Adoption and privilege

To kick off my updated blogging challenge of writing 1,500 words at least twice a week, I thought I’d start with a fairly personal reflection on privilege and being adopted.

Of course, it goes without saying, I don’t speak for any one particular group nor do I pretend my POV is without its holes - I’m constantly learning and certainly grateful for the many many opportunities I’ve been given in life this far.  I should also note that, what I’m about to share is nothing secret and something I have talked about openly in the past. Let’s dig in :)

I am adopted. Part filipino and part American, my birth parents gave me up for adoption when I was just a few weeks old. At the time they both made the incredibly difficult decision to perform perhaps one of the most self less acts possible as parents. As they were not married at the time, my birth parents believed it was important that I grow up in a stable family with both a mom and dad present.

To this day, I have nothing but gratitude for their decision, and completely without question understand the choice they made. Sometimes I wonder how my life would be different had I not been put up for adoption, but it certainly doesn’t ‘weigh’ on me past the fact that it happened.

One of the best parts about my specific situation was that my parents were open and transparent about me being adopted, so much so I don’t remember a specific time or place in which they told me. I was adopted. That didn’t make me “not wanted” nor did it change anything. My parents of course raised me as their own, and I never felt not accepted, as many adopted children do.

There has never been a point where I felt I wasn’t in the right place. I never felt unloved. In fact, I feel that both my birth parents and parents love me more than anyone can possibly love their children. I may be biased of course, but that’s the truth. In addition to being open and transparent about me being adopted, my parents worked to ensure I built some sort of relationship with my birth parents. I have met up with them no less than a dozen or so times, and do my best to see them anytime I am visiting California. Fortunately, with my grandma living in California I have been able to see them a handful of times. To this day, I continue to text with my birth parents on a regular basis and hold a special love for them. I can only imagine how difficult the decision was and I hold no ‘grudges.’

One time when I was hanging out with my birthdad in San Francisco, he asked me point blank if I “hated him.” It made me incredibly sad to know that he might think that. Of course, the decision was hard for him, but truly the thought of ‘hating’ my birth parents has literally never crossed my mind. I attest this to the fact my parents were so open about me being adopted and taught me that they did out out of love. I realize many adopted children unfortunately never grow up with this perspective, and I am of course very lucky to have been exposed to that point of view. For me, I simply feel as if I have four parents that love me very much.

While I hope to expand more on the many lessons my birth parents have taught me both directly and indirectly, it’s important to note that through he process of being adopted I was fortunate to grow up incredibly privileged. My parents were able to provide me an incredible life and their upper middle class lifestyle provided me with many many opportunities that are largely responsible for who I am today.

I never had to worry about money. I never had to worry about whether they loved me. I grew up with a nice home. I went to nice schools. I got to travel often and even lived in both the Netherlands and Shanghai during my schooling years. The ability to travel and immerse myself in other perspectives has certainly helped me become the man I am today. In addition to growing up financially well off, I also benefited from having two white parents.

As my skin is brown, growing up I was often asked if I was Mexican or Chinese. Fortunately, though I was not immune to racism and bigotry growing up, my few experiences weren’t incredibly detrimental to my growth and world view. A few times my parents had issues of restaurants not serving us, and a few people have said a few mean things. But by and large, I was never truly affected by racism at any meaningful level. For that, I am of course grateful. Despite  my skin color and clearly not looking like my parents, I always felt part of the family. I felt white. To this day, my identity isn’t particularly based on race at all. I realize not everyone has the ability to grow up the way I did, but I never have thought of my race as anything but just a part of who I am.

Of course, on the rare occasion I did experience bigotry I would begin to question certain parts of my identity, but for the most part, my privilege has protected me from a lot of what other minorities and those with black and brown skin are exposed to every day.

I remember one particular time when I was playing soccer with my little sister (who is also adopted and from Nepal.) When we were leaving, a little boy ran up to my stuck his fist in my face and yelled “AMERICAAAAA!.” Given how close it was to the stereotypes I had no choice but to laugh.

In addition to being largely protected from racism and bigotry, the fact that my parents were well off financially has certainly helped me become the adult I am today. My parents were able to pay for my college. I never had to worry about needing to come home if I “struck out” on my own during my adult years. And my they were more than happy to help me in anyway they could as I started my life as an adult.

Furthermore, my time spent in Shanghai particularly was a powerful for me growing up. I was able to travel to many asian countries and get first hand exposure to beliefs and cultures I had no idea existed. Going to an international high school for two years, I made friends of all nationalities and all walks of life.

Without a doubt this exposure helped me see the world from a global level, something not everyone has the opportunity to do. Despite acknowledging my privilege and unique upbringing, sometimes I feel particularly guilty of all I have been given. Why me?! Why did I ‘win the lottery’ so to speak. With so much pain and suffering in the world, I sometimes struggle with the fact I was able to grow up with such a significant advantage.

Of course, this isn’t to say I didn’t grow up without any problems. My parents had an often rocky relationship which led to their divorce when I was in college. I at times struggle from depression. I lost my best friend in high school to a jet ski accident. We all have our battles and our demons, which is something I believe we as a collective should acknowledge more. Being privileged doesn’t mean your life is perfect. It doesn’t mean you aren’t battling too.

It means you are provided some advantages that others are not. While for most of my upbringing I felt guilty for being given the world, I came to reframe my situation. Given I am lucky and blessed… how am I going to use the advantages that were given to me for good? How can I make the most impact? How can I help those that are just wanting a point in the right direction?

Fortunately, I found my love for writing and reading at an early age and have done what I can to write and share my ups and downs as I navigate through this thing called life. All in all, I couldn’t be more grateful for how my hand was dealt. I have a lot of growing to do as a human being, and I’m excited to continue to share my story so that others may feel they aren’t alone.

As I near 29 years old, I continue to tinker with how I best can make a difference. I hope the perspective I shared today gave you a small insight into the mind of Bud Hennekes. Whether you grew up adopted, poor, rich, or are struggling with who you are, don’t run from doing the hard work. Find your truth, and embrace it.