Profiles In

Countless moments shape our lives, but a few define us.

wasn’t working at the time; good jobs were hard to come by, and he wasn’t going to sweep floors for a living. This sent me into a rage, because my [adoptive] dad had worked two, sometimes three jobs at a time to provide for his family-and sweeping floors was once one of them.”

An incensed Shellman literally jumped in his Porsche and sped from Portland to Seattle to his dad’s house. When he got there, he told his adoptive father about the conversation. Shellman says his dad, who is a good bit older than the birth father, calmed him down and said, “Look, I’m from another generation. We did what we had to do-that’s just who I am. [Your birth father] was from a different time and circumstances. You have to try to understand and then just let it go.”

It took a while, but Shellman says that with the help of some wise counsel from his adoptive father, he came to believe that Charles and Cora Brown did the best they could do at the time. Besides, he says of his birth parents, “My mom is such a sweet lady and my dad is such a cool guy.”

Two days after that first marathon phone conversation, Shellman and his younger sister, who lived in Minnesota, both flew to Seattle to meet. “She got off the plane and I was looking at the faces of all these people and then, there she was-the female version of me! We’ve been supertight ever since. We stayed up all night talking. It was if we had been best friends for years.”

Two weeks later, he drove to Portland to meet the rest of his family and, again, there was an instant bond. But there were difficult truths to face up to as well. His closeness to his newly found younger sister contrasts with more complicated relationships with his other siblings. They have their own resentments, especially given how well he’s done in life. His older sister feels that he got lucky because he was brought up in better circumstances than she was. And frankly, Shellman agrees that as much as finding his birth family has enriched his life and his sense of completion, getting adopted is the best thing that ever happened to him.

On the other hand, finding his birth parents did exactly what Shellman needed it to do. It filled the empty space he’d felt despite a life that was full to the brim. It completed him. The experience also taught him a few things.

“As corny as it may sound, this let me know that there truly is a God and that if you pray for it-whatever ‘it’ is-you’ll get it,” he says, his eyes filling for a moment. “It also reinforced for me how truly important family is. We take for granted our families and how much they love us. If my adopted family hadn’t loved me and nurtured me and totally embraced me, I would never have been prepared to embrace anybody else.


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