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The Adoption Joke We've Got to Stop Telling

I was never bestowed with the gift of a great memory. Most of my childhood is a blur. Because of this, I find that the world must work in some mysterious way to have left one particular memory with me.

I was in third grade. We were given an assignment during the Thanksgiving holiday to write a small essay on what we are thankful for. I went to my room, and wrote a little masterpiece. In it, I exclaimed with great enthusiasm that I was thankful that I wasn't adopted.

I brought the essay down and showed it to my parents, and I watched as they read it, waiting for their cheers and praises. I remember my mother and father looking at each other, puzzled. I was confused. What could be puzzling about this essay? Clearly I was a master writer, even at the ripe old age of 9.

My dad gently took me upstairs and sat me down. He explained that I'd have to rewrite the essay because there are children out there that are adopted and it might be hurtful to them if they read what I had written. He explained that it's OK to be adopted.

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Let's fast-forward to a few years ago. I was at a wedding and the best man, who was the groom's brother, took the microphone for his speech. He was a charming guy, and before he dove into the tales of brotherly love, he began with a quick joke. The joke was simple and short. He plainly said, "It's about time we told you… you're adopted."

Everyone laughed, of course. Well… everyone except me.

I just sat there, staring, thinking… stewing, "I'd really like to punch that dickhead in the face."

You see, on August 8, 2011 my wife and I were given the greatest gift we could have ever asked for. Our son was born. He came into the world via c-section and he was a perfect eight pounds of love. My wife was the very first person to ever hold our son, and I followed right behind her.

My wife never gained a single pound during the entire pregnancy because, as you've probably guessed it by now, we adopted our son.

When you say "you're adopted" as the punchline of a joke, you are telling me, my son and anyone else who has adopted or been adopted that they are "less than" those raised by their biological parents.

It's a shame that it took this act to make me totally realize how unfunny the "you're adopted" joke really is. Please don't get me wrong. I'd like to think that I have a great sense of humor. I'm not politically correct and find that there 's literally nothing off-limits when it comes to comedy. Hell, Louis CK proved that he can even be funny with such subjects as 9/11, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or even child molestation. So yeah, bring on the comedy. Make jokes about adoption, that's totally fine. But be FREAKING FUNNY ABOUT IT if you're going to do it.

Why is "you're adopted" a goddamn punchline to a joke or the joke itself?

I see it in the media all the time. I see it in TV shows and movies that I love. It was a "funny" little bit in an episode of "Modern Family." It was the punchline of a scene in a cute little comedy called "Accepted."

When you say "you're adopted" as the punchline of a joke, you are telling me, my son and anyone else who has adopted or been adopted that they are "less than" those raised by their biological parents. If that's your belief and that's your intention, then you have a lot to learn and I suppose there's nothing I can do to convince you that you're wrong.

Though, you are wrong.

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There's a saying that my child "grew in my heart"—it's something we say to our adopted children to explain to them that while they didn't grow in their mother's wombs, they did grow in a way like all other children. It's a nice sentiment, and one that I like. But I don't love this sentiment. There's still something missing.

My child did not grow in my heart, because when we use the word "grow" there is a connotation of time. The word "grow" suggests that it started out small and became larger through time.

The love for my child never grew in my heart.

That love erupted. It pierced me and it's incomparable.

So when, years from now, my child sees someone making that inevitable "you're adopted" joke, it will devastate me. Don't get me wrong—I'm not devastated that he won't be able to get over that. He will know, I'm sure, that his mother's love and my love is real, full and immeasurable. I'll be devastated that he has to hear the words and be made to feel different by people who don't understand the inseparable bond between our child and ourselves.

Something in third grade made me feel thankful that I wasn't adopted. Perhaps it was a joke. Perhaps it was some kid making fun of some other kid. I don't know. I just know that the memory has stuck with me, and as long as the world continues to find "you're adopted" jokes to be funny, there will be other kids who wrongly feel thankful that they were not adopted.

I just know that this Thanksgiving—and all Thanksgivings—I'll be thankful for my son.

Photograph by: Twenty20

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