Thursday, January 13, 2011

Flirting with Disaster - lessons on feeling connected and adoptees in the family tree...

Sam and I spent part of our snow day yesterday watching the 1996 movie "Flirting with Disaster," in which Ben Stiller plays a neurotic adoptee searching for his birth parents, because he wants to find out where he comes from and who he is before he gives a name to his 5-month-old son. Wacky hijinks ensue, of course, but as we were starting the movie, Sam said to me, "This movie is right up your allow, because it's about searching for family."

That made me think about two things - first, that yes, Ben Stiller's character's journey through the movie trying to find out the simple question of where he came from is a lot like our journeys as genealogists and family historians. The only difference is that while his answer is just in finding his parents, a single generation back, we're all looking much further back (or maybe not much further, but a little bit, anyway). The idea is the same, though, that, as Tea Leoni's character says, "no matter where we are in our lives...we can't help but feel that there's something ...out there that's going to make us feel complete, give us a sense of belonging, connectedness if you will." We all want to feel connected, and whether you're separated by 25 years or 225 years, you can't help but feel connected to family.

The second thing I thought about was genealogy in the lives of those who have been adopted, whether into our own families or by other families. We have all probably encountered that at some point or other in our research. Bloodlines are how we trace the people we're descended from, how we look for familiar faces in photos of people we never met who have been dead for 100 years, but does that mean that your adopted cousin isn't family? Of course not. Family isn't just nature - it's nurture. Habits and quirks aren't just genetic; they're learned. Family photos and family stories include everyone, not just blood relations. Nobody should ever be left off of a family tree simply because their genetic family history is different or unknown. If they don't know their own roots, then they just become the roots of a new tree - the circle of life - and a new story. It's up to the individual how they choose to trace an adoptee in their family - do you trace the genetic line, if it's known? Or do you trace the line of people that shaped the adoptee by caring for them and choosing to make them one of their own? Belonging is more than blood. Anybody who considers their friends to be family knows that!

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