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!