In the 1950’s it wasn’t unusual to hear exasperated parents ask “Who Do You Think You Are?” This question was not posed as an invitation to explore possibilities and blaze personal pathways. Rather it was intended to rein in an out of control child or to deflate big dreams that the parents deemed unreachable or inappropriate.
Today “Who Do You Think You Are?” is the title of a hit show that debuted in 2010 on NBC. Each segment follows one celebrity as his ancestry is traced back through the generations. Family secrets, struggles, accomplishments, and scandals are uncovered. The celebrity’s personal journey through their ancestor’s footsteps highlights the heroism in ordinary lives. Without exception, the experience evokes a spiritual depth that transforms their understanding of who they are. It burns an appreciation of the generations of shoulders from which their lives sprouted.
The program is actually a reworking of a BBC show first produced in 2004. Millions of viewers on both sides of the Atlantic tune in to watch every week. Mesmerized by the adventure of the hunt for information, viewers identify with the celebrity. They share the pain of dead ends and the joy of unexpected discoveries. They understand the value and power of knowing one’s personal story.
I found myself with a conflicted reaction as the story unfolded during a recent episode. Empathetic tears welled in response to the celebrity’s visceral reaction to the unfolding story of his family. I experienced an equally strong dose of anger. This wasn’t directed at the concept or this particular actor.
What bothered me? As an adoptive parent, I’m familiar with a common response people have when adoptees voice an interest in learning about their birth heritage or in exploring a reunion with their birth families. The child’s interest is judged to be unnecessary or ungrateful. Some adoptive parents are offended by their child’s need to know and interpret it as an indication that they’ve failed as parents.
But an adoptee’s interest in knowing their story is not driven by idle curiosity. It’s a soul deep need to know the answers to the questions of their story. It is unfair to judge them for this desire to climb their family tree. For many adoptees, this journey is essential to piecing together the fragmented elements of their life journey. Other adoptees lack this yearning for facts and reconnection. All adoptees must be allowed to follow their hearts and walk their self-designed path to wholeness.
When asked “Who Do You Think You Are?” adoptees share the same answer as non-adopted persons: “I am the sum of all elements of my story—the events and people—who are part of the mosaic of pieces that have become “Me.” I am the product of my experiences, relationships, strivings and dreams. I am an evolving possibility.”