Adoption Series: Lack of feeling

Ted Leonhardt
3 min readSep 23, 2023

“The speeding concrete truck killed my neighbor’s dog. Their boy is hysterical. The dog is cut in two”

I read it on Nextdoor and knew the boy’s pain. And it reminded me that I’ve been thinking about what evokes my feelings and what doesn’t.

Afraid that I don’t feel things the way others do.

And, embarrassed to write that line.

When Robin talks about her deep connection to her father and how much she misses him, I wish I had those feelings.

When a member of my Psychodrama group cried and cried about her anger with her mother. I wished I could express those primal feelings about my mother.

I remember being racked with pain when Paul moved away. He was my first friend. I was four. I remember the pain when they told me Boots had died. Boots was my kitty. She curled in my lap and purred and purred. Mom had brought baby kitty Boots home from the pound. Was she with me just for a summer? I don’t remember. I do remember that chest tightening, gripping sensation that comes with a throbbing deep inside, when they told me she had died.

When I see a picture of Pocky, I remember the pain of his death.

When I read Eric’s letter and the line, “and Dad’s not coming home for dinner,” I feel remorse that I left his mother and the pain Eric must have felt to write that line. I also feel proud that he missed me.

I don’t know if my Dad missed me when I was gone. I do know that I don’t miss him or Mom either. I never had those feelings of love and closeness with them. I don’t have the feelings Robin has for her parents.

So it’s not that I don’t have the same feelings as others. I just don’t have them about my adoptive parents. Any potential for those feelings was driven away.

Mom, Dad, and Grandmother were on a mission to raise me in the best possible way they knew. They needed to correct, guide, and give me the skills and knowledge they knew were essential for my survival. When I resisted their instructions, corrections, and rules, they became frustrated with my lack of response, they shamed me for my stupidity. When I resisted further, they defaulted to violence, often driven by, anger in their efforts to control me.

When I was little, Dad would say in frustration, “This is hurting me more than it is hurting you,” as he spanked me.

In our thirties, my wife Judy and I bought and moved into a waterfront house with a pool. We hosted a party to show off our success. At the party, Dad said to me, “with your success, I don’t know how to advise you anymore.”

First, surprise and pride that he’d noticed my success swept through me. Then, anger that he thought his advice had resulted in my success. I remember hating him earlier that day, seeing him strutting around my new house like he owned it, thinking that it was him; that it was his contribution that made my success possible.

On reflection, I suspected that I wasn’t a loved son; I had been a project that he and Mom had taken on. And with my success, he’d proven himself to be worthy. The beatings and course corrections he’d given me were now verified as having been the right thing to do.

Being an adoptee, my experience wasn’t one of love and emotional connection. I was a difficult child with learning issues that needed instruction, guidance, and discipline. As Mom said more than once, “mental illness runs in your family.”

But I do feel deeply.

I feel the loss of Boots, my first kitty, intensely still. And I miss Pocky, my last and much-loved sheepdog, and can still feel the ache of his passing. And I can still feel the gut-wrenching pain from losing my first friend, Paul. When I don’t see Eric often enough, I miss him. I miss Robin with a particular ache when she’s gone, even for a day. So, I do feel pain of loss like others; I just don’t feel it for my parents like others do.

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Ted Leonhardt

Helping designers and other creative professionals win negotiations. Author, coach, trainer, consultant. http://www.tedleonhardt.com