I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my heritage–specifically, my father. For those of you who don’t know (probably most of my very few readers), I was adopted from a rural town in southeastern China when I was about a year old by one single, exceedingly brave American woman. I have almost no connection with my heritage; my knowledge of Chinese culture is at most only marginally greater than that of the majority of my American-born peers, much to my regret (but that’s a topic for another post).
My entire life has been spent in a single-parent household, and for the most part, it hasn’t been an issue. After all, there are so many single-parent situations precipitated by much worse conditions–a death, a mental illness, a divorce, an abusive relationship, a dead beat ex–that I have always considered myself fortunate. And fortunate I am: by no doing of my own, I am a relatively affluent American citizen, afforded the privileges of college, personal freedoms, leisure, heck, even this computer. But sometimes I wonder about what life would have been like with a father. It’s funny, because for most of my life, I’ve had some sort of male role model in my life–a godparent, a pastor, and so on. This is the first stage in my life in which that space lays vacant.
I’ve wanted to write a post about this topic for a while, but I’ve never been sure quite how to approach it. I suppose I’ve been thinking about it more this summer since I’ve been home from college with my mom and since the anniversary of my arrival in the US is in August. This still didn’t solve my problem of knowing how to address the subject in a blog post, especially since I rarely speak of it in real life. My spark of inspiration came from this post by the_lunatic on thoughtsofalunatic, which was featured on WordPress’ “Freshly Pressed” page.
I’m not really sure what to call you: Dad? Father? Daddy? Bàba? (I think I put the accent on the right syllable?). I’ve never met you, but then again, I suppose I don’t actually know if you’re even still alive. But since I’m writing you a letter, I’m going to assume you are.
I wonder what you look like. Black hair and brown eyes, obviously. There seem to be two types of Asian people: the short kind and the tall kind. I’m of the former, so I’m guessing you are, too. And the appearance of Asian people is stereotypically bifurcated in another amusing way: the tan kind and the pale kind. Again I’m in the former category, so I’ll assume you are too. I have bad eyesight, bushy eyebrows, a tendency to gain weight in awkward places about my torso (it seems that Buddha has bestowed a bit of himself upon me), and naturally straight teeth with pointy canines. What about you?
Perhaps you look like this:
Or, more likely, this:
But this is silly. All I’ve done is molded a word picture of a fairly stereotypical Asian man. That’s like writing paragraphs to convince me that 1 + 1 is indeed equal to 2. Amusing, perhaps, but a rather frivolous, pedantic activity.
When I was little, the story of my adoption would go something like this:
For many years, China had a rule that each family could only have one baby, since the government was afraid the country would get too crowded. If a family had more than one baby, the government could take away a lot of their money or their land or even put the parents in prison.
Most Chinese parents want a baby boy because when the boy grew up, he would take care of his parents, but girls were supposed to marry boys instead of taking care of their parents. But since Chinese parents could only have one child, if it was a girl, sometimes they would give the child away so they could try to have a boy.
You see, they love their baby girls very much, so they would keep them until the baby police would come around, and then they would have to leave the child somewhere: a police station, a train stop, a hospital. Then these babies go to orphanages, which is how you were adopted.
That’s a nice story to tell a six year old, but what if it isn’t true?
Dad, what if you were a rapist? What if my mom were a prostitute? What if you were her lover, or her, yours?
Maybe, when I popped out of the womb, you and my mother were more disgusted than disappointed that there was no penis. Or, if you knew that I was a girl before I was born, maybe you thought about an abortion, but couldn’t find/afford a way to get one. Perhaps you forced my mother to give me up–or perhaps she forced you to give me up. What if I were your fourth attempt at having a boy: your fourth failure at securing your future?
Actually, I’m not sure if I want to know the answers to those questions. But even if I did, I don’t think it would change anything about how I live or how I see myself. They would just be facts about my life, like the fact that my eyeglass prescription is -6.75 for my left eye, or the fact that I’m 5’1.375″ tall, or the fact that I haven’t cut any significant amount of my hair since sixth grade.
One fact about you that could change my life is your genetic makeup. Whenever I go to the doctor and I fill out a form about my family history, I always write unknown. Thankfully, I didn’t understand the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in China until after I was clearly past the time frame of presenting symptoms. But suppose you’re predisposed to Alzheimer’s disease? Or what if my mother’s family has a history of breast cancer? Or, worse yet, if Huntington’s disease runs in the family? I could go mad thinking of all the possibilities.
And that’s why I don’t.
And then, there’s the biggest possibility of all: what if I had been a boy?
Would I still live in China? Probably. What would I be doing? Probably working on a farm, or perhaps I might have moved to the city. Would I be able to see very well? Depends on if I ever got glasses. Would I be able to read? Maybe, maybe not. Would I have ever become a runner? Unlikely. Would my adoptive mother have adopted another child–would there be someone else with my name, my “identity,” and possibly my same peers, but who was not me? Likely yes–and it boggles my mind to comprehend that. Would I live in a two-parent household? I don’t know. Would I know God; would I even know of God? I fear not, but then again, nothing is beyond His Providence.
In light of this, I think about you and mom sometimes. I wonder if you have ever heard about the God I know as Savior and Friend. I hope you have. I know it’s possible: the entire maternal side of my old best friend’s family have been missionaries in China–her great great great grandfather was J. Hudson Taylor. Perhaps, perhaps one day I will meet you in the next life.
On a somewhat related vein, sometimes people ask me if I view God as my Father, since I don’t have one on earth. There are a couple of problems with that question. One, I do have one on earth, I just don’t know who he is. Two, that question is like asking a deaf man if wearing earplugs realistically simulates being deaf. How could he possibly compare the two? Yes, I recognize that God calls Himself our Father, but realistically, that analogy has never really made sense to me. I remember when I was about thirteen, I tried to get to know God as “Abba, Father.” It didn’t work.
There are days I wish I had a father to teach me how to ride a bicycle or make a paper airplane or play chess. Thankfully, neighbors, pastors, friends’ fathers, and other men stepped into these roles. I wish you could have seen me race at the state championships or graduate from high school or leave for college. I wish you could see the day that I become a doctor or get married or have my own kids (if I ever do any of those things). I wish you could play sports with me and teach me how to fix things and show me how to shoot a gun and all those other things stereotypically relegated to fathers. I wish you could be an example to me of how a man should love, respect, and value a woman. I wish you could demonstrate what being a man of faith means. But you can’t, and that’s okay.
I don’t blame you for any of this, mostly because it’s not fair to assign blame without knowing the circumstances, just as it’s generally considered wrong to punch someone–unless, for example, they’re about to knife an innocent passerby. I don’t blame you because I might have done the same thing. I don’t blame you because it’s hard to blame a faceless entity–I take that back: an entity whose face I know not. I don’t blame you because of what C.S. Lewis said in The Weight of Glory:
It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbour. The load, weight, or burden of my neighbour’s glory should be laid on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilisations–these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit–immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.
I’m blessed to be where I am for so many reasons. Even the nurses in the orphanage thought I was a fortunate baby: they arbitrarily assigned my birthday to a certain holiday because it was lucky day.
So this is why I choose live. You gave me a second chance at life, whether you meant to or not. I choose to take that chance.