In the Arena: The Stops and Starts of an Adoptee

Tim Monti-Wohlpart is the national Interim Legislative Chair and New York State Representative of the American Adoption Congress. He is a New York born adoptee in reunion since 1998. In 2002 and 2003, he served as Vice President and Legislative Liaison for New York Statewide Adoption Reform. At that time, he lobbied for unrestricted original birth certificate access for adult adoptees. In 2015, he began a grassroots effort to restore and advance legislation for unrestricted access after it was changed in June 2015. His public petition, supporting that ongoing effort, has been provided to key legislators and the Governor. He holds a B.S. in marketing with a minor in political science and a Master of Education. He lives in Brooklyn. 

In the autumn of 1971, I was adopted in New York at about six weeks old. In 1975, my Dad started taking me to Minnesota Vikings football games in Bloomington, Minnesota. Back then, Viking home games were played at an open-air venue about 80 miles north of where IBM had moved us from New York when I was three years old.

At one game, the temperature in Metropolitan Stadium was about the same as my age. The wind chill? Don’t even ask. Put it this way, it was bitter cold at what they called “The Ice Palace.” My Viking purple hat (I still have it) was pulled down tight over my ears as Fran Tarkenton and Chuck Foreman drove down the field to score. But my “STOP” and “GO” mittens (long gone) were just not cutting it. I looked up at my Dad and I knew he was my Dad because I figured it was his job to fix the situation, and I said, “Dad, I can’t move my hands. They’re too cold.”

This is where everything went into slow motion, as if in an instant replay. I trust that my Dad looked down at me, and I say “trust” because I could not see his face. I don’t know where the cigar smoke ended and the breath vapor began. It was a wintry mix of the two. Oh, and snow.  I trust that he looked at me when I heard him say, “Timothy, there’s only one more quarter to go.”

Now, for all of you football fans out there, I think we can agree. A quarter of football may be a quarter-hour of action on the field but, with all of a game’s stops and starts, it is decidedly not 15 minutes of chronological time in the stands. And when the wind chill is, like, negative bazillion degrees, it can feel like a lifetime. So, at that point, I felt nervous. But I realized something. I had two choices. One: freeze and lose my fingers. Or two: start clapping for Fran Tarkenton, get the circulation going, “help” the Vikings win, and, if I was enough of a die-hard and perhaps a bit lucky, then maybe I could, as my Dad suggested, also save my digits. I like my fingers so I went with option number two. And to this day, I can report that I have two opposable thumbs. In short, I had a medical excuse to become a Minnesota Vikings fan. A good one.

Six-year-old Tim in Rochester, Minnesota, in 1977 (Photo courtesy of a family friend)

Why am I telling you this? It’s not because I need you to think I was a super tough tot. The truth is my older brother, who was also adopted and went to the next game, is much tougher than me. And no, it’s not because I want you to call child protective services to talk to my Dad. He’s deceased. It’s because at no time during this stressful event, and challenge, did I doubt who my Dad was. When it was cold, he was my Dad. When it was hot, he was my Dad. He’s gone now and he’s still my Dad.

And yet, as adoptees, sometimes we decide to search for our birth parents. Some people think it’s because we want to trade in our adoptive parents. You can’t do that. But just like you can’t trade in the parents who raised you, you cannot erase the history that made you. You can’t do that either.

The truth is my life as an adoptee helped me to gain perspective on why it could become important to search. As much as my Dad worked to raise me, he could not give me my medical history. He could not tell me about my ancestry. He could not take away the curiosity I never lost about where I came from.

Not long after I found my birth mother in 1998, I became upset with myself. I could not understand why, even though I was in a welcoming reunion, I was struggling to get along with my adoptive parents. Then it hit me. Just like it wasn’t about the quality of my relationship with my Mom and Dad that I searched for my birth parents, it wasn’t about my reunion that I was experiencing disharmony with my adoptive parents. Over time, I tried to talk with my adoptive parents about the differences between us. It was complicated, for sure, but the source of my struggle was unrelated to the reunion.

Two-year-old Tim and his adoptive father George in Briarcliff Manor, New York, in 1973 (Photo courtesy of the Wohlpart family)

Before my Dad died in 2011, there was a sense of peace. In our last conversation, I got to tell him that I had coached my own team, a cross country running team, to a New York City championship. We did it at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx. It was relatively cold outside. Not “The Ice Palace” cold. But cold all the same. I think he was proud. My mom? She’s 80 now. And, in the blistering Las Vegas desert where she lives now, we’ve found a bit of our old friendship again. I’m very thankful.

My experience as a reunited adoptee helped me to gain perspective on why it’s important to have a good pair of mittens. Just kidding. On why, no matter what, the people who raise you, for better or worse—they’re your parents.

The truth is two people put me on this Earth. Two more kept me here. All four are very important to me in their own way. And I know that I and all adoptees deserve the human right to know where we came from just like everybody else who claps, and fights to survive and win in the arena. Go Vikings!