While most of the rest of the world has focused on Steve Jobs‘ formidable business success since his death earlier this week, I’ve been fascinated by another part of the story:
Like me, Steve Jobs was adopted.
Although intensely private, the Apple co-founder and visionary spoke about his adoption in the now-ubiquitous commencement address he gave at Stanford. He shared how his first parents were unmarried, how his birth mother wanted him adopted by college-educated parents, but the couple she hoped would take him wanted a girl. He was instead adopted by a couple who didn’t have college degrees, but promised to see that he’d be educated. (Like many entrepreneurial leaders, he didn’t graduate from college, but that’s a subject for another day.)
It sounds like he and I were both fortunate to have loving and supportive adoptive parents.
Jobs was united with his biological sister, the novelist Mona E. Simpson, when they were adults. The news clips I read said Mona found him, and they remained close over the years.
I, too, am searching, eager to know who I am and how I fit in. I don’t care if the search turns up a famous novelist. I just want to find my first mother — to meet her even, to ask a too-long list of questions.
With the help of amazingly wonderful volunteers known as search angels, I’ve unearthed bits and pieces these past few years:
My birth mother is Patricia Clark; she was from Long Island, 18 when I was born on Feb. 15, 1966, and stayed at St. Faith’s Home for Unwed Mothers in Tarrytown, NY, before my birth in Yonkers. She is Episcopalian and baptized me at Christ Church, next door to St. Faith’s. This past May, I was able to see the record of my baptism in the Christ Church registry, and my birth name, Jennifer Elaine Clark.
All wonderful clues. All more than I knew before, but still not enough. And so I continue to hunt. Sadly, it’s an uphill battle. New York State keeps its adoption records tightly sealed.
I constantly remind myself to be grateful for what I’ve managed to find. Those little bits and pieces may be all I ever learn. But meanwhile, I wonder about a trillion things that most of you probably never think twice about — medical concerns, subjects both frivolous and deeply emotional:
Who do I look like? Who do I sound like? Where are my talents rooted?
Why do words fairly leap from my fingertips to the keyboard, but numbers cause every brain synapse I own to stall?
Who do I think like? and Why? and How?
And does she think about me? and Is she looking for me? and Do I have siblings?
Catherine hates to catch me studying her, but I do it because she is the ONLY person in whom I can see glimpses of myself. (Those peeks are, ahem, often overshadowed by traits from her dad.)
Lots of people mistake my search for simply curiosity, or selfishness. They wonder why I would hurt my adoptive parents, ask if I had an awful childhood, fret that I might be invading my first mother’s privacy.
I had a wonderful childhood, my parents support my search, and frankly I’m not all that sure anyone actually asked Patricia for her thoughts on the privacy thing, but all that is beside the point.
Not having the most basic information about myself colors my existence in countless ways — in terms of self-identify, in my relationships with others, in seeking medical care for myself and my daughter.
Thanks to those archaic laws, I remain in limbo, identity-wise, always wondering: Who am I? Where do I fit in?
The great state of New York says I’m not allowed to know.
It is protecting me. And Patricia.