A 1954 memoir, The Family Nobody Wanted is more than it appears to be on the surface. The story follows a childless couple, Carl and Helen Doss as they pursue their callings and dreams. As a businessman in the Great Depression, Carl feels called to sell his new painting company, at a loss, so he can go to school and become a pastor. Meanwhile, Helen longs to adopt.
The young couple does both. Carl goes to seminary, and though poor, the Dosses adopt their first child. Then, in the process of trying to adopt again, they discover that there is a category of orphan that nobody wants. Certain mixed ethnicity children (for instance, Chinese/Japanese) aren’t wanted by either people group. Consequently, the Dosses compassionately start building this incredibly racially diverse family, as they adopted one unwanted child after another.
The family grows faster than it would have naturally—the last three children are adopted all at the same time, bringing the total number of children to twelve—and The Family Nobody Wanted doesn’t sugar coat how difficult parenting so many young children is. Yet, in the midst of the exhausting amount of work, the story also captures the adorable, endearing moments that help make parenting a satisfying endeavor.
The Family Nobody Wanted isn’t just a simple, feel good family book though. Embedded within the story is the best commentary on racism I’ve ever read. The Doss family lived in a time of immense racial inequality in America, and some of the racist thoughts of the time were held by members of Carl and Helen’s families. When the family tried to adopt a French/African baby, they were warned not to share the news with certain family members until it was official—why cause a fuss for nothing.
The Doss family forms the perfect case study for rejecting ridiculous notions about biological predisposition. Even though the children came from different heritages, they grow up as American as any other. Their genetic background had precious little to do with how they behave and interact. The main trait that distinguishes one child from another, in the reader’s mind, is personality, not ethnicity.
As I’ve read and reflected on The Family Nobody Wanted, I think it’s one of the better examples of nonfiction. This book strikes a nice balance: it’s entertaining but not superficial, and it’s emotionally complex but not self-absorbed. The Family Nobody Wanted tells a story and contains a deep message, enabling the reader to enjoy the journey while coming to a deeper understanding of life.