mother had no recollections of her Mother.
Despite what both my birth parents faced as youth themselves, they repeated the same destructive cycle. How unfortunate for them and for us kids that they brought into the world.
Filed under: Adoptee, Adoption, Birth Parents, Foster Parents, Genealogy | 1 Comment »