On August 11, 1989, a pale, anxious 8-year-old boy wearing a thin cotton T-shirt and shorts walked through the arrivals gate at Kennedy airport and into the arms of John and Anne Marie Ostrowski. They held balloons inscribed mom and dad in Korean, the only language their new son, whom they had already named Chad, understood. A shy, skinny boy with liquid brown eyes, his gleaming hair teeming with lice, Chad had no luggage, no toys to occupy him for the 24-hour journey.
"He didn't carry a teddy bear, a blanket, a stuffed animal, nothing," recalls Anne Marie, a slight, intense woman with the physical exuberance of an aerobics instructor. "Not even a jacket for a flight halfway around the world."
Chad had been placed with the Westchester couple by New Beginnings Family and Children's Services, a Mineola, Long Island, agency specializing in the adoption of foreign-born children. His birth mother was unmarried, New Beginnings had told the Ostrowskis, whose first son, John II, was 10 years old. Chad had no other family, they were told, and his mother, too poor to raise him, had abandoned him at an orphanage near the southern tip of Korea.
Chad, who was soon wearing spanking-new jeans and a black Members Only jacket -- the late-eighties uniform of every suburban kid -- immediately began to struggle with English. It wasn't long before he was able to make himself understood. But what he told his American parents in his halting English shocked the Ostrowskis and launched them on a painful journey that would stretch over a turbulent decade. Before it was over, their dream family would be in tatters. And Chad, their beautiful, bright child, would be on the brink of self-destruction.
"You say you are my family, but I already have a family," Chad told Anne Marie and John. "I have a father, brothers, and sisters back in Korea. Aunts and uncles, too. My father loves me, and I want to know what happened to him."
Nine years after Chad uttered those words, the Ostrowskis would travel with him back to Korea to reunite their son with his biological father. It was a heartrending decision, the Ostrowskis say, because they love Chad as much as any parent can love a child. But after years of battling doctors, psychologists, the courts, and adoption agencies here and in Korea, Anne Marie and John say they did what they knew was right. Chad had showed them over and over that he could not -- would not -- live a lie.
"I needed to know my family," he says simply.
Now nearly 18, Chad -- born Yong Seong Park -- lives with his father, Ki Joon Park, near Chinju in southern Korea. And even while the Ostrowskis continue to talk almost daily with him and plan for his college education, this week they are filing a multi-million-dollar suit against New Beginnings and its Korean partner, charging the agencies with negligence, breach of contract, and fraud for allowing them to adopt a child they claim the agencies knew from the beginning was not the orphan they'd been assured he was.