David Russell Mosley
1 June 2017
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire
My wife and I have finally jumped on the “This Is Us” bandwagon. We’re nearly halfway through the series and enjoying it very much. Still, one night as we were watching it I remarked, half-jokingly, to my wife: “I wish meeting your birth parents was like this.”
As an adopted man, I know some of the feelings the character Randall ought to have. My own adoption, of course, was different from his. Mine was a kinship adoption by my paternal grandparents. So, not only am I the same race as my adopted parents, but I am biologically related to them. Still, I know what it is to feel out of place in one’s own family. Thus, I watched Randall’s storyline with great interest.
He discovers his birth father, as fans of the show will tell you. Through various flashbacks we learn that Randall’s father, William, was a poet and a musician who got involved with drugs. But now, 36 years after Randall’s birth they are reunited. His father is clean now, but dying. So, they get a little time together, to learn about each other. Randall, in many ways, gets the best parts of William’s life. He gets his father making, so it would seem, the right decision in giving him up; and being able to reenter his life and so have a positive effect on his future, even after William is gone. It is beautiful and moving as we watch Randall wonder if maybe he too had the artist “gene” and try, miserably to convert that into song. Later, we’ll see Randall strike out on his own in honor of his birth-father’s memory, taking on some of that independence an artist’s life often involves. I love their story, but it is not my own, and that is hard sometimes.
I love the story of Randall and William. But to me it feels like the pejorative fairy-tale. Of course, I love fairy-tales and think even this one instructive, but it can feel almost saccharine. It reminds me of the stories I used to tell myself about my biological parents: that my mother was a ballerina and a princess and my father a cowboy and an astronaut. It can almost hurt, to watch Randall and William and know that this will never be my story. My birth parents will not turn out to have been poets and musicians who happened to get mixed up in drugs. My story is different. And I don’t hate my story, it has made me who I am today, both the bad and the good. But Randall’s story can feel like every adopted kid’s wish fulfillment. That somehow, even when broken, our biological parents are these incredible people who do and tried to do amazing things and the world simply got in their way.
How those with stories harder than mine must feel, I cannot say. What I can say is this. The story of Randall and William is beautiful, but it hurts sometimes to watch it.