The sportswriter Rick Reilly thinks quarterback Colin Kaepernick, whose San Francisco 49ers will play in the Super Bowl on Sunday, should get in touch with his birth mother.
In A Call Kaepernick Should Make, Mr. Reilly, an adoptive father, implies that Mr. Kaepernick is refusing because he thinks contact would be a betrayal of his adoptive family. According to Mr. Reilly, “it’s not. It’s healthy. It’s healing. It’s natural.” On the surface, it seems he is trying to be helpful.
But his words are telling. Mr. Reilly writes that his own adopted daughter “is living a wonderful life in America, one that an 18-year-old Korean mother could never have given a secret daughter. So I’m happy Rae has let her into that life. In fact, I’m delighted. What better way to pay her back?”
To Mr. Reilly, there’s no chance Colin Kaepernick would ever have been happier with his birth mother, so why not thank her for giving him up?
I was adopted from Korea when I was 2 by loving parents who arguably provided a “better” life than if I hadn’t been adopted. A life with my birth parents would have likely been a life of poverty. Yet there is no telling for sure how much “better” it is to undergo the trauma of separation from one’s birth mother. I love my parents, and I would never wish that they were not my parents. Still, I might have been happy with my birth family and less insecure if I had been able to feel loved as a baby by the woman who carried me for nine months.
Either way, it isn’t for my parents to say whether I should contact my birth mother or not. I am sure they know such a statement would set me off, as would the suggestion that they should control that decision. It is certainly not another adoptive parent’s place to say what I should do. I am a parent, and I am annoyed enough when another parent tells me what is “best” for my child.
Right now, as I understand it, adoptees are fighting for adoptee rights so that they can make such decisions themselves. For a long time, adoptive parents have decided what adoptees can and can’t do. Sometimes, that meant closing off access to birth parents; sometimes, telling them to meet. Adoptive parents have spoken for adoptees’ feelings. Adoptive parents have written the literature and taught families how they should treat adoptees.
The adoptee is the central figure in an adoption. The adoptee should have the right to do what he wants about his birth parents. He shouldn’t have to deal with a sportswriter telling him how to be “healthy,” “healing” and “natural.”
The idea that Rick Reilly has any domain here is appalling. Whether or not to contact one’s birth parents is a deeply personal decision that only an adoptee can make.
The article smacks of privilege throughout. When Kaepernick says he isn’t curious about his birth mother, Reilly pulls out the knowledge card: “That’s odd, since many adopted kids are crazy curious about their birth parents, and their adopted ones.” I hear Mr. Reilly implying that he — the father figure — knows better. Maybe Colin Kaepernick isn’t curious, or maybe he is and doesn’t want to say so, or maybe he is and isn’t ready to make contact yet — I’ve been there. Whatever he feels, it’s his right to deflect the question on national TV, even before or in lieu of deciding what to do or not.
Mr. Reilly has some advice for the quarterback:
Your parents are your parents forever. Nothing can ever change that.
But you can’t imagine what it would mean, how deeply it would be felt, for a woman with regrets and doubts to once again hold her child, even for five seconds. A meeting like that could fill two hearts.
It sounds nice. On the other hand, how would Mr. Reilly know what it is like to be a birth mother? Or an adoptee? I can guarantee, from the unexperienced conviction with which he writes, that he doesn’t speak for my conflicted heart. I’m not going to speak for Colin Kaepernick, who has his own experience. Rick Reilly shouldn’t either.