When I was 12 years old I found out the man I’d been calling daddy wasn’t my father. I was sitting at the kitchen table with my sister, eating a cheeseburger, when my parents got into one of their increasingly regular fights. My dad left, slamming the door behind him. My mother went to her room. I began crying not sure if he’d come back this time.
Then my sister said, “Don’t cry, he isn’t your real father, George is.” There was no malicious intent on her part, she just wanted me to stop crying. To this day she doesn’t remember this episode, and I can’t forget it. Not understanding what I just learned, I went around the corner to my best friend’s house and told her. We snuck a glass of her mom’s wine and discussed it like only 12 year olds getting a wine buzz can. Then we went for a bike ride.
Later, I went home and my mom told me the whole story. I was her love child. Such a romantic sounding phrase. After divorcing my brother and sister’s dad my mom met a blonde haired, golden skinned boy. That finally answered my question regarding having blonde hair and gold toned skin in a family full of dark hair and olive toned skin. They were in love, and the inevitable happened she got pregnant. He wasn’t sure he wanted kids and she had two and one on the way. Nine months later she had three kids, but he was gone. Then she met a handsome Navy man, who not only fell in love with her, but fell in love with me too and adopted me when I was one.
This is where this tale gets tricky. My parents opted to not tell me I was adopted. So, until that fateful day I had no idea. When my dad came home after the fight, I pretended I didn’t know. To his dying day he never knew I found out. After my parents divorce, I just kept pretending and so did he. It wasn’t too hard as I only saw him a few more times.
That’s when I began feeling half. It was a quiet feeling at first because I was young and didn’t recognize it for what it was. For some reason not looking like anyone in my family stuck with me. I wondered if there was some blonde, tan skinned family out there that I looked like. Did he ever think of me? I kept these thoughts to myself because it felt disloyal to the man who raised me. But, I wondered.
Then I went away to college, and my parents got a divorce very soon after. I always felt guilty that they waited until I was gone to go find happiness. My dad went back to his hometown in Illinois and my mom began her journey as a single career woman. As for me, I continued thinking about my biological father. It was just that vain wondering if I looked like him. I didn’t have a burning desire to know him though, once again, knowing him felt disloyal to the man who raised me.
When I was 21 I came home from college on break, and told my mom I wanted to meet my biological father. She had kept track of him throughout the years and periodically sent class pictures (I didn’t know this). She contacted him and to his credit he agreed to meet me. First he had to tell his wife he had a daughter. That’s all I’ll say on that as it’s not my story to tell.
A week or so later I arrived at the agreed upon restaurant. I’m nervous and I’ve changed my mind. But, it’s too late, I see him and he sees me. He looks nervous too. The first thing I notice is how much I look like him. He notices too and says something like, “Well, no doubt you’re mine.” I laugh nervously and so does he. We have the same smile and our eyes squint when we laugh. We sit at the table and make small talk. He puts his hand up the way you do when you’re comparing hand size, and I put mine up too. We laugh because our hands are exactly the same shape. There were no heartfelt conversations that day or any of the days that followed.
Flash forward through the years we stayed in touch mostly through email. Neither of us made attempts for more. I stubbornly wanted him to do all the work. Right or wrong I felt he owed it to me. I can be stubborn even (especially) when I’m wrong. We sent each other holiday cards, checked in to see how the other was doing and periodically he’d send me some money. I think he felt fatherly doing that, like giving me an allowance even though I was all grown up. Then my adopted father passed away. I told him my dad died and from that point on he began signing his emails “dad”. I resented it and liked it all at the same time. I wanted more with him, but would never give an inch of myself to show him the door was open. Even though my dad was gone I still felt loyal to him and I had this exhausting internal battle of wanting something and fighting myself for wanting it.
As long as this story is I’ve left out so much. Some because as I said previously they aren’t my stories to tell. Some just because this is already so long and I’m not done yet.
Flash forward to now. My mother-in-law is very into genealogy and bought a bunch of those DNA tests on that Ancestry site. She sent me mine and I wasn’t totally into it, but agreed to take it. So I did and sent it in. A couple of months later I received my results. I’ve always known I was Jewish on my mom’s side and Spanish on my father’s. Both of those showed up in my results, but even more than both of those was I’m 37% Irish. I didn’t know that. I assumed there must be Irish on my bio dad’s side. When you take these tests you have to activate your information on the site and it shows you if you have any DNA matches that are members on the site – I did.
The next morning I get an email from a woman who showed up as a strong match. Hang in there this part gets confusing… She told me some family member’s names, one being her mom Constance. I got a lump in my throat because I knew my bio dad’s mom’s name was Constance. I told her his name and that her mom had the same name as his mom. She immediately wrote back telling me her great Aunt’s name is Constance, and her mom was named after her. Our grandparents were brother and sister. I’d heard from my mom my grandmother had a tragic death and once again not my story to tell. But, this woman who I had an immediate and emotional connection to asked me if I wanted to see some “family” photos. I did and she sent me the first photo I’d ever seen of my grandmother, Constance. I cried, I couldn’t stop crying. Every photo she sent me felt like a long lost puzzle piece snapping into place. She also sent me a genealogy report on the Spanish side of my family. Telling their story of migrating to the United States for work. First landing in Hawaii where the whole family worked in the sugar cane fields saving money to come to the mainland where they built a life. No words can express how precious this book is to me.
I wanted to let my bio dad know what I’d found. I hadn’t talked to him for quite a few months. I told him in an email about what my DNA results turned up. I privately thought maybe this would crack the door open for us to maybe have something to bond a bit over. A few days passed and I didn’t hear anything. I thought maybe he was freaked out I found a connection to his mom whose tragic death when he was young must have had a huge emotional impact on him. I wrote him again. No response. I wrote again and still no response. I decided to write to his wife just to make sure everything was ok. I had a pit in my stomach because even though we weren’t close we always returned emails immediately. Often within minutes like we were waiting.
His wife wrote back right away. Just seeing her name in my inbox made me tear up. Something not good was coming. She told me she had to put my dad into a home in June he has dementia compounded with a lifetime of heart problems. She said he didn’t want any visitors and probably wouldn’t remember me.
We’ll never talk about the paternal side of his family who migrated here from Ireland and make up a large part of my DNA. He’ll never tell me about his mom’s death or his dad and grandfather whose name he carries. We’ll never have anything more than the small relationship neither of us was willing to build on. My stubbornness has shut this door. I’ll carry that every day with me.
I don’t know what happens next. I don’t know if she’ll let me see him. I just don’t know and the not knowing hurts. I’m not a person who shares myself easily, so I write. I guess I just end this with – to be continued…
PROLOGUE: In the early morning hours on November 30th my biological father passed away quietly in his sleep. I never got to see him or say goodbye. There will be no service and no closure for me, just guilt and regrets.