Author’s note: I’m a little late to the party on this, but I wanted to share my two cents…
As part of the non-stop hype and build up to last week’s Super Bowl, media members from all over the country explore every conceivable story angle on the players – especially those in starring roles, such as San Fransisco 49’ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick is a pretty interesting story: not widely recruited out of high school, becomes a star QB and helps boost Nevada football to respectability. Gets drafted by the 49’ers and takes over the starting job midway through the season, helping to ignite the team, leading them to the Super Bowl. Kaepernick was also adopted by white parents, adding another level to his already unique story.
Although progress is being made, adoption is still a rather mysterious subject for a lot of folks. Add in the layers of open adoption (where the adoptee has some level of contact/relationship with their birth family) and transracial adoption (my wife and I are white; our children are not) and it definitely makes for an interesting angle for the hundreds of media members looking for something new to report/write/talk about*.
*As an aside, Kaepernick was not the only transracial adoptee playing in the Super Bowl. Baltimore Ravens tackle Michael Oher was also adopted by a white family, but his story (or at least a Hollywood version of it) has already been told in the Sandra Bullock movie The Blind Side.
One of the questions Kaepernick was asked during the Super Bowl media day was if he was in contact with his birth parents. Kaepernick was placed for adoption by a 19 year old woman, who knew that she would not be able to adequately provide for him. He said that he had not been in recent contact with her (she had sent a letter for his 18th birthday), nor did he have a desire to do so.
This is where ESPN columnist Rick Reilly comes in. Reilly adopted one of his daughters from Korea, and in a recent column he related a personal story of how his daughter reunited with her birth mom and biological siblings during trips to Korea. According to Reilly, the experience has been very positive for his daughter. Terrific. I am a big believer in open adoption. And hearing about positive and healthy relationships between adopted children and their biological family makes me happy.
But then Reilly expresses confusion over why Kaepernick refuses to meet with his birth mom. He cannot understand why Kaepernick is not behaving like other adopted kids who are “crazy curious about their birth parents”. Reilly offers a pet theory for why Kaepernick does not want contact: Reilly thinks that a relationship between Kaepernick and his birth mom would be disrespectful to his adoptive parents. Maybe he’s right. Maybe he’s not.
*A side note – the other thing about Reilly’s piece that drove me up a wall was his use of “gave him up” to describe the birth mother’s decision to place her son for adoption. I’ve never met Colin Kaepernick’s birth mom, but I can guarantee that she did not “give up” on him, and to imply that any birth mother “gives up” on their child is insulting to the birth mom and the child. If you use a variation of “give up” when talking about somebody who was adopted, please stop.
But here’s the thing: Colin Kaepernick gets to choose what level of contact, if any, he has with his birth family. He gets to decide if he is “crazy curious” about the woman who carried him for nine months before making what was likely an impossibly hard decision. He gets to decide how he processes and handles that loss. And he definitely gets to decide if he discusses all of this in front of the national media before the biggest game of his career.
Look: I hope that Kaepernick can have a strong relationship with his birth mom, just as I want my own adopted children to have good relationships with their birth families. I’m very proud of the relationship we have built with my daughter’s birth grandma, great-grandma, and half-sister. And we continue to make every effort to establish a better relationship with our son’s birth parents – when they are ready, we will be readily oblige. While they are young, we will do everything in our power to establish those relationships, develop them, and always ensure they are positive and beneficial for our children.
But I acknowledge that a time will come where the decision to maintain or break contact will no longer be mine. I’ll certainly encourage them to maintain some level of communication, but if they choose to break contact, I’ll listen to them, try to understand their reasoning, and respect their decision. And I won’t have a lot of patience for outsiders like Reilly who tell my kids how to live their lives.