I met Mike Morrell during a trip to Atlanta in 99′ or 2000 while visiting an intentional community church he participated in. Since then Mike married his high school sweetheart, Jasmin, had a beautiful daughter, and made the decision to follow his passion. He has been instrumental in furthering the discussion of what it means to be Christian, with an emphasis on love and equality for all.
When it came time to choose Penelope’s godparents, we immediately agreed on Mike and Jasmin. That’s why you’ll often see him referred to as “The Godfather” in my posts
The Morrell’s stay busy, completing degrees, writing, editing, traveling, and raising their daughter, Jubilee.
During Mike’s recent visit to Atlanta we sat down to discuss adoption, connecting with his birth parents, blended families, and fatherhood.
Here is part one of my interview with Mike Morrell.
Mike: It is, yes.
J: Recently you had a unique experience among some adoptive people. We’ll discuss that in a little bit. Let me just start out and ask you how sensitive a topic is adoption now versus 10 or 20 years ago?
M: Do you mean how sensitive do I think it is in the culture at large?
M: I would say in most corners it’s way more open now than it used to be. My impression is, and what I’ve gathered, is there used to be a culture of almost shame and secrecy around adoption and now people are far more commonly talking about adoption, either if it’s their children that they have adopted or if they are kids or adult children who were adopted it seems more common now. It’s more out in the open.
J: When did you find out you were adopted?
M: I found out I was adopted when I was, I want to say, 4 or 5 years old. I kept pestering my mom about “birds and the bees” type questions and think I point blank asked her at one point if I grew in her belly. My mom is of the “I will not tell a direct lie” school of ethics, and though it was an uncomfortable topic for her, she decided to give it to me straight. She told me then that I was adopted and that they chose me, my mom and dad chose me, and that they loved me very much because they especially chose me.
J: What were your feelings at the time?
M: I think I thought it was kinda cool. The way they told the story was that I was born in somewhat conflicting experiences, it wasn’t possible for my birth parents to keep me, so I was placed up for adoption, and that out of all the boys and girls my parents could have chosen, they chose me. So it gave it a sort of sense of special-ness or entitlement to it that made me feel unique.
J: And how did those feelings and thoughts evolve as you grew up, as you got into high school, in college, got married. Certainly you didn’t feel the same way the whole time, or did you?
M: No I didn’t feel the same way the whole time. Very early on I received a mixed message from my parents, because though they narrated the story in a rather matter of fact yet touching way, it was also clear it wasn’t something they were very comfortable talking about.
After that initial time, and then another time about five years later it was brought up, it was never brought up in our home. I think that my dad said something to the effect of “we love you as though you were our very own because as far as we are concerned you are our very own”. And the implicit second half of that statement was “so lets not talk about it”.
I always felt a little bit of uncomfortably around the topic. I would measure someone growing up, whom I considered to be a very close friend, if I let them in on that aspect of myself. But sensing my parents apprehension I would always preemptively say “But don’t ever mention this around my parents.”
J: So it was something you instinctively gathered from what they were saying rather than an explicit “Let’s not discuss this.”
M: No, they were never even that direct. So it was always implicit not to discuss it. It wasn’t a topic of conversation. But I still felt positively about it. It never really struck me as something to judge negatively until I think I was about 9 years old when my parents wanted to foster children because they were still interested in adopting further children potentially.
My adoptive mother, or “mom” as I know her, was unable to have biological children of her own so they were still interested in adopting and they wanted to foster more kids in the late 80’s. So I think in 89′ the three of us (because they involve the kids too) began training through DFAX for fostering kids. During that time I went through my own training with other sort of peer leaders.
Particularly I remember these two teenage girls who were themselves in a family that fostered kids but they were adopted through the foster system. I never forget that those two girls had such acrimony and venom towards their biological parents, whom I think they did know as very small children before the kids were ushered into the foster care system, for several years until they ended up in the adoptive family they ended up in. But they were just super resentful towards their biological parents, feeling abandoned. It was just really interesting hearing them because at the time I was like 9 and they were 14 or 15 and it had never occurred to me to feel resentment towards biological parents at that point. And it didn’t make me feel resentment but it still introduced a new possibility of emotion into that equation.
J: So you were 9 years old. And going forward was this something that lingered or was it at the forefront of your thoughts as you were growing up?
M: I rarely thought about my adoption growing up. It wasn’t until I was an older teenager, say 17, and dating the girl I eventually married that she asked me if I was curious about my family of origin and if I wanted to research it. At the time I said “No, I never thought of it”. And I think I was unconsciously imitating the tone my parents had set which was “If I’m in a loving home then where I came from doesn’t matter”. So I was profoundly incurious about it.
But slowly that question worked its way into me. I would say that by the time I was in college, by the time I was in my early 20s’ I began to wonder where I came from. One of my old college room mates actually had this bizarre theory that I was the bastard love child of Philip K Dick, science fiction author, and had some really crazy, compelling circumstantial evidence to back up the claims in addition to the fact that we sort of resembled each other physically. But as I was to find out years later I am alas not the love child of Phillip K Dick.
J: Oh well.
M: You win some you lose some.
J: That would be some claim though!
M: It would be, it would be. I’m perfectly happy with the birth parents I’ve discovered however.
J: Is there a kinship you feel with other people that are adopted? Does that exist?
M: I would say it’s not like this immediate secret brotherhood or anything. But, it always does spark an immediate kind of potential connection. I think that’s the best way I could put it. If I talk to someone and find out their adopted it could be something that we potentially connect around or that we in general can connect in a deeper way but it’s not an automatic assumption, not for me.
J: You mentioned you recently connected with your biological parents
M: I did.
J: Describe the emotions you were feeling both before the experience with each of them and how you felt afterwards? What did you go through?
M: That’s a great question. First there is sort of the mechanics of how I managed to do the reunion. And it’s an interesting story. I had a lot of questions. I didn’t know if I needed to hire a private detective or what to do. Finally I got in contact with a man via my mentor, Wes Roberts. Wes is friends with a man who recently passed away due to cancer, unfortunately, who’s a nationally syndicated radio personality named Rich Buhler. Rich was adopted, and among other things he ran he had a talk show. He always had things to say about the process of adoption.
I got to speak to him about 3, 3.5 ago. He let me know that in my home state that I was born in, and adopted in, Georgia, there’s something called the Adoption Reunion Registry and that you can get on that. And if you really luck out your biological parents want to be found, perhaps they are already on the ARR, and then you connect to each other immediately. If they’re not on the registry though there are ways they can have access to otherwise sealed adoption records, which when I was born over 30 years ago, all adoptions were sealed pretty much. They had a process to access those records and then through these mutually double blind, notarized letters back and forth between them they could contact the biological parents to see if they want to be in contact. And if so we exchange letters without signatures, without identifying information, until it’s confirmed that both parties still want to be in contact. And then they make an introduction. That process costs a few hundred dollars. It turned out my birth mother, who’s the primary person I was tracking, was not originally on the registry so I ended up doing that process which is what led to our connection.
But interestingly even though we weren’t supposed to have identifying information about ourselves in the correspondence that we had that was sent beforehand, apparently there were enough clues in there that my birth mother was able to cyberstalk me and actually sent me a Facebook friend request before the official process had run it’s course. I’ve gotta say, I don’t know how many people listening out there have ever received a Facebook friend request with a note attached saying “Hello I could be wrong about this, but I believe I’m your birth mother”.
J: Not many I would imagine
M: Yeah yeah, you know I’ve got 5000 Facebook friends and that was certainly the most unique request that I had received. So that was our initial connection. I was coming back from being away over Christmas and New Years and I guess right at the very beginning of 2011 when I had gotten that friend request. Sent a message and got a phone number. We talked on the phone for the first time and it was pretty wild just to hear some of the things we had in common, a few common interest. It was a sense of a long time mystery being solved. It was a really cool connection.