2008.041.004 Oral History Interview with Jeff Gammage
Jeff Gammage is a writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer and the author of China Ghosts: My Daughter Journey to America, My Passage to Fatherhood. He and his wife Christine are the adoptive parents of two Chinese girls, Jin Yu and Zhao Gu. “We wanted them to keep their names as a reminder of their heritage and their homeland,” he says. Jeff initially did not envision becoming a father, but his wife Christine wanted children. They decided on adoption from China because at the end of the process, you could be assured that you would bring home a child. Jeff provided the Chinese government with information and they selected the child for them based on this. They received letters about their daughters, Sho Jin Yu and Zhao Gu, with some health details. The adoption process was completed after 18 months. Meeting their daughters was challenging due to the long plane ride and their unfamiliarity with Chinese culture. Jeff felt guilty adopting Jin Yu when she was two years old because she knew her surroundings and it was not easy leaving everything behind. Jeff and Christine kept the girl names to honor their heritage. Jeff strives to expose their daughters to Chinese culture, from lion dancing to kung fu. They recognize that the children will eventually make their own choices about their cultural identity. Jeff acknowledges that being a good parent is determined by their daughters and expresses deep love and joy in his role as a father. Jeff ends with a cheerful interaction between him and his daughters.


I don't know that I ever really imagined being a father; I didn't particularly want to be a father, and I didn't think I'd be a very good one. It was not a job I aspired to. But Christine really wanted children, and I felt like, if that's what she wanted in life, that's what she should have.

When we learned that adoption was going to be the way that we would have children, we quickly settled on China because, at the end of the process, however long it might be and however difficult it might be, you were going to come home with a child. It wasn't going to end in disappointment. And for Christine and I, that factor outweighed everything else.

China picks your child for you, let me put it that way. The Chinese government takes the information you send them and decides which child would be best for you.

The first sign we had of our daughters was a letter from the Chinese government, and it contained some rudimentary health information. It said she was sometimes obstinate, which we thought was great 'cause we figured everybody in our house was obstinate, she might as well be obstinate too. And they enclosed a small picture and they said, "This girl's name is Sho Jin Yu and she is now living in an orphanage in the city of Xiangtan in Hunan Province." And that process was repeated again with our second daughter, Zhao Gu.

It took about eighteen months to complete the paperwork and get to China to meet our daughter. Neither Christine nor I had ever been to China before. We were so tired--I mean, you get on a plane and you fly twenty-four hours and your time zone's upside-down and you can't speak the language and you're not used to the food and then you get on another plane and fly 700 miles more, and you get there even more exhausted, and then they hand you a baby. And that was our real first introduction to parenthood.

It was more involved with Jin Yu because she was two year old, she was not a baby who was going to come to us sort of asleep and unaware and unknowing. Jin Yu was walking and talking; she was babbling in baby talk Chinese, and she knew her caretakers and she knew her surroundings, and to go to China and take that from her was not easy for us, or for me, and certainly not for her.

I was never under the illusion that I was saving anyone. I felt that adoption was the most selfish act in the world, and that I was the most selfish person because I got out of it what I wanted. And Jin Yu and then Zhao Gu didn't have any choice in the matter. But we felt, like, "if we're going to go and get two children from China, then we have an obligation to try to infuse them with whatever level of culture that we can."

Christine and I agreed immediately that, for one, we were going to keep the girls' names. These were children who had lost everything else, and we wanted them to keep their name as a reminder of their heritage and their homeland. You know, I'm a white, 49-year-old suburbanite; I don't know what it's like to be Chinese. I try to put my children in positions where they can be around Chinese people, and not just once a week at lion dancing class in Chinatown, but at school, and in our friendships, and in all the things they do in their lives.

And I just felt that for my kids, for our kids--we wanted them to embrace their culture, or at least have the opportunity to embrace it. Jin Yu loves lion dancing and she loves kung fu, Zhao Gu started lion dancing about a year ago and they take part in all the parades and all the events in Chinatown, you know, with the lions and different performances on different holidays. Maybe when they're sixteen, they'll do something completely different; maybe they'll take up, like, Irish clog-dancing. I don't know. They'll make their own decisions as they get older. I just figure that here, at the start, I'll probably have the most influence right now, when they're young.

I don't think I get the right to judge whether I'm a good parent or not; I think my daughters will decide that. Definitely it's a job I love--it's more fun than I ever imagined; it could be the girls make me laugh everyday and they're just the best.

Say "Cheese!".


My name's Jeff Gammage, and I'm the father to two girls adopted from China.

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