Saturday, May 21, 2011

Memo to Arnold from Michael Reagan, Adoptee

Michael Reagan, son of Ronald Reagan and Jane Wyman, describes how he felt when he learned he was adopted and "illegitimate:"
My adoptive parents told me I was "chosen," but the kids at school told me I was a "bastard."

The recent headlines about Arnold Schwarzenegger's infidelities and the son he fathered out of wedlock have stirred many old memories and emotions.

I was four years old when I learned I was adopted. It was just before my sister Maureen's eighth birthday. I told her, "I know what you're getting for your birthday."

"Don't spoil the secret," she said. "If you tell me, I'm going to tell you a secret!"

Well, that was the wrong thing to say! I had to know what she was keeping from me! I said, "You're getting a blue dress for your birthday."

Maureen said, "And you were adopted."

I ran off to find our mother, Jane Wyman, in the den. I asked her, "What does 'adopted' mean?"

Mom's eyes flashed dangerously. "Where did you hear that word?" she asked.

After Mom finished dealing with Maureen, she sat me down and explained adoption to me. "You are a chosen child," she said, "and that makes you special. We love you very much."

I could tell that being "chosen" was a good thing. But I also realized for the first time that Mom wasn't my "real" mother—that I had another mother who had mysteriously given me away.

One day, when I was in the second grade, I got into a playground argument with another boy. We took turns one-upping each other. "I'm better than you," I said. "I'm special 'cause I was chosen! I was adopted!"

The other boy didn't know how to answer that, but the next day he came back to school and laughed at me. "My parents told me what 'adopted' means," he said. "You're not special—you're a bastard! Your real mother wasn't married, so she gave you away—bastard!"

That's when I realized there was something horribly wrong with me. I never again bragged about being "chosen," and I never again felt "special." But I did feel marked.
He makes the EXCELLENT point that there are no illegitimate children, just illegitimate parents.  Arnold's child isn't the bastard, Arnold is.

P.S. I wanted to add a link to my post about Zoe's encounter (less traumatic than Mr. Reagan's) with THAT WORD: Is "Bastard" a Bad Word?


thewonderfulhappens said...

Well said!!!

Sunday Koffron said...


Anonymous said...

Does anyone use that word bastard anymore? there are so many single mothers now, and it's pretty much socially acceptable, that the word seems almost obsolete (at least where i live).

Anonymous said...

How about we just agree that "bastard" does not belong in the conversation about how anyone got into this world; whether it is being used to refer to the child or father? I don't think deragatory words should be used for birth mothers and birth fathers. Period. End of story. Even if we don't agree with their actions.

Let's just remember that we might really hate what this guy did, but if we were talking about our kid's birth father, we would never advocate the use of the word "bastard" to refer to him.

Amanda said...

Reporters writing on the topic of Arnold and his affair have revived the phrase "love child" which means "bastard" and has meant "bastard" for quite some time back into history.

The stigmas have not improved much over the years and decades. Ignorance towards "unwed mothers" is now simply more covert than overt. There has arisen two distinctions, the "single mom" who is seen as a powerful woman who can conquer any obstacle and the "unwed mother" who had a baby even though society thinks she shouldn't have (the discinction is usually income level).

I think mothers are powerful, beautiful women regardless of income level or marital status. But no, we are not there yet as a society.

I abhor being called "chosen."