April 04, 2007

My New Identity Crisis: Part 6 -- My New Brother

How was I to approach my new brother? He was interested in hearing from me, so that was good. But what would I say to him? Hi, I'm your brother Mike? Hey Bro? Bruuuuuutherrrrrrrrr!!!!!!??? It was hard for me to work up the nerve to contact him and I didn't think I could do it by phone right away. Since Ruth had forwarded both an e-mail and a phone number, I opted to do the e-mail first to introduce myself.

I wanted to make a few points clear, just because I would have had these questions had I been in his situation. First, I wanted to make clear that I wasn't expecting anything. I had started this search simply to learn more about myself and where I came from, and I didn't want him to think that I had any needs or issues. Second, I wanted him to be able to tell me how comfortable he was with this process and I wanted him to give me an idea about how far I could question him. Third, I wanted him to feel free to break off any time he wanted to. In other words, I wanted to give him the opportunity to control the pace of everything. I also had no idea whether or what he would tell his brothers and sister about me at this point, and on the expectation that they would have questions, I wanted to be as upfront about my motivations and expectations as possible. So I composed the following e-mail:

Hello Mr. Rodger,

Ruth ______
e-mailed me and told me that she spoke to you about me and that it would be okay for me to contact you. As you know, we have reason to believe that I am related to your mother Ruby Rodger, and therefore to you and your siblings. Ruth assured me that you seem to have no difficulty with this and are willing to speak with me. I hope therefore that my contacting you is not presumptuous in any way.

I wanted to contact you first by e-mail rather than by phone, just so that I can explain myself and my motivations for looking into my biological history. Ruth probably told you the story about how she and I became acquainted with one another while I was looking into my adopted family's history and that at some point in our correspondence I told her that I was adopted. She offered to help me find my biological family if I was ever interested in doing so. I had been informally kicking around the idea for a couple of years. There was a rumor about my biological parents and birth that floated around with me and which I wondered if was true. There was also a rumor that I had a sister or a half-sister (based on the fact that there was a little girl that looked so much like me though younger, at the Children's Home Society who was adopted out to Robert Goulet's brother). These rumors were interesting. I agreed to let her find what she could.

In the course of her investigations, she found five boys who were born in
Eureka, California on December 29, 1963, my birthdate, and told me that one of them or none of them could be me. One of the boys was a Michael W. Rodger, born to a woman who's maiden name was Mayle.

Ruth also helped me trac
k down a foster parent who had taken me in from the age of 5 months to 2 years. This woman, who I called "Mama Joyce," had wanted to adopt me. I was the first baby she took in, and she became very attached to me. She had been trying to become pregnant for 9 years, and had given up. However, not long after arranging to adopt me, she became pregnant and her husband wanted to raise their own daughter so she very reluctantly gave me up. I was eventually adopted at 2½ by a couple, Vernon and Shirley Hess, and raised in Fort Bragg, California.

"Mama Joyce" was very excited to hear from me and asked me why I sought her
out now. I explained to her that for me, life really began at 2½ when I was adopted, and were my earliest memories. I told her I had been getting more interested in learning about my history before that and where I came from over the past couple of years (probably a little mid-life crisis) and she said "Oh, well would you like to know the name o
f your mother?" I expressed surprise that she had that information, and she said that foster parents usually didn't have it, but somehow she did. She informed me that my biological mother's name was Ruby M. Rodger, and that my original name was Michael Wayne Rodger. She said that the information said "father unknown," and that the birth mother was "allergic to metals."

So, that left little doubt that Ruby Rodger was my birth mother. Ruth did
some looking through her genealogical resources and found that Ms. Rodger died in 1997 but that there were four children born to her and Alexander Rodger. At that point I had to make a decision on whethe
r I would be interested in contacting you.

I want to let you know that there are no ulterior motives on my part in
contacting you. I realize there are many reasons why adoptees seek out their biological families. I am not seeking anything but information. I'm married, and working on a Ph.d in Political Science which should be finished sometime in 2007. I'm comfortable and secure. I don't really need to know about my history to live out my life in satisfaction and happiness. I'm just curious about
the circumstances of my birth and where I came from.

Nor do I expect a warm and fuzzy "family reunion" and to be accepte
d with open arms by the Rodger family. My goal will be, if you are willing, to explore and simply let this process take its course. If I gain new friends and self-understanding, that would be wonderful and the most of what I seek. If I do gain a new "family", which I've heard happens to some adoptees that seek out their biological families, that would be more than I expect.

I told Ruth before she contacted anyone that if there is any indication
whatsoever that my surfacing or resurfacing in your life would be painful, traumatic or cause any distress whatsoever, I would back off immediately and cease any attempt at present or future contact. I have no wi
sh to cause anyone any pain, and as far as I'm concerned, everything that I've learned up to this point has been wonderful and a real bonus. My sister even managed to track down a young picture of Ruby Mayle on a website so I've actually seen something of my biological mother's face. I am attaching it if you haven't seen it -- hopefully it is actually her picture.

So, all that being written, I am looking forward to speaking with you and
learning more. Please let me know what might be a good time and day to reach you. Alternatively, you can contact me via this e-mail, or by my phone numbers.

I sent this off in mid-December. I didn't have long to wait for an answer. Bob e-mailed me right back. In his e-mail, he indicated that the photo (shown in my last post) was indeed Ruby Rodger. He said that she took up with a man named Andy Andraza, though he wasn't sure if that was the way to spell the last name. They moved to Eureka for a while in the early sixties. He said that years later his mother sadly said "I once knew a woman who gave away her baby," and that his sister once found some adoption papers. He said he was convinced that I was Ruby's baby.

He also said, in response to my statement about a family reunion, that both of his brothers had died and his sister is mentally ill and living in Florida, so that for all intents and purposes, he is what's left of the family. He told me that he was glad to hear from me, and that he would send information and photos.

Since then, Bob has sent me a steady stream of information. We've talked once on the phone, for approximately two hours. From my little bit of dealing with him, I like him very much though I have to be patient about getting information -- I have so many questions that it's hard to wait for something new.

Bob was born in 1949, so he is approximately 14 years older than I am. He is a half-brother as his father and my father were separate people. He lives in California, and he makes a living creating and constructing trade show displays. I've also learned that he is an artist in his spare time. He is married, and has three children. One, a daughter is in her 30s and lives in Sacramento. Another daughter is attending college in Eureka. His son is in his last year of high school.

I've learned from Bob that his older and younger brother have both taken their own lives. His sister spent most of her adult life homeless and is in a relatively stable place in Florida right now.

About my birth mother, I've learned a bit from him in the e-mails, on the phone call and from an account that he wrote up about her. Bob does not want the information details to be disseminated and I respect his wishes but I believe that I can make some general statements. In general, I learned that Ruby had a very difficult life. She was born in West Virginia in 1923 in a coal mining area -- many of her family worked in the mines and it was an awfully hard life. How hard? She was one of 11 siblings, five of which died before reaching adulthood. One brother accidentally drank lye water and suffered terribly for few years because of his burned esophagus until he died, and another sister died of typhoid fever. Her family, the Mayles (pronounced May-lee) is one of only six or so family surnames in that area that inhabited the area very early in America's history and interbred with Indians and African-Americans. In fact, this cultural cross-breeding was enough to brand these families as "colored."

I've learned that Ruby moved to Ohio in her late teens where she met her husband. She quickly realized that her marriage wasn't great but only got divorced in the early 60s. She met a man, Andy, who was the love of her life and she had a stormy and tempestous relationship with him for about 10 years. I was the product of that relationship. I learned that my biological father may have been the main reason for her giving me up for adoption. I have learned that Ruby spent her last years beset by major health problems, and suffered from some regrets about giving me up. However, it appears that her death in 1997, at which Bob was present at her side, was a peaceful one.

I have learned that my father was a blue-eyed sax player from Canada, a milkman who liked the ladies. I don't know much other than that, except that he was fun loving and that Bob liked him. I don't know if he is still alive, but chances are slim.

I've taken in this information but it hasn't really emotionally hit me yet. I think, when I meet Bob in person, maybe this year, I might be able to realize the enormity of it all. The life of my birth mother sounds like a hard and a sad one, and it sort of answers one of my "what if" questions. My life would probably not have been better with her. However, I would have liked to have had the chance to meet her, to learn from her about her life, and to see for myself this person who gave me life. I haven't truly dealt with the fact that I have a mentally ill half-sister, or what that may mean for me in the long run. Bob has encouraged me to leave her be and again I am more than willing to follow his judgment -- he said that she is in the most stable place she has been in years and that simply knowing of me might upset that balance.

So, I still have a lot to learn about my biological family, even though it seems that I've learned a lot so far. And I still don't know what emotionally and practically this all means for me. What this journey has done, however, is connect me to a whole new culture wrapped up in the story of Ruby's family, the Mayles, and the other families of Barbour County, West Virginia where she came from. More about that fascinating story in the next post.

Next up: I'm a What?

Photo 1: Ruby and Bob Rodger, 1950

Photo 2: The Rodger family in the early 50s, Bob, Ruby, Alex Sr., Alex Jr.

Photo 3: Jeanne Rodger, 1968

Photo 4: Andy, my biological father, 1969

Photo 5: Bob Rodger, my half-brother, circa 2005.

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5 Comments:

Blogger Mary B. said...

Wow. Even with generalizations, that's a lot of information. The fact that the milkman part turned out to be true is so interesting/weird. :) Now that you have found some answers, I wonder how this will influence the rest of your life. Hmmm...have you thought of helping others track down their roots like Ruth? Anyway, I look forward to hearing the answer to, "I'm a What?" :)

3:43 PM  
Anonymous Sherry said...

I found your post while I was doing a search of my maiden name on Google (taking a mental break at work). I am the Grand niece of Andy Andraza (at least I think it is Grand Niece).

While I cannot say I knew him, I did hear his name on occassion as a child.

The Andraza clan, while large and wide spread, is unique. I do not know the reason, but the name Andraza was only assumed in the last 3 or 4 generations; the orginal spelling was Andueza. I believe, in total, "Uncle" Andy had 10 or 11 brothers and sisters, one of them, of course, being my Grandfather.

I was mesmerized by the account of your history and I was compelled to reply.

I hope this post finds you well, and I wish you the best in your journey.

Sherry

12:31 PM  
Blogger Michael L. Hess said...

Sherry! Come back! I am hoping to e-mail you to find a little more. I'm curious about what happened to Andy! I hope you read this!

I am going to El Salvador for five weeks starting today, 5/5, and will be back on 6/9. If you do recontact, please be patient as I am not sure about my access to the internet until I get back to the states.

And thank you so much for this information and contacting me!

6:48 AM  
Blogger Michael L. Hess said...

P.S., My e-mail is megan_and_michael@hotmail.com

6:49 AM  
Anonymous Diana Jones said...

Hey Mike, this is your first cuz Diana, Rubys niece. How do I get to the first of your posts about your new identity crisis? the first 5 parts? I am so happy to welcome you to our large family, hope to meet you soon! And I hope we find that elusive Andy soon!
take care,
your cuz
Diana Matheny Jones

12:24 PM  

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