Hello everyone, this is Paul.
Today is my 56th birthday. But it’s just the fourth time I’ve been able to celebrate the actual date of my birth.
Before that, I celebrated a birthday that belongs to someone else—the real Paul Fronczak. It was only after I discovered my true identity, Jack Rosenthal, in 2015, and found my real birth certificate in a government office in Newark, that I learned when I was actually born.
It’s a strange thing to suddenly have a new birthday. Then again, it’s a strange thing to suddenly have a new identity. It’s like someone coming up to you and saying, “Oh, sorry, we gave you the wrong life, and now we need it back.” Hopefully, when you’re in your 50’s, you should feel fairly settled in terms of knowing who you are and what your life is about. Hopefully, you should be able to say, “This is who I am. This is where I came from. This is where I’m headed.”
That is not the case with me. I’m still feeling my way around my new identity. I still have a lot of unanswered questions and a lot of feelings I have to deal with. I’m still not even sure what to call myself—Paul or Jack? In some ways, I feel like a four-year-old kid, still bumbling around, still years away from understanding what life is all about.
But that’s okay, because I know I’m not alone.
Through this website, I have heard from hundreds and hundreds of people who are in situations similar to mine. Their stories always touch my heart, but they also make me feel less alone and less disoriented. Some of these people tell me they are taking strength from my story. I try to tell them all that I’m the one who is drawing strength from their stories. We don’t know each other, and we might not ever meet, but even so, these people and I are helping each other, giving each other comfort, urging each other to keep going until we know the whole truth.
Just today, I received three incredible letters. “I was adopted and never seemed to fit with my family,” read one. “I feel I am gate-crashing everyone else’s family events. My life has been so complicated, and sometimes I think, ‘If only I’d had a simple life same as everyone else.’”
“My father, who I loved, turned out to have assumed an identity,” read the other. “Only after his death did I discover the truth. I’m still trying to work out who he was. It’s a never-ending story.”
“We are a similar age, and I also have felt that my family are not my real family,” read the third. “When my father died I was kicked out of the family on the day of his funeral. It is important that you tell your story because it helps people like me feel less isolated and freakish. Your life was based on lies but you wrote an honest book. Please keep doing what you’re doing, it’s important work.”
I understand the sentiments in these letters. I know the pain and confusion of feeling like you don’t belong, of learning that your life was a lie. I admire these people for bravely coping with their realities, and for pushing through to try and find some solid ground in their lives.
I am pulling for them just as hard as they are pulling for me.
And I am pulling for everyone out there who is struggling with identity issues. Please know that you are not alone, that your struggles are not just your struggles. I feel like we are all part of a community—adoptees, wanderers, misfits, foundlings, secret-keepers—and that we are all made stronger by each other’s courage.
So on my 56th biological birthday, and my fifth actual birthday, I have one overriding wish. I wish for everyone in situations like mine to not feel alone, and to realize there is value in sharing their stories with others, because it is with each other’s help that we can all begin to finally heal.