Ray Liotta and Adoption

I don’t remember him actually making any kind of strong impression on me but I did see the movie “GoodFellas” back in 2020 (thanks to Netflix keeping track of these things for me).

It is interesting how ideas for this blog come to me. This one was from a short acknowledgement in Time magazine about the man’s recent passing. Something about his adoptive mother dying during the filming.

I thought, so another adoption story. It never ceases to amaze me how many people in our society are somehow touched by adoption more broadly (meaning not necessarily adopted themselves but in their extended family). I went looking to learn more about this aspect of the man’s life.

The story I read was about how he found peace with his adoption. He said, “At first, I didn’t understand how a parent could give up a child. So, I had that kind of energy of just being like, that’s just f***** up.” His perspective changed after the birth of his own daughter in 1998, at which point he felt he had to trace and locate his birth mother.

Ray was born in 1954, the same year I was, in Newark New Jersey. He was adopted at the age of six months. He was in an orphanage at the time. His adoptive parents were Alfred and Mary. Liotta knew he wasn’t his adoptive parents biological child growing up. He also had an adopted sister, Linda.

His drama teacher in high school asked him if he wanted to appear in a play during his senior year. Liotta didn’t take it seriously at the time (he was into sports) but it led to him eventually studying acting at the University of Miami. After graduation, he got his first big break on the soap opera Another World.

In his 40s, he hired a private detective to locate his birth mother and younger siblings. He subsequently learned from her that he is mostly of Scottish descent (like I learned regarding my maternal grandmother’s family). He then met his birth mother and siblings – a half brother, five half sisters and a full sister. She explained to him that she had given him up for adoption because she was too young and couldn’t contend with the responsibility.

He said that then, “I realized that she did it for very valid reasons from her perspective and for 99% of the kids put up for adoption, the birth parent believes that it’s for the betterment of the kid… Often, the household, the situation, the age just dictate that’s the best thing to do for the child.” After the meeting her, Liotta honestly said that he was “disappointed” by his mother’s story. He reminds me of my own mom in saying that he was “really grateful that [he] was adopted.” When Larry King mentions there is a book for adoptees called “You Were Chosen,” Liotta admits that his was “I was given up.” Most adoptees hate the “chosen” narrative.

Liotta died in his sleep while filming Dangerous Waters in the Dominican Republic. Foul play is not suspected in his death. At the time of his death, he was engaged to fiancée, Jacy Nittolo. That had made him a happy man. He wrote, “Christmas wishes do come true. I asked the love of my life to marry me, and thank God she said yes!!!” Liotta is also survived by his 23-year-old daughter, Karsen, who he shares with ex-wife Michelle Grace.

Our Father

Documentary on Netflix

I’m pretty certain this is streaming and we only get dvds from Netflix. Never-the-less, not for the first time, has a fertility doctor been accused of inseminating patients with his own sperm. So, yes, this is a true story. The Indiana fertility specialist, Dr Donald Cline, is the subject.

In a moment when the right to safe and informed reproductive care is under threat in the US, Our Father is particularly resonant given the questions it raises about how our legal system views those seeking control over their own reproductive choices, and restitution when that autonomy is violated.

Jacoba Ballard’s life changed after she took an at-home DNA test and learned she had seven half-siblings. After reaching out to her newfound family members and researching the mystery of their shared relation, Ballard and her siblings soon discovered with horror what their parents’ trusted doctor had done. The number of confirmed siblings continued to grow as more people added their DNA to 23andMe’s database. Each time she saw a new connection appear on her profile, she’d steel herself before reaching out to deliver the news. “I know I’m going to call them and I’m going to ruin their life,” she says in the documentary.

Jacoba Ballard grew up suspecting that she, the only blond, blue-eyed member of a family of brunettes, was adopted. When she was 10, her parents told her they had used donor sperm to conceive her. “I wanted a child so bad,” her mother, Debbie Smith, says, the pain clearly visible on her face. The Smiths went to Cline, who had a reputation as the best in what was then the new field of fertility treatment and artificial insemination. The good doctor – and devout Christian, church elder and respected member of the community – told them that medical students were used as donors, each no more than three times to limit any future problems with consanguinity (the medical term for unwitting siblings later having children together). The couple went ahead and nine months later Jacoba was born. “She’s my everything,” says Debbie.

Our Father includes interviews with eight of the 94 siblings. Because of Cline’s lack of cooperation and the unknown number of patients he had the opportunity to inseminate up until he stopped practicing in 2009, there is no way to know for sure how many siblings there may be.

One criticism of the documentary is that it gives too little space to the unresponsiveness of the district attorney’s office – alerted by Jacoba early on – and the extraordinary fact that it was impossible to prosecute Cline over what he did to the women because none of that amounted to a crime under the then-current law. Jacoba’s research reveals that one of the people in the DA’s office who might have been expected to follow up on her complaint is associated with the Christian fundamentalist movement Quiverfull, which encourages the faithful – or at least the faithful of certain coloring – to have as many children as possible and groom them for power so they can become ambassadors for God. Is it relevant that church elder Cline has produced what Jacoba likens to “this perfect Aryan clan”?

Surveying the blonde hair and blue eyes of many of Cline’s offspring, the film briefly meditates on whether Cline’s crusade may have had white supremacist underpinnings (Quiverfull ideology, which promotes patriarchal gender ideology and other conservative ideals and bemoans European population decline, certainly seems to).

The filmmakers behind Our Father, including director/producer Lucie Jourdan, say they were moved to tell the story of the siblings and their parents in order to help them condemn Cline’s actions to a broad audience when it became clear the court had failed. In 2017, he was brought to trial facing two counts of felony obstruction of justice, for lying during the investigation. The obstruction of justice charges meant that no evidence related to Cline’s actions toward his former patients was admissible—though those actions constituted the injustice for which the siblings and their parents were truly seeking restitution. Cline pled guilty, and received two suspended sentences (meaning he served no jail time), and a $500 fine.

In 2018, the siblings’ lobbying, led by Matt White and his mother Liz White, contributed to the passing of Indiana’s fertility-fraud law. There is still no federal law on the subject.

Acknowledging Time Magazine and The Guardian from which sections of today’s blog were taken.

Shonda Rhimes – Adoptive Mother

Shonda Rhimes and daughter, Harper

I read that Shonda Rhimes said to Time magazine, “I don’t think anybody has has kids is fully present at work.” She goes on to say “The idea of pretending that we have no other life is some sort of fantasy out of the 1950s, where the little lady stayed at home.” How could someone who’s responsible for at least one small, vulnerable human – responsible in a real way, not in a ’50s-dad way – ever be fully present when that child is out of earshot ? My kind of woman, I wanted to know more, especially when I learned that she adopted her daughters.

We don’t watch commercial TV networks or streaming content and so, I really don’t know anything about Shonda Rhimes work in film (we are stuck in dvd land for the time being). That she is famous or inspiring in general – and she is both – there is still the sticky issue that troubles me the most – separating any baby from the mother who’s womb that baby grew in but it is going to happen and I don’t see adoption ending as a practice any time soon.

Shonda says it was 9/11 that convinced her that she was lacking the experience of motherhood. She says that “Nine months and two days after 9/11, my daughter was born. I named her after Harper Lee. Now I can’t remember what I did with my time before she got here.” Shonda is now mom to three daughters – Harper in 2002, she adopted daughter Emerson in 2012, and welcomed daughter Beckett in 2013 via surrogate. (None of which changes the nature of my own concerns). 

She admits that, “There is no such thing as balance. That I will say right away,” as she told Business Insider in 2017. “If you are a working mother you are often not there as much as you’d like to be. I said this once somewhere, that if I’m standing on set watching some amazing thing being shot, then I am missing my daughter’s science fair. Or if I’m at my daughter’s dance recital, then I miss Sandra Oh’s very last day, and very last scene being shot on Grey’s Anatomy… Those are the trade-offs.”

The Controversy Over Beloved

Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved was mentioned on Real Time with Bill Maher last Friday night. I had no idea why it was even mentioned but I checked my Netflix list and saw that we had not seen the movie, so I added it. Then, this morning I read on article in The Guardian titled – The Republicans’ racial culture war is reaching new heights in Virginia by Sidney Blumenthal and my interest was peaked.

My mom was born in Virginia. You could almost say it was an accident but it was not. My mom was adopted and for my entire growing up years, I thought she was born in Memphis TN and was adopted from the Tennessee Children’s Home Society. That latter part is correct but Memphis was not her birthplace. That is what my adoptive grandparents were led to believe and then later the TCHS muddled their way through an explanation. My mom’s grandfather’s family did immigrate into the US at Virginia from Scotland prior to the Revolutionary War which some of our kin actually fought in. My grandmother’s father sent her there to Virginia to give birth to my mom away from gossiping locals in their small rural town East of Memphis. I suspect there were still some family ties living there at the time. My mom’s father seemed to my grandmother’s family to have abandoned her at 4 months pregnant. I prefer to keep a kinder perspective on that man, full of sorrow after losing a wife and a son to untimely deaths, and this perspective was softened after meeting my cousin who shares with me this man as a grandfather. I cannot ever really know the reason why he left (though I do have theories) or why he didn’t come to my grandmother’s aid when she returned to Memphis with my baby mom. I just have to let the questions be forever unanswered.

It turns out that Glenn Youngkin who is running for governor on the Republican side of things has made this novel by Morrison his last campaign stand. Of course, there is more to the story than that and the “more” has to do with Virginia history (which I will admit that I am still somewhat ignorant regarding). Youngkin’s campaign has contrived a brand-new enemy within, a specter of doom to stir voters’ anxieties that only he can dispel: the Black Nobel prize-winning novelist Toni Morrison and her novel Beloved.

Youngkin waded into the murky waters of racial politics. He offered himself as the defender of schoolchildren from the menace of critical race theory, even though the abstruse legal doctrine is not taught in any Virginia public school. Youngkin then seized upon a novel racial symbol. The Pulitzer prize-winning novel is about the psychological toll and loss of slavery, especially its sexual abuse, and considered one of the most important American literary works. And there is a history to the issue in Virginia.

Somewhat disingenuously Youngkin has explained it in a campaign ad this way. “When my son showed me his reading material, my heart sunk,” Laura Murphy, identified as “Fairfax County Mother”, said in the Youngkin ad. “It was some of the most explicit reading material you can imagine.” She claimed that her son had nightmares from reading the assignment in his advanced placement literature class. “It was disgusting and gross,” her son, Blake, said. “It was hard for me to handle. I gave up on it.” As it happens, in 2016 Murphy had lobbied a Republican-majority general assembly to pass a bill enabling students to exempt themselves from class if they felt the material was sexually explicit. Governor McAuliffe vetoed what became known as “the Beloved bill”.

“This Mom knows – she lived through it. It’s a powerful story,” tweeted Youngkin. Ms Murphy, the “Mom”, is in fact a longtime rightwing Republican activist. Her husband, Daniel Murphy, is a lawyer-lobbyist in Washington and a large contributor to Republican candidates and organizations. Their delicate son, Blake Murphy, who complained of “night terrors”, was a Trump White House aide and is now associate general counsel for the National Republican Congressional Committee, which sends out fundraising emails.

The offending novel is a fictional treatment of a true story with a Virginia background, a history that ought to be taught in Virginia schools along with the reading of Beloved. In 1850, Senator James M Mason, of Virginia, sponsored the Fugitive Slave Act. “The safety and integrity of the Southern States (to say nothing of their dignity and honor) are indissolubly bound up with domestic slavery,” he wrote. In 1856, Margaret Garner escaped from her Kentucky plantation into the free state of Ohio. She was the daughter of her owner and had been repeatedly raped by his brother, her uncle, and gave birth to four children. When she was cornered by slave hunters operating under the Fugitive Slave Act, she killed her two-year-old and attempted to kill her other children to spare them their fate. Garner was returned to slavery, where she died from typhus.

In the aftermath of her capture, Senator Charles Sumner, the abolitionist from Massachusetts, denounced Mason on the floor of the Senate for his authorship of the bill, “a special act of inhumanity and tyranny”. He also cited the case of a “pious matron who teaches little children to relieve their bondage”, sentenced to “a dungeon”. He was referring to Margaret Douglass, a southern white woman who established a school for Black children in Norfolk, Virginia. She was arrested and sent to prison for a month “as an example”, according to the judge. When she was released, she wrote a book on the cause of Black education and the culture of southern rape. “How important, then,” she wrote, “for these Southern sultans, that the objects of their criminal passions should be kept in utter ignorance and degradation.”

Virginia’s racial caste system existed for a century after the civil war. In 1956, after the supreme court’s decision in Brown v Brown of Education ruled that school segregation was unconstitutional, Virginia’s general assembly, with Confederate flags flying in the gallery, declared a policy of massive resistance that shut down all public schools for two years. The growth of all-white Christian academies and new patterns of segregation date from that period. Only in 1971 did Virginia revise its state constitution to include a strong provision for public education.

Youngkin well understands the inflammatory atmosphere in Virginia in which he is dousing gasoline and lighting matches. Branding Beloved as sexually obscene was always an abstracted effort to avoid coming to terms with slavery, especially its sexual coercion. Parental control is Youngkin’s abstract slogan for his racial divisiveness. Beloved is his signifier to the Trump base that he is a safe member of the cult, no longer an untrustworthy corporate type. Youngkin’s reflexive dependence on the strategy reveals more than the harsh imperatives of being a candidate in the current Republican party. It places him, whether he knows or not, cares or not, objects or not, in a long tradition in the history of Virginia that the Commonwealth has spent decades seeking to overcome.

To this political post, I add an admission. My maternal line roots are ALL Confederate – on both her mother’s and her father’s side. It is a fact that I am personally not proud of, even if I had nothing to do with it. I still own that it is a part of my personal family history – sadly.

I Am Sam

I just read about this movie and have added it to our Netflix list – so I can’t personally review it yet. Netflix tells me that “After fathering a child with a homeless woman, Sam (Sean Penn) — a grown man with the mental capacity of a 7-year-old — raises the baby himself until an incident at a birthday party finds the Child Protective Services deeming him an unfit guardian. With the help of yuppie lawyer Michelle Pfeiffer, Sam attempts to regain custody of his daughter and prove that, despite his handicap, he’s a truly loving father.” Certainly, the homeless issue means something to me. And thanks to a growing awareness about the dangers of the Child Protective Services via my all things adoption group, it certainly seems like a movie I should see.

The film’s title is derived from the opening lines “I am Sam / Sam I am” of the book Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss, which is read in the movie. Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times reviewed it positively as a “most inviting and accessible film that turns upon a mental condition that most people would prefer not to think about.” Maybe that is why overall it was not well liked.

The first comment in my all things adoption group was – “oh my god the foster mom is a piece of shit, typical foster parent that just wants to steal the child, it’s so disgusting and sadly it’s so freaking real.” And this – “with the proper support he will 100% be the best father for her.”

Part of it was that they didn’t take the time to understand neurodivergence. How someone interacts with the world through different fandoms. I got everything Sam was trying to say right away because I’m neurodivergent and I love the Beatles. The abled neurotypicals in I Am Sam didn’t even want to try. They just tried to force their model of the world, which in this case, means deeming the disabled parent inferior by default.

Welcome to ableism 101. Even biological parents will do this with their own kids. Hiding illness, limiting contact, and/or stifling relationships. Ableism states that the disabled parent is always inferior, and a burden to their children. A hindrance to “normalcy.”

Someone else wrote this –

I have seen it. It is actually on our state’s list for alternative training for foster parents, which okay but with alternative training you simply fill out a form writing down what you learned and no one like processes or follows up wjth you to point out that people with disabilities have a right to parent and are often preyed upon by Child Protective Services (CPS).

I am usually shocked to learn that most caseworkers in my state are so unfamiliar with any rights for parents with disabilities including the right to an adult advocate. They absolutely can parent successfully, sometimes needing education or support to meet our cultural or white definition of parenting standards. That movie is controversial for many reasons including that a non-disabled actor was chosen to play someone with a disability. And absolutely, the foster parent says what the societal thoughts are that are being held against Sean Penn’s character – that only abled bodied people in mind and body or mental health are deemed capable to parent – so not true. Even convincing the child they “deserve better” than a loving, devoted father simply because he has a disability.

Another person adds the reality check – it’s actually super unrealistic cuz in real life disabled parents never get good legal representation and almost never get their kids back.

And yet another notes – it happens in real life too. CPS targets parents with disabilities and it’s hard for them to get their kids back.

John Lennon’s Mum

I didn’t know this sad story but someone in my all things adoption group mentioned it. “Ok adoptees, tell me John Lennon didn’t capture mother abandonment in his song: How?”

So I went looking for the story. I found an article in a Liverpool newspaper titled “The true tale of John Lennon’s mum revealed in Walton author’s book.”

His mum’s early death in 1958 is understood to have scarred him for life and inspired his music. On his 1970 song, Mother, he sang “You had me but I never had you”. Kevin Roach says that the idea of Julia as an irresponsible “good-time girl” who couldn’t look after her son came from Aunt Mimi, who raised John in her house in Menlove Avenue.

In Julia, Kevin goes into detail on the rows between Julia, her father George and her sister Mimi, as well as her relationships with men. Julia Stanley’s family never approved of her relationship with Alf Lennon, and they eventually married in secret. But merchant seaman Alf deserted her after baby John was born. As World War II continued, she had a brief affair that left her pregnant – but she was forced by her father to give up that baby for adoption.

She later met another man, John “Bobby” Dykins, but her sister Mimi disapproved. Eventually, after Mimi reported Julia to social services, Mimi won custody of John. Julia had two children with Bobby and later became close to John again, sharing her passion for music. But in 1958, she died after being hit by a car in Menlove Avenue.

Later in life John remarked that he had lost his mother twice – once at five, when he was sent to live with his aunt, and once at 17 when she died.

The book Julia by Roach appears to be out of print with a few, very expensive used copies available at Amazon. But I learned there is also a movie titled Nowhere Boy which thankfully is available at Netflix (and so I have added it to my list).

Nowhere Boy is a 2009 British biographical drama about John Lennon’s adolescence, his relationships with his aunt Mimi Smith and his mother Julia Lennon, the creation of his first band, the Quarrymen, and its evolution into the Beatles. The movie is based on a biography written by Lennon’s half-sister, Julia Baird.

Kaepernick – Biracial, Adopted by a White Family

Colin Kaepernick’s life story is soon to be streamed on Netflix.

“The series provides an introspective look at Kaepernick’s early life as a Black child growing up with a white adopted family and his journey to become a great quarterback while defining his identity. The series will focus on Kaepernick’s formative high school years, lending meaningful insight into the acts and experiences that led him to become the activist he is today,” according to a series synopsis.

Kaepernick added in a news release: “Too often we see race and Black stories portrayed through a white lens. We seek to give new perspective to the differing realities that Black people face. We explore the racial conflicts I faced as an adopted Black man in a white community, during my high school years. It’s an honor to bring these stories to life in collaboration with Ava Duvernay for the world to see.”

Kaepernick was born in 1987 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to Heidi Russo, who is white. His birth father, who is African-American (of Ghanaian, Nigerian, and Ivorian ancestry), separated from Russo before Kaepernick was born. Russo placed Kaepernick for adoption with a white couple named Rick and Teresa Kaepernick. The couple had two older children: son Kyle and daughter Devon. The Kaepernicks decided to adopt a boy after losing two other sons to heart defects.

Kaepernick lived in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, until age four, when his family moved to California. When he was eight years old, Kaepernick began playing youth football as a defensive end and punter. At age nine, he was the starting quarterback on his youth team, and he completed his first pass for a long touchdown.

He was a 4.0 GPA student at John H. Pitman High School in Turlock, California. Kaepernick played football, basketball and baseball and was nominated for all-state selection in all three sports his senior year. He was the most valuable player (MVP) of the Central California Conference in football, leading his school to its first-ever playoff victory. In basketball, he was a first-team All-CCC selection at forward and led his 16th-ranked team to a near upset of No. 1-ranked Oak Ridge High School in the opening round of the playoffs. In that game, Kaepernick scored 34 points, but future NBA player Ryan Anderson of Oak Ridge scored 50 points to lead his team to a victory.

Few noticed the first protest by Kaepernick because it came before a home preseason game in August 2016. He remained seated on the bench, and when asked about it by a reporter after the game, he explained: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football, and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

There had been several shootings of unarmed black men that summer, and Kaepernick acknowledged his actions could have consequences. “If they take football away, my endorsements from me,” he said, “I know that I stood up for what is right.”

Kaepernick went from sitting to kneeling after a conversation with Nate Boyer, a former Green Beret and NFL player. “We sort of came to a middle ground where he would take a knee alongside his teammates,” Boyer told HBO’s Real Sports. “Soldiers take a knee in front of a fallen brother’s grave, you know, to show respect.”

How he has been treated has been very wrong. Our own president did not help the situation. Now Kaepernick is seen as having been on the right side of justice by many people all over the world.

Damaged

There are worse things than being adopted.  Foster care seems to be that from most of the stories I’ve heard.  Currently, Netflix has a series titled Unbelievable, based on the true story of a serial rapist.

The central character is Marie.  Her newfound independence in an apartment of her own after years in foster homes seemed like a dream come true until he entered her apartment.  Even her foster parents doubted her assertion.

She does not know if she attended kindergarten.  She remembers being hungry and eating dog food.  She reports entering foster care at age 6 or 7.  She met her biological father only once.  She reports not knowing much about her biological mother, who she said would often leave her in the care of boyfriends.  She was sexually and physically abused.

“I moved a lot when I was younger,” Marie says in an interview. “I was in group homes, too.  About two of those and probably 10 or 11 foster homes.  I was on like seven different drugs.  And Zoloft is an adult drug — I was on that at 8.”

Marie got her apartment through a program called Project Ladder designed to help young adults who had grown up in foster care transition to living on their own. Case managers would show participants the dos and don’ts of shopping for groceries, handling a credit card, buying insurance. “The rules about life,” Marie says. Best of all, Project Ladder provided subsidized housing, with each member getting a one-bedroom apartment.

Police pressured her to recant her rape report and then charged her with filing a false report which could have landed her a year long sentence.  Eventually, the truth that she had been raped was revealed.  Marie’s case led to changes in practices and culture.  Detectives receive additional training about rape victims.  Rape victims get immediate assistance from advocates at a local healthcare center.  Investigators must have “definitive proof” of lying before doubting a rape report, and a charge of false reporting must now be reviewed with higher-ups.

The full story is available at ProPublica.