An Adoptee's Lifelong Search: Finding The Face In The Crowd

Welcome to 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days, hosted by Portrait of an Adoption. This series will feature guest posts by people with widely varying adoption experiences.

By Kevin Nolan

I was born June 15, 1957. Nothing special about that, we're all born, whether we want to be or not. What made my birth different was that within moments of the event occurring, and without my mother even be allowed to see or hold me, I was snatched away and taken to the nursery down the hall.

Was I deformed, diseased, or doomed from some strange birth defect? No, I was a normal baby boy. The social and Catholic morals of the day dictated my fate, for I was a child born to an unwed mother, a child conceived in sin in the eyes of the Church, and an affront to the social order of America in the 1950's.

In those days, marriage was supposed to precede the conception. My mother had sinned in the eyes of the Church and society, and having me taken from her to an unknown fate was the penance imposed on her.

No thought was given to the long years my mother would suffer in silence, wondering whatever became of her baby. Every day she would feel the pain and loss of what amounted to a life sentence for a brief indiscretion in her youth.

No thought was given to the effects this would have on the baby, who would spend a lifetime searching for the truth of his birth. He would wonder, who was she? Was I not loved and wanted enough? Was I unworthy of her love? I am worthy of anyone's love?

Five months after his birth, the boy was adopted into a loving, special family, fourth of what would grow to be six adopted children. He had a wonderful upbringing, the best private Catholic education available, thanks to a wealthy maternal grandfather, as all of his siblings did. He had to explain many times as he grew older why he and his older brother, born in Quebec, Canada, did not resemble each other, he with his Opie Taylor red hair and freckles, his brother with his dark looks and hair.

As the boy grew older, he always wanted to know where he came from, who was he really? Loving his family none the less, his curiosity only grew stronger. After his adoptive parents passed away when he was only in his mid-twenties, he searched more, now having access to his adoption papers from his father's lock box.

The search went on for many, many years. His frustration grew deeper, he was on the hunt, on the lookout for that face in the crowd who looked like him and would solve the mystery. He grew older still, married, fathered children of his own, but never stopped wondering. He divorced, moved away from his childhood hometown, relocated to a whole new way of life, found his true love, and remarried. But the quest never stopped.

One day, a chance listing on the Illinois secretary of state website spurred his curiosity, and he hit the link. It stated that a new law had been passed, adoptees born between 1947 and 1974 could obtain a copy of their original birth certificate. He filled out the form, wrote the check, and sent it off. Maybe, even after six decades, he'd finally find the face in the crowd.

A few days later, the envelope arrived. With trembling hands, he tore it open and started to read...would this be the Rosetta Stone that unlocked the mystery, or another dead end? He began to read, the first shock was to see his mother was only twenty years old. The second bombshell was that Ireland was listed as her country of origin. But the biggest shock was her signature at the bottom...in flowing longhand, Mary Theresa Haddock...all the paperwork he had, all the official documents read Mary A. Haddock.

He became angry, but soon calmed himself; it was just one more attempt back then by the system to hide the truth. He began to think, if she came here from Ireland eighteen months or so as the certificate stated, how did she get here? Only the wealthy traveled by air in the early fifties. He decided by ship was the only logical way. He turned to Ancestry.com which was having a three-day free trial offer. Thinking again about method of travel, his thoughts then turned to departure and arrival locations.

He checked ship manifest listings and saw a ship arriving in New York from Southampton, April 18th 1956, pulled up the manifest and there she was -- date of birth, town of origin in Northern Ireland, on a UK passport -- point of final destination was Chicago, Illinois. Armed now with a date of birth and her real middle name, he plugged the data into a people finder web site and found the only person alive who matched --Mary Theresa Haddock Silky, aged 76, living in Boca Raton FL.

Now really on the quest, he turned over the info to his wife, a gifted researcher and genealogist. Within days, the evidence piled up and facts matched. This was beyond a shadow of a doubt the person he'd been searching for his whole life. Next question was – to make contact or not, and if so, how? He had a phone number, but really didn't think that was the best option. She could have a family of her own, perhaps he was still a dark secret from her past. His wife said, write a letter, include pictures.

So the man sat down and composed a letter, explaining who he was, what his life had been like, and that he wished to have contact with her. He stressed that this was a one- time attempt, and that he respected her privacy, and if she did not answer back, he would understand and move on. He mailed off the letter and waited for a response. A week passed and his heart sank. She must have received the letter by now, his wife reasoned over dinner. She's married and you're still a secret.

The next day, the man was on the phone with his son, when call waiting kicked in, he looked at the phone, saw the area code, and abruptly rang off with his son. He missed the call. He studied the number for a moment. Correct area code. Fingers trembling, he hit the redial key, not sure of what was about to happen. He was home alone, nervous, would this be the wonderful moment he'd been waiting for or a terse rejection, his hopes and dreams forever dashed?  Would the mystery remain a mystery or was this the revelation?

The phone rang on the other end and was answered. A voice with the lilt of Ireland said, "Hello." On the off chance of maybe a wrong number, he said, "Hello, I'm returning a call I just missed from this number."

The lilting voice answered back, "Is this Kevin?" The man answered back, "Yes, it is," and his hands shook as he waited for her answer.

“This is your mother." They both burst into tears of joy, and when they recovered their composure, she said, "What took you so long to find me?" After fifty-six years, the quest was at its end.

All her life, she'd waited for him to find her. She knew nothing more of him than a brief glance through a nursery window when she signed off her rights to him when he was three months old, a little redheaded boy, now grown to a grey-haired man.

They talked for an hour. She kept asking him to come and see her, and three weeks later, he made the trip. The mother and child reunion was complete, a joyous meeting after fifty-six and a half years -- he finally found the face in the crowd.

Two years later, they talk on the phone at least twice a week; in 2014, they met again on his birthday and celebrated that milestone together for the first time since that fateful day when he was snatched away...and the long quest began to find the face in the crowd....finally, the reversal of fate and the cruelty of the system was overturned.

In the time that has passed, his birth father's family has been located and welcomed him into the family, as has been the case with his mother's, as well. Nothing will ever undo the wrong done back in the day, but at least the questions have been answered.

Nothing will ever replace the love and sacrifice made by his adoptive family; he's just blessed now with four families to share love and life with and has found The Face in The Crowd.

And in so doing, has found his inner peace as well. He finally knows his origins, the whats and the whys of who he is and why he is the man he is. Nature vs Nurture, upbringing vs genetics....what a long, strange, wonderful trip he's been on.

Kevin Nolan was born in Chicago in and adopted at 5 months. He is a lifelong hockey fan, played minor league hockey, coached and refereed ages pee wee to adult. He started a career in the auto service business in 1973 and is still at it all these years later. He loves mentoring the younger generation. He is a father of three children, all adults now, and one grandchild.

Go HERE to read the complete set of posts in the 2016 series, 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days!

Are you looking for some awesome children's chapter books? The BRAND NEW second book in the Jazzy's Quest chapter book series for adoptees is HERE!!! Be sure to get your copy of Jazzy's Quest: What Matters Most, the sequel to Jazzy's Quest: Adopted and Amazing!

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Carrie Goldman is an award-winning author, speaker, and bullying prevention educator. Follow Carrie's blog Portrait of an Adoption on Facebook and Twitter

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