Connect Guest Post: Dan Seifert

In real life, not all stories have happy endings. Some stories just end, and the best we can do is find peace. I’m glad my friend Dan has found some answers and some peace in this story’s ending.

This year, I saw my deceased grandmother for the first time. No, she wasn’t a ghost, but seeing her picture was such an emotional moment that for the first time in my life I thought, “I have to sit down.” Let me explain.

My mother was adopted, and while that was never the most important fact about her, it certainly influenced the way she moved through the world; it had implications for my sister and me as well. We moved houses more often than necessary, and I believe that mom was seeking a sense of connectedness and home that she did not have because of the uncertainty about her birth parents.

I blamed the mystery bio parents, “Grandpa and Grandma X,” for things I didn’t like about myself, especially my unfortunate hairline. I would often get teary-eyed when I heard emotional stories about adopted children blissfully reuniting with their birth parents, and I would imagine what that would be like for my mom. (Spoiler: that isn’t how this story ends).

The woman I called Nana was a nurse at the Philadelphia hospital where my mother was born. A private adoption was arranged because Nana and her husband could not have children. Nana didn’t give my mom much information about her bio mom, and what she did share was not pleasant. My mom did not want to hurt Nana’s feelings, so she waited until Nana died to begin the search process. Unfortunately, my mom got diagnosed with cancer and died in 2009 before finding the answers she sought.

[Mom, six months before she died]

I have seen the folder of information she collected during her search, which covered almost 12 years, and the picture it paints is heartbreaking. The State of Pennsylvania maintained sealed adoption records and, even as a woman in her 60s, my mother could not get access to the information on her original birth certificate. Mom wrote several letters to the courts; asked my uncle who worked for the State Police to help; and even hired a private investigator. That investigator found a name, Katherine Marnell (hang on to that bit of information), with a birth date that seemed to correspond with the information from Nana, and my mom focused her attention on trying to locate that person, to no avail.

That is where things stood at the time of my mom’s death, and that is where they likely would have remained. Except things started changing about a year ago. My wife and I had our DNA evaluated by Ancestry.com. Then my wife found an online group of people who had been adopted in Pennsylvania, and we learned that the State was going to open its adoption records starting in 2018. As a surviving child, I was able to apply for a copy of my mom’s original birth certificate.

When the birth certificate arrived, it listed my grandmother’s birth name as Kathryn Marnell and the grandfather as John Lowe. Ancestry listed a Kathryn Marnell, AKA Catherine Marinelli, who had someone in their tree with a genetic link to me. And, just like that, in our minds, the mystery was solved. My wife and I waited to see if they would contact us, because they could see the genetic link, too, and must have been surprised by the story. Eventually, my wife got a phone number and called the woman I now know as Aunt Lucille, who lives in New Jersey and is married to a man who is my mother’s half-brother.

If this were a movie, this story would lead to a tearful reunion with lots of conversation and questions flowing back and forth. But this is real life, and the fact is that neither of the men who are my half-uncles seem to care that much about the fact of my mom’s existence. Their mother, whose nickname was Kit, was a reserved person who didn’t like to talk about her past. She moved away from home and changed her name as soon as she could. She got pregnant out of wedlock, then gave the baby up for adoption when the man who was going to marry her (not the baby’s father), decided he didn’t want to raise another man’s child. Then, that man went away to World War II and came back broken. The man she eventually married seems to have been a good guy, and they had two sons together.

Aunt Lucille did send some pictures, however, which leads me back to where I started. This is my grandmother:

The similarity to my mother is uncanny. And, even if the story doesn’t include a beautiful reunion, this picture proves that the mystery is solved. The answer my mom sought for so long is in front of me, and that has brought a certain amount of peace.

Strangely, I am not all that interested in tracking down John Lowe, although since there was a court proceeding in which he denied patrimony, my wife believes we can get his information. It is enough for me to know that this woman, who is part of my life story, found some measure of contentment and joy in her life after placing my mother for adoption. Whether her surviving family ever feels the need to make a stronger connection with us or not, we are at least aware of each other.

Daniel Seifert lives in Westminster, Colorado, with his wife, two daughters, two girl cats and a neutered boy dog.  Though he is an employed and responsible adult, he is still, at heart, kind of a nerd.

“Happy birthday, Dad. Wherever you are.”

Guest Post: Erich Miller

This year’s theme is “Connect,” and I am honored to share this story by my college friend, Erich Miller. If you’d like to write a guest post, see details above.

The awareness that it would have been my dad’s 84th birthday bobbed in and out of my consciousness last Tuesday as I woke, as I debated Yerba Mate or coffee, as I arrived at work and began composing diplomatic e-mails in my mind to co-workers who seem challenged to accomplish the most rudimentary elements of their jobs. But it wasn’t until about 1 p.m. when I drove my work vehicle to the Food Bank for a weekly pick up of cereals, pastry and endless varieties of granola bars that had under-performed at market that I had to stop, bow my head and utter a quiet “Hi, Dad.”

It was the massive crates packed with onions—row after row of them—neatly stacked on the Food Bank’s loading dock that landed me firmly in the realm of Dad Consciousness. Their sweet, soily scent promptly had me sitting shotgun in my dad’s small blue truck with the white campershell, some iteration of family Labrador happily trying to gain its footing in the truck’s rear as we drove through one or another allium-rich California valley. Depending on the time of year, we might have been heading east across the San Joaquin toward the Sierras or south toward the Tehachapis. Often it was through the southernmost Santa Clara to a ranch out near Gustine where he hunted ducks in the Fall.

These jaunts aren’t evocative to me today because they were peppered with nurturing moments where I confided my hopes and fears and where my dad responded warmly with his own experience—indeed, those kinds of parent-child conversations may be the exception rather than the rule. Rather, the memories of these times in my dad’s blue truck are evocative to me because they were the times my dad and I were least prone to being at cross-purposes. On these trips he didn’t have to contend with the specter of how unrelateable I was to him, from the shallow (my love for 70’s rock musicals as a little boy, to my habit of repurposing his old military uniforms into adolescent haute couture) to the less shallow (my need for an adult who was secure enough in himself to help me face a not-so-embracing world). I, in turn, didn’t have to contend with him glaring with exasperated frustration at one of my report cards.

True, the terms of these car trips were his—the destination, the radio station we listened to (AM news and sports)—and I was sometimes ambivalent about our destination. But the further we drove from home, the more that the Bay Area subdivisions gave way to oaks and orchards and pungent soils—the mellower we both grew, our assigned roles at home fading into a wide camera shot of two guys inside a small blue truck, bathed by the soft oniony air. If my mind didn’t stray too far into the past or the future, those moments were enough to live in.

As I grew into young adulthood, those car rides dwindled and then stopped altogether. Luckily for both of us, I eventually found communities that spackled in some of the nicks and dents my dad wasn’t able to address when I was younger and it became easier for me to see him as an intelligent, engaged and goofy guy who was mostly trying to spackle himself together. We became as close as our two particular constellations could be, which is to say, not very. But I happily showed up to my dad’s house for Christmases, the menu having been planned weeks in advance, where beneath his crusty exterior lay a secret joy in having prepared us goose rather than the standard turkey or ham. I happily showed up for spring lunches where we enjoyed fresh asparagus and he delighted in showing off the daffodils that crowded his small orchard.  In later years, he often traveled to Europe at the end of the summer, but before he’d go he’d have us over and unload on us as much of his summer garden as we’d take—stone fruit, those cool looking beans with the white and cranberry-colored stripes, August tomatoes.

In his last year of life, his health rapidly heading south, I got to drive him to doctor’s appointments, then visit him in the various facilities where he’d land after a fall. I’m sure he was scared of what was happening to him and, as a result, he defaulted to one of his more primal operating systems—Grumpy and Demanding Guy. Once, after visiting a very pleasant assisted living home where he repeatedly badgered the admissions lady about whether they’d let him drink his beloved wine, he ordered me to drive him back to his house instead of the skilled nursing facility where he was still recuperating from his most recent collection of ailments. I tried for several minutes to kindly explain that he wasn’t quite ready yet to return to his house, that we needed to go back to Pilgrim Haven instead (some of these places get intricately euphemistic in their branding). He wasn’t having any of it, and as we drove out of the assisted living home’s parking lot, red-faced and sputtering, he demanded, again, that I take him home. With a migraine looming on the horizon and running only on fumes of objective detachment, I lost it and told him, essentially, to shut the fuck up. I then promptly drove my rented minivan into one of the brick pillars at the parking lot exit. Things got very quiet in the car as I gently edged the minivan away from the pillar and out onto the street, hoping the home’s admissions lady hadn’t witness us plowing into their pillar. As we slowly crept away, my dad looked over at me wide-eyed and said softly, “Uh oh…”

My dad died a few short months after that, in the assisted living home I wasn’t sure would accept him. Despite the amazingly rich life he led, because I know beneath my dad’s gruffness lay a well of fear and because I don’t think the journey ends with this incarnation, my dad is still on the list of people I pray for every night. The list is broken into several categories—family, friends, co-workers, people who are ill, people whom I dislike and hope are removed from positions of power ASAP. My dad falls into a miscellaneous category that appears to be largely populated with dead people and those on whom I have unrequited crushes. Regardless of category, everyone receives the same prayer, and it is this:

“May these many people find all of the warmth, nurturing and loving kindness that you (Jesus, Great Spirit, Universe) see that they need in their bodies, minds and spirits.”

This prayer certainly comforts me. I hope it’s comforting my dad.

A Bay Area native, Erich studied English literature at Westmont College and creative writing at Saint Mary’s College of California.  He has lived in San Francisco for the last 26 years, working primarily in social services. He currently manages a food program for HIV-positive 18-24 year-olds at Larkin Street Youth Services. In his spare time, Erich practices (and occasionally teaches) yoga, swims at his neighborhood pool, nurtures a budding coffee habit, bakes “hippie desserts” and spends as much time as he can with family, friends and nature.

2018 Word: Connect

I first chose a word to guide my year in 2015. More accurately, I chose a phrase: Put yourself in the way of beauty. It required intention, getting up and going out in pursuit of beautiful occasions with beautiful people. So different from any resolution I’d tried before, it changed the way I moved through my days which changed my weeks, months, year.

In 2016, I chose create as my word, and mostly it led to a lovely guest blog series on how others are involved in acts of creativity. I curated, (lightly) edited, and shared guest posts, while dabbling in my own creativity.

Sensing that I had not done justice to my 2016 word, I vowed to keep at it in 2017 with re:create, a play on words, meaning to continue creating with an eye toward playfulness.

But 2017 wasn’t playing around. Sure, I re-created myself and my relationships in various contexts, with more mess and tenderness than anticipated. I played less and hurt more. I turned inward. When I did reach out I did so with one friend at a time. Fewer parties, more quiet conversations.

Over a pre-holidays lunch, a friend asked: “With all this [fill in the blank with your own yuck] going on, how do you continue to connect?”

There it was: Connect.

We need healthy connection—with families, friends, neighbors, coworkers. But we can also connect with ourselves. With God. With beauty, creativity, play. With our faith and our values. With our bodies. With our neighborhoods, communities, country, and world. With a cause, passion project, volunteer opportunity.

Some might say that to be fully alive is to connect in meaningful ways with ourselves, others, and the world.

How do you connect? Or, with whom and in what ways would you like to grow your connections?

If you would like to write a 2018 guest post, post a comment and I’ll send you an email with the details. Let’s connect, shall we?