Finding my Place

Having two families can be difficult to navigate for children of open adoptions. It certainly was for me. Looking back, I see that having supportive parents made it so much easier.

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An adoption is an agreement between two families with a child in the middle. In a closed adoption, information about the birth family is kept secret, while in an open adoption, information is shared between both families, with an option for direct contact with the child.

I am a child of an open adoption.

I was born in Saskatoon, at the Royal University Hospital on June 29th, 1995. “We were at the end of the hall in the waiting room. There were lots of people coming and going from the room of your birth mother. We were so nervous,” remembers my mom.

Calling my mom “adopted mother” feels completely alien. As alien as it feels, it’s the truth. My parents, took me home from the hospital on June 30th. My mother says the send-off from the hospital was emotionally charged: “As your dad buckled you into the car seat, he said to your birth father ‘If my son turns out to be half the man that you are today, I will be a very proud dad.’ Your birth father cried.”

In Saskatchewan at the time, there was a fourteen-day period after an adoption when the birth parents could change their minds. Prospective parents had two options, either let social workers put the child in foster care for fourteen days or take the chance of taking the child home with no guarantee the birth parents wouldn’t change their minds within that period.

“At midnight on the fifteenth day the phone rang,” said Mom. “Our hearts dropped. We held our breath. They are changing their minds,” says my mom.

It turned out to be family from Winnipeg calling to them.

My parents had a photoshoot scheduled for the morning of the fifteenth day. Those photographs immortalized us as a family.

Sepia tone photo of Monique Augustine (adopted mother) holding baby Braydon in her arms as her husband, Kerry looks lovingly at Braydon.
Braydon Augustine (baby) and his adopted parents, Kerry and Monique’s first family photo, taken on the morning of the 15th day.

I recently learned about that phone call for the first time. I knew that different provinces had different regulations about birth parents’ rights and how long they had to make a final decision.

Looking back, that phone call was the moment of proof that I was a fully-fledged member of the Augustine family. Growing up, knowing I was adopted, I had the occasional moment of anxiety thinking that I wasn’t a full member of this family. It wasn’t all the time, but sometimes I felt like I was only 85 per cent or maybe 95 per cent Augustine — something short of 100 per cent. There was a voice of doubt that nagged within me, saying “If you do something really really bad, they’ll give you back.” Obviously, that wasn’t a possibility. They were my legal guardians, so they couldn’t ‘give me back’ even if they wanted to. But that seed of doubt was always there, buried somewhere deep, a gnawing uncertainty that remained until I moved into junior high.

I guess that could be a consequence of an open adoption. No matter how outlandish it seems now, or how many times my parents assured me it would never happen, it always seemed an inevitability. Occasionally, I felt that my parents were just babysitters. In moments of defiance, I would try to think of the most hurtful comeback possible — often coming up with some variation of “you aren’t even my real parents.”

When I was 12, I flew out to Saskatchewan to spend a few weeks with my birth family. They owned a cabin just outside of Prince Albert, and for the next few years it became a second home during summer vacation. It was the perfect spot to take part in all the summer activities I loved, like swimming, boating, fishing and golfing.

I remember playing wild games of bocce ball in the backyard where we had to avoid all sorts of obstacles. The friendly sounds of summer activities surrounded us. Being at the cabin comforted me.

About a month before I left for the cabin, I had started to train for my black belt test in Taekwondo. It would be a big accomplishment and up until leaving I had been spending lots of time at the academy practicing and preparing. Despite wanting to go to Saskatchewan, I voiced my concern to my parents about not being able to train for two whole weeks. Getting the belt would be a big accomplishment, and I was worried that I would fall behind my peers. Despite Taekwondo being an individual sport, we would be tested as a group. I did not want to be exposed as the weak link in that formation. I had worked too long and hard for that.

Collage of Braydon preforming a variety of Tae Kwon Do kicks, the South Korean and Canadian flags and a photo of the name "Braydon Augustine" and one line (denoting 1st dan level) woven into a black belt with gold thread.
At age 15, Braydon spent one calendar year training for his Tae Kwon Do blackbelt test. Finally achieving his goal on March 15, 2010.

“Who said you couldn’t still train? You don’t need sparring gear or a punching bag, what about patterns?” asked Dad.

He made a good point.

Taekwondo (especially a belt test) is about more than fighting. It’s about precision, timing, and, teamwork — skills you would often train by doing patterns, a repeatable series of movements in a group setting. During my black belt test, a group of 15+ students were required to do those patterns, with each movement perfectly in sync.

While in Saskatchewan, my birth grandmother asked me how Taekwondo was going. My mother had been faithfully updating her about new belt levels and competition medals, so she was no stranger to my upcoming belt test.

“Isn’t your belt test coming up?” asked Grandma.

“Yeah, it’s in September,” I replied.

“Well, shouldn’t you be practicing?”

I remember thinking, probably while rolling my eyes. You aren’t my parent, why are you trying to tell me what to do? It took me until I was an adult to understand that it wasn’t about ‘bossing me around’ or ‘taking over a parental role.’ It was her way of showing that she cared about my success.

I spent quite a few hours during that two-week stay doing patterns on the front lawn, with Grandma sitting on the deck watching me. Today, when I think back, I am grateful for the support that my birth family showed me that summer. In fact, everyone in my birth family was invested in my success, not only in Taekwondo, but life in general.

When I think about it now, I am certain that they will always be there for me. I am sure I would feel comfortable picking up the phone, calling almost anyone from my birth family and having a conversation like a ‘normal family’. I expect, they would be just as interested to learn about my time at Red River College Polytechnic or about my long-time girlfriend now as they were then to know about Taekwondo. It wouldn’t really matter what I’m doing. They just want to know that I’m doing well, carving my own path through life.

I asked my mom about her view of the adoption agreement. I was curious if she ever felt that by keeping this relationship open that I might come to like my birth family better than I liked her and dad.

“We were just excited for you, excited for you to go and visit, excited for you to experience things like summer camps, trips, time with your birth family or whatever. We wanted you to know that everyone on both sides of the family loved you,” she said.

“We knew that it would eventually become your decision to keep an ongoing relationship with your birth family, but up until then we did everything we could to keep that door open,” she continued.

There was never one singular moment when I learned about my birth family. It happened in bits and pieces over my early childhood. When I was old enough to understand the concept of adoption (probably around seven or eight years old), I had mixed feelings. I was scared, and I was elated. I was apprehensive but curious. I’ll admit, I was initially excited about the prospect of double birthday and Christmas presents. As I grew older, I became interested in learning more about them. Who were they? What were they like? How were they different from my parents? I learned some of the answers to those questions during my visits to their cabin in Saskatchewan.

My adopted parents were responsible for me. The evidence of this care and responsibility lay in the daily, unglamorous decisions and caregiving tasks that they took on. Whether that be at school, extra-curricular activities, or at home, my parents made choices that would benefit me. They made changes to their own lifestyle to accommodate my ever-evolving needs and aspirations. They gave their time and effort to care for me every day.

After I showed interest in playing basketball, I vividly remember my dad taking weekend classes and seminars to learn the skills needed to coach a basketball team of 12-year-olds. While he had assisted in coaching a lot of the teams I had been a part of over the years, he knew very little about basketball. My dad dropped everything to take on the massive responsibility of being a head coach.

“Whatever you wanted to do, I would be there to support it. My dad wasn’t ever a coach, he was just a spectator, but I knew I would only get the chance with one son, so I was all in for anything you wanted to do,” said Dad.

While our team didn’t end up winning much, my dad encouraged us to do our best no matter if we won or lost. Eventually, I came to know that my dad’s goal was to give me every positive experience he could. I thought of us as a team — we were both learning to play (and coach) basketball together.

When I was 15, my parents were all about finding opportunities that would teach me leadership skills and independence. At the time I wondered how many leadership skills one teenager could possibly need. Unbeknownst to me, they had enrolled me in the Leadership Development Program (LDPs) at Camp Stephens, a wilderness adventure camp in Lake of the Woods. I hated the idea of spending an entire month of my summer holidays at this camp, even the thought of it made me groan.

I liked going to summer camps as a kid. I enjoyed the swimming, canoeing, and campfires. But I was not excited to forego those fun times in favour of learning to be a leader. I was happy being a participant. Nevertheless, early on a Saturday morning, I was led to the car kicking and screaming about how unfair it was. My protests had zero effect on my parents. I was off to Camp Stephens whether I liked it or not. “See you in a month kiddo, don’t forget your sunscreen,” were my mother’s final words of encouragement.

In retrospect, my month at Camp Stephens was one of the most rewarding summer months of my life. Some of the skills I learned during that month I still use today — and I still got to take part in all the summer activities I loved. I realize now that my parents knew better than I did… after all. As loving parents, they knew that I would gain something from that camp and were willing to put up with my expressions of frustration. Now, I’m grateful for having had that experience.

Like all parents, the goal of adopted parents is to make the best decisions and raise their child to be the best person they can be. They deal with resentment against parental controls, rebellious attitudes, and their child’s daily frustrations and challenges. They live the day-to-day routines. But birth parents are more like grandparents. They can give you candy before sending you home and not deal with the consequences. Since birth parents have less effect over your daily life, they tend to focus on the big picture. They want to build a strong connection with you without having to be the ‘policeman.’ Space and distance help determine the role of each family.

Looking back, I appreciate the different roles of each family — one supporting me from a distance and the other supporting me with the up close and personal involvement that comes with daily life.

I had a close relationship with Gran (my dad’s mom). She was available to babysit and help me with school projects. I remember telling her that while I had another grandmother in Saskatchewan, she would “always be my real grandma.” This perception probably stemmed from her always being close by.

One of the things that annoyed me the most growing up was not being allowed to make choices for myself. When I looked at my peers, it seemed as if they could do anything they wanted: stay out late on school nights, hang out with their friends whenever they wanted, and they weren’t forced to do any activities after school. While I was being whisked off to Taekwondo practice, swimming lessons, and piano lessons every night of the week (and most weekends), my friends told me they were allowed to stay home and play video games.

I despised the number of extra-curricular activities that I was forced to take part in. All I wanted was to come home from school and laze around like a ‘bump on a log’ as my Gran would say.

Looking back, I realize that doing all these activities was meant to give me a leg up on my peers. While they were sitting at home, I was gaining the skills and options that would help me later in life.

A good example is swimming. I hated swimming lessons. I failed level five what felt like ten times and remember being embarrassed when the notice said, yet again, to please register your child in level five. I complained to my dad and told him that learning to swim was a waste of time, but he was not deterred. He told me, in that menacing tone that only dads seem to be able to pull off, “Swimming is a life skill and you’re going to finish level ten.”

I was not impressed, but in the end, I completed level ten and even went beyond to finish all the lifeguard certifications (which, admittedly, he had a hand in as well).

“Your gran, my mom, taught me that swimming was a life skill so it was pretty much inevitable that I would pass that same knowledge on to you,” said my dad. “I wanted you to have a high enough skill level that you wouldn’t be intimidated by water, no matter the situation.”

As usual, my dad was right. Becoming a lifeguard was one of the most rewarding things I did as a teenager. It got me my first full time job at the YMCA/YWCA. I remember my high school friends being so jealous of that job. They would ask me to see if I could ‘get them in’.

When I graduated from Grade 12, I was in the seemingly perfect position to start my life as an adult. My resume had an extensive list of accomplishments, volunteering, and leadership skills. I had a lifeguarding job that could provide for me while I went to post-secondary education.

On top of this privileged position, I finally had the one thing I always wanted: freedom to make my own decisions.

I was so excited to be able to tell my parents “No, I’m not doing that.” The freedom I always wanted ended up being a multi-year pitfall. The ability to sit at home and do nothing took hold of me, and I essentially squandered the amazing head start my parents had given me. I spent more time than I’m willing to admit doing what I had wished for. Nothing. Sitting in the basement, playing video games and not much else.

Eventually, the YMCA/YWCA wasn’t this illustrious job that people were jealous of in high school. The friends who once begged me to help them get a job had passed me by and were getting careers, buying houses, and starting their own families.

What I didn’t know then was that my parents were still supporting me. They let me make my own decisions and once I finally figured out that I wasn’t the smartest person in the room, they never said “I told you so.” Instead, they supported me through courses in broadcast media, filmmaking, and video editing. They helped me move forward to find my own path and get me to where I am now.

While I haven’t talked to my birth family in almost five years, I know they will always be there if I decide to call, ready to hear all about my dreams, aspirations, and successes. I don’t know if I’ll ever make that call. What I do know is that they have created a welcoming place to visit, but it isn’t my home.

I also know that my parents would do anything to help me succeed. They are there for me, but are also willing to ‘say it like it is’. They did their best to build a foundation of trust and stability. In doing so, they have created a forever home for me.

The person I am is the result of a balancing act between the impact and influence of two families. At 28 I realize that I’m comfortable with my identity and my place in these families. Even my name ties me to both of my families. My full name is Braydon Taylor Kerry Augustine. Braydon Taylor are the names my birth parents chose for me at the moment of my birth. Kerry Augustine are the names I inherited from my adopted family. Every time I write my legal name, I am reminded of these connections — connections that make me me.

Headshot of Braydon Augustine

Braydon Augustine

Braydon (he/him) fancies himself a “design specialist” and resident potato chip sommelier. He likes trying out new restaurants, playing board games with friends, and (politely) arguing about sports or politics.
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