“What I really want to tell him is to pick up that baby of his and hold her tight, to set the moon on the edge of her crib and to hang her name up in the stars.”
― Jodi Picoult, My Sister's Keeper
I grew up without a father.
It sounds dramatic, I realize, especially when I tell you that my mother WAS married. She simply wasn't married to my father. She was never married to my father. Technically, this makes me a bastard. I won't tell you THEIR story because it isn't mine to tell. Suffice it to say that it was a big ol' nasty mess.
It got tricky for a few reasons, one of which was that my mother never actually TOLD me that the man she had married when I was about two was not ACTUALLY my father. We've never discussed it, but I would guess that, in her own way, she was trying to protect me from the knowledge that I was illegitimate (don't you LOVE that word to describe a kid?). I found THAT out the hard way.
Let's take a trip in the way-back machine.
The man my mother married: "Don't call me that. I'm not your daddy."
Six-year-old-me (perplexed, right?): "Why aren't you my daddy?" (I don't remember the exact wording of this question. I do vividly remember that my mind was blown, so it's hard to say WHAT my question was but I do very much remember the answer.)
The man my mother married: "Your mom stayed up very late with some other man, after everyone else had gone to sleep. HE'S your daddy."
Well, THAT got my little wheels turning. I tried to remember all the people I could think of who were night owls and ticked them off in my head as possibilities. I imagine he must have told me to keep it a secret (although I don't remember him specifically doing so) because I didn't ask my mother about it. I then began a long and arduous campaign to avoid calling him ANYTHING (was I supposed to call him by his first name?) to keep from setting him off.
But THIS was a NEW AND WONDERFUL thing! My Father became this wonderful, mystical creature in the tangled wilderness that was my brain. He was a pilot! No, he was a KING! He was a doctor! He was out there somewhere SEARCHING for me. He probably carried a picture of me in his wallet and he would pull it out and stare longingly at me. He probably had millions of BOOKS to read. It went on and on...and on. I carried fantasies of My Father with me in almost every scenario. Every award I earned, I knew he was there, secretly proud and beaming at me in the midst of the other proud parents. On my graduation day from high school, he sat in the bleachers, videotaping the song I sang and clapping louder than anyone when I received my diploma. On my wedding day, he watched with a tear in his eye as someone else walked me down the aisle.
It's an odd thing to grow up without a parent or, as many adopted children know, parents. There is a disconnectedness that you feel when you don't know your whole story. I had a longing to know who I was and where I was from. Did I have his eyes? His nose? Did he talk to himself or make up stories in his head like I did? Did he hum to himself when he was concentrating? Anything about me that I couldn't pin on my mother was immediately assigned to My Father. And he was PERFECT. And he LOVED me.
I didn't talk about this. A few of my friends knew but mostly I kept My Dad to myself. He was my own secret dream and I knew that one day I would find him.
I found my father's name when I was 18. My mother had asked me to look through this dilapidated green metal file box to find my brother's social security number. When I was pawing through all the documents, I saw a letter from an attorney. Never one to shy away from a mystery, I opened the letter. It was the letter my father had signed to abdicate his parental rights to me. AND THERE WAS HIS NAME. My world shifted a bit...and I sat down hard, staring at the name and etching into my brain. I tried his name out with mine like a young teenager writing the last name of her One True Love intertwined with hers. I tasted it on my tongue, rolling it out into my world for the very first time. I folded the letter neatly and put it back in the file.
I did not mention it to my mother.
Years passed. I graduated from college, got married and started a family of my own. I thought of My Father often and idly wondered if I should reach out to him. It was never the right time. Mostly, my heart was too tender and too fragile to bear the potential rejection of the man who was mythical in my imagination. I loved him from afar. I consulted with him in the depths of my mind, offering myself advice and wisdom on his behalf.
My youngest son was born with a medical issue. We had to visit a geneticist and I had to tell her I was sorry...I had no information about his maternal grandfather's side of the family.
More time passed. I spent the years building my confidence and my life. I tried to love myself and often failed. I knew My Father was growing older and I watched my beautiful children begin to grow and I knew it was Time.
It was time to take the biggest gamble of my life. It was time to reach out to the man who had never reached out to me. I knew that he existed and I knew that he knew of me. The attorney's papers had made it very clear. What I never really thought about was that he had rejected me outright in the signing of those papers. Those papers clearly said, "I do not claim this child." But that never crossed my mind. He had remained infallible and perfect to me for all those years.
But I was ready. I was at a place in my life where I knew I could live beyond the rejection I thought was about 95% likely.
I wrote a letter. If you're reading this blog, you know how I write. I poured my heart in that letter, hesitantly, with honesty and hope. I told him a few things about me and about his grandchildren and I asked him to reach out to me. I offered that I understood if he didn't want anything to do with me. I was frightened of hurting his family and didn't want to insert myself where I didn't belong. But I didn't have a choice: I had to reach out to this man who was MY FATHER and risk the biggest rejection of my life.
Let me know if you want to know how it turned out. :)