Have you ever started something and found yourself well-underway before pausing to clearly understand your motives for doing it? Of course we wouldn't undertake the slogs we do if there weren't good reasons, but in my own experience I may not honestly have always been able to precisely articulate my motives at the outset.. Sometimes we dive in because "it feels good," because "it's the right thing to do," or because it "seemed like the best option at the time." Those are only a few of the myriad reasons that can launch us into the grandest adventures, but there are usually deeper "whys" to excavate. When we were children we asked why tirelessly, often to very edge of our parents' wits. A single answer from Mom or Dad could begin an avalanche of "whys" that inevitably came to rest at the foot of Mount "Because I Said So."
I'm a little out of habit (or long of tooth), but I decided to "why" myself recently over the question of writing. Why am I writing Spitting Image, why did I write Navigating Youth Hockey, why are they so different yet similar, and ultimately why do I bother writing at all? It wasn't a difficult exercise to accomplish, I'm surprised that I don't do this more often, and I'm relieved that an old guy can still do a kid thing - ask why. The distillation of my introspection is pretty simple, and I published it to the About section of my Facebook Author Page, so I'll share it here as well for those who haven't found me on Facebook yet. If you are a Facebook user, please follow my page and share it and this article with your friends, family and associates. My next book is about much more than genetic genealogy and finding my roots - it's about the universal lessons that have taken me 50 years to learn: lessons which will bless everyone who takes the time to read and enjoy the journey with me and my dear cousin and co-author, Frances L. Stephens.
Why I Write
My writing is born of a desire to minister to others - to learn from my own experiences and share those lessons with others who may find themselves in similar circumstances. It is impossible to overstate the debt of gratitude I owe to those who sacrificed and shared the benefit of their wisdom with me. My grandfather, my mother, grandmother, teachers, family and friends gave me a gift that I hope to share in turn. At the root, I am not fed by a desire to entertain, to be admired, or to find notoriety. I only write when I can’t help myself. When the dust settles and I am able to make sense of something which once seemed obscure or unknowable, and when that realization carries a promise of comfort, strength or encouragement for others, I am impelled to distill and capture its essence to the best of my ability. To the extent that readers must be engaged and entertained to find value in the lessons, and to the extent that commercial acceptance is self-perpetuating, I do hope that I entertain and that notoriety is earned, but what drives me to spill words into print are discovery and community. Discovery has its own thrill for me, but sharing that discovery and its benefits with a wider community is what connects us. Perhaps then, as an only child, it is this sense of connection which I find most irresistible.
My first book Navigating Youth Hockey: The Definitive Guide for Parents and Players was published in 2015 based on my experiences as a father of 3 boys who played ice hockey at every level, from beginner to professional. When they began playing the game, my wife and I knew very little about the sport. We didn’t even know the rules of the game. We had no idea that our family would fall in love with the game and spend over 20 years chasing dreams, learning tremendous lessons and making life-long friends. The experience of hearing our son’s name called at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft was surreal and punctuated a phase of our journey at which it seemed natural to reflect and share with others. As we fretted over the many decisions to be made in the interests of our sons, I often said - “someone ought to write a handbook to help parents make sense of all of this.” In 2015, I took my own advice and did my best to give one American family’s perspective on Canada’s game.
My second book co-authored with Frances L. Stephens is Spitting Image: An Amazing Journey of Genetic and Cultural Discovery. It is the story of the life-long search for my own genetic identity. There is an entire world of adoptees, orphans, and foster children longing to understand their true origins, ethnic heritage, and biological predispositions. I learned there is a word for children abandoned at birth – they are called foundlings. The issues of esteem and purpose with which we all wrestle to varying degrees of success can be especially frustrating for some foundlings. Unlike adoptees whose transition to care is usually coordinated, foundlings can be the lucky survivors of very harrowing, often cruel and unimaginable circumstances. They may find it difficult or impossible to escape their self-imposed avalanche of whys. Why me? Why then? Why there? Why her? Why them?
While many genealogists strive to learn more about their ethnic heritage, health-related traits, ancestral traditions and migration patterns, thousands of foundlings are scouring the testing services, message boards and social media groups in search of a genetic relative – any genetic relative - that may lead them to the ultimate truth of their existence. You have not fully understood persistence and courage until you have met one of these people. And let me tell you, there are angels among us. A small army of dedicated, selfless genetic genealogists are helping novice researchers build trees and begin learning the language of centimorgans, recombination, and chromosome mapping. Often, as in my case, these stories end with at least a modicum of success – the answers are revealed. Just as often, however, they end with heartbreak and rejection as you’ll find in Spitting Image.
These 2 books may seem to have little in common. Generally, one is about hockey and the other is about genealogy. More specifically however, they are both about helping one another get through life. They’re both about capturing what we learn and paying it forward, and they are both about the smallness of our world and the bigness of God. They’re about being prepared no matter what may lie ahead.
The details of my search surely take several chapters to unpack, however, my Farmington Hills neighbors are assured at the outset that the ending is a happy and hopeful one. I was born in 1964 at Saratoga Hospital and left there by my birth mother who gave a false name for herself. There were no reliable records to follow other than my date of birth. Over 40 years of searching, DNA testing and the breadth and depth of social media evolved in parallel: the intersection of the two in 2016 became the key to unlocking the secrets of not only my past but that of scores of other cousins. A teaspoon of saliva unexpectedly changed my perception of myself, my ethnic culture, and our national identity. I invite you to follow my blog and join my mailing list for updates and promotions as we work to complete this heartfelt story of two Americas – one side the colonists and their enslaved progeny who laid the foundation of American agricultural and industrial power and a second side which were 19th century Eastern European immigrants from Slovakia and Germany who were among the most numerous of all ethnic groups not only in Detroit, but throughout the United States at that time.
If you or someone you know is struggling with the complicated emotions of adoption, you are not alone and I invite you contact me via my web site.
If you gave a child up for adoption and wish to reunite or prevent a reunion, I offer a confidential and empathetic ear. If you were adopted or abandoned and need to speak with someone who has successfully navigated those waters, I promise to help you directly or connect you to someone who is even more capable than I in that regard. Everyone’s hopes and reasons are as diverse as the circumstances which brought us all to this moment in history, yet here we are in the days of transparency and ubiquity. The right people with the right tools can find anyone anywhere in the world. Don’t fear it: prepare wisely for it by connecting to these wonderful communities and by examining and strengthening your spiritual muscles - your faith. I would be honored and grateful if you’d like my Facebook page and share it with your friends and family as we press toward the completion later this year of Spitting Image.