NY Times The Ethicist Piece, March 6, 2016

Yesterday’s Sunday New York Times Ethicist column featured a piece titled “Should I Tell My Sister She’s Adopted?” The title alone was jarring to me. How can this even be a question in 2016? In short, the letter writer’s biological parents adopted a child, so the parents had a biological and adopted child. But the parents kept the adoption a secret and insisted that their biological daughter keep the secret as well, a terrible burden to impose on a child!

I wondered if this adoption had happened decades ago when these kinds of secrets were more commonplace. But it seemed as though the adoption happened more or less in current times.

The Times’ Ethicist responded in an overly long winded response that had little to do with the question until finally answering the writer’s question with a convoluted affirmative.

They could’ve just answered with one word: Yes!



Please tune in for these upcoming radio events.


logoMonday Mar. 7 2-3PM on KPFA-FM/94.1 I will be interviewed about adoption and attachment along with internationally renowned adoption expert, therapist and author of the adoption bible, The Primal Wound, Nancy Newton Verrier, on the show “About Health” hosted by Rona Renner, RN. You can also LISTEN LIVE on KPFA.org or listen to the archived show.


KQED_logoMonday Mar. 14 10-11AM on KQED-FM/88.5 I will be on a panel discussion about survivors of suicide on the nationally syndicated “Forum,” hosted by Michael Krasny. You can also LISTEN LIVE on KQED.org or listen to the archived show.




REMINDER: Girl Behind The Door Author Event at Book Passage San Francisco Wed. Mar. 2nd at 6PM!

9781501128349Please join us for an author event for The Girl Behind The Door, published by Scribner, at Book Passage San Francisco in the Ferry Building on WEDNESDAY MAR. 2nd at 6PM

About The Girl Behind The Door:
Early on Jan. 29, 2008, Casey Brooks drove from her Tiburon home to the Golden Gate Bridge and jumped. Why?
* Winner of the Benjamin Franklin Silver Award.
* Winner of the Kindle Award for Non-Fiction.
* Recommended as an Elaine’s Pick.
* Recommended as a Marin Magazine Local Page Turner.
* Featured in Books Inc’s non-fiction titles.

About Scribner:
A premier imprint of Simon & Schuster founded in 1846.

About Book Passage:
One of the Bay Area’s premier booksellers.
Ferry Building Marketplace, 1 Sausalito, San Francisco Ferry Bldg. #42



“I Hate Adoption” From The Blog Those Sweet Bare Feet

dads-053I don’t remember where I found this blog post “I Hate Adoption” but the title must’ve caught my eye. What did the writer hate about adoption? The writer, “sistertoten” posted on her blog Those Sweet Bare Feet about her experience as an adopted child whose family swelled with many more adopted children. Adopted or not, in my opinion, her parents were either saints, masochists or both. Come on, readers, having a dozen kids under one roof?

I share it here because it is a very raw and honest experience about adoption and what it really means to the children, warts and all. To this day there are adoption magazines that post only the good stories, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Children are incredibly resilient and can overcome almost insurmountable odds. But many can’t. I speak to them.

Attachment Disorder Or RAD?

angry-kidsI’ve learned over time that in adoption circles some people describe the sometimes unusual and extreme behaviors seen in orphaned and abused children as “attachment disorder” while others label it “RAD” (Reactive Attachment Disorder.) What’s the difference and who’s right?

If Wikipedia is any help, it defines attachment disorder as follows:

“A broad term intended to describe disorders of mood, behavior, and social relationships arising from a failure to form normal attachments to primary care giving figures in early childhood. Such a failure would result from unusual early experiences of neglect, abuse, abrupt separation from caregivers between 6 months and three years of age, frequent change or excessive numbers of caregivers, or lack of caregiver responsiveness to child communicative efforts resulting in a lack of basic trust. A problematic history of social relationships occurring after about age three may be distressing to a child, but does not result in attachment disorder.”

Wikipedia describes reactive attachment disorder (RAD) as follows:

“It is described in clinical literature as a severe and relatively uncommon disorder that can affect children. RAD is characterized by markedly disturbed and developmentally inappropriate ways of relating socially in most contexts. It can take the form of a persistent failure to initiate or respond to most social interactions in a developmentally appropriate way—known as the “inhibited form”—or can present itself as indiscriminate sociability, such as excessive familiarity with relative strangers—known as the “disinhibited form”. The term is used in both the World Health Organization’s International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems and in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.”

My reading of both terms as a layman is that they are interchangeable, saying essentially the same thing. The difference is that RAD is the official term used by professionals featured in medical journals. So in that sense, those using RAD are probably technically correct. The problem I have with this is that too often RAD is used as a pronoun, as in “my RAD” or “my RADie” and other variations thereof, as opposed to “my child.” I cringe at these references.

I realize that many exasperated adoptive parents at their wits end need anonymous places to go online and rant. I wish I’d known of such places when I was an adoptive parent. Trust me, I’m ashamed to say that there were times when I slapped (or tried slapping) my teenage daughter Casey for her attitude and language; she could hardly complete a sentence without the s-word or f-word. Of course now that Casey’s passed, these are things my wife Erika and I laugh about. How trivial in the grand scheme of things.

But when RAD becomes a pronoun, even anonymously, it seems to further stigmatize a child who is already stigmatized. One’s child is no longer a child, but a thing. Why encourage this type of thinking?

The broader issue, as I’ve learned from attachment experts, is that both attachment disorder and RAD are overused as convenient labels for behavioral problems that are far more complex. The experts are quick to note that there are multiple factors that play into an orphaned child’s behavior that can’t be diagnosed due to the lack of information about birth families – fetal alcohol syndrome, substance abuse and a wide range of mental health issues from depression to bi-polar to schizophrenia. So when I speak about attachment I’ve learned to use the much broader term “attachment issues” rather than attachment disorder or RAD.

I just hate to stigmatize children for behaviors – as irritating as they are – from experiences that they never asked for.

Another Powerful Adoption Movie

A friendposterMaxi recently turned me onto a very powerful adoption movie titled The Dark Matter Of Love. Filmed in a documentary style it chronicles the adoption of three children from a Russian orphanage by a couple in Wisconsin with a fourteen year old biological child. The three Russian children were five year old twins, Marcel and Vadim, and eleven year old Masha (not biologically related.)

What drew me to the story was the fact that the parents’ experience of integrating the children into their home was not in the slightest sugarcoated. The twin boys were chronically hyperactive whereas the girl (not biologically related) was quiet, withdrawn and virtually emotionless. Her expression rarely changed from the one on the movie poster. In addition, the adoptive couple had the good fortune of being consulted by Dr. Robert Marvin, a leading adoption researcher with the Mary J. Ainsworth Attachment Clinic. I also interviewed him for my book.

For anyone with Netflix you can stream it. A really heart-wrenching movie. I’d love to know how they turned out.

Who’s The Hero?

top_ten_superheroes_image1How many adoptive parents, like me, have been told what heroes we are and how selfless we were to have adopted an orphaned child? How many of these same (well meaning) people have told us how lucky our children are for having been adopted by us?

I have.

Indeed there are many couples out there who truly are saints. They become foster parents and bring children into their families who otherwise might never have a home at all. They take on the challenge of raising children with severe difficulties and addictions, emotional and physical, that can bring chaos into their homes. And somehow they deal with it without any self-pity. For some, it’s a religious calling, and that’s fine. To me, these people are truly selfless; they are the real heroes.

If I were to look in the mirror and be brutally honest (and I have), my wife Erika and I would have never journeyed to Poland or submitted ourselves to the emotional roller coaster that led us to our daughter, Casey, the centerpiece of our lives, had we gotten pregnant. But we didn’t.

That’s a hard truth to swallow because I simply could never have imagined my life without my Casey, even as it ended tragically with her suicide from the Golden Gate Bridge at only 17. But had we gotten pregnant there would have been no Casey. I hate to admit this, but it’s true – she was plan B. And I can moralize and rationalize all I want but that’s the harsh truth.

I don’t consider myself a hero or selfless at all. Heck, Erika and I wanted to be parents! And if we couldn’t make a child we’d go find one. That’s the unvarnished truth, the truth we try to sugarcoat.

Was Casey lucky to have been adopted by us? Perhaps. After all, she lived a privileged life in Marin County, California, and was accepted at elite Bennington College in Vermont. But what I’ve learned about orphaned children is that that is often not nearly enough. They bare the scars of abandonment, and I don’t think any amount of love and material comforts can make up for that. Though Casey never took our repeated invitations to delve into her past, I often wonder if she’d ever thought “why did my mother give me up instead of my siblings” who, for all I know, lived with their grandparents in a cramped farmhouse in rural Poland.

We adoptive parents are well aware of the supply/demand dynamics in adoption. Adoptive parents far outnumber available healthy (and white) infants who are the most desirable. Though Casey was deemed “special needs” in 1991 and, thus, not of interest to many Polish couples, it turned out that she wasn’t a special needs child at all. If it wasn’t us, I’m quite certain that she would have ended up with another couple from the US, UK, Europe or Australia. As her father, that’s painful for me to imagine.

Now since Casey’s suicide, I’ve become a suicide advocate, speaking to groups (particular adolescents) about mental health issues with a group of teens, and we get a lot of kudos from people. But like adoption, I wouldn’t be giving these presentations either or fighting for a suicide barrier on the Golden Gate Bridge if I hadn’t lost my Casey. I’d be blissfully ignorant, living my old life. No the real heroes here are the teenage girls I work with who haven’t been scarred by loss; they simply participate in these presentations out of the goodness of their hearts. They are the real heroes.

So, no, I don’t feel like a hero, but I do feel like the luckiest guy in the world to have been Casey’s dad for 16 of her 17 years. I just do what I need to do to keep my precious daughter’s memory alive.


Check Out This Blog – Portrait Of An Adoption

blog-71-128Portrait Of An Adoption is a wonderful blog produced by Carrie Goldman, who lives with her family in the Chicago area. Her blog aims to raise awareness about adoption by chronicling a wide range of adoption stories and books, especially now given that November is National Adoption Month. Carrie is the author of the multiple award-winning book Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher, and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear. She is also a co-founder of the Pop Culture Anti-Bullying Coalition, and she also runs Team Bullied. These are such important issues affecting our children in today’s cyber world.

Today Portrait Of An Adoption featured Casey’s story, titled I Want Someone To Fix Me: The Agony Of Attachment Disorder. I’m very grateful to Carrie for sharing Casey’s story with her followers.

More Reviews For The Girl Behind The Door

Part of promoting a book is, well, self promotion, something I’ve never been comfortable with. But I’d like to give a big shout out to two fine  adoption organizations for taking the time to review Casey’s story and share it with their members in these two excellent reviews. I really admire and respect organizations like these. All too often, stories like Casey’s are swept under the rug and hidden. It is just too sad and may discourage adoption. Make no mistake – I’m hardly against adoption at all but I’m just now awakening to the fact that adoption – particularly from the most important person’s perspective, the child’s, is concerned – is far more complicated than adoptive or prospective adoptive parents’ realize.

If only I’d known of their existence in 1991, perhaps Casey would still be here. Who knows?

Adopti1507740_10152086636294799_487492033_non Network Cleveland is dedicated to supporting anyone touched by adoption – adoptees, birthparents, adoptive parents, foster youth and alumni, foster parents and professionals. They have received many awards and honors since their founding in 1988. Here is a link to their book review.




fruaFamilies For Russian And Ukrainian Adoption (FRUA) provides international adoption and post adoption support resources for families on the journey to adopt across a wide swath of Eastern European, former Soviet and Central Asian states. So the name “FRUA” is a bit of a misnomer. FRUA believes that every child deserves a forever family and celebrates the rich heritage of their birth countries. Below is their review featured in their recent newsletter, Family Focus.