Following the untimely death of his adopted African-American son, a father seeks posthumous reconciliation in this affecting collection of personal letters by Gough.
Jeff and his fraternal twin, Shelia, were 7 years old when they were adopted. The author and his wife, Judy, spotted the photographs of “two black kids available for adoption” in the local newspaper. At the end of the 1960s, attitudes toward racial integration in America were changing, marked by the repeal of anti-miscegenation laws, yet racial tensions remained high in many states. The author, who describes himself as living a “white Anglo-Saxon lifestyle,” was all too aware of having spent the summer of 1965 working as a civil rights volunteer in Mississippi. Each of the letters in this book is addressed to deceased Jeff, gently explaining the background to his adoption into a white family. Jeff is described as a charismatic yet defiant child; his actions, in part, related to him being physically and emotionally abused during the first six years of his life. He remained naturally defensive, twisting away from his adoptive father’s embrace. As he grew older, he began to steal, beginning with what seemed an innocuous piggy bank heist but in later years turning into car burglaries, joyriding, and petty theft. Evidently beyond his father’s physical control and emotional guidance, Jeff’s life rapidly spiraled downward, and as a young man he spent time between the YMCA and jail, heading toward a tragic end. The author’s stylistic approach is admirably succinct and frank: “you came into our family as a child who had learned to take because nothing was given.” The book may fail to fully reflect the emotional viewpoints of Jeff’s sister or his adoptive siblings, who remain muted throughout, yet that’s excusable given how this is essentially a monologue from father to son. While more broadly exploring the bonds and strains of interracial adoptive parenthood, the brave, cathartic writing also offers a window to street-level racial tensions during the civil rights movement.
A personal, heart-rending story of struggle and anguish in the face of unconditional love.