Michael Kimball

The Wrong Family

I never felt like I was born into the right family. Sometimes, when my parents were at work, I would look for evidence that I had been adopted. That’s how I found the fireproof lockbox in my parents’ closet. There were lots of documents in it—including old savings books, old check stubs, years of tax returns, the house deed, the two pink slips for the family cars, my parents’ marriage certificate, and everybody’s birth certificate except mine.

One day, when I was about ten years old, I asked my mother where my birth certificate was. When she couldn’t find it, I asked her if I had been adopted. She told me I hadn’t been adopted, that she was my mother, and that my father was father—but I didn’t believe her.

I wasn’t trying to be mean to my mother, but I couldn’t see myself when I looked at her or my father. I asked my mother if she could prove it and the next day she wrote to the Ingham County Department of Vital Records with a check for a copy of my birth certificate. Then we had to wait 4-6 weeks.


Supposedly, my conception and birth were planned. I didn’t know what that meant when my parents first told me, but I knew it was better than being an accident like my brother was. My parents often reminded him they had not wanted him. So did I. Still, I could never tell the difference between them not wanting him and wanting me.


My mother likes to tell a story about what happened after they brought me home from the hospital. My father went out into the backyard with a revolver he kept hidden in his underwear drawer (even though, growing up, we all knew where it was).

My mother says she stood at the picture window holding me and we both watched my father hold the gun over his head and shoot it until there weren’t any bullets left in it (even though, as a newborn, I couldn’t have seen my father or what he was doing). My mother says I held my little arm up too and I made smacking noises with my lips.

My mother thinks I was imitating my father. I think that I was hungry. Regardless, in the spring, after the snow melted, they realized that one of the bullets had fallen through the roof, which caused a leak that pooled in the attic, which created a watermark on the ceiling of the kitchen. The watermark had turned into a black fuzzy mold when we moved out of the house four years later.


The whole time we waited for the copy of my birth certificate, I asked my family to stop calling me Michael. Instead, I asked everybody to call me Tom Seaver. He was a great baseball player, a great pitcher, and it felt good when people called me his name. It wasn’t until years later that I learned his first name was actually George.


I still remember the day my birth certificate came in the mail. My mother left it on the kitchen table so I would see it when I got home from school. I was excited and scared to find out who my parents were, but my mother didn’t seem particularly interested. Of course, now I realize that she already knew the name on my birth certificate is Michael Todd Kimball. My father is listed as Ray Harold Kimball and my mother is listed as Ina May Kimball, which proved that my parents were my parents, but something was still wrong. Now I knew I was related to my family by blood, but my parents didn’t seem to want me as much anymore.

Michael Kimball is the author, most recently, of the novel Big Ray, as well as the novels Us, Dear Everybody, and The Way the Family Got Away. His books have been translated into a dozen languages. His work has been featured on NPR's All Things Considered and in the Guardian, Vice, Bomb, and New York Tyrant. He is also responsible for the project Michael Kimball Writes Your Life Story (on a postcard) and a couple of documentary films. He lives in Baltimore. Visit his website at

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