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 and perspectives.
By Jennifer Evans
“Molly, do you remember my father?” I had a right to know.
“Of course. His name was Herb.” Her voice was barely audible through the phone, and her New York accent, with a hint of British, made it a little difficult to hear. She continued, “I only saw him a couple of times. He was a salesman and traveled to the City for business. He had brown hair and blue eyes. His last name was unusual, Linthi…. something. I’m sorry, I don’t know how it’s spelled.”
Molly is my birthmother. We met only a month ago and have been calling each other every week. Apparently, my birthfather had left her once he learned she was pregnant with me. Typical story, I thought. The father dismisses his responsibilities after he learns he’s impregnated a girl. Out of fear? Out of shame? Out of sheer selfishness? Whatever his reason, I felt sorry for her.
I was hoping she would remember something about him … his name, what he looked like or where he was from. It had been easy finding her; perhaps luck would be on my side again and I could find him, too. My curiosity was piqued.
“He was from North Carolina, or was it Virginia?” She questioned herself as I scribbled every word onto my notepad; my journalism instincts never sharper. “We saw each other a couple of times. Linthicum? Maybe that was his last name, I don’t know. I try not to remember him.”
There was a long pause. “He never told me he was married,” her voice cracked. I stopped writing. Her pain was loud and clear. I’m sure his admission was bereft of any remorse for her or her baby. I was sorry for her but mad as well because it takes two, right? Was she really that naïve to have an affair with someone before knowing his story? And was I qualified to judge?
“Jennifer, I prayed that our relationship would have turned into more. I was taking birth control pills, but I might have forgotten to take them that night; I don’t remember.”
“Oh, Molly. I’m so sorry,” I said. I grew up Catholic, so the words birth and control were never discussed in my family. I would have never thought to have requested such a prescription from a doctor, either. Hearing my birthmother, almost a stranger, tell me this so nonchalantly was unsettling.
I recalled a previous phone call. Molly grew up an orphan in Hertfordshire, England and lived with an abusive family. She had moved to New York City, single with no family, where she found a job as a nanny. Why wouldn’t she believe that this man would just sweep her off her feet? According to her description, he was handsome and seemed sincere. It reminded me of the soap operas my mom would watch in the afternoons — the melodrama and sappy instrumentals.
Molly continued, “When I told him I was pregnant, he suggested I visit his doctor in Virginia. I was scared, but decided to take him up on the suggestion.” Her talking slowed. Clearly this was not easy for her. “His doctor gave me some pills, Jennifer, but I didn’t take them. I returned to New York and never heard from him again. I tried to contact him, but he never did anything to help me. There was no money, nothing.”
He wanted me aborted! Molly said she didn’t take the medicine, but could I trust her? What if she had taken what the doctor had prescribed and then changed her mind? Could that be the reason for my multiple sclerosis diagnosis fifteen years ago?
I didn’t probe; I couldn’t make her feel any worse than she already did. It was obvious this man wanted nothing to do with me before I was born, and apparently not now either.
It’s uncanny how simple it can be to find people online. I searched different spellings of Linthicum, Lintikum, Linticum, and for someone living in Virginia and/or North Carolina who would be around 70 years old. I learned that Linthicum is of Welsh ancestry. That explained my brown hair, blue eyes and lily-white skin.
I found a couple of entries in Virginia for Linthicums who were in their seventies. I chose one of the numbers to call; what did I have to lose? Of course, I didn’t want to give away too much information, and I had to have some respect for whoever was on the other end.
I left a message at the beep, “Hi. My name is Jennifer and I’m looking for Herb Linthicum who would have traveled to New York City back in the seventies. Thank you. Oh, please call me at 972-555-5252.” I hung up. Well, that sounded dumb. What was I doing? My husband thought I was crazy to be calling a complete stranger. I had a right to know who created me. And, I had to start somewhere.
The man whom I had left a message with ended up returning the favor the next day. Knowing it could be him, I picked up on the first ring.
“Hey. I got a phone call from you yesterday.” He sounded young. “I have a father named Herb, but I haven’t talked to him in years. He’s a real jerk. Good luck finding him.”
And that was that. “Oh, OK. Thank you,” I said. This person on the other line could have been my half-brother for all I knew. I was too stunned to continue the conversation and thanked him for calling. At least I had his phone number if I ever wanted to call him back.
I decided to write a letter to an address I found for a Herb Linthicum. I reassured the receiver that I didn’t want to prod into their personal life. All I wanted was health information. I shared my background, as well as my meeting Molly, and asked for them to please call me if they were them.
A week later I got a phone call while I was at work.
“This is Jennifer,” I answered.
“Jennifer. This is Herb Linthicum.” I gasped. It was him. I got up to shut the door to my office.
He sounded a bit like former president Jimmy Carter, with a deep southern Appalachia accent. He was quick and to the point with a hint of condescension. “I got a letter from you in the mail. I must say I was surprised.” There was a short, uncomfortable pause after each sentence. “What you wrote sounds about right. I had to call you. How did you find me?”
“A simple Google search.” I cleared my throat. “I found my birth mother a year ago. Her name is Molly.” I paused in the uncomfortable silence. “She said she met a Herb Linthicum in New York City. Would that be you?”
“Hmmm, that could be right. I traveled up there for business and we met a few times. I guess you must be who you say you are.” Then more silence before he continued, “When she told me she was pregnant, I didn’t believe her. I guess she was pregnant. It’s a good thing I got your letter first and not my wife. If she finds out, she’ll divorce me.”
You coward, I thought. You’re afraid she’ll divorce you after all these years? I don’t know how he could live with himself. What a secret to keep! Did he really not know he had a daughter, or had he conveniently forgot? What a contrast from my adoptive father who is dignified, faithful, God-loving, caring and supportive. This guy was a loser.
“Yes, I understand.” I remained calm, as I’m not one to mouth off like that. I gripped the phone, wanting to wring this man’s neck … this person who hadn’t a care in the world for what he had done. I had to act civilized. “I don’t want to intrude. I’m simply interested in medical information. I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis approximately fifteen years ago. Is there a history of it in your family?”
“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. No. Not that I know of.” He was warming up. “Actually, you come from a healthy family,” he said with pride. I wanted to believe him. “My parents never had any illnesses; they died of old age. Your family comes from Wales and they are all healthy. The only thing I’ve ever had is hip surgery.”
“That’s good to know.” Was that all I could think to say? “What do you do in Virginia?”
“I’m a cattle rancher. In fact, I’m out in the field right now. I like being out in the open alone with my thoughts. It’s beautiful and quiet out here,” he continued. “I have two sons, my younger one was killed in a car accident years ago. The older son I don’t see much, except during Christmas, but our Christmases are sad nowadays. After losing Travis, it’s never been the same. Understand?”
“I’m sorry,” I said. And I was. Christmas was my favorite time of the year. I imagined him sitting in his home with his wife, no grandkids, perhaps a tree and a few presents. I pictured him tending to his farm and having an early dinner, just him and his wife.
“Are you married?” he asked me. “Do you have children?”
“Yes. I’m married. I have two young children, a boy and a girl. I’m a writer. Both my parents and younger sister live here in Texas. I found Molly a year ago. She lives in New York and has been down to visit.”
“Well it sounds like you made out all right.” There was nothing but silence for what seemed like ten seconds. Then, “Your children would love it down here with the cows. I have friends in Texas; we go hunting. Maybe some time when I’m over there I can meet you. I would like to meet your kids.”
He never wanted anything to do with me. He didn’t even know I existed. Now he wants to meet me and my children? I’m not going to give him the satisfaction, I thought, changing the subject. “I would be interested in getting a picture or two from you. I can send some of myself and the kids. Would that be okay?” I asked.
“Well, sure. I’ll give you the address of my friend down the street. Mail letters to him and I’ll be sure to receive them. But you can’t call this phone number. You understand, don’t you?”
“I completely understand. Again, I don’t want to intrude on your privacy. Thank you for calling me,” I said. “I’m glad I found you.”
“Well, I don’t know when I can call you again, but I will try. Have a good day.” He sounded distant, his defenses up. Something told me not to hold my breath for that return call.
I scared him! For all he knew, I was aborted. And thinking about the way he treated Molly? What an asshole. Part of me hated this man, another part wanted to know more about my family.
A letter post-marked from Virginia arrived the following week. His photos! I held it for a few seconds, my hands shaking. He had used a business-sized envelope and the handwriting was beautiful, just like mine. This was the closest I’d come to meeting my birth father, other than hearing his voice. I took the photos out and there I was! My blue eyes and brown hair looking back at me. I even saw a resemblance in his two sons, Wes and Travis. As an eighteen-year-old, he was handsome.
Another photo was of Herb later in life with gray hair and a frown. All seriousness. He was standing next to his wife. They stood the same height, dressed formally, and accepting a 2008 Clean Water Farm Award. His farmer character disappeared in his business suit. His wife reminded me of a librarian, ready to scoff at you if you were caught giggling.
I stared at those pictures for a long time. I definitely resemble him more than Molly. A younger photo of him was a spitting image of my fifteen-year-old son. Being adopted, DNA never offered an “aha” moment in my family, until now.
I would probably never meet Herb in person, but I’m glad I found him. I was thrilled finally to have found both of my birth parents, yet still filled with emotions I could not yet identify. Who knew I would have found both of them within a couple of months!
I looked at his photo again. I had no doubt that this man was my father. I have his eyebrows, his blue eyes, the shape of his face, even the color of his hair. I felt proud of my detective instincts. My curiosity had paid off. Or had it? I’m grateful that the ones who raised me taught me right from wrong. They’re the ones who loved me, cared for me, raised me — not this blood relative!
Herb called around Christmastime that year, and the years following. They were simple conversations — a lot of “How are yous” and “Sorry I didn’t call you sooner.” I recognized the phone number before answering. I could never call him; I could only write and I was OK with that. He even sent money at Christmas.
Then the phone calls stopped.
Today, I’m indecisive about whether to call his number or just leave him be. What would his wife think if she answered the phone? Would I be welcomed? Would I become the daughter she never had, a replacement for the son she lost? Should I play detective again?
I just don’t know.
Jennifer Evans is a writer and editor by trade. She was blessed by adoption at the age of five months. She enjoys traveling, reading memoirs, cycling and spending time with her family. She was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1992 and enjoys helping others who struggle with similar conditions. She has lived in five states and attended high school in The Netherlands. Here is a link to a poetry anthology she published about the MS (multiple sclerosis) experience.
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Carrie Goldman is the host of Portrait of an Adoption. She is an award-winning author, speaker, and bullying prevention educator. Follow Carrie’s blog Portrait of an Adoption on Facebook and Twitter