Monday, November 22, 2004

Marty's Big Journey, Part 1- The Real Beginning

Kathleen, 1963

In 1963 Kathleen, a college student from the University of New Mexico, went to Iowa to spend her summer away from school with her family. Her parents lived in Cedar Falls, home to Iowa State Teacher's College (now the University of Northern Iowa).

Kathleen's parents were well known by many of the foreign students around the college, especially among some of the African students whom they often befriended and became a sort of pseudo-host family. The students didn't live in their home, but were welcomed there on many occasions.

One of these students was John, a 30 year old Masters Degree candidate from Nigeria, who had become especially good friends with Kathleen's father, Tom. John had come to continue his education so that he could eventually return to his village and run the school that was founded by his father. Tom took a liking to the very industrious young man and often had him over for meals, gave him advice, and helped him to find jobs painting and working on farms.

John, 1963

Kathleen and John had a good friendship and spent much time together. But alas, the summer came and went, and Kathleen returned to school in New Mexico while John went back to school right there in Cedar Falls to finish up the last few months of his advanced degree. But when Kathleen got back to New Mexico she made a shocking discovery. She was pregnant. I don't know the complete details other than "one time" after a night out, it happened.

When Kathleen called her mother to ask for help, arrangements were made to find a place for her to live while waiting for the birth of her baby. Like many a young Catholic girl who found themselves in such a situation, Kathleen was to "disappear" for several months until her child was born and could be adopted by a family better prepared to raise a child. The arrangements were made and her mother immediately left for New Mexico to bring Kathleen home and then on to a Catholic home for unwed mothers in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

In the Beginning...

Marty and Laura get Married (1993)

Well, not exactly "the beginning."

Since much of my spare time and extra effort over the past few weeks and months has been going toward preparing a presentation about my story, I have a lot of great material to share. But first, I have to give credit where credit is due.

When I met my wife twelve years ago, I had not spent a lot of time thinking about being adopted. Of course there were times in my life when I would have thoughts and daydreams about what my natural parents might have been like or when I would be curious if, per chance, I had any brothers or sisters out there. But it was never a pressing issue to consume a lot of my time and thought.

I have always had a family- my parents that raised me, my sister, the grandparents and cousins... They were my strength and I was a part of them. That balanced out any curiosity that may have been in the back of my head.

However, for Laura, that answer didn't satisfy HER curiosity. Thus, she would ask me many, many times in the first several years of our marraige if I ever thought about finding my parents. she just couldn't understand how I could go through life NOT knowing. And thankfully, she was never satisfied with my standard answer.

Though I probably would have eventually searched, she was the catalyst that got me thinking about learning more about myself and where I came from. Plus she gave me something that really helped me get started on this journey of self discovery- two wonderful children. More on that later.

So thank you to my wonderful wife- Laura Catherine Johnson. You are definitely the best part of me and and I will always love you!

Sunday, September 26, 2004

GQ Magazine is Pushing Back the Article

Taking a back seat to...

UPDATE (5/19/2005): I know many of you are getting to this post looking for the lovely young lady in the picture above, but while you are here, why not find out why I reference this magazine in the first place...

I spoke with GQ Senior Editor Jason Gay this weekend and it looks like the article about my adoption story and my trip to Nigeria to meet my biological father is going to get bumped from the November issue. But that actually may be a good thing.

One reason they want to push it back is that Mark Seliger- the photographer that traveled with us- took so many amazing photos of the trip, they just don't have enough room in the November issue for all the images they want to use. That is also good news for me because Mark promised me some prints- I can't wait to see them.

The second blessing in disguise is that the article won't have to compete with this year's election. The brass at GQ seems to think that this could be a huge national story that would be overshadowed by all the media air being sucked up Bush vs. Kerry and the aftermath of election day. February just might be a much more human interest story friendly month. I have no problem with that. (Not that it would matter if I did.)

Now if they could only find a cover that will promote sales in the U.S. (How about finding an excuse to put Lindsay Lohan on the cover again to sell a few extra issues?)

Side Note: There is also a possibility that the article could end up in GQ's South Africa edition. However, I will be sending my relatives in Nigeria the U. S. edition.

UPDATE 10/5: O.K. It has just been brought to my attention that Lindsay Lohan is only 18 years old, but I say it doesn't matter. I wasn't being leacherous- I was being practical. Salivating guys and teenage girl fans of Lohan will buy the issue just because she is on the cover, thus increasing sales of that issue. That is what I meant by "promote sales." (But I will admit that she is an attractive young lady.)

The Presentation Went Great!

Yesterday I gave my big presentation entitled African Homecoming: A Reunion Story for friends, family, and even a few strangers. My children's former school, Becks Montessori, and Grace Slavic Church deserve a big thanks for allowing me to use their facility and AV equipment.

We had about 85 people at the event where I debuted my hour long multi-media presentation about my adoption story and my recent trip to Africa to meet my biological father. I also cooked some traditional Nigerian foods for sampling and had some of my local Nigerian friends come to perform a traditional Igbo greeting- the breaking of the Kola Nut.

Everyone in the audience gave great 'reviews' of the presentation and I am grateful for their interest in my story. Now I can continue blogging about my story and the experience.

UPDATE: Oh yeah-- I almost forgot. Jason Gay- the editor from GQ who has written a story about me for his magazine- flew in from New York just for my presentation. So did Scott Fort- an assistant to a movie producer who is considering my story either the big or small screen. (We'll see if that one works out- hoping for the best.)

Tuesday, September 14, 2004


Yes, it stands for Officer Education Transcript Repository. (Thanks Allah and Baldilocks.)

Now read, "What's This Blog About?" I plan on writing much more starting again on Sunday the 26th of September (the day after the presentation.) Also, my more politically edged blog, You Know I'm Right, will be firing away again soon. I've just been too caught up in reading about Dan Rather on all the other blogs.

Thanks for stopping by and I hope you come back to enjoy the story. Maybe after election day when things calm down, you can drop by to enjoy a what I consider a fascinating story!

P.S. Now I need the blogosphere to investigate what I think is another hoax.

Sunday, September 05, 2004

I Must Finish This Presentation

I cannot write another word in either of my blogs until I finish my powerpoint presentation on my trip to Africa (the one where I met my father for the first time.) I am doing a practice run at a friends house this coming Friday, and will have a real audience for the first time on the 25th of September.

Then I have two college groups and a church that have asked me to speak about my experience. (And the GQ Magazine article hasn't even come out yet.)

Sorry to my few but ever growing number of readers- it's going to be another day or two. If you haven't read starting at day one, I invite you to do so. Also- tell a friend or two about this while you're at it.


UPDATE 9/5/2004: (O.K. So I fudged a bit- I'm not quite done yet.) I finished the Powerpoint part of the presentation last night by staying up late. I even got a little of the writing done before I realized that I was asleep and drooling.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

What's This Blog About?

This is for those of you visiting for the first time, or who have never heard my story.

I was adopted at age three by a black family in Omaha, Nebraska. From the time of my adoption up until three years ago, I knew nothing about my natural parents. In fact, while I had been curious now and then, it wasn't until I got married and had children of my own that I found the motivation and desire to actually take action on the subject. Even then, it took some prodding by my wife to become active in an actual search.

As luck would have it, just as I began my search, my natural mother found me first. She was living in California (and still is) as do her daughters (even though technically half, they are my sisters to me) and their families. About ten months later I also found my biological father and six more brothers and sisters, living back in his native country, Nigeria. And then there is the "Prince" story.

So what is this about? It's mostly be about my adoption story. I will also keep you up to date on the most recent aspects of my story as well as the progress I make on some of my new goals. These include my quest to take my wife and children to Africa to meet their Nigerian family, and to bring my Nigerian family to the United States to see where I live.

And of course I will be throwing in a few opinions here and there on different issues ranging from adoption, to race realtions, to what makes a family and so on (although I'll keep a separate blog for any overtly political ramblings.)

This past May I went to Nigeria to meet my father and his children (my six brothers and sisters) for the very first time thanks to a wonderful surprise on my birthday (40 on 04/04/04). A writer and photographer from GQ Magazine went with me on my trip and will be publishing a story about my trip and adoption experience that will be on the stands October 25th. More on that later.

I hope you enjoy reading this. Drop a comment here and there to let me know you stopped by!

Also- find out why I am taking donations.

UPDATE 8/26/2004: Looks like the GQ article won't be out until February 2005.
UPDATE 2/20/2005: Uh... Make that later this year- perhaps May 2005.

Make a Donation

A friend of mine once suggested to include a spot on this site to accept donations. After some thought, I have decided that it couldn't hurt, and hopefully that this will be interesting and entertaining enough that people won't mind helping me reach a few goals for my family.

These are some of the reasons I am accepting donations at this site. Some are just dreams, but others could and need to become a reality. Now that I have met both of my birth parents and have traveled great distances to see them both:

1) There was a time that visiting my parents meant a six hour drive to Omaha. Now that I have two more parents to visit- one in California, and one in Nigeria- travel costs to visit all of them has become a very expensive proposition. Especially with my wife and two kids. (Especially Nigeria.)

2) The past couple of years have been less than a stellar financially. My goal has always been to take my whole family to Nigeria so that my children can see "where they come from." I am working hard to make the trip a reality but it is slow going. They are at an age where this trip can and will have a lasting impact on their lives.

3) This one is probably just a dream, but man would it be cool. I would like to have a family reunion. But not just any reunion. It would definitely be a dream come true if I could bring my three families together for a family picture in front of my house. That means bringing my mom, dad, and sister I grew up with in from Omaha, my mother and my two sisters and their children in from California, and my father, his wife, my six brothers and sisters and their families in from Nigeria. If I could get as many Aunts, Uncles, and cousins as possible, it could end up being over 300 people.

Yes, I know... major logistics. But it would be an incredible feat. If this one would ever happen, it would have to happen within the next few years as none of my parents are getting any younger. we would also probably have to have some sponsors.

4) The Nigerian Electrical Power Authority(NEPA) is extremely unreliable as a provider of electricity. One of my favorite jokes in Nigeria is that NEPA really stands for "Never Expect Power Always." Thus most people also have generators at their homes. It is my opinion that my father needs a new one. I would like to get one for him. (And perhaps one really big one for the entire village.) This should probably be number one on my list, as it would really help my father out.

5) My father was in the United States in 1963 getting his Master's Degree in Education so that he could eventually take over and run the school that my grandfather founded in the village of Aboh Orlu. There are probably a few hundred children that attend this school today. It would be an incredible gift to provide them school supplies each year, and perhaps even some computers. I'm sure that somebody out there could find some refurbished p2 or p3 computers to donate to a school. (Who has connections? I'll find a way to get the stuff over there.)

I will continue blogging about my experiences with my new super-extended family for as long as possible and keep you up-to-date as to my progress in all these endeavors. I will try to keep it interesting and include lots of photos.

I will continue in this format for now, though I think that I may need to upgrade to a format that is more user friendly- in other words, I plan on including a lot more photos, and perhaps even video. Thus, I think that I might need to upgrade from the free site I am currently using, to a more tech savvy, self-hosted site with more graphics friendly software. (Note- I am open to suggestions on how to work this. )

What's in it for you? I will do my best to keep this an interesting blog. Look- if you have liked this story so far, you haven't seen anything yet. There is so much more to come. Especially as I start to explore this reunion idea AND especially if I am able post from Africa the next time I go. PLUS- we are also flirting with the idea of producing a documentary about my story. We'll get into that later. Have I mentioned the book or movie guys yet?

Finally- I know that asking for donation on a free blog site can sometimes border on tacky. If you are inclined to donate, bless you. If not, I'm still glad you're here. And if it is only a couple of bucks or a whole lot more, I know it's the thought that counts and you will be the object of my heartfelt gratitude. On behalf of me, my wife, my children, and my entire super-family...

Thank you for your consideration!

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

What AM I?

I was adopted by an African American family at age three. Add that to the fact that my features are that of a person of African descent, growing up I was part of the population that would check the square indicating "black" whenever I would fill out a form where I was asked to indicate my race. At some point it became more politically correct to call people like me African American, so when the term on the form changed, so did I.

Now it seems that maybe I may have been checking the wrong box all along. Especially after reading this from Stuart Buck's blog.

For a moment, the Ethiopian-born activist seemed to melt into the crowd, blending into the sea of black professors, health experts and community leaders considering how to educate blacks about the dangers of prostate cancer. But when he piped up to suggest focusing some attention on African immigrants, the dividing lines were promptly and pointedly drawn.

The focus of the campaign, the activist, Abdulaziz Kamus, was told, would be strictly on African-Americans."

I said, 'But I am African and I am an American citizen; am I not African-American?'" said Mr. Kamus, who is an advocate for African immigrants here, recalling his sense of bewilderment. "They said 'No, no, no, not you.'"

"The census is claiming me as an African-American," said Mr. Kamus, 47, who has lived in this country for 20 years. "If I walk down the streets, white people see me as an African-American. Yet African-Americans are saying, 'You are not one of us.' So I ask myself, in this country, how do I define myself?"

The New York Times article Buck references points out that some people believe that the term African American should only apply to those Americans who are descendants of slaves. (What about that Mrs. Heinz Kerry?)

Now here is my dilema. In my adoptive family, my 96 year old grandmother is the daughter of a former slave. Thus, she can use the term "African American" in almost any circle. And because of my features, I too would be thought of by most people as the same.

However, now that I have discovered my birth parents, and have learned that my father is native Nigerian, there are some who might deny me the right to call myself "African American."

Hmm- I was born and raised in the United States. And I am definitely from African descent. But maybe I should switch to Nigerian American? It doesn't roll off the tounge as easy, but it could work and it is probably more accurate.

WAIT- I'm also half Irish. Black Irish? No- they were those Irish people who supposedly had Spanish (or Italian) ancestry.

How about Nigerian-Irish-American? Nah- too long. Plus, I don't think they will have a check box for that one.

How about "Other?" Nah. Takes too long to fill in the blank.

Pehaps, I'll just stick to what I say when people are crass enough to ask me what I am. I usually just smile and say, I'm an American. I guess I'll have to leave the little boxes blank.

UPDATE: Here is a really good piece on this issue for anybody interested!

UPDATE 9/8: Welcome if you are coming from the "Carnival." PLUS, a big P.S. I couldn't be more proud of my Nigerian and Irish heritage and I am looking forward to learning more about all sides of my super-family!

The Presentation

I haven't been writing as much as I would like to because of "The Presentation." Part of the plan when I went to Africa was to have a gathering of all the people that helped make my trip happen, and show them photos and answer questions about my experience. Thus I have been working on a Powerpoint presentation using many of the over 500 photos I have and writing the stories of my travels.

While this may seem like a simple undertaking, it is not. You see, there were over 130 people who helped me with this trip. There are also at least another 100-200 who have asked me when the presentation is going to happen. We have asked my children's former school and the church that houses them to use their space, as we are expecting at least 100 people to this event.

Laura (a.k.a. "The Wife") has also been very busy gathering up door prizes and putting together a drawing and a silent auction (we'll donate the money to the school.) We will also have some other entertainment- an African student group at St. Olaf's College in Northfield has offered to bring thier award winning African dance troup to perform in exchange for me doing a presentation at their school. We will also have music from West Africa and I will be making samples of Nigerian foods for our guests to try. It is going to be a huge event.

The highlight for me will be to fulfill a promise I made to my father. In Igbo tradition, whenever someone comes to your home, or when you have special guests, or when there is a special event, you present them with a kola nut. It involves blessing the kola (which must be done in the Igbo language)-presenting it to your guests, and then cutting it into pieces to share.

In Nigeria, my father would often be the person who would bless the kola. Afterwards he would say a few words in English, offering kola nut to the guests. On a couple of occasions, he made a request of me to take a special kola nut back to the United States with me to present to our leaders as a gesture of good will on behalf of the people of Aboh Orlu. His instructions were to present one to our Mayor, one to our Governor, and one to the President of the United States, letting them all know that the people of Nigeria wish them wisdom and many blessings.

Thus, we have invited the mayor, the governor, and the President of the United States to our presentation. We also invited our Vice President, our local Congressman, our Senators, our State Representative. So far the Mayor as given an RSVP. Our Congressman cannot attend due to a prior commitment, but will have a representative there on his behalf. And the while the President's office responded... (Well- it is an election year, ya know!)

I guess I'll have to make a separate appointment with the Governor and the President. In any case, I will take pictures to send back to my father with those who show up so I can send the proof back to my father. I think that he will be pleased.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Another "15 Minutes", Coming Up

When the first article about my story came out in the local paper, and was then sent out on the AP wire, I got phone calls from about 20 radio stations all around the country, plus from Canadian Broadcasting in Toronto and BBC London- all different programs that wanted to inteview me and ask me questions on the air about my story. It was quite overwhelming, and though it was flattering that they all wanted to hear about my story, I didn't really have a lot of answers for them. I didn't fully understand what it meant to be an Nigerian Igbo (ee-bo) prince, plus it was very difficult to describe how I felt at the time.

The "Prince" idea was cool and all, but I was much more excited about the fact that I had finally come in contact with both sides of my biological family. I had already met my mother along with my two sisters, and many of my aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, etc. on her side. My next big priority was to get to Nigeria to meet my father- preferably with my wife and children going with me so we all could meet my his side of the family.. That is what was really important to me. The thought of that reunion was the truly exciting part of the story for me. However, for the media that contacted me, they were more intrigued about the Prince angle.

In May of this year, thanks to the grace of God and a little behind the scenes trickery by Laura (a.k.a. The Wife) I finally got the opportunity to travel to Nigeria for the first time to meet my biological father, my six brothers and sisters, and dozens of other relatives living in the village of Aboh Orlu. An editor from a major magazine who had been following my story went with me and brought along a photographer (and his assistant) to document my trip. The article he is writing comes out in their November issue. (I'll tell you which magazine as we get closer to the publish date.)

I am not sure what to expect when the article finally hits the news stands, but because it is going to a very large article in a major magazine, I am sure that I will get another barrage of calls when it comes out. My biggest concern is that it doesn't disrupt my family and my job. While the 15 minutes of fame can be exciting, I also know that I must keep it in perspective.

Now that I have been to Nigeria, the next step for me is to go back again with my wife and children along so that my father can meet his grandchildren. Our goal is to go in December of 2005. It takes a lot of planning and a heck of a lot of money to travel to Nigera- especially with children. Thus we put off going one more year and decided it would make more sense to go in 2005 when we could spend a lot more time saving money to get there.

This has been an incredible turning point in my life that I have chosen to share with other people- especially other adoptees that may have found or are still looking for their biological parents. It is my greatest hope that in the process of getting my second "15 minutes of fame" I will be able to use the opportunity to 1) get my family over to Nigeria, and 2) help as many others reach their own dreams as possible.

UPDATE: MY wife tells me that it's OK to say the name of the magazine. The November issue of GQ Magazine comes out on October 25th.

Friday, August 27, 2004

Let's Keep This Straight...

As of today, I have decided to only use this blog to talk about my adoption story. That is the real journey in my title. It is a story about a guy (me) has lived his life as an adoptee, with a great family and a great life. Then suddenly, one day, his life became something much more grand.

As I said in an earlier post, my wife calls it "a true frog to prince story" but I like to think of it as incredible luck. I am now living a life as a person with three families that I can call my own. I hope from here on out you enjoy what you are reading about me.

Today's postscript: I know that things are about to get crazy in my life (again), with a major magazine about to publish a big story about my first meeting with my natural father. I'll do my best to keep up.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Ambra Alert

Ambra Nykol- Household name?

If you don't yet know who Ambra Nykol is, go and check out a writer who I believe will have a huge national following with the next few years. The people in Seattle will get to know her much sooner. She is a very talentd 22 year old writer (soon to be 23) who isn't your typical consevative. This young American woman of African descent has one of the best blogs I have seen and has recently been hired to write a weekly column in a Seattle magazine.

Now it is Seattle and she will be the only conservative voice for many miles, but I venture to guess that the magazine is about to get a circulation boost- she's that good! Of course, some of the boost will be from people who enjoy shaking their heads as they read. (She said WHAT??) I wouldn't be a bit surprised to see her syndicated in the near future.

On side note- she only has a couple days left to name her column, so if you have any great ideas, you better think fast!

Of course, you'll have to compete with me and a few other folks (like the one who made up the title of this entry.)

UPDATE 8/25: I see that I do have some competition and I even changed the name of this post (since I forgot to take it out of the editor anyway.) But it feels good to be in the top three! I only wish I would have thought of that "Ambra Alert!" I hope they forgive me for using it. Now I am just waiting for someone to read that and complain how that degrades people with missing children.

Friday, August 20, 2004

The Surprise

Thanks to my wonderful wife Laura (a.k.a."The Wife"), I made my first trip ever to Nigeria in May of this year (2004) and spent two weeks meeting and getting to know my father, and brothers and sisters in person.

As many who know me already know, I had originally been planning for over a year on a trip to meet my Nigerian family in December 2003. That trip got derailed due to some unexpected financial circumstances. This past Christmas, when my wife saw my disappointment of having to postpone the trip for another year, she sprang into action.

Unknown to me, she began putting together the most wonderful surprise that I could ever imagine. For four months she had been in contact with all of our family, friends, my business associates, members of our church, and our neighbors.

In what I thought was a stack of late Christmas letters we were sending out, she had actually stuffed the envelopes with invitations to surprise birthday party in honor of my 40th birthday (04/04/04). She also gave everyone the option of chipping in on a gift- round trip airfare to Nigeria to go and meet my father and family for the first time.

Almost 140 people responded with cards and small monetary gifts to be put towards my airfare. On April 4- Palm Sunday- with the help of my mom (Juanita) and my birth mother (Kathy), who both were in town for my birthday, I was tricked into going back to our church after brunch for what I thought was to be a youth bake sale.

However, when we went into the church and down to the room where the bake sale was supposed to be, instead I walked into a room of about 100 people who began to sing "Happy Birthday!" It was a wonderful surprise, but what came next left me speechless.

My wife had written a small play for me to "act out" in which I presented myself a gift that all of my friends and family had purchased for me- round trip tickets to Nigeria for a two week trip to meet my father and six brothers and sisters for the first time.

It was the most amazing surprise of my life. I left on May 13th, flew to Amsterdam where I transfered for the flight to Lagos. I met two of my sisters and their husbands at the Lagos airport and from there, traveled to the village of Aboh Orlu, Imo State to meet my father and the rest of my family.

It was truly the most amazing and wonderful trip of my life- and there is so much more to tell. I will be updating this site as I begin to sort through all the pictures. If you would like to be on our email list to hear more about this story, please email me, and I will put you on Laura's update list or just keep coming back to this site

Also, I am in the process of putting together a multi-media presentation about my trip and story for a special event on September 25th, 2004, and I will definitely send everyone on the email list an invitation.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Only Up and Running Five Days and I Already Have to Make a Correction...

O.K. So I sort of... misspoke. (If our political leaders can do it, why can't I.)

On my first day in the blogsphere, I wrote a little about those who inspired me to start doing this and I made the following statement:

I am joining the 'blogging community' (can bloggers be considered another protected class of citizen?) because of two people-Joe Dougherty and LaShawn Barber- who probably don't know me from Adam.
Well, that isn't 100% accurate, thus the current mea culpa. Actually Joe and I have been emailing each other now and then ever since he wrote his first satirical piece about my story. In fact, he has been very helpful in pointing me in the right direction in getting this web log started and now has even wrote a nice entry on his site about me.

If you are coming here from the Attaboy site, please let me know you were here and thanks for taking a gander. While it's great doing this for my own personal satisfaction, it never hurts to have at least a couple readers for validation (or absolute ridicule- it's your choice.)

What's In a Name, Part II

Over the last couple of days I have been checking out some different adoption web sites, reading other people's various posts and stories. On the subject of birth names, one birth parent asked this question:

My question for the adoptees is----Would you perfer that your bmom share what she would have named you, or does this not seem important to you????

It got me to thinking about how I came to me "Marty" and not John, or Bert or Frankie. For every person who ever asked me, "How did you get Marty from that?", here's the story in my response to that post:

I wasn't adopted until I was 3 so my parents called me Marty even though they changed my legal name. It wasn't until I met my [birth] mom that I found out the 0riginal name on my birth certificate- John Martin O'Connor (yeah- my mother is Irish).

The interesting thing is that even though my bmom never even got to hold me after I was born (due to complications), when she started looking for me, she also referred to me by my middle name. So the transition to "Marty" was a breeze to her.

I catch her now and then referring to me as Martin (no one ever called me Martin growing up because my legal name is Saybert Francis Johnson). However, it really never bothers me.When I met my bfather he also referred to me as Martin, because in my first contact with him I referred to my birth name in the letter, and my bmom called me Martin in a letter to him also.

When I went to Nigeria to meet him for the first time, he arranged to have a very formal ceremony in my grandmother's village to give me an Igbo (tribal) name. In all actuality, I was quite honored to be given a traditional Nigerian name.

So now, I have many names. My legal one still has high priority because that is the name that my family gave me. But in the grand scheme of things- It is fine with me to have three names I can reference. (Or just one really long one.

Saybert Francis John Martin Chinenye O'Connor Ogike Johnson

But you can call me Marty!

Now that I look back at my post, I have a slight correction to make-

Saybert Francis John Martin O'Connor Chinenye Martin Ogike Johnson.

Many of my African relatives also have a Christian name, thus the second Martin.

Chinenye translates into "God Gives."

But you can still call me Marty!

One other thing that is interesting to note. As I mentioned in my last post, when my parents changed my legal name, the named me after my two grandfathers- Saybert Hanger and Francis Johnson. When I met my birth mother, I found out that one of my sisters' name is also Frances. Plus, my natural grandfather (on my birth father's side) was Francis, and my youngest Nigerian brother's middle name is Francis.

Related post- What's in a Name?

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

What's in a Name?

I was adopted at four years old, so I always knew about it even if I didn't always know the significance of it. I spent my few years prior to that in foster care. Growing up, I had a pretty darn good life with my adoptive family- Dad, Mom, and a sister (their natural born child.) In those years, I never really wondered a lot about my birth parents.

Perhaps it was because I had this great family, and we didn't really talk about my being adopted at all. Even when my sister (who is five years older than me) would get mad at me, the one thing she never threw in my face was me being the "adopted one."

The only time I ever thought about it was when people would ask me about my name. Upon adoption, my parents changed my legal name to Saybert, however, they kept calling me Marty (the name my foster families called me) as a nickname. I guess they didn't want to traumatize me too much by making me answer to a different name starting at 3 years old.

Inevitably, on the first day of school every year, the teacher would go through the roll call and say the name "Saybert Johnson." Now as anyone with an unusual name will attest, the first day of school is always tough- especially if the other kids didn't know or remember your name from the year before.

But on the first day of school every year from kindergarten through sixth grade, it would be the same thing:

"Saybert Johnson?" (a couple of chuckles from the kids in the class.)

"It's Marty!"

"I'm sorry?"


"Oh. Is your middle name Martin?"

"No, it's Francis."

"Oh. How do you get 'Marty' from that?"

"You don't. It's just a nickname."

You see, back then it wasn't all that cool to tell people you were adopted. Or at least I knew that my parents didn't think it was a good idea to talk about it. So every year I would play "Marty" off as just a nickname that came out of the blue.

Of course inside, I knew that I was "Marty" because I was adopted. But in all honesty, I never really thought about what that meant to be adopted. It never really occurred to me that I might have another set of parents out there.

By seventh grade, even though the same scenario would happen six times- one for each class- I had gotten really good at getting the "It's Marty!" out as soon as I heard the teacher hesitate in the 'J's". They always hesitated before they would call out "Saybert Johnson" to make sure they were reading the name right, so I always knew that it was my name they were looking at. But now I had a new problem.

My dad and mom are 5'7" and 5'3 respectively. My sister is 5'2". I am 6'4" as an adult. By sixth grade I was 5'8." Seventh grade- 5'10." Eighth- 6'0." Nineth- 6'3" Needless to say, there was a new question that popped up quite often whenever people would see me with my parents.

"How did you get so tall?"

"My grandfather is tall."

(Thankfully, I had a grandfather who was six feet tall would give me some cover.)

In a way it was true- he was my grandfather and he was tall. He just didn't have anything to do with ME being tall. But still- we weren't talking publicly about my adoption. However, by then, I did think about being adopted every now and then. Probably one or two times a year a curiousity about how I really got so tall would enter my brain. (Perhaps my natural father was tall too?)

Then finally, when I was in High School I made two compromises that relieved me of the burden I was carrying around. First, I stopped correcting the teachers and let the other students who knew me do the correcting for me. Or I would just let them call me Saybert. Secondly, if I did correct them, and they asked me how I got Marty 'from that?" I would say- "that was my name before I was adopted at three, and my parents changed my legal name to Saybert Francis, naming me after my two grandfathers- but they continued to call me "Marty" so they wouldn't traumatize me for life.

Phew. That was a burden off my shoulders. To this day, I still go by Marty and still answer that question the same way as I did in high school.

The REAL Reason I Started This Blog

Since I really don't have any readers yet, I figure that I had better use this forum for my original purpose- to log thoughts about my adoption story. I am beginning to check out some adoption reunion web sites and read some other blogs about people who are either seaching for a birthparent or a child they gave up. If you know of any, let me know and I'll add them to the "roll."

Friday, August 13, 2004

My First Day and Already Controversy

Actually the only controversy is what I should write about.

The whole idea of writing something for the world to read can be quite intimidating.

Do I start my first day talking politics and current events?

With all the bits in the news about the Swift Vets new book, John Kerry's Vietnam War record (overshadowing his record as Lieutenant Governor under Michael Dukakis and his 19 years in the Senate), W's missing years in the National Guard, the current operations in Iraq, the current Governor of New Jersey stepping down, the Olympics in Greece, the Hurricane Charley in Florida, terrorists, and the loss of Rick James , Faye Ray, and Julia Childs in the same month... You would think that my first posting to a blog would have lots of juicy political and social commentary.

Or how about a little bit about myself?

I mean, a lot of people who know me think that I have a great story to tell about my adoption and finding my natural parents- my mother (and two sisters) in California and my father (and six brothers and sisters) in Nigeria. My wife calls it a "true frog to prince story." Or I could talk about about how my wife and I met the old fashioned way (in a bar.) Or write something funny about my two kids.

However, my first post is going to be dedicated to the two people who have most influenced me into beginning this new "Big Journey" in my life. I am joining the 'blogging community' (can bloggers be considered another protected class of citizen?) because of two people-Joe Dougherty and LaShawn Barber- who probably don't know me from Adam.

I found Joe's blog by accident when he wrote a funny little satirical piece after reading the real story about me in March 2003. Some of my African relatives who first found the "article" were very concerned that I was being scammed and emailed me hoping that I had not been contacted by someone outside the family who was to tryng steal get money from me.

Not being that familiar with blogging at the time, I posted my first comment ever on a blog- explaining my dismay at being falsely quoted. After reading more of his posts and getting a gracious email response from Joe assuring me that it was a satirical piece that was based on the Nigerian 419 email scam letters I calmed down and became an occasional reader of Joe's blog.


Then in May in 2004, after returning from Africa to meet my father for the first time, I wrote to Joe to let him know "the rest of the story" and also began reading his blog on a regular basis. The political season was heating up and Joe is very astute when it come to writing about politics- one of my favorite topics. He and I have some very similar views about the Presidential race and political life in general- yes, believe it or not, I am a registered Republican and tend to be "conservative" on many issues- so I often find myself agreeing with what he writes.

Then recently, in an effort to branch out a little bit, I began clicking on links to other peoples' blogs and happened upon LaShawn Barber's blog. What was so fascinating to me about her blog is she is this American woman of African descent who is also a political conservative. Since I usually get double and triple-takes from many of my fellow Americans of African descent when I tell them about my politics, it was refeshing to read somebody who understands what I go through when politics comes up in a normal conversation. Plus, her blog introduced me to a network of black conservative bloggers to balance my monthly foray into Ebony Magazine and to hearing only the more traditional "black leaders" in the regular media.

(Plus, she is an interesting writer who I think is about to hit the big time nationally. I still haven't decided if that's a good thing, but we'll see.)

Anyway, after many months of thinking about this I figured, rather than just replying to other peoples' blog posts all the time, I would start my own. I mean if Joe and LaShawn can do it... why not me too?

So what is this blog going to be about?

In the immortal words of Ronald Reagan, "Well..."

I think I'll talk politics once in a while (or maybe more) when the mood hits or when something that is driving me crazy requires a rant.

UPDATE 8/27/2004: Never mind about the politics. I'll save that for another place.

I'll talk a lot about my adoption story. A couple of radio jocks that interviewed me asked me to do that quite awhile ago when the story first hit the papers. Better late than never I guess.

Also, I am hoping to hear from other people who were adopted, conservatives, liberals, people of African descent, people of Irish descent (my mother's side), middle aged balding political junkies (not me- I've got a full head of hair, even if i do nearly shave it off), football fans, college students, people with kids, accountants, and even a raving idiot here and there. In fact, I'll be happy if I even get a couple of midgets.... er, I mean little people. (Don't worry. I don't always strive to be politically correct, but I never intend to offend- unless of course you are easily offended- then I can't help it.)

I don't really know yet how to get people to come and read my blog- I'll figure that out later. (Joe did offer to link to me if I ever decided to start one of these things myself- that may be a good start.)

Let's hope somebody finds this. More importantly- let's hope somebody (besides me) finds it interesting!