‘Who Are Your Real Parents?’

On love, obligation, and making sense of what it means to be adopted

Kayle Kessinger
Human Parts
Published in
8 min readJul 10, 2019


Photo: Benjamin Heyn/EyeEm/Getty Images

OOnce, when we were younger, someone asked my brother what it’s like to be adopted. He looked thoughtful for a minute, then smiled and said, “It’s like being a store-bought cake at a family reunion, when everyone else brought homemade.” Of course, everyone laughed. Colby’s always been like that — quick with a joke to lighten the mood.

I’m pretty sure everyone’s forgotten about this moment; it was just a one-off quip to a question that none of us quite knew how to answer.

I think about what Colby said every now and then, though. Specifically, I think about the phrase in terms of how well it fits within the made-for-TV comedy special I’m constantly scripting in my head. In this special, I lean on a mic stand, wearing jeans and a T-shirt, spitting hilarious quips such as:

“Adopting a kid is like finding out your merchandise from Target has severe malfunctions, like, two days after you threw away the receipt, and now they won’t let you return it.”


“The weirdest rule your mom will have is that, since you’re adopted, you’re not allowed to date anyone from [insert town here] without telling her first because they might be your half-sibling.”

The truth is, I make jokes because I find it difficult to talk about my own adoption story. When I do, it often feels like I’m talking about someone else entirely, someone I’ve never met. Sometimes, I feel like I purposefully distance myself from this aspect of my identity in an attempt to relieve some of the guilt weighing on me for not feeling the “right way” about being adopted.

I’I’ve always known that I was adopted. My parents never kept that from my brothers and me, and we often had playdates with one of our half-sisters who lived one town over and had been adopted by her grandparents. I never had that awkward “finding out you’re adopted” moment.

I’m not sure I always understood what being adopted actually meant, though.

When my cousin and I were little, we rode the bus together after school. We would play American Idol (when we weren’t “performing,” she was Simon and I was Paula). One time, after…