Mr. and Mrs. Oh to a White Courtesy Phone Please

Dear biological parents,

Do you think about me? I think about you. I don’t have any memories of you, just what my mind invents. And what I’ve been told. Of a small apartment in a big city. Two older brothers shouting in the background. I remember the orphanage: cheap plastic toys, modest kitchen downstairs and a small TV upstairs. They took my picture in a gray room while I was in a silly white jumpsuit. I had to put my right fist under my right breast. I used to remember more, but, I admit, I have neglected these memories and they have worn threadbare in my mind. Lots has happened since then.

Little League. Prom. College. Europe.

I have a small child now. A grandson to you. Perhaps your first, perhaps your sixth. His name is Chester. He is three. Like I was the last time we saw each other. I don’t remember back then but only now can I start to understand. What happened?

Your grandson runs and plays and makes puddles below darkened pant legs. He loves corn and butter and chocolate and ham. Quite probably different than what I liked when I was three; pungent whiffs of pickled whatever, savory aromas of rice filling the apartment.

He talks. Boy, does he talk. I used to do that so I’m not surprised. My wife used to do that, too; she’s absolutely lovely, her name is Amaia, you’d love her. What comes out of Chester’s mouth is a misdirected orchestra of English, Spanish and Swiss German. Depending on his audience it will lean one way or the other but you have to stay on your toes if you hope to understand him. He’s athletic. His balance is incredible. He’s fearless. He is kind. He is so many things and I can only guess what he got from you, via me, but ultimately from you.

It’s weird to say but I have been waiting for him to turn three for twenty years or so. And now he is and I study him. I watch him play and run, I listen to him talk and sing and cry. He fills my world with almost infinite happiness. He thrusts me into deep black pits of anger. He is three. He is kittens cute. He is a cunning asshole. And he is the center of my universe. I love him so, so much. After all, he is the only blood relative I know.

I grew up in California as a big-headed Asian kid in peanut-butter-and-jelly-with-a-side-of-black-beans Wine Country. People around me tended toward one shade of white but there were plenty of darker hues seasoning my upbringing. I would look at myself in the mirror and see an Asian kid who looked super bitchin’ in typically white, gelled hairstyles. I still do.

The family that took me is spread between California and Idaho. They are a great family. I couldn’t ask for more. Dad’s not around any more but Mom was always there for me. She gave me boundaries and my sovereignty; she pushed and pulled and sent me along a good path. My sisters are older than me and have families. They both have supported me and been role models and lead blockers.

I went to college (Go Bears) and that served as Life 101. Plenty to learn there. Plenty to forget. I met my wife while furthering my studies. She is from the Basque Country and for that reason I spend much of my life in Spanish. She is, in a word, incredible. Smart and nurturing, stubborn and curious. A wonderful wife and a brilliant mother.

Now I live in Switzerland. We live in Switzerland. And this little kid of ours anchors us here. He gives me direction and reminds me where I’m from. It’s amazing. It’s humbling.
And it’s all because of you. I have all this because of your decision to let me go.

Do you think about me? I think about you. I don’t have any memories of you, just what my mind invents. I imagine a growing family that couldn’t possibly take on a third child. I see the apartment in my head, fuzzy but complete, modest furnishings, humble possessions. In my head I’m your expensive little surprise; perhaps one day I’ll know the whole story. I feel the love and I desperately want to feel the despair of letting go. Even though that scares me. Whether that’s you letting go of me or the thought of me letting go of Chester. It’s terrifying. Enough to scare me both into and out of writing this piece.

I think it started when my sisters started having babies and I was promoted from “dork boy” to “Uncle D”. Being an uncle is one of the coolest things, mostly because you get to give the baby back, but also because, in my situation, I was very close to my nieces and nephews when they were very small. I watched my sisters and my brothers-in-law swoon over their freshly baked creations. Ugly little things. Except for Grace. To my sisters and their husbands though, it didn’t matter. They had created perfect little humans from nothing. And these perfect little humans changed them.

Surely I changed you like my nieces and nephews changed my sisters, right? You must have swooned over me at some point, right? Even if I was misshapen? Even if I was the third?

Do you think about me? I think about you. I didn’t used to think about you when I was younger for a whole host of reasons. Fear, namely, but also sadness. Guilt. There was some guilt in there, I don’t know why. I study myself now as the father of this three year old thing and now the thought of you has crept back to the fore. Only now can I start to understand what you did for me. You gave me the opportunity for a better life than you could give me.

Do you think about me? If you do, know that I am here: alive and well. Your legacy lives through me and through Chester. Your selfless act gave me the opportunity to accomplish this and for that I just wanted to thank you. So thank you. 감사합니다. Chester thanks you, too. He doesn’t know why just yet, but I’ll explain it to him later. In song form.


  1. Mamen

    Dustin, leer esto me ha dejado la piel de gallina y un nudo en la garganta. Qué carta tan valiente y tan bonita. Eres grandes, Dustiño. Un beso enorme.

  2. Rebecca Jacobsen

    You are such an amazing writer! I love getting in your head! All my love to you

  3. Rebecca Jacobsen

    I forgot to mention how grateful I am to your Bio Parents for sharing their treasured gift with us. You have been a blessing every day since you joined our lives, and so have Amaia and now Chester! I can never explain the depth of my gratitude to the people who brought you to my life.

  4. Gracias por compartir algo tan íntimo y tan amoroso. Me conmueven tus palabras y me gusta como escribes. Un fuerte abrazo!! Eta Zorionak Chesterri!!!

  5. Jo, se me han saltado las lágrimas. Eres un artista de las palabras, Dustincillo, y un valiente. Besazos a los tres.

  6. Eva

    Wonderful piece.

  7. Vera Ruangtragool

    This is so beautiful, Dustin. Thank you for sharing such heartfelt thoughts ❤

  8. Dustin- This is absolutely beautiful. Keep up the good work (in fatherhood, writing and everything in between!). Greetings from Monterey – my wife and I have a 3 year old of our own (Cal) and twins who arrived almost 2 months ago! Hope we can get the kiddos together some day 🙂

  9. Steph W

    Thank you for sharing these intimate thoughts with us. I see lots of love in your writing. It is beautifully written and of course, it got my eyes wet. It is not easy to imagine my life with a kid, but it is impossible for me to imagine my life without Nora.

  10. Liliana

    Es precioso y muy emotivo, Dustin.¡ Muchos besos a los tres!

  11. Diana Tomioka

    Dustin, me has hecho llorar. Les mando un fuerte abrazo desde Perú.

  12. Margo

    I’m speechless and so impressed but this Dustin. What strength to be able to write this. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever read. Hugs to you and Amaia and Chester, who I have yet to meet. Xoxo

    • Thanks, Margo, for your kind words. This was a “fun” one in that I’ve been writing it off and on for the last 6 months–but the letter’s been in my head for much longer. Hope you’re well!

  13. Treasure Hinchman

    Beautifully written! We knew you were special the day you arrived and you’ve never disappointed! We’ve all been so lucky to have you in the family. I do, sometimes, forget that you weren’t born into this family – you’re just one of us!! Love you all…….

  14. Julen

    Eres un grande Dustin. Me ha encantado leer esta maravillosa carta. Espero que nos veamos pronto 😉

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