4 Fathers ?

Sam Wise (Sean Astin)

I don’t often follow Facebook teasers and I hate when they are a long slog and this one was but I couldn’t resist. I was a fan of Patty Duke’s growing up. I never knew about her son until now and I didn’t know he played Sam Wise in the Lord of the Rings film trilogy but I am also a fan of that story, wherever I find a version of it.

Back in the day before inexpensive DNA testing, Patty Duke became pregnant and never really knew for certain who her son’s father was. In the 1990s, he had a DNA test done. There were 3 likely possibilities – John Astin, Desi Arnaz Jr or Michael Tell (the one finally proven).

Sean Astin explains it this way. “If you want to know who I am, John Astin is my father, [and] Michael Tell is my biological father.” Sean has maintained good relationships with all three of the men who had been in the running as candidates for his biological dad’s identity. He says that “Desi is like my godfather. I have such a powerful love bond with this man. He’s a gorgeous human being.”

John Astin says of Sean, “We’re very close. We have a good time together.” 

But why did I say 4 ? Patty married Michael Pearce just a year after her divorce from John in 1985. Sean would have been 15 years old at that time. So, he formed a relationship with his new stepfather, who he refers to as Papa Mike.

I guess I was drawn to this story, not only because I am fond of both celebrities involved but because until very recently, my paternal grandfather was also a mystery (though to be fair, my paternal grandmother always did know who my dad’s actual biological father was – even though that man never knew about my dad. It was quite a surprise to my biological, genetic paternal grandfather’s relatives when I turned up. Thankfully, DNA testing has been the “proof”).

Why I Celebrate

Birthday Hat, created by my husband

My 67th birthday comes up in 2 days now. The image here is from early in my marriage, before our sons were born. We will celebrate 33 years this June.

There is so much I am grateful for but first and foremost it is that I was not given up for adoption. I could have so easily been lost to this family I grew up within. My mom was a 16 yr old high school student in El Paso TX who found herself pregnant with me and unwed. My dad had just started at the U of NM at Las Cruces that year. They are both deceased now. When I was cleaning out my parents belongings to ready their house for sale, I discovered that my mom had kept every love letter she got from my dad during that time. I also found a note where she was worried about telling him she was pregnant.

Both my mom and dad were adopted. That is why I think it is a miracle I was not given up. My mom’s adoptive parents were well to do, had made a lucky early investment in Circle K just as the stores were beginning and on top of that my adoptive grandfather was a bank vice president. My adoptive grandmother was a socialite. I believe it was actually my dad’s adoptive parents who were always poor, entrepreneurial sorts who made custom draperies for a living, that preserved me in the family and supported my dad in marrying my mom.

Because I was preserved my two sisters were born. Maybe they would have been or maybe my parents would have gone their separate ways but that is not what happened so it is a moot point. I believe I have now fulfilled my destiny in this life. Within a year of my parents deaths (they died 4 mos apart after more than 50 years of marriage), I had uncovered who my original grandparents were. I have met or made contact with an aunt and some cousins for each branch of my grandparents families. I am the only link between them because the four of them went their separate ways.

My maternal grandmother remarried but never had any other children. My maternal grandfather also remarried but didn’t have any more children with his third wife. Yes, he and my grandmother were married at the time she conceived my mom. It will always be a mystery why he left her 4 mos pregnant and why after being sent from Tennessee to Virginia to have (and probably expected to give up) my mom, he didn’t respond when she returned to Memphis and tried to reach him. Her desperation led to Georgia Tann getting her hands on my mom . . .

My paternal grandmother had a hard life growing up. My dad was conceived with the assistance of a Danish immigrant who was married to a much older woman. He probably never even knew about my dad. My grandmother simply handled it as the self-resourceful woman she was. She did remarry twice and had 3 other children. At the time my dad died, her last child (my aunt) was living only 90 miles away, totally unknown to my dad.

I celebrate that I am alive and I am happy to have now become whole in ways my parents (who died knowing next to nothing about their origins) never were. I had to wait over 60 years before that happened for me. It is true that, if my parents had not been given up for adoption, I would simply not exist at all. Even so, there is much wrong about the practice of adoption (I write about that here all the time) . . . including that the state of Tennessee denied my mother access to her own adoption file in the early 90s. No one told her when the law was changed for the victims of Georgia Tann to be given access but because of that law, I now possess all of the documents in her adoption file. In her file there were black and white pictures of my maternal grandmother holding my mom for the last time at Porter-Leath Orphanage. It was to that storied and respected institution that my grandmother, in desperation, turned for temporary care of her precious baby girl. The superintendent there betrayed my grandmother by alerting Georgia Tann to my mom’s existence.

At the Dorchester in London
thanks to a trip with my adoptive maternal grandmother