As we gear up for Holt’s 2016 National Adoption Month campaign — built around the theme of the “story behind the photo” — Holt adoptee Duncan Atwood reflects on what this photo from the annual Holt Family Campout in Oregon means to him, and why he feels a responsibility to the next generation of adoptees.
Whenever I look at this picture, or any picture from Holt Family Campout, I see lots of things. I see happiness. I see smiles. I see laughter. I see family. And I see a lot of reasons why I like to try to attend Campout every year.
For those of you who don’t know what Holt Family Campout is or have never attended, let me describe it so that you can understand why it’s such a big deal to me. Campout is awesome. It’s an entire week of Holt adoptees and their families — about 50-plus of us — who gather every August at the beach in Oregon. The annual tradition has existed for longer than I’ve been alive, but I have been going to Holt family campouts since I was about 3 years old — so for about 15 years. Rain, shine, cold or warm, campout is always full of great memories. It’s completely different than Holt Adoptee Camp, which is a week-long camp Holt International holds every year just for adoptees (without their families).
Campout is a place where I have always felt safe, respected and accepted. Whether that’s because I am surrounded by families just like mine or because the families create such a close-knit community, I fall in love with that feeling every year. By going back to campout every year, I remind myself of how important all the other families were to me and how I grew up. It also reminds me that there is a giant extended family that looks after everyone before, during and after campout. These people who attend Holt Family Campout are people who I have always and will always look up to.
As an adoptee, growing up, I worried about the moment in my classes where the teacher would ask who my role models were and who I looked up to. My classmates never seemed to have an issue with this and they would always choose a cool celebrity or a famous athlete. But I was never able to think of someone like my classmates could (other than my family members, who I usually wrote down as a safe answer). The problem was that I never really knew celebrities or athletes who came from a similar background as me. Even now, the only example of pop culture I can relate to, off the top of my head, is the movie “Kung Fu Panda,” where the main character is an adopted cartoon Panda.
However, Holt campout fixed all of that for me. The older kids at Holt were my role models. They were the celebrities. They were the athletes. They were my pop culture during the first full week of August every year. And I always looked up to them. This is the other reason why I continue to go to campout every year. I want to be able to give the newest, youngest adoptees the same kind of role model that I was able to have growing up. My favorite times at campout were when the older kids would take the time out of their days to talk and hang out with us. So, in return for all the years that I woke them up by hitting their tents and yelling their names, I believe that the tradition should continue.
This picture reminds me why I should continue to make an effort to connect with the other adoptees. In fact, this last year I tried to organize a seminar-like discussion panel for the first time, where parents and adoptees could have the opportunity to ask questions and hear how I and other adoptees have grown up. My goal was to give parents the opportunity to ask any questions that were on their minds, as well as give adoptees a chance to talk about their lived experiences growing up adopted. I believe that by simply having the space for an open dialogue between everyone, people tend to be a little more open and honest, especially when you’re surrounded by friends and family. I hope to continue the event next year with a couple changes and even more adoptees and parents in attendance.
From the older kids at Holt Family Campout when I was growing up, to the younger kids that I get to see grow up now, I have learned what friendship, empathy and courage mean to me, but most importantly, I’ve learned what love means to me. I can’t think of a better place for all of this to take place at once than at Holt Family Campout.
Duncan Atwood | Lake Oswego, Oregon