Monday, December 05, 2005

Citizens of Another Universe


Dr. Noah H. Kersey, Ph.D.

Over the years, a large volume of literature has been devoted to the structure of the family in America and, prior to the sexual revolution of the late 1960’s, the traditional family unit was comprised of a mother, a father, and children.

However, as the divorce rate has climbed to over fifty-percent, so has the structure of the family evolved into a myriad of single parent families and blended families. Things are not quite so simple as in the days of “Father Knows Best” and “Leave it to Beaver“.

There is a growing body of work describing the psychological and sociological adjustments of the adoptive family, the adoptee, and to a lesser extent, the birth parents who relinquished their child for adoption either by choice or by unavoidable circumstances.

Interestingly, there has been very little attention paid to orphans who were never adopted.

In the movie "Good Will Hunting", a troubled young man named Will Hunting was an orphan and a genius. From being abused and tortured as a child in various foster homes, he trusted no one.

Will had a tendency to be physically violent and held people at a distance with his biting words and hostile attitude. It was only after he insulted and repelled five prospective therapists that he found his equal and mentor in Sean Maguire, a fellow "Southie" from South Boston. Sean was able to break through Will's psychological defenses because they both had suffered loss and lived with emotional pain.

In the film, “The Cider House Rules”, the lead character Homer was adopted several times only to be returned because he was either too “quiet” for one couple or abused by another.

Therefore, Homer grew up in the orphanage never again to be adopted. Instead, he was trained by the physician who operated the ’home” to be an ’unofficial doctor’ who either provided abortions or helped babies into the world to be adopted.

At one point in the film Homer was trying to provide comfort to another orphan named Curly. It seemed Curly could not understand why prospective adoptive parents who came to ‘look at’ the children in the orphanage never chose him.

Homer explained to Curly that he was “much too special to be adopted by just anyone”. Only a very special family could have Curly. It was never made apparent if Curly ever believed Homer’s attempt to ameliorate the little boy’s pain.

What happens to orphans who are not chosen for adoption? Where do they go? What do they do?

Back in the late 1960’s a considerable number of orphans, upon reaching their late teens, were asked to drop out of school and join the military. It was easier to supervise smaller kids than it was older kids with raging hormones.

Some orphans did drop out of school and worked full-time jobs. Most were drafted and sent off to Vietnam.

Maybe an unknown number of orphans were able to struggle long enough to finish high school. Possibly, there was a smaller group who applied to colleges. Perhaps an infinitesimal number even graduated from college and went on to successful jobs or careers.

The difficulty is the dearth of documentation in regards to how many kids left orphanages without being adopted and were able to lead a productive life. Did they manage to finish their formal education? Did they develop an entrepreneurial acumen to become successful business people? Were they prosperous at love, marriage and parenting?

So very little is known about these individuals and even less is understood about what life was like for them that they might as well have been from another universe.

Would most people who had parents, either by birth or adoption, understand these individuals?

When asked, most cannot imagine life without a family. They have never thought about how it would feel to be alone on Thanksgiving or Christmas, or worse, to be alone on their birthday.

There needs to be more anecdotal research on young men and women who leave orphanages without benefit of a family or a parent to guide them on their pathway to adulthood. Did any succeed, or did most fail? Did they perpetuate the circle of life and create kids only to abandon them to grow up in orphanages themselves?

Maybe they continued in their quest for ‘belonging’ by working their way through college and possibly graduate school. It is possible that some of them could have waited for the right marriage partner to come along and found fulfillment in being a life-long loving spouse as well as a devoted mother or father determined to be all they could imagine, or what God wanted them to be.

It could be enlightening to many to know what it would be like to be a citizen of another universe.

Dr. Kersey has been practicing in the field of mental health since 1977 and has resided in Indiana since 1987. He can be reached through his website at

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