Ohana is a Hawaiian word which refers to a person’s extended family, which can include friends and other important social groups. In the case of adoption, “family” is a complicated concept. Growing up, because both of my parents were adoptees, I knew that my grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins – while perfect stand-ins for the real thing – were not actually related to me.
I was reading about one adoptee’s experience of having an older brother who was also adopted. She says, “Even though we grew up in the same household with the same parents, I’ve always had difficulty thinking of him as my brother. He’s my family and I love him, but family is such a weird thing for adoptees. My brother and I are so different. So far apart in personality, thoughts, interests and goals. We didn’t have a single thing in common.”
And I reflected on my mom’s relationship with her brother who was also a Georgia Tann baby and I could see the truth of this. They were never close as near as I could tell, though she did date one of his neighborhood friends in high school. She once drove over this young man’s foot getting into the car when she knocked it out of park. On a date with him, she met my dad at a party – and although she went to the party with this guy – she left with my dad. It is hard to think of my mom as a teenager but I guess she was about as wild as the three daughters she later birthed. LOL
Having learned who all 4 of my original grandparents were has totally changed who I think of as my “grandparents”. Oh, I still appreciate the people who raised my parents and they were influential in my own life growing up. I still love 2 of my “adoptive” aunts dearly, having become close to them all over again when my parents died. And cousins are still in my life from those relationships.
However, I am keen now to slowly, without too much pressure, create these new relationships with an aunt and some cousins who represent most of my grandparents, though my paternal grandfather seems to have fathered no more children after my dad. DNA and the matching sites – 23 and Me as well as Ancestry – make possible finding one’s relations that many states who still maintain sealed adoption records seek to block. It is a new day and thanking all that is good that it is so.
No image can describe what of our fathers and mothers, our grandfathers and grandmothers, remains. ~ Rumi
And yet, it does matter that they are there within us always.