When people become famous, long-lost relatives often come out of the woodwork.
That became a particular problem for country singer Rodney Atkins – who released his fourth album, Take A Back Road, last week – when he became the spokesman for the National Council for Adoption in 2008. People were coming up to him with bags of hair wanting DNA tests, and he couldn’t easily determine who his relatives were. Atkins was adopted as an infant and didn’t have any contact with his birth family.
“I needed to close that door,” said Atkins, 42, in a recent interview.
So in August of 2008, Atkins went through the proper channels and reunited with his birth mother in Nashville.
“It hit me at that moment, walking in that room, getting to know her,” Atkins said. “She’s a wonderful, beautiful lady. I realized that the reason I needed to do that did not have anything to do with my parents. I’m glad I did that really, really, really for her. She’s been carrying that around, wondering what happened, and I could tell it was such a relief.”
His birth mother got pregnant at 19. She hid the pregnancy from her family, and ultimately chose to give Atkins up for adoption instead of having an abortion. For privacy reasons, Atkins did not want to reveal her identity.
“I just wanted to tell her thank you, because she had some other alternatives to end that situation,” said Atkins, pausing. “I might not be here. So you don’t want to take it for granted. ... She kept saying, ‘I’m sorry.’ I kept saying, ‘Thank you.’“
His birth mother went on to get married and have another son of her own. Her son revealed to Atkins that every year around springtime, his mom’s mood would change, and he never understood why until now. Atkins’ birthday is in March.
His adoptive parents, Allan and Margaret Atkins, have been completely supportive of the reunion. They even traveled down to meet Atkins’ birth mother and brought some memories with them.
“My mom put together pictures from the time I was an infant to a few years ago to catch her up and let her see what my life was like,” said Atkins.
Atkins reveals a lot about his idyllic upbringing in rural East Tennessee on his new album, Take A Back Road. The title track recently spent multiple weeks at No. 1 on the country charts and talks about taking the long way home to escape the stress of modern life.
Other songs, including “He’s Mine” and “Growing Up Like That” reflect his role as a father and the hard-working, family values he hopes to pass on to 10-year-old son Elijah. Atkins sings about the people who have meant the most to him in his song, “Lifelines.”
“If I spent the rest of my life getting even with the people that had helped me out, I would never settle the score,” said Atkins.
He now includes his birth mother in that group. Atkins said it took a lot of courage for his birth mother to go through life with this secret, and even more courage to reveal it to her family.
Before her own mother died recently, she was able to introduce Atkins to his grandmother.
“She had to tell her after all these years, ‘You have another grandson that I never told you about.’ I can’t imagine what she’s been carrying,” he said.
About eight months after the reunion, Atkins received a birthday package in the mail from his birth mother. She had learned that Atkins had played baseball as a kid and idolized Los Angeles Dodgers first baseman Steve Garvey. The package contained Garvey’s MVP card, a baseball and a Dodgers jersey, all personally autographed by Garvey.
Atkins was stunned. He called his birth mom and thanked her profusely, saying she did not have to do this.
“She told me, ‘You have to understand, Rodney, to me this is your first birthday.’“