While most adoptive parents have learned the importance of telling their children they are adopted from an early age, sometimes it doesn’t happen. Steve Lickteig learned at 18 that the girl he believed was his sister was actually his biological mother. Steve is the senior producer for National Public Radio’s Weekend All Things Considered in Los Angeles. He discussed with NPR how he was the only one who was kept in the dark about this and how it affected him and his family. He also turned the camera on his family and created the documentary Open Secret.
Steve Lickteig’s life as he knew it was a lie. Lickteig thought he was the adopted son of a former World War II vet and his wife. Life was simple: They ran a farm in Kansas, went to mass at the local Catholic church and raised Steve and their eight biological children.
Lickteig wondered who his real parents were and thought he’d set out to find them someday. Then, when he turned 18, two of his best friends told him the truth: His adopted parents were actually his biological grandparents. The woman who he knew as his older sister was actually his mother.
Decades after that revelation, Lickteig turned the camera on his own family to try to understand how a secret like this could be kept for so long. Lickteig is the senior producer for NPR’s Weekend All Things Considered. His film is called and it premieres in the U.S. Sunday night on Al Jazeera America. He joins NPR’s Rachel Martin to discuss how his relationship with his family changed after he discovered their secret.
On how he found out who is real mother was
I don’t have a very strong recollection of it, actually. But what I do remember is it was right before high school graduation, the night before. They walked into my bedroom and they shut the door and Vance said, you know, “We have something we want to tell you.” And then he just blurted it out, it just sort of came out of him. He said, “I know who your mom is.”
And according to my friends, I was just silent, and they filled the silence with what they knew. They told me who my mother was and they told me that they had known for basically their entire lives and that everybody I had grown up with had known for their entire lives and they felt that this was the time that I needed to know.
… I think that was actually the biggest blow to me, was that it wasn’t some intimate, private secret, but it was this knowledge of who I was that was out in the open, out in the world, and I had no control over it. Apparently after they told me, I just said, “OK, thanks.” And they left. We didn’t talk about it or anything.