I was 14 years old, getting ready for my first-ever after school dance in a small bedroom I was forced to share with my older brother Chad.
Chad, who is two years older than I am, was peppering me with all sorts of random advice. You see, he’d been to a lot of after-school dances in his time, so he knew exactly how to act around girls; how to approach the whole dancing aspect of a school dance (his advice: “Don’t dance. I guarantee you’ll look like an idiot.”); and how to act cool without making it look like you’re trying to act cool.
Just as I was about to walk out the door, Chad lowered his voice, looked me in the eye, and bestowed upon me sage words of wisdom I’ll never forget as long as I live: “Just try not to act like you’re adopted. That’s the biggest thing. Don’t even mention it to anyone. It’s just embarrassing.”
As my parents drove me to the dance, I remember pondering Chad’s disheartening admonition. How does a person who’s adopted act like they’re not adopted? Is it easy for the non-adopted to spot the adopted? Oh, and what’s wrong with being adopted?
I spent the entire dance silently standing next to my friends, trying my best to not look adopted. The whole night turned out to be more awkward than well, a normal 14-year-old kid attending his first-ever after-school dance while unsuccessfully fighting off the devastating effects of puberty.
Chad and I share the same birth mother but have different biological fathers. Luckily, we were never separated and spent some time in the same foster home under the care of a woman who, to this day, we affectionately call “Grandma Olive.”
Chad used to tell me the story of the day we went from living with Grandma Olive to living with real-life parents.
“You were scared to death when we pulled into some stranger’s driveway, and Grandma Olive said, ‘We’re here, boys,’ ” recalled Chad. “I remember holding your hand as we walked up to the door. You were bawling your eyes out. It’s OK, though. I was crying a little too.”
I spent a fair amount of my childhood — especially my teenage years — angry. Angry at my biological mother for abandoning me when I was just a baby. Angry at my biological father for not caring. Angry at my parents for caring too much; and, remarkably, angry at myself for getting adopted in the first place.
I was mad. I knew Chad felt the same way. It always felt like the only thing we ever really had was each other. No matter what happened, Chad was my real brother. We shared the same blood — that was important, somehow. He was the only person in the entire world who looked like me, who understood what I was going through.
Of course, I look back on it now and see it all differently.
I’m thankful my biological mother (who I’ve since met) chose to give me up for adoption. It must have been an impossibly difficult decision to make.
I appreciate my biological father (who I’ve also met) for realizing he didn’t have the capacity to take care of me and for understanding I’d be better off with different parents.
I’m forever indebted to my mom and dad for choosing to be my parents. They did a fantastic job, especially when you consider they didn’t have to make me their responsibility in the first place.
Mostly, though, I’m thankful for my brother Chad. I’m not angry anymore. I’m just grateful I was able to be adopted, and to have an older brother by my side to share in the experience was, I realize now, a very lucky break.
It would be audacious of me to get too political, but there are more orphans in the world than the populations of the United Kingdom and France combined, according to Worldwide Orphans.
One of these days we should talk about how adoption can help solve that problem.
One of these days we should figure out a way to place those children in loving homes and give them a chance to learn how to not act like they’re adopted.
Contact Clint Betts via Twitter @ClintBetts