Family Twist Podcast Episode 4: My Three Mothers
In this episode, we discuss Kendall’s three Moms: his adoptive mother, Betty; his step-mother, Joyce; and his birth mother (who he has not had any contact with). While Kendall had a short amount of time with his adoptive Mom, she impacted his personality greatly. And, his step-mother helped him through the difficult days after his mother’s and father’s deaths. We also discuss how Kendall’s being gay affects the relationships with his mothers. We’re celebrating the women who “made” Kendall who he is – and we hope there’s a happy ending with his him and his birth mother.
The gay thing (2:28)
Kendall: When I came out of the closet, my stepsister says I knocked the door off its hinges. And my stepmother was surprised, I guess, because I was kind of one of these militant people when I first came out. And I think that rubbed her the wrong way and probably would with a lot of people. But she also wasn’t the type to tell me how she was feeling about it. So I just sensed it. And I’ve continued to sense it all these years later. From what I understand about my birth mother, I think that one of the reasons that she and I aren’t close or haven’t ever spoken has to do with the fact that I’m gay. And again, nobody wants to really say that to me, but it just seems like that’s the case.
Conservative and accepting (3:27)
Kendall: My adopted mother, Betty, who raised me until I was 10, was super religious, a conservative Christian, but she was very open about the gay community. My mom, Betty, was very accepting of the gay community. And it to this day bothers me because people will say after I came out, ‘Oh, gosh, what would your mom and dad say if they knew you were gay?’ And I laugh and say they kind of thought I was way back then.
Trapped in the closet (8:48)
When you were a kid, a lot of conservative people thought gay people were evil. If your parents felt that way, maybe you wouldn’t have come out the same way, or maybe you would have never come out and just had to be living miserably in the closet. So I’m certainly happy that they were as accepting because we might have not ever met.
All I want is a conversation (20:08)
Corey: It’s been four plus years since Kendall found his birth family on his dad’s side and his birth mother’s side, but he has yet to have any direct contact, phone call, email, letter through the mail with his birth mother. And I know that’s weighed heavy on your mind these last four years and probably continues to this day. Talk a little bit about your feelings about that.
Kendall: You’re right. It still weighs heavily on my mind. And I still want to have a conversation, one conversation, at the very least, before either something happens to her or me. And I think we’re both well, I don’t think that anything is imminent. It’s this overarching desire that I have.
Will it ever happen? (21:04)
Kendall: I don’t know who wouldn’t want to have at least one conversation with the birth parents, but with that being said, now, four years later, I’ve kind of resigned myself to the fact that it might never happen. I don’t feel like that’s fair. I’m just putting that out there.
I’ve talked to so many women, and not necessarily women her age, but women who have told me that I should be as forgiving as I can be, that she hasn’t spoken to me and that I can never know what it’s like as a mother to give up a child. I hear all of that. I really try to have some grace when it comes to the way I feel about it.
But I also feel like she might regret if something happened to me tomorrow and I died suddenly. I worry that she would also feel like she’d missed an opportunity to meet me. So I feel like it could only be a positive thing for us to have at least one conversation.
No regrets (23:24)
Kendall: I have no regrets about finding the family. I never dreamt, never in 100 years did I think that I would not have spoken to my birth mother four years later. I wanted to speak to her the day I found her.
Podcast as olive branch (25:54)
Corey: I’m hopeful that maybe this podcast might be the bridge that makes that happen. We’ll just have to wait and see.
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00:07 Welcome to Family Twist, a podcast about relatively unusual stories of long lost families, adoption, and lots of drama. I'm Corey. And I'm Kendall, and we've been partners for over 16 years. This episode, we're going to talk about Kendall's three mothers, his adopted mom Betty, his stepmother Joyce, and his birth mother.
00:29 We thought it would be kind of interesting to share some of their similarities and differences just to kind of get an idea about these three interesting women. I think the first similarity, Kendall, would be like their religious background, right? For sure. It's interesting. I mean, of course, all the information I have about my birth mother is secondhand from my sisters and my birth mother's sister. From what I can tell, everybody was raised.
00:57 All three of my moms were raised very conservative Christian. It's interesting to me that they all have that background. I think it probably should be all three for Southern Moon. It's interesting. I think the common theme with the three of them is that they're all kind people, extremely kind people. It sounds like, again, using my references to my birth mother.
01:26 But I know that my mom, Betty and stepmother Joyce were just the kindest people you could ever meet growing up. It's interesting, I think, that you turned out to be gay. And coming from families with very strict Christian religious background. And growing up in the 70s, obviously, a lot of people were a little bit more conservative about the LGBTQ plus community. I mean, back then it was just pretty much gay and lesbian.
01:58 We didn't have all the letters that we're using now. And I think it's probably fair to say that Joyce and your birth mother aren't going to be marching in any Pride parades. Is that fair to say? I think that is fair. I mean, Joyce, my stepmother, has always treated me kindly. If she's judgmental, she's not the type of person who is going to say it to me.
02:28 In other words, she knows me well enough to know that when I came out of the closet, my stepsister says I knocked it off, knocked the door off its hinges. And my stepmother was surprised, I guess, because I was kind of one of these militant people when I first came out. And I think that rubbed her the wrong way and probably would with a lot of people. But she also wasn't the type to tell me how she was feeling about it.
02:57 So I just sensed it. And I've continued to sense it all these years later. And from what I understand about my birth mother, I think that one of the reasons that she and I aren't close or haven't ever spoken has to do with the fact that I'm gay. And again, nobody wants to really say that to me, but it just seems like that's the case. That's a difference, really, between the two of them.
03:27 And my adopted mother, Betty, who raised me until I was ten because she was super religious, a conservative Christian, but she was very open about the gay community. My mom, Betty, was very accepting of the gay community. And it to this day bothers me because people will say after I came out, people would say to me, oh, gosh, what would your mom and dad say if they knew you were gay?
04:01 And I laugh and say they kind of thought I was way back then. I have vivid memories of my mother saying to me when I was six, seven or eight years old that I could love whoever I wanted to love when I grew up. I don't know if she thought that I might be gay, but in retrospect, yeah, I think she did think it at least that it was a possibility I often have told a story about.
04:31 One reference that makes it true is that she and I and my dad put in a swimming pool when I was seven. And it was difficult because my father was working so much, trying to work really kind of two jobs because my mother wasn't able to work during that period. She was so ill. And so after the pool was put in, we had a guy that came over and cleaned it.
05:01 And my mother was, of course, very friendly to him in general, just she was friendly to everybody. But she would always take him lemonade when he was out working on the pool. And she and I would kind of watch him through the window sometimes. I would go and help him sometimes. But my mom would say things to me like, oh, he's so cute. And then I would say back to her, yes, he is. And for an eight year old boy, I don't know.
05:32 She was surprised or wasn't, but she never flinched. She never acted like I shouldn't say that. She never chastised me at all. It annoyed me after she passed away when all of her conservative Christian female friends would say to me, oh, she'd be, you know, so they use the word disgusted. But, you know, that's what they were trying to get at, that you've come out as gay. And I just laugh at them and say, hey, don't tell me what my mother, who's dead, would think.
06:03 And Secondly, I know that she didn't feel that way. She told me she didn't feel that way. So I stopped trying to have those conversations with these people that were just touting their own beliefs and trying to make me believe that my mother felt something that she didn't feel. I've heard you talk about your mother for the last 16 plus years, and you've never, ever spoken of her with an unkind word.
06:32 Everything has been super positive. It's a bummer that I never got to meet her, but I think she definitely did a great job with raising you those first ten years. You've also spoken about your dad, of course, obviously was Southern Baptist. But he converted for your mother, right? He did, much to his family's dismay.
06:57 But it's so interesting to me how even if you're only converting from one conservative Christian denomination to another back home in Arkansas, that was a big deal. My father was raised Nazarene, and don't I hear about that denomination very often, but it is still pretty large, I think, in the US wasn't really common around my hometown.
07:24 But my father's parents were both born and raised into that denomination and were devout. And it was a big deal that he wanted to stop going to the Nazarene Church and start going to the Southern Baptist Church, when really, if you look at their doctrines, they're pretty similar. It's always strange to me that that was a big deal.
07:50 But the funny thing I thought is that when I was a teenager and we complain about having to go to Church as often as we did and the length of our services, my dad would say, oh, it was even more conservative when I was growing up as a nassarene. So sort of like, Count your blessings and shut up, Kendall, which I get. But in retrospect, it's like, oh, I don't know how much more he could have stood if he had to go more often than we did.
08:21 So you've always spoken about both of your adoptive parents not being judgmental about people at all, which is great, I think, because as you said, your mother told you that you could love whoever you wanted to love when you grew up. And I think maybe that just them being so open and accepting of people might have made your coming out easier, even though it happened after they passed. If they weren't as open and accepting.
08:48 And we're talking when you were a kid about gay people are evil, maybe you wouldn't have come out the same way, or maybe you would have never come out and just had to be living miserably in the closet. So I'm certainly happy that they were as accepting because we might have not ever met. It's true. I often think about that because when I was coming out in 1994, I was scared, right? A lot of us are.
09:15 And I was really scared about what people would say in general, especially in my hometown. I would go back and think about my mom and dad and how they wouldn't be upset. And that did help me, I believe. And it made me think if they would have still continued to love me, then that's what matters. I did find some solace in that approach.
09:44 What are your earliest memories of her when you were just a little guy? It's funny. When I close my eyes and think about being super young, I always go back to my parents had a cabin on Lake Northport in north central Arkansas, and we would go over a lot on the weekends and with friends, and they were avid water skiers, my parents and their friends.
10:12 And they were just really positive, happy times. I just have so many fond memories of sitting around campfire talking and just socializing how fun it was to have friends that were closer to the same age that I was at the time. They were really positive memories. And it's interesting when I don't think about my family home that much when I think about my earliest memories.
10:42 But maybe because going to the Lake was a break from your normal activities. Maybe that's why that really sticks with me, because my family home is not on a Lake. It's very flat and ugly and in the middle of crop fields. So it's very different. So maybe that's why it sticks out so well in my mind.
11:10 Let's talk a little bit about Joyce, your stepmother and a woman who helped raise you after your parents died. I've met Joyce and we've communicated over the phone, and she's been nothing but sweet to me, so I appreciate that. And after we got our domestic partnership and you changed your last name, she started addressing the Christmas cards to us at that last name. So I thought that was really nice.
11:40 I mean, not something that you asked her to do. That's just something she did on her own. So I thought that was pretty cool. But talk about why you decided to call Joyce mother instead of mom. If listeners might remember that we kind of already told the story that Joyce I'd always know Joyce. She's been a family friend since before I was born. She and her first husband used to hang out with my mom and dad.
12:10 And so growing up, I called her Aunt Joyce. So that alone was one reason that it was going to always feel weird to me to call her mom because I never thought of her that way. And there was a little strange part of me that never wanted to call anybody but my mom, Betty mom. I didn't want to use that term for anybody else. So Joyce and dad got married. She was like, well, I probably shouldn't and still be called Aunt Joyce because that's weird, right?
12:42 Since I'm now married to your father. And I was like, yeah, I'm not going to say that I'm not going to call her Joyce. I would never as a proper Southern boy, I would never have called her by her first name. I just wouldn't. And so that's something I've never let go of. But anyway, I just said, how would you feel if I called your mother? And she's just I mean, we just both sort of burst out laughing. And she said, it sounds so normal.
13:11 And I said, well, I think that's what it's going to be like it or not. And she was fine with it. And it's funny because all of my life, until my father died when I was 16, I called him Daddy. I know that sounds crazy, but that was just the term that stuck. And my step sister ended up calling my dad Daddy after our parents got married.
13:42 But see, she had never really used that term. She always called her Dad's dad. So again, we kind of both were using that same logic, right? She used to call my dad Uncle Rube before dad and Joyce got married and she wasn't going to call him uncle anything anymore. So it's the same logic that she and I both used, and it really worked. So my step sister Darla started calling her own mother that she called mom all her life. She started calling her mother as well.
14:12 So it's interesting how we both just kind of started using this uniform terminology for our parents, but it was fun and unique. I thought, this is one of my favorite stories that Kendall tells, and I've asked him to tell it to several people over the years because it just tickles me. Can you tell the story about when you came back home to visit Joyce? When we were away at College, I used to go home from College, which is about an hour and a half from my hometown.
14:44 I used to drive home on the weekends selfishly to do laundry. And then I started working in my hometown on the weekends. So I really needed to go, right. I loved seeing my stepmother. I love doing my laundry for free. I loved making some extra money by working at the pizza restaurant. And so I often came home and I started getting into the habit later in that first year of doing it every weekend.
15:16 But at the beginning, I was only just coming sporadically, right. I hadn't really picked up as many hours at the pizza restaurant at that point. So my stepmother, I would always just call her and tell her, hey, I'm going to be home for the weekend. And I would just always give her the heads up. And I needed to do that because she had a lock on the front door that was only accessible from the inside of the house.
15:44 So if she knew I was coming home for the weekend, she would not put that lock on, right? So even if I got home super late and she was already in bed, she'd be expecting. So one Friday night or Friday, I did not call her. I did not tell her I was coming home. And my friends and I had gone out for, like, pizza after reading class, and I didn't get home until super late.
16:10 And as I'm driving in the driveway at my house, at my mom's house, I was like, oh, I never called her to tell her that I was coming home. Now this is years before cell phones, right? So there was no option for me to whip out my phone and give her a call. What I should have done is driven back into town to a payphone because they were still around at that point in time. And I could have given her a call. But that was not what my 18 year old brain was thinking.
16:41 I was coming to the driveway, and even where I parked was kind of beside the garage. And so my car wouldn't even have been visible to her if she looked out the front window, right? So again, should not have done that, should not have pulled my car up alongside the house where she would never be able to see it. But again, wasn't really thinking like that. And I jump out and I think, okay, I know how to get into the house, right?
17:10 Because again, I had my key. But knowing that that lock on the front door would prevent me from coming in the front door, I thought, I've got to find that secret key that we have stashed out in the yard. So I go find it. I go unlock the side garage door. I go back and put the key back like a good kid.
17:37 And in this whole process, I had woken up my stepmother, and I didn't realize I had because I didn't want to bang on the door. I didn't want to scare her, per se. So I go into the garage, and I have to find the second key that gets me into the house. So I go find the second key. I lock the door. I go put the key back.
18:07 I turn the knob on the door to the den, which is on the opposite end of the house from where my mother's bedroom was. And I reached in the door, and I reached to turn on the light of the room and hear my stepmother talking a gun. And I flipped the light on, as I was saying, mother.
18:35 And she and I burst into tears because she said she could see my silhouette of my body. And of course, she didn't assume that it was I who had come home, and she was about to shoot me. And she's a really good shot. So I do not think I'd be sitting here today if I had maybe come in 1 second later into that room.
19:09 Kids who are listening, who come home from College, please let your parents know. If that's your agreement, please let them know that you're coming. It was terrifying. And she knew she'd be alone. And she had taken gun safety training courses and did all the training where she went to firing ranges. And she's just a very, very good shot.
19:37 So it was terrifying to me and her both. And I don't know why that makes Corey laugh as much as it does, but it always does. He's laughing right now, and I don't find it funny. Still to this day was scary to me, but, oh, well, that lived through it. I have a sick sense of humor. I don't know. That story just tickles me for some reason. Let's move on to she Who Will Not Be Named. We've touched on this in past episodes a little bit, but not too much.
20:08 So it's been four plus years now since Kendall found his birth family on his dad's side and his birth mother's side, but he has yet to have any direct contact, phone call, email, letter through the mail with his birth mother. And I know that's way too heavy on your mind these last four years probably continues to this day.
20:36 So talk a little bit about your feelings about that. It's funny. You're right. It still weighs heavily on my mind. And I still want to have a conversation with our one conversation, at the very least, before either something happens to either her or me. And I think we're both well, I don't think that anything is imminent. It's this overarching desire that I have.
21:04 I don't know who wouldn't want to have at least one conversation with the birth parents, but I will say, with that being said, now, four years later, I've kind of resigned myself to the fact that it might never happen. I don't feel like that's fair. I'm just putting that out there.
21:26 I've talked to so many women, and not necessarily women her age, but women who have told me that I should be as forgiving as I can be, that she hasn't spoken to me and that I can never know what it's like as a mother specifically to give up a child. I hear all of that. I really try to have some Grace when it comes to the way I feel about it.
21:58 But I also feel like she might regret if something happened to me tomorrow and I died suddenly. I worry that she would also feel like she'd missed an opportunity to meet me. So I feel like it could only be a positive thing for us to have at least one conversation. And God bless my siblings, her other children.
22:28 It sounds like they've all three have really tried to impress upon her what I just said, that fact, and they've all encouraged her. They've all said that I seem like a nice person and that I don't want anything from her. I'd love to hear from her, and I'm getting some of this same content, probably from her sister.
22:54 But I'd love to hear stories about my grandparents, about the extended family from her perspective. I feel like that can be interesting. Not that it isn't interesting when my Auntie and I talk about those. It is. And when my sisters tell me how wonderful my grandmother was and my grandfather was, that is wonderful. But there's just something, I think, that could be special for me, hearing it from my birth mother.
23:24 But, you know, right now I'm living vicariously through my siblings, and it's all good. And my cousins and my Auntie. It's still wonderful. I have no regrets about finding the family. I think, though, that I never dreamt, never in 100 years did I think that I would not have spoken to my birth mother? Four years later, I wanted to speak to her the day I found her.
23:56 I had no reservations, and I didn't know anything about her at that moment. I didn't know that she wasn't a serial killer. I just assumed the best and thought, well, no matter who she is, no matter what she's done, I still want to meet this person. And I think that's only I feel like it's only natural I hear from other adoptees that it isn't for them. Some people don't care.
24:24 Some people don't care about meeting them, about knowing who they are, about meeting them, about getting to know them. But I do. I might to Corey's previous point, I might feel differently if either of my adoptive parents were living. I don't think so, because I'm kind of an inquisitive person and I love family connections.
24:50 So I feel like it wouldn't matter whether Betty and Rube were living or not, and especially since I know that they were in favor of my search or my birth family. So I feel like it wouldn't change. I feel like I would always want to meet my birth mother and her husband and that other side of the family that I'm really not related to at all.
25:21 But they've been part of my birth mother's life, and my siblings lives forever. So I just feel like there's a whole family that I'm not really getting to experience on my mother's side. I'm sure that you both have more in common than probably either one of you thinks right now. Your birth father described them at the time when you were conceived, as they were just some hippies in 69.
25:54 So I'm hopeful that maybe this podcast might be the bridge that makes that happen. We'll just have to wait and see. So while we're on the subject of moms, I'm Super fortunate that I have a really good relationship with my mom. Kendall has a really good relationship with my mom, but we're also close with some of my friends from growing up mothers as well. And there are three that come to mind that pretty much think of me and Kendall as their kids in quotation marks.
26:25 They didn't give birth to us, but we're part of the family, so I really hope to get them on the podcast as well, especially because one of them ties directly to the journey of finding Kendall's family. So we'll definitely share that story in another episode. I'm also excited that we're starting to hear about other people's found families and outrageous family stories, just as we've been talking with people about doing this podcast.
26:51 So we're going to start reaching out to those folks and see if they would like to come on guests, because we want to share their stories, too. One of the points of this podcast is to kind of help people on their journey, be it adoption journey found family journey difficult family situations.
27:11 What have you we've been through some crazy stuff and I'm sure there's things that we can learn from others so I'm really excited about getting to talk to and share other people's stories, but we are also trying to get in touch with Jennifer, a girl that Kendall dated in the 7th grade who was also adopted because we think that might be a good addition to the podcast as well. We definitely want to get some good adoption stories in here.
27:35 So there's quite a few people from Kendall's past who helped shape who he is and his journey his best friend Jimmy who would be hysterical on his own podcast because he is just insane. He's going to take part in this soon and I promise you it's going to be hilarious. Just one more thing to look forward to in future episodes of family twists. We will see you soon. Thanks for joining us today in this edition of family twists. We'll be back with you soon.
28:06 This is the family Twist podcast hosted by Kendall and Corey Stulce with original music by Cosmic Afterthoughts and produced by Outpost productions and presented by Savoir Fair Marketing Communications. Have a story you want to share visit family twistpodcast.com. All our social media links are there as well.