Today is Bastille Day. Bastille Day is a little different in the Stevenson house and has a meaning far closer to home than the storming of a Parisian gaol back in 1789. It was on this day in 1970 I arrived home for the first time. The arrival of a new baby into any house is special but this was a little different. I had been born six weeks earlier at the start of June. The reason behind the delay? Well I was one of the last generation, at least in the west, that was adopted as a baby. From that day forward I took on a new identity and became me.
Being adopted brings with it all kinds of questions that you must face and deal with. As is common with many who have been adopted it took up a lot of my childhood coming to terms with it all. You go through all of the issues surrounding rejection and trying to answer the ‘why?’ question. In some respects, these questions never go away they just change. After becoming a parent myself, I re-evaluated just how heart breaking it must be to give up your baby, that bond between parent and child coming so quickly. After Ruby was born I considered it again, 47 years on. I left London to return to Seattle only two weeks after Ruby was born but the bond between us was already there. I had been with my birth mother for six weeks. I could not imagine having to hand over Ruby after two weeks never mind six. Furthermore, I was only the father; I hadn’t carried her around inside me for nine months. It’s strange but after talking about this with Alison she said that when each of our tribe has turned six weeks old she has thought about my adoption and how hard it must have been for my birth mother.
Yet although I can empathize with what they went through, I have never sought out my birth parents. I know some sparing details, including a strong Celtic heritage, maybe explaining why I felt so at home during the years I lived in Ireland, Scotland and Liverpool. I’ve often been asked why I have never looked for my birth parents and my answer is simple. I don’t need to. I know who my mum and dad are. They are the two people who raised me, the two people who have been the best parents I could ever have wished for.
As it should be for any little boy, my dad was, and still is, my hero. In my young eyes it was a mystery why he wasn’t playing cricket for Yorkshire and England. With the possible exception of Geoffrey Boycott, he was surely better than anybody else in the Yorkshire and England teams. As I have followed him into education he has become even more so my hero. My dad taught in Bradford while I went to school in Leeds and sometimes the school holidays didn’t coincide. I would then go into school with him and sit at the back on his chemistry classes whilst he proceeded to blow things up with great aplomb and flair. Especially when I first started to lecture I would often stop in my tracks as I realised I had said something that was ‘him’. Watching him teach was the best training I could ever have had for becoming a lecturer.
As for my mother, we are very similar, possibly too similar some of the time, but I see more of her in me more than any other single person. Unfailingly, she has always been my biggest fan and supporter. One of the original ‘soccer moms’, she once got sternly spoken by a referee after she did not take too kindly to me being hacked down in a junior school football match. Anyone who knows her will appreciate that the referee quickly regretted having that word. The only person I know that has ever gone head to head with my mum and come out with a drawn result is Nathaniel.
It was during my teenage years that in many respects I came to accept the adoption and what it meant. I went through a very logical process coming out of one of the many questions that inevitably cross your mind as an adopted child, that being that the entire process is all very random. Somebody, or possibly a committee of somebodies, made a decision as to which family would adopt me. That decision effectively defined my life. Furthermore, that decision was totally out of my control. When you start thinking about that, it can be quite overwhelming. I realised that I could have been brought up in any part of the UK, with a different accent and perspective. My parents could have emigrated, as I have twice over. To all intents and purposes I could, for example, have been raised as a Canadian. I could have been raised in a very religious household or in an agnostic or atheist one. My parents could have been die-hard socialists or blue-rinse Tories. The randomness of the decision takes time to process. But then, I got it. This was my Eureka moment and in many ways it is this that defines me today more than anything.
I realised that with the exception of my gender and the colour of my skin everything else that we use to categorise people was determined by that decision taken back in the spring/early summer of 1970. I would hope however, that whichever couple had adopted me that there would be some common element, some part of me that would have emerged irrespective. If anything, I believe this now more than ever. I have seen with Nathaniel, Thomas, Abigail and Ruby just how much of them and their personalities were there from the start. I realised that the vast majority of the boxes we use to categorise people are useless when it comes to telling us anything about them as people. Yes, they provide context, and I’m not denying that the environment in which we are raised won’t leave its mark, but they are at the end of the day just boxes we use to divide people. Whatever box is ticked, you can be a good person or a horrible one. Once you’ve got that it is no stretch to realise that race, ethnicity, gender, sexual identity etc are similarly irrelevant. It makes no difference what country you are from, what language you speak, what accent you have and social class you belong to, what religion you follow or if you follow one at all. You should be defined by who you are as an individual, not what box or boxes you fit into. That mentality has probably defined me more over the years than any other single thing.
Saying all of that I was incredibly lucky. Not only did I had the privilege of being raised by two absolutely phenomenal parents but I also had the incredibly good fortune to be raised in the best place in the world, namely the North of England and specifically Yorkshire. The only downside to all of this was the realisation at around the age of 11 that I could never play for Yorkshire County Cricket Club. At the time there was still the rule in place that you could not play for Yorkshire if you had been born outside the historic county boundaries. It obviously goes without saying that that this was the reason I never made it as a professional cricketer rather than a lack of talent and while in common with many left-handed batsmen I was strong on the leg side, I always had a weakness for being bowled through the gate.
Today it is 48 years since I became Simon Stevenson. I would like to thank my mum and dad for being the best parents I could have wished for, to thank that committee of somebodies for making, by accident or design, a fantastic decision and on behalf of all adopted children to thank their parents, including a number of friends of mine, for providing such loving homes for their sons and daughters.