I spent the first eight years of my life in a Catholic orphanage. My birth mother became pregnant at fifteen, and her father sent her to a home for pregnant girls and insisted that she put me up for adoption. Although my family was not Catholic, they placed me in an orphanage run by nuns. It was 1938. I was two months old.
Many people think of an orphanage as a sad place. That was not my experience. As a child, I was tucked in every night. I received lots of attention. People often tell stories of cruel or abusive nuns, but I didn’t know any. When I was eight, the nuns told me I was going to be adopted. I wasn’t thrilled. I should have been delighted to have my own room, but I missed the big dorm. I longed for the structure and order of the orphanage-everything done according to schedule, everything in its place. Regular family life was more spontaneous and relaxed. I had trouble adapting.
Initially I liked my adopted father. But our relationship deteriorated over time. My dad had two jobs: he farmed and he worked in the oil fields. The work took its toll. He labored twelve hours and slept with a fifth of whiskey. At eighteen, just before I went off to college, my parents divorced. Looking back, it is clear that life with my adopted family was more dysfunctional than life at the orphanage.
I was a very good athlete, and I received a scholarship to play football at a large state college. I...