Life prior to reunion
Some of you may remember a few years ago I wrote about the adoption experience prior to returning to my country of birth and re-connecting with my biological family.
Growing up as a Filipino born adoptee in Australia was much a double-ended sword type of experience. On one hand I had a generous adoptive family who provided a caring home and a good education for later in life. But along with it came total isolation from my natural culture and people, and a pretty cold social upbringing in suburban Melbourne. While some aspects of my life were already going positively (I had a good strong career direction, did great in university and had very some close, supportive friends), I was an emotional mess and had a very low concept of self.
By age 25, I had allowed myself to become quite out of shape physically, struggled with years of mental depression and even resorted to drug use for some time as a way to try and ease the internal confusion. I had not had anything remotely resembling a close romantic relationship and was vulnerable to abusive people taking advantage of me in the workplace. I already knew something was wrong and made a pact to myself to try and get to the bottom of it all.
Clearly searching my roots was one thing that could help me better understand myself and hopefully learn more about where I came from.
Fortunately my reunion process went about as well as one could hope after waiting 25 years to do so. My adoptive parents were quite supportive although concerned as to why I would need to do this. We discussed openly together about this and made sure that everyone’s feelings and opinions were made clear. Ironically, this was actually the point where my relationship with the adoptive parents began to get more positive than ever before.
It was quite easy to track the biological family as I had a lot of records and information at hand. After making contact with my mother, she was open about the situation and we were able to communicate for a few months before I travelled across to Philippines to meet everyone.
The reunion itself was obviously quite emotional for everyone but a positive one. My mother and our entire family here were happy to see me and embraced me as one of the family first time we met.
While I was the only child my mother had with my birth father, there were still some clear physical similarities between my siblings and I. Obviously my mother had some similar physical features with me such as the thick curly hair and some facial features.
I was able to meet and connect-with my half brothers and sisters and could already find many common traits between us. We share artistic talents (I am an architect), have similar music tastes and even our temperaments are somewhat similar. Up to this day I still spend a lot of time with my family here, especially those brothers of a similar age to me. Although we have led very different lives, we seem to just see life eye-to-eye. Whether this is a coincidence or not I am not sure, but its been a real nice bonus element of the reunion.
All in all it has been one of the most positive things I have done for myself in life and set me on an journey that would be far longer, deeper and in many ways challenging than before the reunion.
Life post reunion
Upon my first proper visit back to Philippines to meet my family, I already witnessed many aspects of life that I was attracted-to and found comfort within. The people were probably the one thing that made an impact on me, which eventually became one of the key motivators in my choice to spend more time in the Philippines.
Even though people may not have the big houses, fancy cars and all the brand name gadgets like in Australia, they just seemed happier, more grateful for what they have. They just want to enjoy even the simplest pleasures in life. Working-together and helping each other seems like second nature to Filipinos and a welcome change from the competitive dog-eat-dog mentality I had grown so use to living in Melbourne.
And so each year for the past five years I have made visits to Philippines during my annual leave time to spend time and be with the family here. I have developed a close relationship with some family members and we spend lots of time together.
Sadly in early 2013 my birth mother died of cancer which made for a pretty gloomy time for us all. It was after this moment that I was reminded of my inner fears of attachment leading to abandonment/disappointment coming true. Probably after 8 months, life returned to be semi-normal for everyone, especially the family here in Philippines.
Despite the rough times that were encountered, it was still clear that I had already begun to love the Filipino life and culture. Up until this time I had only been able to make short trips back and so never had enough time to properly learn the spoken languages and culture in Philippines. And so I decided that I would like to spend some time living and working so that I can immerse myself properly.
As soon as I had completed my full architectural education, formal registration and gained considerable experience in Melbourne I decided to team-up with a more senior Filipino-born and raised workmate who wished to re-establish his old company in Philippines. Being a mid-40s family man, he simply didn’t have the time or energy to set-up a new architectural practice alone and so welcomed my proposition to set something up together.
Due to the Philippine economy experiencing strong growth since 2012, we have found ourselves in a very good time for starting-up a business here. And so from late 2012 through to early 2015 I would work a stressful full-time job in a large Melbourne commercial architecture firm while spending evenings establishing my company that is now based in Philippines. Over this time we were able to slowly build our business and working relationship before finally launching our company mid 2014.
By mid 2015 we had enough work to allow me to leave my work in Melbourne and move to Philippines and fully concentrate on building the business, while finally spending some real time living here. Although working wages are low in Philippines this business has allowed me to live relatively comfortably here for the first 6 month period.
Moving back to live in the ‘motherland’
And so in May 2015 I packed my belongings, sold off what I could and set-off on a 6-month trip to live and work in Philippines. My key goals were to begin learning the local cultural customs, begin to speak the local languages (Tagalog and Bisaya), and of course grow my company and architectural career here in Asia.
I feel that if life goes well for me here in the longer term I hope to invest in land, build a home, find a wife and settle-down with a future family.
At the beginning of my time in Philippines, every day I was challenged with the frustrations of not fully understanding the local languages, and being a busy professional, struggling to pick-up and learn fast enough. What made it most frustrating was that the people would treat me like a foreigner, and then if I mention I am Filipino they deliver an avalanche of questions about why I don’t speak Tagalog etc. But I can report that after four months living here and picking-up some basics of the language has already made me feel more connected to my roots, and a slightly healthier sense of identity. What’s better is the more Tagalog I learn each day, the locals treat me more and more like a Filipino and not just some western foreigner.
I remember the other day having my first ever conversation in Tagalog with a long-time Filipino friend back in Australia. He was also happy to hear me speaking and conversing with him after the short time living here. There is still a long way to go, and it will be a year or more before I am completely comfortable conversing and integrating in Philippines.
I do recommend any adoptee who is interested in helping improve their self-image to immerse themselves in that ‘motherland’ country through language and cultural studies. But this is certainly no magic pill. This journey to re-immerse myself into the homeland has done wonders for my sense of identity but won’t cure any internal issues relating to intimacy, or the after-effects of being abandoned as an infant. But it will make those issues a lot clearer and easier to navigate.
Probably the most pressing concern is my trouble establishing intimate relationships, even at the age of 32. It remains a very stressful and frightening problem for me. I know my desire to fill the gaping hole caused during infancy that yearns for connection and intimacy shouldn’t be addressed through adult romantic relationships. But sadly my subconscious is hard to control and as a result, my actions keep sabotaging any potential new relationships. It makes me too eager to enter these relationships and it always scares away otherwise very interested partners. It’s something that’s unbearably frustrating and interferes with my the rest of lifestyle. Worst of all nobody understands it, friends, family and all in between. Being a very analytical and structured person, I am good at solving problems and finding solutions to all kinds. However my goals of finding a wife and starting a family in the next couple of years just seem to be one problem that’s eluded me until now.
Anyway, after so much soul searching I am happy to be in the position to put this material in writing and continue moving forward to more positive future. I am really looking-forward to returning to Australia soon for 6 months where I will be seeking counselling and support for the above remaining issues. A year ago I wouldn’t have been comfortable confronting such a reality but now, armed with a greater sense of identity and after living abroad, I have the confidence to confront these challenges.
Hopefully this story was insightful and enjoyable for the readers out there and I do wish all other adult adoptees who are confused about self identity to pursue a similar journey. Richard