Sunday, December 24, 2006

Pray for Vilsack

I found this at I was intrigued by it. I pretty much love adoption. I mean, if it weren't for adoption, I wouldn't have my best friend. I love you, Alli!.

Vilsack ponders his life's puzzle
An unsolicited letter reveals the orphanage of his birth, but he wrestles with asking to know more.


Last Sunday, on a rare day off from his presidential campaign, Gov. Tom Vilsack was catching up on his mail.

He spotted a letter from a religious order in Pennsylvania. How odd, he thought, assuming it was a Christmas season solicitation.

Instead, that letter contributed to what Vilsack now calls "one of the most historic days of my life." And it has presented him with a question that thousands of other adopted people have faced:

How much does he want to know about his past?

The letter was from a Roman Catholic nun who runs an orphanage in western Pennsylvania. She was intrigued by Vilsack's life, which she apparently learned about after Vilsack announced his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination.

She researched the order's records, and discovered that Vilsack was born there on Dec. 13, 1950.

"So, for the first time in 56 years, I knew where I was born," Vilsack said last week during a campaign appearance in Marshalltown.

On campaign stops, Vilsack often casts his personal narrative as an only-in-America success story, describing how a boy who started his life in an orphanage and who was adopted as an infant into a troubled home could become a two-term Iowa governor and a potential U.S. president.

But the governor has said he has never considered it necessary to investigate the circumstances of his birth. He said he always considered the couple who adopted him, Bud and Dolly Vilsack, to be his parents, and left it at that.

"You have loyalty to the family who raised you," he said.

But Vilsack acknowledged last week that the letter - and the realities of a modern-day presidential campaign - may cause him to reconsider.

He said the nun's letter "told me if I wanted more information about the circumstances of my birth, without identifying who my birth mother may have been, then I could write her a note. I'm grappling with that now."

Vilsack did not identify the nun or the name of the orphanage. He said he hopes to reach a decision over the holidays about whether to pursue more information. "You have to have time to think about things like this," he said Friday.

In the letter, he said, the nun informed him that she had served at a home for unwed mothers. "It was a place for young women to go to have their babies, and then decide to leave them there," he said.

A year ago, in a Florida political appearance, Vilsack said this about his birth mother:

"This is a woman who is perhaps alive today, perhaps she is not. But ... I'm assuming when she made this decision to bring me into the world, she did so believing that I would have a bright and better future."

Vilsack said Dolly Vilsack had told him that his birth records were destroyed in a fire. The governor said she probably was trying to protect him.

During his first presidential campaign tour this month, Vilsack stopped at his boyhood home in Pittsburgh. There, he described how his adoptive parents battled financial problems and his mother's alcoholism.

He has described how his mother beat him occasionally, before she left home and quit drinking. Vilsack has often talked with pride about her eventual triumph over alcoholism and return to the family.

Both of Vilsack's adoptive parents are now dead. The governor said he can see how it might be useful to know about his birth mother's history for medical reasons.

There also are practical considerations. In this media age, there are few biographical details about presidential candidates that are not investigated, commented on, or speculated about.

Those are the sort of considerations Vilsack must weigh. But he told voters in Marshalltown that while some details of his background are unknown, the overall theme of his life is well-established:

"This is what America's all about. It's the idea that somebody can start out in an orphanage, and then come to Marshall County and talk to a room full of folks about being the next president of the United States."

To drive the point home, Vilsack said last Sunday brought another surprise: the announcement that his oldest son, Jess, 29, is engaged to Kate Devine of Cedar Rapids.

That "was an interesting day in our household," the governor said.

Reporter Ken Fuson can be reached at (515) 284-8501 or

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