CHILDREN OF THE MANSE
CHILDREN OF THE MANSE
CHILDREN OF THE MANSE
CHILDREN OF THE MANSE
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CHILDREN OF THE MANSE
Author's Interview


Q.  Why did you write Children of the Manse?

To honor adoptive parents.  When I read a lot of adoption literature a decade ago, it seemed to me many of the books and articles were about the unhappily adopted and were especially hard on adoptive mothers. 

I always spend a few minutes looking at the Heart Gallery photos of children waiting for adoption on the walls of Market of Choice and other sites around Eugene.  I stop in front of the photos of adoptive parents who have taken such children into their hearts and homes.  I say, usually with a tear or two, you are my heroes.    

Children of the Manse is an upbeat book, an adoption success story.  I want to make the point that neglected and abused children do not have to follow in the footsteps of their failed parents.  The same or similar genes can lead to very different results, depending on a child’s environment. 

 I offer myself and my siblings as examples in Children of the Manse.  Our biological father, one aunt and one uncle, spent many years in Ohio penal institutions.  Eight children from their families ended up in children’s homes.  Neither I nor my three siblings nor our children or grandchildren has ever been arrested. None of our children or grandchildren has ever been in foster care. 

We could have gone that way.  After being abused and abandoned, I was an angry eight-year-old.  But intelligent and loving foster care saved me from that fate.  Our fate can be changed by having loving and responsible adults as our parents.      

 

Q. The title, Children of the Manse.  What is a manse? 

A. The word came from Scotland, as did the Presbyterians, and originally meant the principal house of an estate.  It came to mean the residence of a Presbyterian clergyman, much the same as Roman Catholics or Episcopalians call their clergyman’s residence a rectory or the Methodists call theirs a parsonage.      

 

Q.  You were at first reluctant to consider adoption by the Luchs.  Why was that?

Because I no longer trusted adults.  Adults in my life had failed me.  Not once, but many times. And, as bleak and unpleasant as the children’s home was in some ways, I knew we were safe and warm there, and we did not go hungry.  Our children’s home was an improvement over what we had lived in and lived with in our biological families.    

Because I was at first reluctant to go with the Luchs, social worker Ann Minnis promised me that if --- for any reason --- I thought the Luchs would not be suitable parents for us, we could all return to the children’s home.  It was a gamble on her part.  She had doubts that it would work, four troubled children placed all at once in a new family.  But her promise made me believe I could choose our parents.  That was terribly important to me at that time.        

 

Q.  Records are sealed in the state of Ohio.  How were you able to obtain yours?

A.  I’m not sure.  I spent over three years working to obtain them.  That story is told in the introduction to Children of the Manse.         

Perhaps the authorities were being defensive.  They had not been truthful with me.  They had even given me an official letter stating that no records existed. 

I made a strong case for giving me my records and I was persistent. I was also lucky.  I found a woman in the Scioto County court house who knew the records existed and where they were stored. 

Every adult involved in our case was deceased when I pushed to get my records.  That probably made a difference.  At the end of my quest, I even threatened legal action but that was a bluff because, legally, they would not have had to give me anything.     

 

Q. What are your views on sealed records? 

Those who want the records unsealed were adopted as infants and know nothing of their biological families.  I think they have a case.  That was not my situation at all.   I already knew something about my biological origins and my sister’s searching filled in many details. 

I do think there is a tendency among many adoptees to idealize their biological parents. When they do actually meet them, they are often disappointed.  That was certainly true for my brother and sister. And it was true for me.  I idealized my biological father who I last saw as a child of five.  Learning the full story of his life came as something of a shock.  But I think it was a therapeutic shock.  Besides, without the records, I had nothing but memories, nothing to prove that this story I wanted to tell was true.      

 

Q. What are your views on open adoption?

Well, it does solve the issue of sealed records, doesn’t it? 

As all human beings are unique, so are adoptees unique, each with a somewhat different experience.  My experience was that my biological relatives had no interest in us at all.

In our case, I think it was better to close the door on the past altogether and begin new lives.  I would not have welcomed relationships with biological relatives once we were safe and happy with the Luchs.  I would have found that confusing, even disturbing. 

Betty Jean Lifton, who was widely read on the subject of adoption a generation ago, was adopted as an infant and did not develop a good relationship with her adoptive mother. 

She wrote, “Only reunion with birth parents permits adoptees to become a complete, fully integrated human being.”

That certainly was not true in our case and I doubt it is true for most adoptees.    

In any event, Lifton’s relationship with her biological mother, once she did meet her, was no better than her relationship with her adoptive mother.      

 

Q.  In Children of the Manse, you try to understand the behavior of your biological father.  What did you learn? 

A.  That in part he was a victim of the Appalachian cultural syndrome.  Lonnie (that was my father’s name) began drinking his father’s moonshine whiskey at the age of nine, not uncommon in that culture.  Then there was the violence.  The church property was a killing ground.  One of my biological relatives was gunned down. Other elements in the syndrome are a disinterest in formal education; the suspicion of outsiders; the hatred of government authority; and biblical fundamentalism.  At the root of all this is the mother of all curses, in my view:  Isolation.  Isolation leads to ignorance and ignorance leads to poverty as night follows day.  Those individuals and groups that do best are outward looking, cosmopolitan.  They are not isolated.     

But all this was made worse by my school-teaching, whiskey-making grandfather who took no interest in the guidance of his own children.  He let my biological father leave school during the 4th grade.  Now that IS difficult to understand.      

 

Q.  All does not seem to be well with the foster care system.  Newt Gingrich a few years back recommended we go back to children’s homes.  

It’s too bad Mr. Gingrich couldn’t spend some time in a county children’s home.  Mine was like a minimum security prison.  I describe life there in Children of the Manse.  The staff was untrained and poorly paid.  The diet was loaded with cheap carbohydrates. The superintendant had to beg local merchants for shoes and clothing for the children.  Even so, such children’s homes were much better than orphans on the streets, which was what existed before the children’s home movement began in the l880s.  

Now there were better children’s homes, most of them sponsored by religious organizations.  They had larger staffs and trained staffs, much healthier food and often excellent health care.  But most children’s homes were like mine, county children’s homes.   

I don’t really know enough about foster care to comment on that.  But it’s perhaps obvious that the quality of foster care depends on the quality of the foster parents.  Evelyn Luchs would be graded A plus on that scale.  She offered loving and intelligent foster care.  Loving is most important, of course, but intelligence and knowledge are also important.  My mother was a professor in teacher’s colleges as a young woman, a teacher of teachers.  She needed everything she had learned about children to help her recover the physical and emotional health of me and my siblings.        

 

Q. Do you find the assumption that adoptive relationships are second best or inferior to biological ones?  That seems to be the point of view of those who want adoption records unsealed.        

A.  A generation or two ago that was a common view. There was a stigma attached to adoption and I felt that as a child in a small Midwestern town.  I think that has changed, certainly in Eugene.  Adoptive relationships can be as deep and loving as any biological relationship and usually are.  I hope that is generally recognized. 

Evelyn Luchs became my true, forever, and only mother.  It annoys me when the assumption is made that she was not my “real” mother or that our strong bond was a fiction or second best.   To make that point is another reason I wanted to write Children of the Manse.

Social psychologist Richard E. Nisbett, a Distinguished University Professor at the University of Michigan, has a new book out on the determinants of IQ, “Intelligence and How to Get it.”  Nesbitt writes in chapter two, “Heritability and Mutability,” that in one sense, adoptive relationships are superior to the general run of family relationships. How can that possibly be?   Because most adopters are in the middle or upper middle class.  Studies of home environments assess the amount of intellectual stimulation in the family; how much access there is to books and computers, how much the parents talk with and read to their child.  They also access the degree of emotional warmth in parental behavior.  Adoptive families rate above the general run of families in the US in these respects. 

There is also a positive effect on IQ as a result of adoption.  Nisbett concludes, on page 34 of his book, that, “The effects on IQ as a result of adoption are large, 14 points on average.”     

 

Q.  You seem to think social kinship is as important as biological kinship.  

A. And that runs against the grain in American society, which attaches much more importance to connections of blood.  For most people, this issue does not come up because biological and social kinship come together.  It is difficult in that case to see what came from the environment and what from the genes.  

But the separation is clearer for adoptees who know their biological family’s history and characteristics.  As adoptees, our biological kinship comes from one set of parents, our social kinship from another.  I was surprised at how different Uncle Nate, the first biological relative I met, was from me.  We did not even look like each other. But more important, our cultures and our values were different.  Our conversation came to a series of dead ends. 

I do believe the strongest influences in our lives are not biological but social.  I mean by that, shared experience.  Especially shared emotional experience.  Married couples don’t share any blood, but for many of us that becomes our deepest human connection.  Or take Marines with no blood relationship at all.  They form bonds closer than those of many blood brothers because they share dangers and depend on each other in combat. 

The genes have their say, obviously.  For example, the four of us had some musical ability.  The Luchs did not.  No one could mistake my physical resemblance to my biological father, Lonnie. One of my brothers struggled with alcoholism, as Lonnie did.     

 

There is a reunion with your biological mother in Children of the Manse.  Would you talk about that?  

The media like to feature happy reunions with biological mothers and present these as normative.  I have my doubts.  That was certainly not true in our case and my reading and anecdotal evidence I’ve seen suggests most, not all—but most of these reunions are disappointing.  My sister said, after a reunion with our biological mother, “I tried desperately to find something in her I could relate to.  I found nothing.”  My brother said, “I wanted this woman to be interesting and there was no way I could make her interesting.”      

 

What was your experience as a CASA volunteer? 

A.  I was a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteer for five years and left to finish this book.  I got more than I gave to the program.  I came to an uncomfortable conclusion as a CASA volunteer which is: a greater percentage of abused children should be separated from their biological parents sooner.  I think we are too tolerant of neglectful and abusive biological parents.

In Children of the Manse I quote the poet Kahil Gibran who wrote that your children "come through you but not from you. And they are with you, yet they belong not to you."

I was proud to be one of the 68,000 trained and active CASA volunteers in the US today, an army that marches for abused children.  Our local program in Lane County is one of the best.  The director, Megan Shultz, is a creative and effective leader and a true champion for children. She ensures that donations made to the CASA program are well spent.  This national program was inspired by David Soukup, a superior court judge in Seattle.  What a difference he has made!  There are l,000 children living in foster care in Lane County and 150 volunteers.  So the need remains great.      

 

Q. What was your experience of the social workers you worked with as a CASA? 

A.  The social workers I worked with were professional and dedicated.  It’s stressful, working with wounded children in troubled situations.  There is a problem.  Social workers are overwhelmed with too many cases.   We need more social workers as we need more CASA volunteers. 

I think the role of the social worker in our welfare system is critical.  One of the chapters in Children of the Manse is titled “An Angel Arrives.”  Our angel was social worker Ann Minnis.  It is unlikely the Luchs would have adopted the four of us instead of the one little girl they had asked for without Ann Minnis.      

 

Q You self-published your book.  What was that like?

A  Easier than I expected.  If you can find a talented designer to do your cover and the inside design of your book and walk you through the steps with online services that provide self-publishing.  I found Keith Van Norman, who did it all and at reasonable cost.  He worked previously for Xlibris.com and knows the ins and outs of print-on-demand publishing.  I encourage you to visit his website, www.vespagraphics.com.    

 

lewis richard luchs
 

LEWIS
RICHARD
LUCHS

Lewis Richard Luchs is a retired Foreign Service officer who worked in seven capitals in Africa, Europe, and Asia and was promoted to the Senior Foreign Service in l985. 

 
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© Copyright 2009 Lewis Richard Luchs. All rights reserved.
No part of this website may be reproduced or transmitted in any form by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage or retrieval system without permission from the Lewis Richard Luchs, except for the inclusion of brief quotations in a review.Children of the Manse, by Lewis R Luchs. Published October, 2009. Children of the Manse entertains as it describes how four wounded children respond to intelligent and loving foster care. ISBN 978-0-578-03523-9, 9780578035239

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