Planning for the inevitable is not a fearful thing

My mother’s misfortune of developing Alzheimer’s still shapes my way of navigating the world. She endured the horrible disease for more than seven years, before finally dying, with little left of her cognitive functions.

Roman artwork Memento Mori, in the Naples National Archaeological Museum

To deal with the illness as a family member, I had to readjust my way of navigating the world. I had to deal with stress. I had to deal with family conflict. I had to deal with helping someone who could never be cured.

Most of all I had to practice what philosophers did more than 2,000 ago, meditate on one’s mortality, or memento mori.

Death, as the ultimate end of my mother’s condition, became relentless as a nagging thought. I had to think about it because it was the way her suffering would end. This is simply an honest reflection, because that is what Alzheimer’s was truly like. It was worse for my step-father, who was her dutiful and loving caregiver.

However, practicing memento mori was not a scary thing. It was and remains a pragmatic thing, as all human life ends, and avoiding thoughts about this is folly. All of us will die, regardless of our station in life or our deepest fears about the end.

Because of this knowledge, I continue to tidy up my plans. I have attended to my probate planning instead of putting off the boring but critical details.

I also realize that by living alone, I am at much greater risk of misfortune, mostly because no one will care for me. This is also a byproduct of being adopted, which is a related and complex story.

So I have started making plans for logical “what if” possibilities.

What if I am hit by a bus? What if I have a bike accident that goes tragically wrong if I am struck by a car? What if I get a serious illness that arrives suddenly?

Too many things have happened in my immediate world of family and friends lately to forestall such thinking and planning.

Tonight I took another small but practical step. In my apartment, I hung a very visible sheet of paper on a wall that could be seen and found in the event of an emergency. It is my cheat sheet who to contact if I am not there and there is a need to reach my emergency contacts. It is a small thing, but it was both easy to and logical. I will add this to my wallet too. And why not?

My mom and step-father had a similar list on their refrigerator door for years as she was sliding to her end. I know hundreds of thousands of others may have done the same thing. They are like the paintings Romans made of skulls and skeletons, reminding all of us our end will eventually come.

I choose to be the lion, not the lamb

This week, I found myself locking horns with two intractable systems that are among the least accountable and most unbending in the United States. One is a nursing home in St. Louis, Missouri, that cares for a family member of mine, which in its operation is not that different than the more than 15,000 licensed facilities nationally. The other is a medical clinic in metro Portland, Oregon, where I visited a doctor for a visit in September this year. Each represents a part of the much larger systems of for-profit healthcare and nursing home care, and their structure and management are likely representative of their thousands of counterparts throughout the country.

Sociologist Max Weber was the first to describe how modern bureaucracies function, often immorally, and to explain the historical emergence of bureaucratic institutions.

Both of these institutions that provide medical and health services are, theoretically, there to serve others and provide services that are essential and also something most persons see as “morally good.” These two facilities are not related in any way. Yet both are much alike in how they function as bureaucracies that are mostly intractable in their actions and inflexible when asked to be accountable. 

In my long decades now of dealing with bureaucratic systems, I have learned important lessons. The most important of those lessons is to never accept “no,” which is the reflex response of organizations that do not take ownership for their actions that can cause harm and can be morally wrong. 

spent decades of my life fighting a large bureaucracy in Michigan, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, which denied me my original birth records for nearly three decades, even after I had met my birth mother who signed a consent form in 1989 that should have forced the agency to give me my original birth certificate. It took a court battle to secure my birth certificate’s release in 2016. The long dance I had with that ossified bureaucracy provided wisdom I continue to use in how I do my work professionally today in a large government agency and how I deal with other bureaucracies that intentionally choose to do wrong as opposed to good. In nearly every sense, being an adoptee denied basic legal rights was my advanced training how I respond to immoral, inflexible systems and institutions to this day.

Fighting in the trenches with the nursing home system

For nearly two years I have had to engage in long-distance advocacy for my family member who is permanently bedbound in a Medicaid-funded nursing home in St. Louis. These efforts mostly focus on getting the staff there to provide legally mandated, competent care, which is lacking. The facility is privately run, but receives federal reimbursement in the life-saving help for my family member. However, it continues to fall short in many ways, such as how it informed family members of COVID-19 outbreaks, the offering of required services such as oral health care, and most recently in not offering seasonal influenza vaccine and COVID-19 vaccine boosters. Both are recommended for these settings and for patients like my family member. My family member has not received either of these shots, but should have already by early November.

I continue to work with the Missouri Ombudsman Program, which has no regulatory power over these places. It mostly has moral authority to embarrass the nursing homes and nudge them to providing what is mandated already by law. I did that again this week, when I found the facility caring for my family member had failed to offer either of these potentially life-saving shots to my family member. 

When I called the nursing home facility, I could not get a straight answer if and when the shots would be provided. I was transferred four times. No person gave their full name. A woman said I should call back the director, who now refuses to respond to my communications. The last person I spoke to told me, in true bureaucratic fashion:

The nursing home where my family member lives is no different than thousands of others licensed in the United States.
  • They were “just in zoom meeting” that morning to plan for vaccinations—a remarkable coincidence of timing.
  • They claimed the pharmacy has not been provided materials. This was not explained further, and often there are partnerships that come into nursing homes.
  • They could not provide any timeline about when either boosters or the flu vaccine could be provided.
  • They refused to answer my questions if they had planned for routine seasonal influenza vaccinations, which for decades has been is a standard healthcare activity in for all nursing homes and long-term care facilities in this country.

I do not think my efforts solved this problem. I doubt the root issue of poor care is solvable. But I was determined to do my best and just ask them to do their job and care for their residents that they have legal, professional, and moral responsibilities to fulfill as a licensed care facility in the state of Missouri. I also relayed my concerns in writing to the Ombudsman representative, who said they would send a representative to that facility to see how my family was doing and if these vaccines would be administered.

The black box of medical billing, the hallmark of the for-profit U.S. healthcare system

This week, I continued in my efforts to get answers to questions I posed to a medical clinic in Portland to explain why it charged me a high cost for a procedure that could have been charged less than half the final amount. My call marked the third time I asked this medical clinic to explain why a visit involving a conversation with a doctor and the analysis of a test result was charged more than $500, when it could have been as low as just over $230 or up to $600 or more. The black box hiding this information is hidden to all patients, as it is for many charges for medical care in the United State. My efforts with all providers is to get them to tell me the cost in advance, and when they fail to do that—which is nearly always—I ask for breakdown how a consumer can learn how a charge is made. 

My call a month ago was never returned, and once again I talked to a billing representative lasting nearly 15 minutes. I was not rude, but I was firm and unflinching asking for the company to explain how it determined a cost of service. The replies were:

  • Sir, I don’t understand your question (said three times after I kept repeating my request).
  • The insurance has paid for this. Your balance is zero. That really means, what is your problem, leave it alone, and the system is broke and let’s not try to fix it with this issue.
  • You’ll have to speak with our manager. I am not able to answer your questions. It could be because it was a new office visit.

I was then transferred to a manager’s voicemail. I left my third message and await a call that may or may not ever happen.

When I have made such calls in the past, I have been “accidentally” canceled as a patient for future visits. Mostly I have been told that the team reviewed the notes and that the medical charges are correct and not being changed. 

Why fight battles that may never win the conflict?

The choice we face against intractable systems is never easy, and that choice is informed by lived experience. I prefer to be the lion, not the lamb.

As I contemplate my skirmishes with bureaucracy this week, in that enormous world of health care and nursing home care, I again had to confront myself and my goals. So why do what I do? When I look in the mirror, I see the person I was when I was younger, as an adoptee denied my legal rights, and told by every institution and person around me I was never going to get what I was legally mandated to own and have as a human. I see someone who had to learn, through trial and painful error, a path forward. 

So again, why? The answer is simple: Because even small efforts matter and because when harm happens, to millions of patients or nursing home residents, it is clearly immoral and wrong. These engagements also help focus my mindset and my practice that is needed for dealing with unaccountable bureaucratic systems. 

In those engagements, the lambs are usually skewered and the lion will always stand strong, even if the victory means losing that battle. I choose to be the lion.

Back to where it all began

In early June, I visited Michigan, my birth state. I made a four-day whirlwind visit to promote my new book and advocate for changes to Michigan’s outdated adoption laws that deny Michigan-born adoptees their original birth records.

Crittenton General Hospital in Detroit, taken in 1930 (from the National Florence Crittenton Mission).

During the two days I was in the Detroit and Ann Arbor area, I finally returned to the place of my birth: Crittenton General Hospital, the epicenter of adoption in Michigan for decades.

The building is now torn down. In its place is a large, boxy utilitarian set of buildings housing the Detroit Jobs Center and a nursing home, all surrounded by a gated steel fence. There is no plaque mentioning the hospital, how long it operated, and who it served. The surrounding area, just west of the John Lodge Freeway and at the intersections of Rosa Parks Boulevard and Tuxedo Street, is severely distressed.

Decay was visible everywhere near the old Crittenton General Hospital site, off of Rose Parks Boulevard.

Multiple houses a half a block from the old hospital site were in various states of collapsing. On Rosa Parks, by the rear entrance to the jobs center, a two-story apartment was slowly falling down—and no doubt would be destroyed one day or, sadly, torched by an arsonist.

The former Crittenton Maternity Home on Woodrow Wilson is now the home of Cass Community Social Services. The former home used to house single mothers before they gave birth next door at the former Crittenton General Hospital, from the the 1950s through the 1970s.

The former Crittenton Maternity Home, in a three-story brick building next to the old hospital site, is still standing. It is now run by Cass Community Social Services. I saw a young and I’m sure poor mother with her child entering the building. I realized how the story of single mothers continues today, but with different issues and without the full-throated promotion of adoption by nearly all major groups involved in social work and the care of children. I took some photos of the home and then went to the hospital site.

I took out my sign that I had quickly made in my car using a fat Sharpie. It simply said: “I was born here.”

I took multiple pictures, on a hot, muggy, and sunny day, but I could not manage a smile. I could not make light of my origins at this place, where so many mothers said goodbye, forever, to their children. It is not a happy story.

Rudy Owens at the site of the former Crittenton General Hospital, where he was born and relinquished into foster care in the mid-1960s, and then adopted at five and a half weeks after his birth.

Despite my stern appearance, I felt a sense of elation to have finally returned to my place of origin. It felt like closure. I accomplished what I set out to do decades earlier, for myself and on behalf of other adoptees denied knowledge of who they were and where they came from.

This time, I had controlled the story. This time, I was telling that to the world with my newly published book and public conversations that had been connecting with readers. This time, I owned the moment, unlike the one when I arrived as a nearly underweight baby, heading into the U.S. adoption system in Michigan and a new family.

And no one, not the state of Michigan or the groups who determined my life because of my status as an illegitimate child, could ever take that from me.

Yeah, it was worth it. That selfie and throwaway sign were my Trajan’s Column, as glorious as anything ever built by a conquering Roman emperor. The adoptee hero, as I frequently describe all adoptees searching for their past, had returned victorious to Rome (Detroit), even if there were no crowds throwing garlands upon me and no one to write poetry celebrating that victory. I had written that story already

‘The Art of War’: the essential text for any U.S. adoptee

Sun Tzu, the brilliant Chinese strategist, reportedly born in 554 BC, should be studied and read by every adoptee in the United States who is denied equal treatment under the law and their original birth records. His classic treatise, The Art of War, remains one of the most frequently studied, quoted, and referenced tools in human civilization for anyone who engages in advocacy and, yes, war.

Everything is there for the adoptee or birth parent seeking his/her records and past and for advocacy groups seeking reform and justice from a system that denies basic justice and equality to millions.

For adoptees who are plagued by insecurity, doubt, and depression about the injustice of discriminatory state adoption laws and historic and unspoken prejudice against illegitimately born people like adoptees, I first recommend drawing from your wisdom and discipline you have gained from your experience. Finding wisdom in books will be meaningless unless you can first put that knowledge into a perspective you have lived yourself.

So Why Sun Tzu and an Ancient Text?

My tweet to adoptees on preparing for long campaigns for equal rights: read Sun Tzu.

Most adoptees will learn that their path to wisdom and later action will eventually require discipline, awareness of one’s adversaries, and adapting successfully from tough experience. Luckily, Sun Tzu provides one of the easiest to access toolkits to guide you as you embark on your journey that only you can make.

If your mind is open to new ideas, Sun Tzu’s timeless observations and tactics allow anyone to become an irresistible force. As Sun Tzu says, “Being unconquerable lies with yourself.”

In my case, I embraced many of these strategies to overcome the country’s discriminatory adoption system and achieve a measure of justice and wisdom, which I describe in my book on my adoption experience. Sun Tzu correctly notes, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, your victory will not stand in doubt; if you know Heaven and know Earth, you may make your victory complete.”

(I first published a copy of this essay on the website for my memoir.)

Jason Bourne, an adoptee’s search story in disguise

The film character Jason Bourne has staked out a unique place in cinematic history as an anti-hero on a hero’s quest. The essential conflict surrounds a man searching for his past, who will stop at nothing to find out who he is and how he became that way.

Jason Bourne, a man on a mission, to find out who he is--something most adoptees share.

Jason Bourne, a man on a mission, to find out who he is–something most adoptees share.

For most viewers, Bourne is an uber-sexy and straight-up action hero, who can improvise killing with a ball-point pen, dirty towel, magazine, toaster, and shoelace. For anyone who is an adoptee, who has spent a life wanting to know who they are and where they came from, they will see this rogue agent with amnesia as a different story, about a person intensely wanting to know one’s self. They likely see Bourne’s narrative as their own.

His very name, which means outer limit in old English, also plays on the word’s other usage, as a verb, meaning coming into life from the womb. He’s a man who is literally born anew, without knowing where he comes from.

Bourne’s many opponents, in the dark world of secret U.S. government black ops programs and intelligence, are part of a vast system that works relentlessly to stop and kill him and those he loves. They had recruited him, brainwashed him, trained him, turned him loose to kill, and now need to terminate him to ensure their own personal survival.

Jason Bourne escapes again

Jason Bourne escapes again on his journey of self-knowledge and discovery.

The right anti-hero for a morally ambiguous world

At one level, this is a perfect story for our complicated times of secret rendition and torture, bulk data collection, and little-publicized military and intelligence operations. During the years Matt Damon’s Bourne emerged on the screen in 2002 in The Bourne Identity, the United States was involved in two official wars following 9-11 and supported other military ventures in Africa and the Mideast. The films emerged while U.S. national intelligence services widely expanded data collection programs on ordinary citizens and real and perceived enemies of the state.

The Bourne Supremacy followed in 2004, ramping up the fight choreography and exotic locations where Bourne battles his enemies. The last Jason Bourne franchise film, The Bourne Ultimatum, released in 2007, presciently predicted the later revelations of 2013 by former CIA employee and government contractor Edward Snowden. Real programs like the CIA-run Prism eerily resembled the fictional Treadstone and Blackbriar programs that our hero Bourne was once a member of in the first three Bourne films.

Like many fans of the Bourne series, I and others secretly cheer our hero as he gathers information through clues captured with surveillance gear, deception, impersonations, odd alliances, and direct confrontations with his nemeses. All Bourne wants to know is, who he is and how did he become the killer who can tear apart a U.S. embassy in Geneva as if it were second nature? How and why did he have to kill people deemed to be threats by his handlers?

Throughout the chases, escapes, explosions, and close-quarter death fights, our hero Bourne is constantly looking for answers. He has PTSD-like flashbacks, and tries to figure out his past dashing from Geneva to Paris, from Naples to Berlin. Why would he keep risking his life seeking answers?

The real motive is archetypal and older than Oedipus Rex

The motive is archetypal. Bourne is acting out a natural desire. It is the drive that is the most innate in humans—a quest of self-discovery. This is precisely the yearning every adoptee has. I would argue that the intensity of this desire for any adoptee is as strong as anything we see in the onscreen Bourne. It has a type of intensity that unsettles those who do not relate to this story in a personal way.

For those in the United States lucky to be born when original birth records were once again made accessible, this quest is much simpler than Bourne’s bloody odyssey. But for adoptees who were born in states where their original birth records are still closed, such as Michigan for adoptees who are my age range, they are more like Bourne on his now 14-year journey—denied answers, obstructed at every turn.

Unlike Bourne, adoptees are not trained in combat, subterfuge, and intelligence. They can’t beat up social service managers and storm into offices to reclaim documents that are theirs, such as their original birth certificates. They are mostly on their own. They have to play ball in a legal reality that treats them as second-class citizens, with no chance to hack a safe that holds all of the secrets kept hidden from them.

The second film in the series, The Bourne Supremacy, concludes with Bourne confronting his murderous past and telling actress Oksana Akinshina’s Irena Neski character, the daughter of two Russian activists, that he killed them and that she should know what he did to her mother and father. It’s a scene worth sharing again:

Jason Bourne Confesses

Jason Bourne discovers he is a murderer, and confesses his crime with the daughter of a couple he killed on assignment–his Oedipus Rex moment of truth and catharsis.

Bourne: Does that mean a lot to you?
Neski: It’s nothing. It’s just a picture.
Bourne: No. It’s ’cause you don’t know how they died.
Neski: I do.
Bourne: No, you don’t. I would want to know. I would want to know that my … that my mother didn’t kill my father, that she didn’t kill herself.
Neski: What?
Bourne: It’s not what happened to your parents. I killed them. I killed them. It was my job. It was my first time. Your father was supposed to be alone. But then your mother … came out of nowhere, and I had to change my plan.
Bourne: It changes things, that knowledge. Doesn’t it? When what you love gets taken from you, you wanna know the truth.

This is one of the most moving scenes of the entire series, reminiscent of classic Greek tragedy. It brings instantly to mind one of the most famous adoption narratives ever, Oedipus Rex. In the play by Sophocles, the audience learns that king Oedipus was orphaned as a child to escape his planned murder by his father, King Laius, all because prophecy foretold a terrible future of regicide by his son.

A baby Oedipus was later adopted by a shepherd, never knowing the truth about his past.

Oedipus eventually becomes king of Thebes after killing his then-unknown biological father, King Laius, on the road along the way and solving the riddle of the Sphinx. He is rewarded for defeating the Sphinx by being married to the dowager queen who is his biological mother, Jocasta. The plague that grips the land, we learn, is because of his abominations. But our hero pursues the truth to learn that he is both a murderous adoptee and someone who slept with his own mother—a very stern warning against the adoption from our Greek forebears. He blinds himself plunging a knife into his eyes, and then leaves the throne.

Bourne, unlike Oedipus, does not blind himself. He does, however, confront all three of the father figures in the first three films who failed, in succession, to have their rogue agent killed: Chris Cooper’s Alexander Conklin, Brian Cox’s Ward Abbot, and Bourne’s brainwasher—knocked off in the only Bourne film without Damon—Albert Finney’s Dr. Albert Kirsch. With each character, he chooses not to kill them. He acts more humanely than the “fathers” who wanted him murdered for his quest of discovery.

To put it mildly, the confrontations are cathartic in the truest Greek sense of the word. They bring to stormy conclusions the hidden secrets and the hero’s willingness to accept the consequences for the truth.

Jason Bourne Is Back

To succeed in your journey, you need to be resilient and ready for what you do not expect. Also, you can never just let it be, ever, like Jason Bourne, who comes back in July 2016.

Catharsis and its inevitability for anyone on this journey

For an adoptee who does find out who they are, and who are lucky enough to either meet their birth families and/or find their original birth documents, there will be catharsis.

There will be realizations that the fantasies about one’s past need to be thrown away. There may be realities of knowing who one truly comes from, good and bad. It could be both, but it could be far worse or better than imagined. These moments forever change the lives of the families who tried to keep the information secret, such as the fathers who impregnated and abandoned many single women, or the mothers, who realize that a past that brought so much turmoil must now be confronted.

This is not a place for anything but mythical, archetypal storytelling. It is good that the messenger is someone who is as resilient as Bourne.

I for one am very anxious to see how our hero, Bourne, resolves his journey in the fourth film, Jason Bourne. He will re-emerge from shadows and back into the light. Will he accept himself and find what he needs to know? All we know is that nothing will stop him. For that reason, I will be in the theater, cheering him on, knowing that the journey is worth the burden and obstacles.

The Man of Steel, an adult adoptee’s journey of discovery

I recently watched the 2013 blockbuster based on the prototypical American comic superhero, Superman, called Man of Steel. I was not expecting much. I hoped for mindless Hollywood entertainment.

This film adaptation of the 1930s original comic-book character took a new direction with a very overt narrative, amid the buildings falling down and space ships blowing up. In this rebooted franchise, the Superman tale is told as a story of a man’s—or rather, a Kryptonian’s—search for his identity.

Super Adoptee, Superman

Superman, the adult adoptee on interplanetary steroids–beloved and feared by many.

The Man of Steel relies on one of the oldest mythological stories of human civilization, that of a hero’s search for himself by finding out his “true lineage.” This is the arc of great stories, from Moses to King Arthur. The Man of Steel also includes other classic mythological storytelling tropes, such as confronting a nemesis, the inevitable conflict, and the return from the journey as a hero. In this case, the hero happens to be born of one family and sent across the galaxy to be raised by another family in Kansas. He then must spend years figuring out who he really is.

The Haywood Tapestries show King Arthur, a famous adoptee of noble lineage, like Moses, the greatest adoptee of the Bible and the Jewish and Christian traditions.

The Haywood Tapestries show King Arthur, a famous adoptee of noble lineage, like Moses, the greatest adoptee of the Bible and the Jewish and Christian traditions.

The hero’s journey

Minus the over-the-top special effects battles, this film is a basic tale a self-discovery. The most compelling moments in the film involve conversations the young Clark Kent has with his “adopted” father, Jonathan Kent, played by Kevin Costner. They discuss their ambiguous relations as non-biological father and adopted son. That tension bursts in a scene where the older Clark tells his father and mother, “You’re not my real parents.” Right on cue, following that conversation, Costner’s character dies in a tornado.

The adult Clark is left adrift not knowing who to call his parents or how to identify with his biological roots or his adoptive roots. So, the journey begins, and he wanders from the Bering Sea to the Canadian Arctic.

Clark Kent and Father in Superman Film

In this scene form the Warner Bros. film the Man of Steel, Kevin Costner’s Jonathan Kent talks to the younger Clark Kent, his adopted son from an alien race from the planet Krypton

This cinematic rendering of this rite of passage is nearly identical to what an adopted adult goes through when they have to decide for themselves if they wish to find out their history and biological roots, or accept the decisions institutions and others made for them.

A not-so-super real-life journey by adoptees

The actors who decided those adoptees’ fates are usually shielded by archaic adoption laws and the intransigent bureaucracies who supported the millions of adoptions, as was the case in the United States between the 1940s and 1970s. This adult adoptee decision is never easy, and is often costly. It can be very divisive and unpopular. Such a decision can forever change family relations and be condemned by people who know nothing about this desire to find the truth. It is at its core Superman’s tale.

In my case, I literally had to spend years, like Clark, on a pursuit that took me from state to state, bureaucracy to bureaucracy, until I finally solved the case and learned about the identity of my biological parents. I did not find a space ship buried in the Canadian ice like Clark, and my biological roots are not linked to Krypton. Nor did I meet my computer-generated father, Jor-El, played by Russell Crowe.

A scene from the Warner Bros. film, Man of Steel, showing Russell Crow as Jor-El, father of Kal-El, aka Clark Kent aka Superman.

A scene from the Warner Bros. film, Man of Steel, showing Russell Crow as Jor-El, father of Kal-El, aka Clark Kent aka Superman.

During their conversation, Crowe’s Jor-El tells Clark his “real name” is Kal-El. This is identical to what any adoptee experiences when he or she learns his or her “real name,” or the name at birth and on an original birth certificate. That document in most states is treated as a high-level state secret and never shared with adult adoptees unless they get waivers from surviving birth parents signed. This is the case with the state of Michigan for me, which still refuses to give me my original birth certificate, even though I have known my biological family history now for 26 years.

So Kal-El is also Clark Kent, much as I had another name for three and a half weeks until I was given a “new name.” It was a name I had until I changed it in 2009 to a name that incorporates parts of my birth and adoptive names.

In the fictional movie, Clark has all of his questions answered. His original Krypton father is a noble and great leader, as was his adoptive father, in Kansas. But in real life, how many people do you know have movie-style fathers? My biological father and my adoptive father clearly were not cut out for any story as formulaic as this film. They would never make it into a screenplay for the masses. I never had a conversation like our film hero did with his biological or adoptive fathers.

Finding your answers unleashes chaos, the not-so-subtle message of Superman

In the last act of the film, Superman is exposed as a space alien and chased by a rogue band of surviving criminals from Krypton, who force Superman to make a choice between his adoptive tribe or his biological tribe.

Superman must also tell his adoptive mother he found his “real parents,” watch her sadness, and then be redeemed for viewers by saving her life and calling her “my mother” while doing it. The rescue creates a comforting way we can have Superman be forgiven for being confused who is parents are or who is mother is, when such warm fuzzies may not be in abundance in the real world.

If you follow the narrative of the Man of Steel, these questions could lead you on a journey that threatens the very fate of the planet earth, or something equally dreaded.

If you follow the narrative of the Man of Steel, these questions could lead you on a journey that threatens the very fate of the planet earth, or something equally dreaded.

Ultimately, the film reveals that Superman’s activation of a beacon on the spaceship that he found brought the evil Kryptonites to earth, with the goal of total destruction of the planet. You cannot get more grandiose than the genocide of all of humanity as a penalty for discovering your identity and asking, who am I, and where did I come from. Once the chaos is unleashed by the bad invaders, only Superman, the misfit between both worlds and both families, can save the human race. That is a huge burden to lay on a guy who asked a very basic question.

In the end, Superman remains Clark Kent, not Kal-El. He retains his adoptive family loyalty. He will hide his biological self, except when needed, though he may never be trusted because he is “different.” He has solved his riddle, and the package is neatly tied as many Hollywood movies are.

Life does not follow this pattern. There are no heroic battles with invading aliens. Things are more messy.

But the journey of the real-life hero is no less epic than what the film Man of Steel shows. I  think the film resonated more deeply, more viscerally with those who have undertaken the quest of Clark/Kal-El/Superman. If you have never had to ask the question that confronted our hero, about who you are and where you came from, you may never understand his journey, and also the conflicts and rewards that must inevitably accompany such a quest.