Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Translated - She Wanted to Take My Younger Brother. I Asked Her “What About Me?”

She Wanted to Take My Younger Brother. I Asked Her “What About Me?”

An Interview with Steve Morrison, Founder of MPAK

By Kim Ji Young, Reporter, OhmyNews

Born in 1956. Nationality, the US. Hometown Mukho (Donghae City) in Kangwon Province. A graduate of the Purdue University in the US. A Senior Project Engineer at the Aerospace Corporation. A satellite systems engineer. Married with a Korean-American woman, has two sons and three daughters. Of the five children adopted two sons. Separated at five from biological family. Birth father, dead. Date of death unknown. Birth mother, rumored to be dead. Younger brother, no news of him. Adoptive father passed away in 2006 at 84. Adoptive mother is 91, in a nursing home in Colorado Springs.

A Korean adoptee, Steve Morrison will be turning 60 next year. His Korean name is Suk-Choon Choi. His life is indescribable with countless stormy life events. On May 10th at a hotel café in Myeongdong District in Seoul, I interviewed Steve Morrison, who was visiting his motherland to attend the National Adoption Day event.

In the year 2000 when he was 44, Morrison was at the forefront of the very first Gathering of the Korean Domestic Adoptive Family Conference, which was held in Kwa-Chun Civic Center. The year before, he founded the Mission to Promote Adoption in Korea (MPAK) which is the first non-profit organization consisting of adoptive families that have decided to be transparent on their adoptions (as opposed to keeping it secret).

An overseas adoptee Morrison is the pioneer in bringing about a significant change in the Korean adoption culture in Korea as he is the first to spread the concept of transparent adoption in Korea.  He is considered as the Godfather of the adoption movement in Korea, and as a successful adoptee himself, I was curious to know why Morrison was so committed in his endeavor to bring about positive changes in the Korean adoption culture while spending much of his personal time and resources. And I believe his life itself will tell the story.

The Separation of a Family of Four

I arrived early at the café. As I was waiting, Morrison walked towards me, with a slight limp. I glanced at him. His left knee did not bend. Then, I realized he was handicapped. After we got our coffee, Morrison began his story.

“I lived in a hut that was made out of hays, overlooking the East Sea. I remember the trains loaded with coals passing by, and there were military vessels and fishing boats floating in the ocean. I also remember the sun rising above the horizon. It was a very peaceful sight to behold.”

Morrison was about 4 or 5 years old, not exactly certain about his memories but that was the picture of his family he remembered – mom, dad, and a younger brother. However, this peaceful image soon turned into dark.

“I heard my dad’s business failed. I do not remember clearly but I think we were pretty well off at one time. But, ever since the failure my dad kept drinking. His face would become red and his eyes were furious – it was scary to at his face. Then he started beating all three of us, especially my mom.”

“Every day my dad drank, and my mom was physically abused. One day, while he was beating my mom, my dad stopped and had his eyes off for a second. Then my mom quickly put her shoes on her feet and ran away. Later, Morrison got to meet his mom at grandmother’s house but never after that. He clearly recalls the day his mom rushing out of the house, away from the father’s abuse.”

“I wasn’t born as a handicap. One day I was at my grandmother’s house, my right foot was swollen overnight. Then, I bent my knee but never could get it straighten out again. The day my mom left the house, I was taken to the hospital on her back. She was a very compassionate and kind-hearted woman.”

“On our way to the hospital, she asked me, “My dear, if your father lays his hand on me tonight, will you please tell him to stop?” How desperate she must have been to ask that to a five years old son.  However, my dad came home drunk that night and started to hit her again right before my eyes. Mom did not say a word.” 

“Many minutes have gone by, yelling and beating. My brother and I woke up at the commotion and we were confused and scared and started crying. As I watched my mom getting beaten, I finally remembered what she asked me to do. I took the courage to go up to my dad and asked him to stop. He looked at me with a look of embarrassment and said “I’m so sorry, my son. I’ll stop now.” But within a minute or so, he started strike her again.”

“My mom could not handle it anymore and tried to escape. But, soon after dad found her, brought her back in and started beating again. When he took his eyes off of her for a second, my mom finally succeeded in escaping him.”  

Although that moment brought a traumatic loss of his mother and the last time he would ever see her, Morrison seemed relieved as he described it as “successful.” He could never live with his mother again, but he was at peace knowing that this was the only way for her to be safe.

After his mother had left, Morrison and his younger brother of three years old lived a life of the homeless. Frequently dad would leave early in the morning and not come home for days without contact. To the brothers, their father really did not exist. It was 1961, only 8 years after the Korean War. It was a period of hardship as many Koreans faced starvation without the aids from the US.  How would the two brothers of five and three to survive?

“During the day, my brother and I would walk around the streets, always keeping our eyes on the ground. We were looking for coins. Luckily, we found some almost every day. We would then buy some bread and other foods. It doesn’t mean that we never starved.  In fact we looked pretty terrible.”

The brothers have lived like this for days.  One day they heard that their father had been arrested by police and never could reach him after. These young boys had no way to find him and that was the end. However, the boys did not miss him. To them, he was like a devil who made their angelic mother run away.

The brothers were all alone. Their only way to survive was to walk around the streets. One day, a lady who sold the steamed crabs on the street, and who was often kind to the boys by giving them some free steamed crabs, decided to take the younger brother home to raise him.

This lady bought new clothes and shoes and put them on my brother. I was so envious. As she was taking him away, I asked her “What about me?” She said she couldn’t take me because of my leg. That was the last time I saw my little brother, and neither of us would realize that it would the last time together.  I was only five… That was the last time I saw my little brother Dae-Chun.

It took less than a year for the family of four to be disintegrated. The loss of his angelic mother and his younger brother that he roamed the streets with, would bring pain and longing for the rest of his life.

Deepest Longing ‘Adoption’

As Morrison roamed the streets alone, he was later taken to an orphanage in Kwangwon Province with the help of a gentleman who found him. Shortly after, he was taken to the Holt Children’s Center in Nok-Bun Dong with the hope of surgery on his left leg. Although he was separated from his brother because of his leg, it was his leg that enabled him to move to a better facility.  

At the time, Korea was one of the poorest countries in the world and the children in orphanages hardly had chance to be domestically adopted. Common households were struggling to have three meals a day - that would be considered luxury. Nobody in Korea could even possibly imagine or hope for adoption. The only hope for the orphans was to be adopted abroad.

He was happy at the Holt Children’s Center. He no longer had to look for food on streets, and always had new clothes and shoes to wear. He would get along well with his friends playing with marbles cards, and enjoying soldier plays.  He was well taken care of by the loving hands of Mr. and Mrs. Holt.

Morrison also got a surgery on his leg where before he had to press down on the bent knee with his left hand to support his weight. However, this time the problem was the other way around – his straightened knee now would not bend. He couldn’t avoid walking crippled, but he didn’t have to support the knee with his hand. He was thankful and content with it.

He went to school and had a reasonably good grades. However, there was a deep longing in his heart in spite of his happy life at Holt. He missed his mother and his brother. Although he was five years old at the time of separation, he knew the love he has received from his mother and the dedication that she showed.  One day while he was looking out from the fence to a neighboring village, he saw a kid going to a picnic holding hands with parents, with a huge smile on his face. With a feeling of a lump in his throat, he remembered how he longed for a family of his own.

Like the other orphans that were being adopted to the US, he also wanted to be adopted by a family in the US to be loved. Time flew by as he graduated from an elementary school and entered into 7th grade. In the meanwhile, many of his friends were adopted abroad, but many others were left in the center. He remembers wondering, “Why am I not being adopted?” To be adopted was his biggest hope and dream.

He was in his 7th grade year in the middle school. At that time the law did not allow overseas adoption once a child passes the age 14.  That means that after February 27, 1970, Morrison had to give up his hope of being adopted and stay in the orphanage only until certain age, having to be on his own after that. Adoption was the only way of escape for him to go out into the world and have a shot at being successful, and also put him in the path of his family he always dreamed about.

Although his life at the orphanage was so much better than the life of living in the streets before, yet he yearned to have his own parents, and to have a chance to get educated in a good environment, and to become successful in life.

Towards the end of 1969, Morrison’s picture was along with 30-40 other orphans that were featured as the ‘children in need of homes’ section in Holt’s bi-monthly magazine. There was a note under his picture describing that there was not much time left to for him to get adopted as he was nearing the age 14.  Eventually, 11 American families reached out wanting to adopt him.

On May 28, 1970, Morrison got on a plane to America with a Bible and his diary in a bag.  He was fourteen when he arrived.

“My parents had two older sisters and a son the same age as me. There was also a 12 years old Amerasian brother that was adopted two years earlier.  We got along so well. We often played board games in the living room. My father was a biological scientist working under the government and my mother was a stay home mother. We were not rich but in the middle class.”

“My father was a modest, graceful, and a humble man. So was my mother. I felt loved by my parents and the five siblings got along very well. The way my father treated my mother was such gentleman-like. It was an awkward sight when I first saw them kiss every day, but as time went by I realized how beautiful it was. It made me think of my relationship with my biological parents back in Korea. It was complete opposite. It was then I witnessed the true image of being a good father.  ‘This is how a husband is supposed to treat his wife. This is how you love your children.’ I dreamed that one day I would become such a wonderful father myself.”

“I Could Not Believe...the Transformation in My Life”

He was a good student. Math was his strength in school. He also enjoyed studying Physics and Chemistry. It was shortly after when Neil Armstrong took the first step on the moon in human history on July 20, 1969. In the middle school, he remembered reading all about Neil Armstrong in a youth magazine in Korea, and being fascinated by the space technology, and he aspired and dreamed about going into space.

When he was about to graduate from high school, he received numerous acceptance letters from colleges. Without hesitation, he chose to attend Purdue University where Neil Armstrong majored in the Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering.

“I studied so hard during those 4 years. My parents were so proud of me. To see them being proud of me was very special to me.   Right before graduating in 1979, I got several job offers from big aerospace companies. I just needed to take the final graduation exam and that’s it – I’ll be going out into the real world.”

“I studied late into the nights as I was studying to pass the final examination to graduate from the college.  One day I got a call from my mother saying that my father had a heart attack and he’s not doing so well. I was shocked and so heartbroken…  I so wanted to just drop everything and run to the hospital to be beside him, but I could not give up the last exam. Every day, I called my mom to check on dad and went back to study, and call again and study again. Thankfully, the surgery went well and my dad was recovering. Right after I passed my exam and got my diploma, I took a plane to go see my father.”

“As I went into the room, my dad still had several tubes into his nose and arms, and he looked very weak and pale, but conscious when I saw him. I went up to him and held his hands and handed him my diploma. Lying down with no strength, he opened it and read it out slowly word by word from beginning to the end. I was watching him from his side, and as he ready my diploma I was deeply moved.  I was so touched… As weak as he was and as pale as he was, he was my hero and my role model. Despite him being weak, I remember being so proud of him.  I’ll never forget that moment.”

“Then I got to think about my early life as an orphan merely nine years earlier.   An orphan who was separated from his family, a boy who could not even afford a bowl of rice, is now scouted by several high tech aerospace industries with good salary and benefits, and a company that would give me a chance at a graduate school on a fellowship program with more opportunities…how could this be possible?”  

“I then thought of my childhood days of living on the streets of Kang-Won province. I was very proud and at the same time very grateful. I was moved when I remembered the sweats on the forehead of Harry Holt as he worked so tirelessly for us at the orphanage. I cannot even describe in words the love of my American parents. I couldn’t believe it. I remember asking in amazement how this could all this be possible?”

While he realized that his adoption has provided a life of abundance, his heart ached whenever he remembered his friends that remained in the orphanage and would never realize their full potential.  Especially for those few whom he considered smarter than him and those that were handicapped. He was very sorry that they didn’t get adopted.  In America, he knew that disability would not be a hindrance to him. But sadly it is a big hindrance in Korea.

Just before he graduated he made a promise to God.  That he would donate a portion of his earnings to the Holt International.  And he kept that promise.  This was the seed that gave a ray of hope to move the Korean adoption culture from a dark history shrouded in secrecy to being a culture of transparency and dignity.

Finding Korea Again After 13 Years

As he made his monthly donations to Holt, Morrison was invited to a regional Holt office opening in LA. There he met Grandma Holt for the first time after leaving Holt Il-San Children’s Center. He was invited to go on a Motherland Tour to Korea with other adult adoptees, and after 13 years of leaving Korea, the orphan boy returned as a man in 1983. In that same year, he was also selected to serve on the Board of Director at Holt. He was 27 then.

Five years later in 1988, the Olympic was held in Korea. It was the opportunity for Korea to shine to the world and the world’s attention converged to Korea. As the beauty of Korea was being shown to the world, there was a segment in the news that Korea still sends children abroad as an ‘orphan exporting nation’, and this infuriated many people in Korea.  Right after this there was a flood of criticism against intercountry adoption and calls for the complete stop to this ‘national shame’.

“I could not understand their anger. It didn’t make sense to me that children are being sent overseas only because the Korean nationals don’t adopt them.  And how can they criticize foreigners for wanting to adopt the children that they didn’t want?  If they have adopted and have done their parts to solve the problem, then they can say such things.  These were some of the questions I remember asking myself. Even now they don’t adopt.”

“Why don’t Koreans adopt? How can I change the culture of adoption in Korea? After much deliberation, I came to a conclusion that transparent adoption was the solution.  It was the secrecy in adoption that held Korea down for generations with no improvement in the adoption culture.  As long as adoption was viwed as shameful, embarrassing, and fearful, the culture of adoption in Korea would never change for good. The only way to reduce the number of intercountry adoption was to increase the domestic adoption.”

In 1999 he founded the Mission to Promote Adoption in Korea (MPAK) in America, then in late 1999 he took the movement to Korea.  MPAK was established in Korea, and the beginning of the movement to bring about positive changes to the Korean adoption culture through transparency in adoption took a root in Korea.  In the Fall of 2000, he held the first ever conference to promote domestic adoption in Korea at the Kwachon City Civic Center. 

In 2006, the first National Adoption Day (May 11) event was held in COEX building in Samsung-dong in Korea. In 2007, the number of domestic adoptions has exceeded the number of international adoptions for the first time.

For15 years after founding MPAK, Morrison takes his personal vacation from his work in order to visit Korea at least a couple times a year. This year he visited Korea on May 7th with packed itinerary schedule that consisted of attending several events and meeting with some important individuals regarding adoption.  He returned back to America on the18t h of the same month.

He will visit Korea once more sometime this year. While it is true that the Korean adoption culture has improved significantly over the past 15 years, the ratio of secret adoption to transparent adoption is about half and half.  And this is a reason enough to continue to drive him to visit Korea.