The seeker and the sought.

Update: I’ve uploaded the foreword to Academia.edu:
https://www.academia.edu/15249125/The_Seeker_and_the_Sought

I was honored to be asked to provide the introduction to an anthology of writing concerning adoption reunion: Adoption Reunion in the Social Media Age, an Anthology, edited by Laura Dennis. The compendium of recountings speaks to the testimony each of us gives to adoption experience, and in the greater expanse, a historic witnessing as to what the legacy of adoption practice will have been, once all is said and done. Summing up from the announcement of the book’s release:

This anthology gives voice to the wide experiences of adoptees and those who love them; examining the emotional, psychological and logistical effects of adoption reunion. Primarily adult adoptee voices, we also hear from adoptive parents, first moms and mental health professionals, all weighing in on their experience with reunion. The stories run the gamut, and I think even non-adopted people are likely to find something in here to which they can relate. The memories of adoption reunion in this anthology are joyous and regretful; nostalgic and fresh; angry and accepting. They show pain, but they also tell of resilience and strength in the face of incredible loss.


And here is an excerpt from my introduction:


. . .”Why does Daniel want to search? What is he looking for? Why isn’t he happy with what he has? What is he hoping to find? There is nothing to be found by looking!” So the sisters would express their despair to my friend as I tried my best to maneuver my way without their help, growing more upset myself, saddened and angry, forced yet again to listen to such words which, in various permutations and from a variety of sources, had filled my head my entire life. For my own sanity, I decided that the goal of the search was not important, but the searching itself; a Zen-like compromise in which the destination was sidelined for the sake and safety of the sojourner. In this way reunion was put off into a distant utopian future that might—or more likely, might not—transpire.

This “plateau” seems to have served me well, despite the fact that I am so near (physically speaking) and yet so far away from anything resembling an answer. I distanced myself (and was likewise distanced from) the class of those I initially thought would be most supportive of me. At the same time, I have managed to bond further with many locally speaking with whom I share little in terms of my adoptive acculturation. They have become a support system of no small import. I cut off contact with the orphanage; it took too much of a psychological toll, especially as I learned more about the functional aspect of what we refer to generically as “orphanages” and their economic and political role in society. I was discovering information–concerning trafficking, brokering, warehousing, mistreatment, as well as euthanizing of children–that I would not wish knowing on my worst enemy. At the same time, there did exist here orphanages that managed to communally and properly care for children, giving the lie to the myth of nuclear family and its universality, as well as to adoption itself.

For relief and solace I turned again to similar narratives in various stages of unfolding, seeking evidences and commonalities. As I experienced the blogs, books, articles, and documentaries of those whose lives have been affected by various displacements including adoption, I was comforted with the understanding that others have previously explored this territory. I have not limited myself to stories of just other adoptees, but to anyone who has undergone an adoption-related life-change, and beyond that, to those equally displaced and dispossessed against their will. The spectrum of such voices is vast, and the stories related range from outright acceptance to utter rejection of our various lots in life, and I appreciate this immensely; for I’ve traveled this journey of extremes myself.

I do not mean to express by this the oft-voiced trope that “everyone is entitled to their own opinion.” We are not talking mere points of view, although there are political, ethical, and moral debates to be had concerning the subject at hand. To reduce life-stories to just so much “opinionated back and forth” is an injustice in and of itself, as well as a narrative cop-out which shuts off listening to the voices of others, though it feigns otherwise. I refute this categorically. No, I wish to emphasize that it is invalid to see these as individual recountings battling for dominance along static and divisive lines. Instead, they form a dynamic, expansive, and much greater narrative, not just of our lives which remain interconnected via adoption, but also beyond this to others who have lived similar experiences.

Locally here in Lebanon, this has been brought home to me by those whose lives are now intertwined with mine along these very similar lines: refugees, migrant workers, marginalized populations, to name a few. I have settled in with these groups because of our shared circumstances which are based in common notions of separation, distance from family, and removal from originating place. I have taken great comfort from those who inherently understand my story when I relate it to them. Their response, which usually focuses on the injustice of being so displaced, is a welcome relief from the usual “you were lucky” or “you were chosen” that dogged me growing up, and which was echoed by the community of my orphanage. Beyond all of this, I never thought I might be so welcomed back; no one was more surprised by this reception than I. For this welcome I am eternally grateful, and I can only hope to one day be able to repay my debt of gratitude.

Yet such a welcome should not have surprised me; the blind spot here is wholly mine. For in fact, it makes perfect sense if we examine the purely functional aspect of adoption economically and politically speaking: a leveraging of social inequality (however it might manifest itself) in a procurement of children from those who have, to provide them to those who have not. Here I am speaking purely in terms of situational fact, without any judgment implied. In defining adoption in this way, we are made aware of others who have equally been displaced and dispossessed against their will. I state this in the hope of finding a common starting point that speaks of adoption beyond the purely personal and individual level. To do so requires a moving beyond inherently unequal concepts (deceptively defined otherwise) of triad, constellation, mosaic, etc. We might refer to this as the search for an even playing field; an open and level plain to meet and converge upon.

Underlying this are basic notions of power differential as well as of agency, which flow along a similar continuum of individual to communal. By this I mean to say that our sense of free will is defined and shaped by a variety of outside incentives, pressures, encouragements, dissuasions, and other derivations—familial, communal, societal, spiritual, etc.—which we can say helped us form a decision, or which we might say held sway outside of our control, or which played a role somewhere in between, or, yet again, which we might be completely ignorant of. Similar to countries going through a reconciliation process, it is not valid to maintain such power differentials, or unequal agency. And so, for example, it is not enough to hear an apology from those who nonetheless remain in control: There is an inherent need for all stories to be heard in a way that truly empowers the tellers as a whole, that incorporates them into the body politic. That some stories from the realm of adoption are encouraged while others are met with disdain reveals the power differential and disempowerment so involved.

At the same time, I do not wish to form false separations based on such power differentials; I am instead stating that there need be a balanced retelling, and one that is empowering to those on the downhill or external side as it were. Meaning, outside of the framework of those who dominate the given domains of narrative power: the academy, the media and publishing worlds, the legal realm, just to name a few. There is much in the way of equalizing that need take place; a bridging of common ground. For example, it is a small step to apply a similar definition of separation from place implied by “adoption” to many of the families we are thus connected to: often from immigrant stock, and beyond this, often further displaced due to suburbanization, or work requirements, or any of the other economic and political reasons that see people moving away from home and originating place; estranged from what was formerly known. Here we push into “unspoken of” narrative causations; the shadowy recesses of our interwoven stories desperate for illumination. . . .


This excerpt is taken from Adoption Reunion in the Social Media Age, An Anthology available in e-reader and paperback editions; you can also get a sense of the book from the contributors page. Again, it is my great honor and privilege to be included among them. Thanks for reading.

About Daniel Drennan ElAwar

Adoptee, rematriated.
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8 Responses to The seeker and the sought.

  1. eagoodlife says:

    Reblogged this on The Life Of Von and commented:
    “That some stories from the realm of adoption are encouraged while others are met with disdain reveals the power differential and disempowerment so involved”

  2. Pingback: Adoption Reunion Anthology - The Blog Tour #anthology #reunion #writing #adoption | A Listly List

  3. fifthandfinalname says:

    Daniel…I am a contributor, also, to the anthology. Just wanted to let you know how much I appreciate your insightful and articulate sharing in this adoption land! I am a fan.

  4. teddy1975 says:

    Daniel, I don’t know whether you have heard about Barbara Straathof, a Dutch singer adopted from Beirut. Do you share her opinion that if your looks, biological sex and year (1976) and season of birth are all you have, searching in Lebanon is useless?

    • I have not heard of her, no. I guess it depends on how you define “useless”. If by useless we mean “not likely to turn up family based on clues”, then yes, I would agree. There is nothing in my paperwork or in my arrival notation from the orphanage that gives me any direct clue. There are many indirect clues though, and I have yet to follow through with them. I do know adoptees who have been reunited with family, due to this meager information, usually from the arrival register at the orphanage. One woman I know was reunited with her family who told her they have been waiting 50 years for her return; they placed her in the orphanage to work the fields and when they returned to pick her up (reflecting their Muslim notion of orphanages) she was gone. So we can never know. Personally, I felt that the living with the regret of not having searched would be infinitely worse than the pain of not finding anything in terms of family. But the process of searching has brought me so much more. So again, it depends on what you are looking for. Do you have any links for Barbara and her work? Thanks for posting.

  5. teddy1975 says:

    Well, if you mean adoption writings, she is probably the second most famous adopted person in “De Adoptiemonologen” (The Adoption monologues), a book collecting stories from Dutch adoptees. And yes, she has already tried searching in Lebanon,…


    • I know many adoptees in the Netherlands; I’m surprised she has not come up. But this is also likely my fault for language issues….thanks very much for the links! I appreciate the reply and question.

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