Updated: Feb 14, 2021
Hey there! Glad you found the place.
My name is Michael Rocco...well, sorta. While that is in fact my name and the name I'm writing my memoir under, most people know me by the name I grew up with. That's because I was adopted as a child and my adoptive family changed my name. I still go by the name they gave me though, when I'm not presenting creative writing or interacting in adoption circles. As I write this book, I'm reclaiming those parts of me that were lost when I was adopted and my history was erased. I'm reclaiming Michael, that infant me that my mother birthed and then nursed for twelve days in the beginning of life. At the same time, I'm reclaiming my Latinx identity, as I learn Spanish so late in life and make attempts to form connections with other Latinx folks.
I think a lot today about being abandoned by my mother as an infant and adopted by the family that raised me, though this wasn't always the case. In fact, for most of my life I considered adoption (for short) an irrelevant part of me, like the color of my hair or the way that I laugh. It didn't have much to do with who I was, or so I thought. That position changed just a few years ago when it became clear that my adoption was not only relevant, it was perhaps the most defining feature of my life. Up until that point, I was only aware of the importance of it insofar as it caused problems with developing a meaningful ethnic identity. This was a problem for me because, while I was the product of Latin American parents, I was raised as if I were white by white adoptive parents. Mine was an inter-ethnic adoption.
It was easy to dismiss the importance of adoption, as my life looked pretty good from the outside. I grew up with two parents and an also-adopted sister in a bucolic setting in the northeast. My parents held steady jobs and performed their social roles by financing a car, paying a home mortgage, paying taxes, attending church and sending their children to school. They remained together throughout their lives and while my family merely aspired to the middle class, we always had enough to eat and were never in serious threat of losing our home. All of this was why it was so perplexing to so many people in my small hometown that I became a very recognizable deviant. I seemingly had everything a young boy could need and much of I wanted, except...I didn't.
Racism was always a major obstacle in my life. I spent decades figuring out on my own what almost any same-race parent(s) would have likely taught a child about living while brown in the US. My parents, though well-intending, were simply ignorant of the importance of these lessons and were ill-equipped to offer them anyway. Racism was something to be understood. It was a problem that came looking for me. Then, it would look for me again. It is still looking for me. After being falsely arrested, locked-up, and beaten up by a abjectly racist cop in Chicago, I decided to apply myself to studying the problem of racism.
Since the time I could read, I searched for meaning in books. I longed to better understand the world and my place in it, but I had no guidance and was predictably unfocused. As a boy, I started out an honor roll student but, as symptoms of CPTSD and alcohol addiction emerged, I became more of an outlaw and was eventually dragged out of high school by the police, not to return to a classroom until my late twenties. I was unskilled, disconnected, and homeless for a brief time. I traveled the country, adapting to whatever work I could get to subsist. My first wife suggested I give school a try after she'd come home one day and once again found me immersed in existential philosophy as I was finishing off a twelve pack. While earning a bachelor's degree in philosophy, I became increasingly concerned with injustices in addition to racism, such as classism, ageism, sexism, patriarchy, toxic masculinity and homophobia. Once I started thinking deeply about these issues, it wasn't long before I dedicated myself to studying the health effects of these and other societal failings in graduate school. These issues struck me as of obvious importance because they could be shown to inhere within the body. The evidence was irrefutable! Racism and other forms of injustice aren't only unethical and ugly, they're matters of health and illness, even life and death. In graduate school and in subsequent post-doctoral appointments, I developed expertise in mental health disparities among racial and ethnic minorities and I later took a faculty position within the medical school of a major university.
Once again, from the outside, everything looked fine. I was married to my second wife, had a good job, a home, and a little baby girl that was everything to me. Like many adoptees who become parents, I marveled at the fact that she was first and only genetic kin. She looked like me! Nobody ever looked like me before. At a subconscious level, I was deeply disturbed. My love for her awakened long buried feelings of belonging and then not belonging. I was unaware at the time that I was beginning to process grief.
While my drinking had been steadily worsening and my CPTSD symptoms were becoming ever more apparent, my mental and physical health began to precipitously decline. I was hospitalized for critical care on two occasions. The second time, I finally realized that I had felt the trauma of abandonment my entire life, that I was grieving for my mother and that this was the source of my self-annihilation. I went home and began to heal.
Once I recognized the central importance of adoption in my life, I felt a tinge of embarrassment that this understanding didn't arrive until middle age. Until then, I attributed most of my problems to my own perceived inadequacies and to racism and other forms of intolerance. But I came to understand that abandonment and adoption were also major structuring forces in my universe. Trauma had altered my physiology in ways I didn't understand were possible. I couldn't be the only one, I thought.
Once I was strong enough to read again, I quickly found an active online community of adult adoptees who were sharing their life stories and coming together for mutual support. I was relieved to learn that many of them had also come to understand the importance of adoption relatively late in life - I was not alone. But I was also horrified that so many of us existed - largely in isolation before the internet. I then found a treasure trove of adoptee blogs and a burgeoning sub-genre of memoir that I found extremely useful for better understanding the impact of adoption on me and how it will likely affect young adoptees today and in the days ahead. It struck me that, as a collection, adoptee memoir, as case studies, are an underutilized resource that could be leveraged by advocates, social scientists, clinicians, policymakers and prospective adoptive families. I decided to write my own story in a way that would be conducive to guiding future research and planning that may benefit many affected by issues like abandonment, adoption, early life trauma, racism, addiction and surviving. I thought it might also be useful to create this page so that others may follow along with my research and writing progress. I hope you'll stop by from time to time and check in on the project as it progresses and perhaps gain a few insights into my subject matter.
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Until next time.