Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Family – Times Two, Part Two

 part 2 of a 3 part series

Most good drama plots are crafted to keep the viewers interested and this one followed suit: the young doctor and his wife end up renting in the small apartment building of the older parents searching for their son. You see where this is going: yes, indeed, the miracle of the small screen brought these two families (really one family) together. Traditions of the “old country” clash with the newly-from-America couple. Episode after episode both sides search for what is right beneath their noses. Not without some antics and emotions we discover (and finally so do they) that the doctor from America is their son! Ah, if only search and reunion would be as magical for all who embark.

The scenes of him as a lost young boy and those when he was adjusting to living in an orphanage were some of the most memorable. The drama portrayed beautifully how he misjudged his own feelings about love and family. How he couldn’t understand what had happened. Why had he been abandoned? He was confused and ashamed and blamed himself for everything. His memories became blocked. He bottled his emotions to the point that he would not speak or laugh. And he was quite inconsolable. Asian born prospective parents living in the United States learned about and fostered then adopted him, giving him unimagined experiences and opportunities. His adoptive family consisted of parents and a brother, and he sought out other adoptees among his classmates. The viewer gets the impression that it was a slow process to get him to stop crying every day and draw him out of his shell, but from the caring and understanding of his adoptive family, he experienced healing. As he drank in their love, he became uber loving.

Just as poignant are the scenes of his birth family members following every lead. Flashbacks showed how each of them was heartsick, powerless to do much else. Showing, too, how they coped with life and put up with each other through this unforeseen and devastating loss. Their growing depression and sadness as individuals and as a family was so believable, I could often feel the weight of the mantle on their shoulders.

The shock of the adult doctor learning that not only were his birth parents still alive but living next door, was captured well. The nuances of family life (in his birth family he was the only son in a family of four children) in an honorific society (three generations lived together—grandmother, parents, and sisters with extended family in the same building) were new—not to mention somewhat awkward. In more comic than tragic scenes, the viewer is able to see the twists and turns of how challenging it was for his wife to accept and (gulp) finally like—even love—her in-laws. (The series opens with her declaration that one of the main reasons—apart from love—she married her husband was because he was adopted. She rationalized that since he was an orphan she would not need to deal with the cultural norm of serving and living near/with in-laws, a proposition that sounded almost too good to be true; dealing with his adoptive parents half a world away was much easier.) She was less than thrilled when he acted on his hope to search for his birth family. Her shock in learning the lady next door that she bickered with day in and out was her mother-in-law? Priceless.

While the feelings of loss by birth parents and son are explored in depth, in later episodes we have the chance to meet his foster/adoptive parents when they visit. His birth parents are shocked by the way he talks, jokes and even wrestles with his adoptive dad. They realize how formal and timid they are in loving him. It becomes apparent that the focus of finding their son was their ideal, yet coming to love him as a person/an adult was another thing entirely.

We learn more of the adoptive family’s story and how they struggled to get their son to open up and be himself with them. They were not always confident about how to love him. Wondering who he had been before the trauma of separation. Wondering if they were doing a good job. Wondering if his family would search for and find him. More healing took place as the two fathers talked and learned from each other. The same happened with the mothers. But most moving was the outpouring of genuine thanks each set of parents offered the other.

What this brought to me the idea was nature vs. nurture, illusion versus reality and that perhaps expectations in searching for birth family is heartfelt but may not live up to one’s imagination. Once someone searches for their ideal and then finds the reality, what then? Search and reunion is a step in the process of healing, too. In this story, the birth parents seem a bit hurt (understandably) that he doesn’t totally favor them only. In fact, he is quite even and measured in his love for and reactions toward all of them. Remarkably, I see this with myself and our daughter, too. I am the one who is a bit hurt that she doesn’t favor us only. Yet she, in her wisdom, heals me by her steadfast love for her (entire) family—times two.

The actors are a remarkable troupe. I couldn’t help wonder how much research they did into adoption or if some of them have personal connections to adoption. The birth mother, portrayed by a veteran actress, was totally convincing in her role. I cheered with her when she found her son. Yet when she treated his wife condescendingly, I became upset. What she learned about the circumstances of the separation made me re-think my upset. When the story went deeper into her psyche and her story, the viewer learns the real reason for the separation and how and why she particularly struggled. Her memories triggered, we are able to see how much she suffered in silence and took the mental abuse and cold shoulder from both her mother-in-law and husband. And even as an adoptive mother, I could almost feel how alone a birth mother separated from her child would feel.

For over 30 years the birth parents lived under the shroud of guilt and pointed the finger of blame at one another and themselves. They envisioned his life was tough (wondering, of course, was he even still alive). They had no idea where he was or who he was. They had no idea what a kind and giving person he had become, flourishing with chances, love and laughter through his adoption. With only their memories of him as a little boy, they were disheartened and felt that his life was ruined. But upon meeting and talking to the parents who raised their son for the bulk of his life, they saw how living with guilt had done nothing to help him but had made their lives miserable. Also, they began to recognize that they were walking on eggshells around this adult son they did not know, they worked on ways not to be strangers. Unexpectedly, each of them began to change, opening up and finding grace, forgiving themselves and one another for things they never had the courage to talk about. This was an eye into the heart of birth families separated from their children, regardless of why.

What is interesting is though the doctor worked to build bonds and was quick to embrace his grandmother, parents, sisters, aunts, uncles and niece as family, he does not pit one of his families against the other. He offers both sets of parents treasured (and expected by the culture) filial piety. He is benevolent and works to put them (not to mention his wife) at ease. He neither chooses one family over another nor takes for granted the love that either family gives him—even though that love is expressed in such different ways. When his birth mother harshly criticizes his wife, he defends his spouse and politely, but firmly, insists his mother talk to him if she has any more such grievances. He does it with such sincerity, his mother stops in her tracks. Despite being hurt by these words, his birth parents marvel at his good character, attributing that to how he was raised. This makes them feel a bit intimidated to meet his “other” family. But his integration of feelings for both sides is quite notable. He forgives. He loves. Period. Both sides. Both families.

His birth mother and father stressed over what to wear when greeting their son’s adoptive parents at the airport. Careful to choose just the right dress/sports jacket, jewelry and such, they wondered if they would make a good enough impression. Would his adoptive parents think they are pretentious? Would they send the right message and be welcoming enough? Off the plane walks his adoptive parents in blue jeans, plaid shirts and vests—comfortable, casual and so themselves. They might have been honored (not to mention apprehensive) to meet his birth family, but what I was most struck by is they were happy to see and be with their son!

At one point in the story the doctor and his wife learn they are pregnant (although neither of them wanted a child). Yet there is a second “generation” of adoption that comes into play for them. At the hospital the doctor meets an orphan who is a patient (the word “orphan” was used in subtitles or perhaps because the child lived in a group home/orphanage). He sees how much this young boy was like himself at that age—frustrated that he couldn’t communicate about how lonely and scared he was. We get to see more snatches of the doctor as a little boy as he unlocks the memories of his younger self, forgiving the circumstances of what happened, and then living with greater inner freedom.

This story had a number of pinnacles. Here is one. The little boy did not talk (just like the doctor when he was little). Through flashbacks we see the intense pent-up feelings of the doctor at that age. He took the boy for a walk and with extreme tenderness and knowing counsels him, “It’s not your fault. None of this is your fault.” Learning the circumstances of his own life in the orphanage (which I won’t reveal in case you decide to watch this series), leads him to understand that forgiveness is indeed noble and mighty and essential to healing. This is a gift he received from his adoptive parents and birth parents alike which he can give to this young boy who feels unloved and unsure about life.

The next scene shows the doctor as a little boy comforting this little boy in the present day. The little boy began to smile when he realizes that the doctor (as a child) is his friend. And the viewer senses how much he would like to father this little boy permanently. In his heart, he consciously decided to parent.

Another pinnacle: the realization by the doctor’s wife about the miracle of adoption. At one point the little boy wanders from the hospital. She hears that he has been picked up by the police and is at the station. On behalf of her husband, she goes to the station to pick him up. He sobs and clings to her skirt, uttering the first word the audience hears him say--“Mom!” It seems he decided she should parent.

Even when the couple becomes pregnant, she can’t help but think of that little boy who doesn’t talk and has little joy in his life. While her husband has broached the subject of adopting him, she tells him she can’t commit to that. Yet she suggests they buy him a gift and deliver it personally. The boy smiles when he puts on his new clothes, but his countenance drops again when they leave. They wave and promise to come visit soon again.

When they get to the car, the doctor’s wife remembers she has another package to give to the orphanage but on her way to the office is shocked by what she sees. Middle-schoolers and their parents have come to do “community service” work at the orphanage. A middle school boy wants to take a picture with the little boy. Because he does not smile for the posed picture the mother of the middle-schooler is infuriated. She wants to get a good picture to prove her son did his community service work and made a good impression. She literally pushes away the little boy and with a chocolate bar entices a little girl who does smile to take a picture with her son.

The doctor’s wife sees how dejected the little boy is and begins to yell at the middle-schooler’s mother who retorts, “Well, just who are you to him?”

“Me? I am (large pause)-- his mother.” With the fury of a true Tiger Mother, the doctor’s wife defends the little boy and realizes how unexpectedly love for him has settled in her heart. She and her husband look into adoption, but don’t find an easy road.

Even though they feel resolute and excited at the prospect, when they announce this to the entire family, they face an additional roadblock: his parents do not agree. For them, the topic of adoption is bittersweet. However, the doctor’s father relents and declares he will be there for this young boy, happy to help raise him since he never had a chance to raise his own son. His mother makes no such statement. Those of us watching wonder, will this stop the couple?

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