'Steve Jobs' and 'Blue Nights' Reveal Dark Side of Adoption

PHOTO: On a patio deck overlooking the ocean, Quintana Roo Dunne, left, leans on a railing with her parents, American authors and scriptwriters John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion, in Malibu, Calif., in 1976.
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Quintana Roo Dunne, the adopted daughter of writer Joan Didion, had frequent nightmares about "The Broken Man" -- an evil repair man in a blue shirt with a L.A. Dodgers cap and "really shiny shoes" who told her in a deep voice, "I'm going to lock you here in the garage."

"She described so often and with such troubling specificity that I was frequently moved to check for him on the terrace outside her second-floor windows," wrote Didion, 76, mourning the death of her daughter in the memoir "Blue Nights."

Quintana died of acute pancreatitis in 2005 at the age of 39, only two years after the death of her adoptive father, writer John Gregory Dunne, who was the subject of "A Year of Magical Thinking."

Didion agonizes about her parenting and Quintana's recurrent fear of abandonment and a failed reunion with her biological family. "Adoption," Didion writes. "I was to learn, though not immediately, is hard to get right."

Such fear also haunted Apple founder Steve Jobs, who died last month at the age of 56. In numerous interviews with family, friends and lovers, biographer Walter Isaacson unveiled the dark side of adoption in his life.

Jobs ultimately formed strong bonds with his sister, author Mona Simpson, but he refused to meet his biological father, despite the lifelong sense of loss.

More than 1.5 million Americans are adopted, about 2 percent of all children, according to the New York City-based Evan B. Donaldson Institute for Adoption.

Both bestsellers, "Blue Nights" and "Steve Jobs," expose an unspoken truth in the adoption world: Fear of abandonment is universal.

"Attachment and abandonment issues are part of every adoption. It's just a matter of how much," said Marlou Russell, a Santa Monica, Calif., psychologist who works with adoptive families. She, too, was adopted.

"In the best-case scenario, everyone is on board," she said of adoption. "But you cannot separate a child from its mother without an impact. There is always an impact."

Parents of an earlier generation told their children, "You're adopted and you were chosen and very special," said Russell, who is author of the 2002 book, "Adoption Wisdom."

"The problem with that," she said, "is that, "If my adopted parents chose me that means there was someone else who didn't choose me.'"

Such was the thinking of young Quintana Roo Dunne, according to her mother's account in "Blue Nights."

When her beautiful little girl was born at St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica in 1966, friends told Didion, "You couldn't possibly tell her."

Many viewed adoption as "obscurely shameful, a secret to be kept at all cost," according to the author.

But Didion said they never thought to do otherwise. "What were the alternatives?" she writes. "Lie to her? Leave it to her agent to take her to lunch at the Beverly Hills Hotel?"

Quintana was baffled by their explanation that she was "chosen," according to her mother: "What if you hadn't answered the phone when Dr. Watson called?" or "What if you hadn't been home, what if you couldn't meet him at the hospital, what if there'd been an accident on the freeway, what would happen to me then?"

Psychologist Russell said she advises adoptive parents to say, "Your birth parents were unable to take care of you at that time and that covers every situation, even if they go on to parent other children."

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