Dispatches From My Half-Hearted Search for My Parents

On curiosity, risk aversion, and nature vs. nurture, among other things

Harris Sockel
Human Parts
Published in
8 min readMay 3, 2023

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me @ 13 in a photo booth at the Jersey shore

“I’m just curious,” I said on a Google Hangout a few weeks ago, “and I don’t know if that’s a good enough reason?” The calendar event read “we’re adopted lol.” I’d set it up after a mutual friend connected us (“You’re both adopted!”) so it was sort of like a blind date, but a friend date, one where the icebreaker is the fact that neither of us have met our biological parents.

For context: I rarely meet other adopted people. I think I’ve met… three in my life? Maybe more but they were incognito. Two percent of Americans are adopted and we look just like everyone else. We’re experts at pretending to belong (that’s rule #1 in the Adoptee Handbook) so you can’t see us and we can’t really see each other.

The first adopted person I ever knew was my Aunt Fern. Her nose was smaller and rounder than any of the noses around our family’s Rosh Hashanah dinner table, and her hair was a few shades lighter but no one seemed to notice. She was quiet and observant. She laughed at everyone’s jokes. “Aunt Fern was adopted,” my mom leaned over and whispered to me once. I was six. Fern just sat there eating gefilte fish like it was her birthright.

Last fall, I dated an adopted man. On our first date, we told each other we were adopted and then promptly made out. He worked in advertising. He made Super Bowl ads. He worked hard, and I know this because the first night I slept in his bedroom he stayed up until 2 a.m. casting an ad for Bud Light, watching hundreds of little screen tests on the most arcane file-sharing website I’ve ever seen. When I woke up at 3 a.m. to pee, he was snoring on the couch with a MacBook Pro open on his belly.

What I’m saying is adopted people don’t talk. Not about being adopted, at least not in my limited experience. We’re perfectly comfortable stating the facts (“I was adopted as an infant, I know nothing about my birthparents”) but beyond that, our minds go blank. Our instinct for social camouflage kicks in. We know how to read a room, how to blend, how to give off that “We’re doing fine!” aura. Nothing to see here, I just don’t know where my face comes from. It’s taken 35 years for me to clock how bizarre…

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