Oddly, I’ve been thinking recently that having someone else’s name is a strange thing to do. I write, “Oddly,” because I’ve had no fewer than six monikers in my life time. From earliest to most recent:
Teódolo Conrado Arroyo Herrera (The name my mother would have bestowed upon me had she not given me up for adoption. Both names were after my paternal and maternal grandfathers.)
Herrera (The name on my very first birth certificate. This was Mom’s surname.)
Hal (The name given to me by Children’s Home Society before I got adopted. Look at my face to the right. Do I honestly look like a Hal to you?)
James Stanley Glica (My adoptive name, after my uncle who introduced my parents and my paternal grandfather.)
James Stanley Chávez-Glica (The name I chose to honor my mother and father.)
James Stanley Chávez Glica-Hernandez (My married name.)
Sometimes, I like to string them all together with my title and degree, just for effect:
Reverend James Stanley Teódolo Conrado Arroyo Herrera Chávez Glica-Hernandez, D.Div.
Come on, say that five times fast. I dare you.
Anyhoo, after all these name changes, I’m starting to think that my name, which at its core has remained James Stanley Glica since 1959, was enough all along. I love my mother and the name Chávez for a million reasons, but Glica was the name she chose to use, as well. My children are all Glica. I didn’t take my ex-wife’s name when we got married. I have to admit that it’s because I might have become James Daw-Glica. Uh, no, thank you. Go ahead. Re-syllablize it yourself.
Did you have fun?
We could talk all about the sociological reasons why wives originally took their husband’s names. Yes, class, ownership is one reason. We could talk about the standardization of second class citizenship afforded women until relatively recently, even on a letter:
“Mrs. Herbert Smith”
Either this woman’s parents need a solid chastising, or this poor woman has lost her name. Thankfully, I, of course, would not be Mr. David Hernandez. That would be silly because my husband is Mr. David Hernandez. I’m Mr. James Glica-Hernandez. Yet, I digress.
Am I any less married if I were to use only Glica? No. Plenty of people are overwhelmed by their wedded bliss while still maintaining their names of birth or adoption. Look at my husband. It’s my guess that he thinks Glica is a strange name and not one he wants to carry around the rest of his life. Hernandez is simple. Sure it has three syllables, but everyone can spell it, knows where it’s from, and almost always knows someone else by that same name. I only know this because on some of my identifying information, I use, James C. Hernandez.
“Ooooooooohhh!,” the young, ebullient fellow behind the counter squeals, “I actually know two different James Hernandezes…ez…ezzzzzzzzzzz… [Author’s note: you must visualize here a young fellow with a face that I once heard comedian, Dov Davidov, describe as having smelled freshly-baked cookies]. Do you know either of them?”
For goodness sake. And, this coming from a boy named, Myke Johnson? (Do you see how that’s different? Kewl, huh?) Ugh!
What I’ve realized, though, is that these various incarnations of my name are like Hansel and Gretel’s breadcrumbs back into my gingerbread house of memory. As someone whose had two small strokes already and probably will have another one eventually, any tools that amplify my memory are good tools, indeed.
“Was that pre-Chavez or post-Chavez? When did we meet them, before- or after-Hernandez?” It’s worked a few times, quite honestly. The only thing is I’ve been a Chavez longer than I haven’t and I’ve wanted to be a Hernandez since nearly the time I first met my husband a dozen years ago. So, the muddiness continues.
After it’s all said and done, I guess I’m still Little Jimmy Glica from McCloud and Dunsmuir, California, no matter whose grandfather I’ve become in the last 50 years. I like it that way. I’m proud of my entire name of birth, adoption, and marriage, and the paths I’ve taken to receive these beautiful names; however, like at the core of my name, the core of my spirit remains the same: a happy, loving little boy who loves to see people smile, sing, and dance.
Some things, as it’s said, never change after all.
Thirty years ago, I had never met my parents of birth. I didn’t know their names and I had no idea what their faces looked like.
The day I took the plunge and found my birth family in San Jose, California, in addition to meeting a huge number of family members on both my birth father’s and birth mother’s side, I got to meet my Grandmother Maria Secundina Gutierrez de Arroyo.
Grandma Arroyo, which is what I called her because I didn’t know others called her Mami, had to have my relationship to the family explained to her that day in November 1988. When she finally understood that I was her youngest son’s child, a fact she had not known for the entire twenty-nine years of my life, she looked at me with her amazing blue eyes. They were the color of seafoam blue-green at that moment. I wasn’t sure she would ever stop staring at me. I wasn’t sure I ever wanted her to break our connection. I had waited a lifetime to see features that actually looked like mine.
Finally, she must have seen something in my face, or eyes, or heard something in my voice that told her that I truly was her grandson, and she quietly wrapped me in her arms and whispered, “Welcome home.”
That’s all she said that day. To this day, it is enough for me.
Grandma Arroyo died nearly twenty years ago. After visiting her wherever she was living at the time, I still miss her terribly. I miss her smile and her stories that she would tell me in Spanish, since I was one of the few grandchildren who understood her native language. I miss her calling me Robert, my father’s name, every time she saw me.
Today, twenty-two years later, I opened my Herrera-Arroyo Family Tree on Ancestry.com. What I discovered there was as much a shock to me as my grandmother must have received the day I met her. Most of the children of my father’s brothers and sisters had been input into my tree. There are many, many, many cousins on Dad’s side.
One of my cousins, with whom I’ve recently become aquainted on Facebook, must have input that information, because I certainly didn’t, and no one told me they were doing so. I am so thrilled, I cannot find the words to express by deep gratitude to this anonymous person who shares genetic history with me.
I know that this information is for all of us to share. I know I was not the sole reason he or she took the time to add to our tree, but, our connection was strong enough to inspire him or her to do this very loving act.
It genuinely feels like I am hearing Grandma Arroyo say, “Welcome home,” one more time.
A Composite Life
By James C. Glica-Hernandez
May 31, 2009
Pieces of lives vie / Budding from one plant / To view the new sky / Each at altered slant.
Every florid bloom / A different shape / Yet all stemming from / One seed held agape.
Each bud, skewered view / Each stem, strong, alive /Each leaf, light renew / Each bush, longs to thrive.
Buds now deadly spent / From its weary limbs, / Dried and cruelly rent / Color finally dims.
Memories linger / As new buds grow. / Changing hues finger / New petals to show.
I have begun writing a book entitled, Interwoven. This book is a memoir about an adoptee, me, who found his birth family as part of his genealogical research. For medical and emotional reasons, it was imparative that I locate my family of birth. It ultimately saved my life.
This week, I met my youngest brother, and got to know my other two brothers and father better during my visit to St. Charles, Missouri.
Since my visit, I’ve realized that my book is changing. Certainly, my life is changing from this dynamic and thrilling encounter.
I am finding a new level of joy and wholeness in this process that I never imagined possible. I am looking forward to seeing what grows from the seeds that were planted this week.
I suspect this is going to be a truly remarkable book. Perhaps not to anyone else, but certainly to me.
My message is clear. Each person with whom we come in contact has an impact on us. Our self-perception, our self-love, our self-criticism all grow exponentially based on our encounters.
No matter how we are impacted, though, I am finding an elevated level of gratitude rising out of the mist of my learning. Gratitude to my family and friends and my gratitude toward God for providing this phenomenal opportunity.
Today will be a landmark day in my life. It will be the first time that my three Arroyo brothers and I will all be in the same place at the same time.
I grew up with my brother, David, in Dunsmuir. I’ve known my sister, Lorraine for twenty-two years. Before this week, I’d seen Eric only once and Mark twice. I’ve merely spoken to Darren, my youngest brother by eighteen years, on the telephone.
It is less than two months from my fiftieth birthday and it’s taken this long for us to finally join together. I’m glad we will all be with my father, as well. With the way his health has been, this meeting could have been under very different circumstances.
I must get my camera ready. These will be special photographs, indeed.
It was a silly moment that with most fathers and sons wouldn’t mean much at all. It was a moment that, in and of itself, was inconsequential. Our moment, between my father and me, was more important than I can sufficiently describe.
Dad and I were sitting in the van, arriving home from the park and having a sandwich. His dachshund, Harley, was ready to hop to the ground to run into the house. Dad was tired from our short walk, having just recently had a kidney transplant and, thereafter, experiencing a ten day coma. Ours was a good walk, nonetheless.
We were looking through the papers he had previously shoved into the little plastic bucket where he kept such things between the front seats of the van. After he had gotten the junk mail and paper trash out, one of the papers he’d left behind was askew, so I was adjusting it. He lightly slapped my hand and, in a mockingly harsh voice, said, “Stay outta there!”
I laughed at the intimacy and simplicity of his action. He was my Dad in that moment. What is so strange is that I am a half-century old. He is only sixty-six. Under any other circumstances, we could be friends, since most of my friends are in their fifties and sixties; however with him, it is different. In that moment, I was truly my father’s son.
All I can feel right now for that moment is gratitude toward him and toward God for allowing me this incredible time and, in particular, this miraculous, important moment.
It is a moment I shall never forget for as long as I live. Of that, I can be certain.
It’s too early to fully understand what is happening to me right now. The changes within are so dynamic and life-changing that it will take, at least, weeks, perhaps months, to fully understand what I am experiencing right now. The impact of my visit with my birthfather, the first in my lifetime, is being felt, however. I recognize the signs within myself of the opening of my heart and the power in my spirit that is burgeoning.
My father and I are very different people; however, we are clearly two distinct points in a continuum. Similar types of discoveries I made with the Herrera clan that began in 1988 are shining through the aperture of my vision now in 2009 with the Arroyo branch of my family tree.
Yesterday, I had to call a pharmacy to find out what my father’s co-pay was going to be for his medications. Instead of getting caught up in explaining why our last names were different, I simply said, “My name is James Arroyo and I am calling on behalf of my father, Robert.” It’s the first time I’ve ever used just his surname as my own. It was quite an experience to singularly use the surname with which I would have lived my life had I not been put up for adoption at birth. I felt empowered by claiming my birth name in that moment in front of my father.
Honestly, I was too nervous at saying the words to look at him. I couldn’t have borne the weight of his discomfort had there been shock or dissatisfaction crossing his face in that moment. My intuitive sense was, however, that while he was not giddy with glee, he was satisfied in his own way. Perhaps it was because it felt so natural to him to hear me say that.
It dawns on me that as my father, I can make a few assumptions about him. One is that things are as they are and there is no reason to fight against the tide. Not unlike a surfer, the only way to claim a wave is to climb on top of it and slice one’s own path into the wave, riding it to its culmination. That’s just the way he handles things.
I look forward to seeing what happens within me as I progress through the various stages of my intimate understanding of this week and the awakening of my own sense of self upon examination of this experience. I suspect my personal adventure has just begun.
Of course, it really is too early to tell.