Uncovering a secret kept from him since childhood, Mike Elloriaga tells the story of life as an adopted child, and his search for his real parents.
Who are your parents and foster parents, and what were they like?
My biological mother is Herminia Maureen Carino. She spent most of her life as a cloistered nun, and my real father was a German soldier named Al Zeigler. I was raised, loved and adopted by mama Nati and papa Pepot Eloriaga. I was their only child.
Mama Nati was a wonderful homemaker. She sold jewelry to friends and would take me wherever she went. She was a very religious and loving woman; her best advice to me was to always keep God in your heart.
What about your father who adopted you? Were you ever close to him?
Dad was always distant. I was closer to my mom. He was your typical Español—a disciplinarian.
Papa Pepot had a very good job working for the Madrigals, who were ninong and ninang in my parents’ wedding. There was always fighting between mama and papa when I was small. Their angry disputes proved traumatic for me. It made me aloof toward my father. Dad had died while in foster care way before mama Nati.
Does an adopted child have some inner voice telling him that something is missing in his life? When did you start to feel that you were an adopted child?
From elementary to grade school at Ateneo, people began to wonder if there was anything strange about me, apart from being a bit soft. Bakla! (laughter)
But most of all it was because my parents never really did come to school for parent-teacher meetings. And I would be always asked why.
It went on until high school where the questions got sillier and I would be teased for it nonstop. At first it was okay and I would easily ignore it, but over the years I began to convince myself that I could be adopted.
The teasings became more frequent in school. Then, there was this one weekend when I accompanied mama Nati to sell jewelry to her friend, who then told my foster mom, “This is my son Tony, he and your son Mike are classmates in Ateneo.”
I remember my mother telling her friend that I was adopted. But even so, I never had the guts to ask my adoptive parents about it. I was too embarrassed, as they took care of me, gave me a good life and education.
Did it bother you?
Of course it did. I was a teenager in school. I would see all my classmates, from good educated families like mine and who were so close-knit.
Then I thought to myself, “Wow! Do I feel funny or don’t I feel funny?” I didn’t know if I should fight my parents. But I carried on. Go to school, follow the rules, go home. I did not want to face the truth at that time.
How did it affect you?
One day in our old home in Little Baguio, San Juan, I confronted my parents, but they strongly denied it, thinking that would protect me.
Through the years I began to get closer to friends. I remember one day, a good friend picked me up from my house and mama Nati whacked him with a broom, screaming at him to leave me alone. I was a teenager; I couldn’t understand that parents did those for your own good; it brought me to tears.
From then on, I began to run away from home, live with friends.
I lived and worked in Bacolod for four years and a half in search of adventure, enjoying the good life. I was 33 and everything was fun until mama Nati died in Manila. I cried—I felt it, the remorse. Despite everything I held against them, they took care of me and they loved me like their own.
What happened after mama Nati passed away?
My curiosity to find out if I was really adopted grew. I confronted mama’s first cousin, tita Caring Cruz Syquia, who was very reluctant but probably felt sorry for me. She finally told me, “Yes, you were (adopted) hijo but I don’t know the whole story. Let me call a relative.”
She called another aunt to inquire about my childhood— there were no papers. That aunt mentioned one family member after another until she came to a Mrs. Mendoza.
A week or two after mama Nati died I didn’t go back to Bacolod with these revelations of my adoption. Then came my parents’ will. I was shocked! I received nothing.
I never expected that. I thought everything was okay since I was their only (adopted) child.
It felt like the whole world came crashing down on me. It was so painful. The house I grew up in was our one property. It had two homes in it. My first adoptive cousins lived in the other house.
Now, I was left with nothing although my mother had all the rights to the side of the property where we lived. Because I was adopted I was not given my share.
That was when I decided to move to Oman, not only for adventure but to escape the hurt and madness. I wanted to start a new and peaceful life.
Who was “Mrs. Mendoza”?
She led me to an old woman who was said to have taken care of me in the convent. Her name was tita Pilar, when she was a teacher at Lyceum. She took care of me for two years and a half. That’s why she started crying when she saw me and brought out old pictures of myself in baby clothes.
While I was under her care, a well-off foster family came. Adoption was then favored by the well-to-do. My poor “mama” Pilar cried as they gave me away.
In desperation, she adopted another son and named him Miguel, just like my first name. I met him the day I met her; he was in his early 20s. I recall her telling him, “This is your kuya Mike. The first son I took care of before you.”
Tell us about the time you went to Cebu, looking for your biological mother.
This search for my real mother was on and off, because I was in Oman for nine straight years. Then in 1991-1992, I was called by an aunt to say that my biological mother was in a convent in Cebu.
I went there and introduced myself and met the mother directress. I told her my story. As I went on she looked stunned, as if she was seeing a ghost. Stammering, she asked me to wait as she spoke to the other nuns. After what seemed like forever, the mother directress went back to me and confirmed everything.
I was told that my biological mother had died sometime in the late ’70s. I was told to go to the cemetery; there I found her—my real mother, my mama Maureen.
She had been laid to rest next to another nun. I cried and began to talk to her. I must have looked a little crazy; I even asked the cemetery caretaker to take a picture of me with her.
There was so much relief and a sense of peace after all these years of searching. I was finally reunited with her, even if she had been long gone. I cleaned her tombstone and lighted a candle.
We were now reunited after 40 years. I was not at all angry.
The irony was, I found out from the nuns in Cebu that she had spent all her life in a convent in Katipunan near Ateneo. She moved to Cebu only when she retired.
This convent where she spent almost her entire life was a place I passed by every day on my way to Ateneo and back home. I could see the nuns from the bus window— roaming the garden or tending to it. I now wonder if one of them was her.
I guess that was the closest I could have ever gotten to her. If ever, I find comfort in the thought that she was so close to me.
Where would you like to be buried when you die? Beside which mother?
You know, that’s a really good question but I want to tell you this first. So many have asked me that. I know I want to be cremated, but I don’t know yet where I want to be buried—with my mama Nati and the Eloriagas or with my biological mother.
During one gathering at the Loyola Memorial Park with my foster clan, I asked them if I could still be buried there and if they considered me part of the family. They replied, “Of course, you will be buried here. You’ll always be a part of the family—you still are!”
A few months after, I visited this childhood school friend and asked his mother for advice. This was the same woman I overheard being told by my mama Nati that I was adopted. She told me, “Ay hijo, I knew all along that you were adopted, but I didn’t want to tell you. But of course you will be buried next to your mama Nati. But if you want to be buried next to your real mom, it’s up to you, it’s what you feel.”
My heart belongs to my foster family regardless of what happened. My biological mother was someone I never knew. I had to give her the benefit of the doubt as to the real reason I was brought to a foster home. They had no control at the time; it was during the war and those were hard times.
But then, she gave me away to have a better life, and here was mama Nati who took me in. She may not be my flesh and blood but I was given care and attention.
So where would I want to be buried— “Wow, saan kaya ako pupunta?” In a way, I still really don’t know where I belong to.
Did you ever question God’s will for what happened?
Never. That is exactly what I was telling you—that mama Nati had brought me up to be spiritual and to never doubt God, no matter what happens. Since childhood, I’ve carried a rosary, even during my crazy and wild days. The rosary became such a habit. I have not let go of it.
Do you advise childless parents to adopt?
Yes but they should tell the kid at some point because it could become a problem. The growing child becomes rebellious, vengeful, angry, etc.
Once he or she discovers the adoption, the first thing to do is to continue to love and respect the parents. After all, they raised or are raising you well. Then, show gratitude. It’s very important to do this. You become at peace, and there is none of that resentment, rebellion, anger or whatever.
Because I was taken good care of and treated well—I will never know how my life would have turned out had I been left with the old kind woman where I was given up for adoption.
Would you consider adoption yourself?
I wanted to a long time ago, around the time I learned of my real mother. But when I needed to leave for work, I thought “Ay kawawa naman my baby, who will take care of him/her?” I will have to leave the peaceful life I had in Oman and settle down in the Philippines. Also, I honestly don’t have the patience for children (laughs).
What would you wish for if you could turn back the clock?
I really wish I had more information about my Zeigler father and my biological mother. There will always be a big part of me missing.
Where would you consider yourself to be now?
Aside from the happy adventures I had in my youth, I have finally left everything behind, including the wealth and the property in San Juan. I have been living in Oman where I worked so hard for the past years, and am now retired.
I would now rather be here. But, in retrospect, it’s probably a blessing in disguise that I didn’t (get the inheritance). Who knows what I would have done to myself that I would probably now be regreting. In return for all the “losses,” I now live a peaceful life. Allelujah! Thank God for that.