I have an amazing father. I have written about him on this blog. I thank God for him every time I think about it.
I also have a biological father.
The man I call my father has been in my life since before I can remember. He has coached me through my worst moments and cheered me on through my best. He helped to teach me the meaning of family, the meaning of loyalty, and the meaning of personal integrity/responsibility. He told me he would get up on the down stroke for me and has NEVER given me a reason not to think he wouldn’t. When I was going to do a semester abroad, he forced me to reconsider my chosen country because ” I can’t come get you like that dude in Taken”. He has visited me almost everywhere I have lived except Mexico, North Carolina, and California (which he has a real fear about).
My biological father did none of that. The only childhood memories I have of him are:
- going to visit him and my step-mother at the time and telling my step-sister I wanted to go home ( I was 6)
- my mother cussing him out after he hurt my feelings at my sister’s 6th grade graduation (I don’t even remember how he did anymore, and I didn’t remember this until I was reminded)
- him writing me this letter about his life (I remember it being the worst this I ever read, but he did send me a picture)
- him turning down my invitation to my high school graduation
- him telling me he paid child support and so he was a father to me….the number he owes could buy me an amazing car
- him calling me on my 18th birthday…on a private number that i had no idea how he got, and being surprised that he knew when my birthday was.
My mother and father did not speak ill of my biological father. While my mother did tell me about the man she knew him to be, she also encouraged me to build my own relationship and to find out for myself. My father did the same. Because of their encouragement, because of my sister’s encouragement and because I was never entirely sure that I wasn’t missing something about myself by not knowing him I tried to. I never agreed to go to visit him because I had to fly and I needed to be in control of when I could leave.
Fast forward 15 years. I take a job in the Northern most city in California, and suddenly the distance to his home is drivable. A day trip. On a random Wednesday in July, driving back to the city from Oregon, I call his phone and commit myself to a date. I plan a trip to visit from Thursday- Sunday.
Immediately after I do so, I call my father. “Dad, I told B*** V***** I’m going to come up there to see him”. My father doesn’t miss a beat. “How do you feel about it?”. I stop to ask myself how I really feel about it for the first time. “Excited…and scared. I’ll let you know how it goes”. We continue our conversation for a bit longer before we get off the phone. I consciously decide not to tell my mother until after my trip because it is near her birthday and I want her to enjoy herself, because she already has plans. I know she will worry.
Soon enough the day for the trip comes. I am on the phone talking to my best friend about nothing and everything and then I pull up outside the house. Our conversation has turned to the one thing we have avoided talking about the whole time. She says ” You know, I hope that no matter what I do, my son will love me and know I did my best”. Before I know it I am crying. I say “I can still go home, I don’t have to do this” and then he comes out onto the porch and I feel like he looks straight into my car and the walks back in the house. I wipe my face. I decide I have come to far to turn back. I get out of my car and walk to the door.
I knock on the door and he comes back out. I find myself staring into a face I don’t remember, with a nose that looks like mine. My mother has always told me that I look like him, and now I understand why she would say that (even though only our noses are different). I see my cheek bones, my eye lashes, my nose. I see why my smile takes up 3/4 of my face. I see that I am the perfect combination of my biological parents. All of a sudden, I am tired.
We walk in the house and I take a cursory glance, but I am really too nervous to process anything. I am holding my bags as if they would protect me if the need should arise, but he asks me to put them down in the room he has told me his mine o for the weekend and I do. I hear him call a cousin to tell him I am there and make plans for us to meet. He is sitting a the table. I sit on the couch. “I’m happy to see you,” he says. I smile, unable to say the same. I’m not exactly happy, and I’m not going to lie. The TV is on breaking the silence. I have never been so excited to guess along with the contestants on Wheel of Fortune.
Before I know it, we are his car going to meet a cousin I have only seen in pictures. I was months old. We pull up and I am re-energized. Wired. We walk in the house, and he introduces me to my cousin and disappears. I stand by the door, at the counter. A woman and a teenager I have never seen before are sitting at the table. Their names don’t quite register after the introduction, but the woman’s question’s do. “So when is the last time you saw your dad?” My mind flies to Cleveland, Ohio where my father is. I think of my most recent trip home and a million memories flash before my eyes, but I know that is not who she is asking me about. I answer, “When I was six?”. My cousin jumps in quickly, “Oh no, your dad saw you at your sister’s 6th grade graduation”. All of a sudden, memories of come flooding back to me. I remember feeling nervous about accepting her invitation. I remember wondering why he could come back to see her when he couldn’t seem to get right when I asked. I remember picking my dress with care. I remember walking into the school and feeling the same shock I felt that day. I say, “sometimes people don’t remember things that are insignificant.” As an I aside I add, “sometimes, people block out painful memories”. I am never so happy to have dinner served so I don’t have to talk about this anymore. I stand and eat my food, despite invitations to the table. I am on guard and even though I didn’t drive, I am gone if this shit gets stupid.
Dinner is finished and I have a chance to talk to my cousin. I ask questions, careful to steer the conversation to the family history I do not know to make sure I am not put on guard the same way I was before. Before I know it, it is well after 2 am. It is time to go, and we make plans to get together the next day. I call my father to tell him I made it safety and that I will call him tomorrow. He’s only half awake, but he says okay.
When I get in bed, I am not sleepy. I am prayful. I ask God to make it clear to me why I agreed to come here. I put on a sleep meditation and morning comes before I know it. The sun wakes me. It is still to early for me to be up and about, but I feel the need to call my brother. It is 8 am EST and he answers. He had to take my mother to the airport and is on his way home. I tell him where I am. A moment passes. He says, ” I hope that works out for you” and I hear the promise of hell to pay if it doesn’t.
I have a moment to myself to really look at the house. I see the picture from the day my cousin reminded me of on a shelf, more evidence that it happened. My face is smiling back at me and I remember being happy to celebrate my sister’s special day. I go back to lay down. I don’t fall back asleep. I go to workout to work off the excess energy.
I am building my confidence to ask the questions that really brought me here, questions that I am sure he will answer to my face.
We are driving. We have been talking about family dynamics I have never known and I feel like the moment is better than any other. I ask, “Why didn’t you come to the things I invited you to?”. He answers, ” Because your mother wouldn’t let me stay at your house. I would have slept on the floor if I had to.” I don’t know whether to be disappointed, angry, or surprised at his stupidity. I think of the many times my mother, my father and brothers have shown me that they would fight to protect my feelings when I was both bothered and unbothered and wonder why this man who has been the cause of so many hurts would throw himself in the lion’s den. I ask, “so, you are pretty much all or nothing, huh?” He thinks about it and replies, “Yeah”. I speak before I can stop myself , “That’s pretty stupid”. What he says next doesn’t really matter, but he does apologize for being absent.
The weekend continues, and I call my father daily and thank him for being present in my life. During my visit, I wonder why my biological father can’t talk to me unless I initiate the conversation. After 2 more sleepless nights, I get ready to get back on the road back to the life I knew. When I leave, he hugs me. He says, ” I don’t know what you have done with your life, but you seem happy. Keep it up”. I thank him for trying on, because I know this was hard for both of us.
My mother’s birthday has passed, and I finally called her to tell her what I’ve done. I tell her why I didn’t tell her. I answer her barrage of questions and tell her that I couldn’t understand how she loved me until I took this trip, met this man, heard about his past and learned what it cost her to let me make my own decision about him. She talks to me for 2 hour before she decides I am really okay, because she is ready to correct his ass if I am not.
I am grateful for the space my family held for me until I was ready. I didn’t know I was whole until I went to make sure nothing was missing. I didn’t know until I saw what people sacrificed to let me live out loud. I know their love is deep and strong. I know that my partner has to give me this…or better.