David Jensen was adopted as a newborn 32 years ago. He didn't learn until age 8 that he was adopted, but finding out cleared up a nagging sense of not belonging.
Jensen's adoptive parents were good people, and they raised him well. But he shared so few interests with them that he couldn't help but wonder what his birth parents were like.
In the 1970s, researchers at the University of Minnesota decided to try and resolve the age-old nature vs. nurture question. Their idea was to study identical twins adopted separately.
Because identical twins are genetically the same, researchers reasoned that if twins raised in different environments were significantly different, those differences might be explained by the importance of environment. What they found is that twins raised in different environments were not only alike in things like intelligence, but they also had similar attitudes, hobbies, food preferences and other characteristics not usually thought of as being inherited.
Yet how children are raised also affects their development, researchers learned, so the debate and studies are ongoing.
"I feel happy that I was adopted by good people, it wasn't really a bad situation," says Jensen, who lives in Vancouver, Wash. "But my parents just never really connected to what was important to me."
Jensen lived for track and football, for instance, and his adoptive parents didn't understand his passion. He learned a lot more about himself and his place in the world last year when his mother, Lauren James of Grants Pass, decided it was time to find out how the son she delivered as a teenager had turned out.
James contacted the lawyer who had arranged the adoption, who contacted Jensen and arranged a meeting between mother and son. James then decided it was time to tell Jensen's biological father, Steven Elam, he had a son.
Elam, of Medford, had been married for 21 years. He and his wife, Cheryl, raised four children together, but she died of cancer in 2006 after a seven-year battle.
James, a noted pianist who once played at Carnegie Hall and still plays professionally, also married, and she raised her three children alone after a divorce.
Suddenly Jensen had not only another set of parents but seven siblings. He met some of them for the first time last year in Brookings when Elam rented a place on the beach from a fishing buddy. Jensen was there with his wife, Amanda, along with James, Elam and Elam's daughter, Camerin.
"It was great," says Jensen of that emotional meeting.
He says he was astonished at how welcoming his siblings have been, as well as the similarities he shared with them.
"Both sides of the family, we all share a kind of dry, sarcastic sense of humor," he says.
"Steve, my biological dad, is so much like me," says Jensen. "We look alike, and he was an athlete — he went to college (University of Oregon) on a baseball scholarship. We were both in the military; we both fly; we both scuba dive ... and my (biological) mother also ran track in high school."
Jensen has since met Elam's mother, brother and sister, who live in Roseburg, giving him a new grandmother, uncle and aunt for his birthday-card list.
James says she feels sad about the lost years and that she waited so long to tell Elam he had a son. But she also is happy their son turned out well.
"It's easy to say things should have been different in hindsight," says James. "I'd just like to see acceptance and healing for every person involved. There's definitely been some pain, but to find true happiness, to find true peace in your soul, you have to forgive people. Everyone thought they were doing what was best."