What is ‘real’?
Authentic, genuine, actual, sincere, all of these words appear in the definition of the word ‘real’. Each of these words carries with it pleasurable association. We want ‘authentic’ designer bags, genuine affection, actual money, sincere friends, we want, in short, what is real.
What of the unreal? If you look up antonyms for real you find words like insubstantial, false, fictive, nominal. Who among us wants to be seen as having an insubstantial role, a false sense of security, subscribing to some fictive ideology? Worst of all to be a nominal member of whatever group it is that has influence in the areas you care about. Do you want the nominal heart surgeon cracking open your chest? Me neither.
There is value in what is verifiable. Who could argue that it isn’t so? In high school I remember that to be accused of being a phony was a stinging insult. No one wants to be seen as pretending to be something they are not. They may want to be something they are not but they certainly don’t want people seeing it. Still who, if they were being totally honest, could say that they have never compromised to attain something they wanted? Most of us, at one time or another have been less than sincere. Maybe when your boss is being unreasonable, or when your spouse asks if they look fat, or when a friend said something stupid that hurt, we may not say what we ‘really’ feel. So is it ever better to not be or say the real thing?
The first time ‘real’ felt like an insult to me came when my husband and I were going through the adoption process in order to expand our family. The process itself was rigorous. I have often joked that by the time they arrived for the home visit they knew just about everything about me except what color underwear I was wearing that day, and who knew, maybe they even knew that. I was often asked if I would tell my child about his ‘real’ parents. If I thought I could love a child who was not ‘really’ mine. I realize that these questions are as much about semantics as they are about insensitivity but with them came the implication that no matter how much we loved our child, our relationship would always be something less than genuine.
Talk shows at the time provided a steady stream of mother/child reunions. They repeatedly brought in an adult who has always felt a void in their life and beside them, Phil Donahue, Sally Jessy Rafael, Geraldo Rivera or some other fawning host would commiserate with the grief of being separated all your life from your real family. How, I asked myself, could I invest years of my life and the entirety of my heart into a relationship that might never be seen as valid?
Would I let my children’s real parents see them? How would I tell them I wasn’t their real mother? I didn’t know but, like so many other things in my life, I knew I would find a way. My sons are now 14 and 16 and I gave birth to a daughter 13 years ago. I have both a biological child and two I have no genetic hand in creating. When people ask how many of them are really mine, I reply with a pat, “all of them.” It’s not as much that I find the question lacking in sensitivity, though I do, as it is that I believe it.
Each of my three children is wholly and completely a part of my husband and myself. Though both of my sons were older when they came, 21 months and three years respectively, we have ‘really’ nursed them when they were ill, been there when they scored in a game, helped with homework, and it was me who sometimes burnt their pancakes, my husband who taught them to tie their shoes, pitch a tent, and all those other little things that make a relationship authentic. It has been the same with my daughter, the only notable exception is that I was afforded the honor of being the one to carry her in my womb. Our relationship began earlier and sometimes when I look into her face, I see shades of myself and my ancestors. My love for her is deep, all-encompassing and exactly the same as the love I have for her two brothers.
Don’t misunderstand me, I know that my son’s biological parents are also a very ‘real’ part of who they are. My oldest stands nearly six foot four, while my husband and I are 5’4 and 5’10. I am a descended from Irish and Portuguese ancestors, they from African-American. Our differences are real and obvious but so are our similarities. I owe my son’s biological parents a debt of gratitude that I will simply never be able to repay, because without them I would not have these two amazing boys in my life.
Will my sons go looking for those who share their bloodline? Maybe, and that’s okay. I understand that, like all other aspects of reality, the ones that make up the facets of my particular family are complicated. If someday my sons come and tell me they would like to find their biological parents I will roll up my sleeves and do what I can to help them. I will even look forward to the opportunity to see where Corey got his height, or where Jesse got his gorgeous smile. What I won’t do, however, is look into these faces and find my sense of reality disrupted. I hope that, despite some nervousness, I will remember that I know what is 'real'.