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Family is not defined by bloodlines

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Johnny Johnson shares his story as an adoptee and adoptive father.

It was a cold day; I was wearing a top coat. The air was crisp, and I soaked in the moment as I stood on the courthouse steps—this was the last place I was with my birth mother. Every other sense was overwhelmed, and I wanted to sob—because I was home.

In 1961, my parents weren’t required to travel to South Korea to complete my adoption. I was among the first few waves of children brought to the U.S. My parents only had to travel as far as San Francisco.

My family didn’t talk specifically about adoption—not talking about it was the norm in those days. Adoptive families like mine didn’t encourage kids to learn about their birth countries or connect with their culture. My parents told me everything they knew about my history, so there was nothing more for me to ask. I accepted that and moved on.

Before my wife, Leslie, and I were married, we talked about adopting children from South Korea, but I never thought I would want to go there. When we adopted our son, Caleb, in 2003, Leslie’s persistence and persuasion helped me decide to travel to Seoul.

If I hadn’t had that personal, profound experience on the courthouse steps, I would have parented my kids the way I was parented: “You’re here now, we’re your parents.” Leslie and I want our kids to know about their birth families, we share what is age appropriate and encourage them to ask questions.

I’ve been part of adoptee panels speaking to adoptive parents who ask me what they can do to make their home “more Korean” for their children. I tell them I understand wanting to instill cultural pride, but parents shouldn’t force it on their children. Simply let the kids know you are open to trying cultural foods and events when they’re ready to explore.

In 2006, we went back to South Korea to adopt our daughter, Hannah. Her foster family invited us to their home, and they prepared a table full of Korean foods, fruits, and every kind of delicacy. Three years later, we returned a third time to adopt our daughter, Grace.

Some people believe souls find each other, and I probably fall closer to that than I ever have. Adoption, for me, is a choice made from love and a desire to create a family. From my perspective, a family is not defined by bloodlines or even last names; it’s defined by love, connection, and relationships. We are created to live in community, and there’s no tighter community than a family.

You provide an important connection to your child’s identity when you acknowledge, talk about, and honor your child’s history, heritage, and culture—whether or not they have personal contact with birth family members. We can help you understand legal boundaries and best ethical practices if your child does want to find their birth family. Want to know more?

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