A tale of two fathers

I scanned the dining room for mess left from Christmas dinner one last time, but everything was tidy. Wiping the sink and setting down the dish cloth with a sigh, I stared at the card sitting on my desk that had arrived Christmas eve. I rubbed my forehead, and thought of a woman I know whose father was just diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and transferred into palliative care the week before Christmas. “I have to call him,” I thought, and before I could change my mind I opened the card and grabbed the phone.

It rang several times and thinking perhaps he was gone for the holidays I was about to hang up when I heard his voice.

“Hello?”

“Merry Christmas… it’s… Laila. ”

I could hear his gasp of surprise, and I could also hear the smile in his voice. The card in my hand was from my biological father,his email address, cell phone and home phone inscribed inside.After initial contact over 10 years ago, the heartache that ensued made me shut that door for a decade. Christmas 2015,I was ready to open it once again.

We talked. For over an hour. We made plans for him to come over Boxing Day with a family tree and his family history photo album. It just happened so fast and I was kind of freaking out a bit afterwards but excited to open another chapter of my life…

The phone call that changed everything

It wasn’t long after my Poppa( maternal grandfather) had died, that my Nani ( maternal grandmother) was diagnosed with breast cancer. A slow-growing cancer, it would be several years before she would pass on, even leaving hospice after being on death’s door at one point. It was sheer stubbornness on her part, I’m sure – her feisty German nature. But this particular day she had called me and was in tears at the thought that at her age, cancer was a death sentence. As we talked she told me that if it got to a point where she was going to die, she had  something very important to tell me, but she couldn’t tell me until she was about to die.

!!!!!

I was dumbfounded. If whatever she had to tell me was that earth shattering, she better not wait until deaths door to say it – and I told her so! She made me promise I would never say anything to my mom until after she passed… and I promised… and then she told me that my Dad wasn’t actually my father. She knew who my real father was, didn’t know where he was anymore,and that she was sorry no one told me before.

To be brutally honest, I wanted to believe she  must have been senile, but she wasn’t. The room was spinning and I leaned over the side of the bed with my head between my knees as her voice told what else she knew. I was numb.Her voice seemed a long ways away –  I felt like I’d been sucker-punched in the gut and I gasped. I couldn’t breathe. There I was, early thirties and suddenly my life as I knew it was blown out of the water.

I don’t even remember how long it was in terms of days or weeks or months of going through the motions of life, before in a moment of angst,I called a long time family friend to confide in her what I had been told and that I’d looked and hadn’t found any record of adoption.

 The silence on her end of the line brought yet another round of  disconnect as her voice seemed a million miles away when she told me she always feared I would find out like this.She told me what she knew, where he lived – he still lived in the Prince George area. I had two half siblings…more numbness,more tears. She called my parents, told them I knew and within moments they called me.

There were tears – on both sides. Questions, yelling and accusations on mine.That so many people had known left me feeling betrayed beyond words. It wasn’t a conversation to be had by phone but perhaps in hindsight it was for the best because I could just hang up when my anger and hurt took over. And I was devastated, completely and utterly devastated but even in that devastation I remember telling my Dad something about being thankful that he chose to love and raise me. The shock of finding out he was not my biological father was only tempered by the knowledge his love had been a choice, which in my view is as selfless as giving up a child so they can have a better future.

Is there an app for this?

So there I was, in my thirties trying to reconcile what all this meant to me and where to go from there. As I write this the feelings of that time are still so strong the tears are flowing. I waited a few years before reaching out for the first time because I wanted to be sure it was what I needed to do. Knowing my biological father was married with grown kids of his own, I  also wanted it to be as unobtrusive and gentle as possible, even clinical in nature.

The perfect opening came when in preparation for a potential surgery my doctor recommended banking blood in case it was needed. Because I have a fairly rare blood type, I wrote a letter to him introducing myself and asking if he might have the same.

A reply came immediately saying no, but included in that letter was a request for a DNA test, already paid for so he could be absolutely sure that he was my father.I didn’t know what to think but I willingly did so and within weeks the letter arrived confirming he was indeed my biological father. More tears, one baby step closer to… I don’t know. I didn’t know what I wanted,or why, I just needed to know who he was.

We met briefly once 11 years ago in a restaurant in Prince George on my way back from a visit with my Dad. He had the same blonde hair, wavy with a hint of strawberry. Instantly I thought ” Ah, that’s where that came from!” Everyone in my family was brunette and average height. He was tall. Great smile. Twinkling eyes. But it was awkward and tense and it was clear things were not well on his side.

And then…nothing. That was it for a long, long time. There was a lot of hurt on both sides and it was tremendously hard on his family to go through this discovery so late in life as well. I felt like my presence was a terrible secret no one wanted to talk about and it was not well accepted in his marriage.He halted all contact for many years as he went through a divorce. I felt rejected and wished that I had never reached out.

 I put all those feelings back into a mental box and carried on with life, not willing to reach out to be rejected again by someone I didn’t even know. I already had a Dad I loved in PG, I didn’t need another one.

Years passed and emotional scars began to scab over if not heal. I was to the point where I rarely ever thought of it,and then one day I received an email from a friend of his who said he wanted to get in touch with me again. His divorce was over, he was living on the coast and not that far from me.

But I was so fearful of letting all those feelings re-surface again. What if we didn’t like each other? How could I reconcile this man with my life? Did I need to?
More years passed. He showed gentle persistence by sending cards on my birthday sometimes – this always shook me to the core, deep sobs in the bathroom for the hurt it still brought back. He sent Christmas cards. I once mailed him back saying yes we should meet for coffee then never followed up…until the evening of December 25th, 2015 – the phone call that I started this entire story with.

Letting go and moving on

We spent the afternoon together yesterday. He confided he reads my blog sometimes and showed me the family tree, the family album,shared stories…and he spent a lot of time just looking at me with such a gentle expression that was so compelling. And we hugged,several times and yes there were tears. Time does not heal all wounds, but perhaps time can lend you the maturity to be able to confront the pain and push through it.

I’ve yet to reach out to my half siblings – this journey left many scars all around. It took me nearly 15 years in total from the time I found out until today – it’s possible there will never be an interest on their side, in meeting.There is no right, or wrong way to feel in these situations, but if they ever were to read this, I want them to know that I am sorry for all the pain and turmoil my appearance caused unintentionally, in their lives. I only wanted to know about the man who gave me life.I never thought about the pain it might cause them.

Lessons.

This journey is far from over – it goes without saying that there are likely to still be ups and downs as we figure it all out. I have no expectations of what should or must happen because it’s been such a painful,awkward journey. But even in the pain there have been tremendous lessons. The choice my Dad made to raise me as his own daughter, was a choice of love,not obligation and he has provided a lifetime of lessons and memories growing up in rural Prince George – I love him with every bit of my heart. He’s my Dad, my only Dad.

Finally connecting in a good way after so long with my biological father, just filled so many holes in my world I never knew I had. I slept so contently last night. How much of who I am is a result of the way I was raised and how much can be chalked up to genetics is amazing. Like pieces of a puzzle, there are indeed places he fits and places he does not. But he is a part of me and I am a part of him. It’s time for forgiveness, for new beginnings, for letting go.Just writing this has given me tremendous relief -if it helps anyone in the same situation at all,so much better.

And that the overwhelming pain of a friend who is losing her father right now, gave me the reason and courage to reach out to the man who gave me life on Christmas day, is divine.

 

 

13 thoughts on “A tale of two fathers

  1. Mike Summers

    My mother’s father took off and went to New Zealand and married another woman and had children.
    While doing their family tree, they contacted her and in their advanced age, corresponded regularly.
    My mother tells me that sister has just recently passed.

    And my Wanda had a different experience.
    She knew the name of her sperm donor.
    I remember her getting the phone number and shaking as she dialed it.
    He answered, she introduced herself and he just said “What do you want?”
    When she replied that she didn’t want anything, he responded with something like good, and don’t bother calling again.
    The hurt that man caused for a long time, cannot be measured.
    That’s why I called you brave.

    Like

    1. Laila

      Oh that is so sad Mike.I know it’s so different for everyone.Some people have no interest in finding biological parents.Some do and are greeted like this. It’s probably one of the most emotional and greatest risks one can take, facing the chance of being rejected outright with a response like that. It’s his loss,knowing your Wanda is an amazing person. And I empathize with her pain because the rejection of a child or parent is… well… heart-wrenching to the core. There are many unhappy endings. Thanks for sharing Mike.

      Like

    1. Laila

      Thanks for reading Jude. Written more for myself than anything, but I’ve received so many emails from others in similar situations, along with emails from birth parents who want to reach out but are unsure. So if it helps anyone else find their way through,or deal with a situation,that’s even better. 🙂

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  2. Angie K

    I never got to meet my biological father before he passed, but did meet a half brother ( 1 of 6 siblings).
    I also got to meet and learn a lot of my family history from my biological mother before she passed.
    It’s an interesting feeling – I have amazing parents – so meeting my biologicals was bittersweet. Thankfully my folks were all for it and also met my biological mother.
    I also understand the trepidation – that fear of upsetting adult siblings – but it’s not your “fault” or cross to bear if they don’t want to know a truth about your father.
    Truthfully though, it’s your journey and please don’t let anyone tell you how you should feel about it or enter into it. It’s your path to take, no judgement.
    Thanks for sharing

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Laila

      Thank you for you sharing too Angie. I feel the same.Love my Dad beyond words so meeting my biological father is also bittersweet. I’m at peace where I am now, and always open to connecting with my half siblings but have let go of all expectations. The medical history is a bonus and pertinent for me as well.

      It’s not something you ever expect to happen in your life so there really is no path for it, nor is there a lot of support because no one wants to talk about it. I largely found my own way through all of this emotionally.Your words mean a lot. Thank you!

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  3. Jan

    Wow. What a powerful piece you have written, and such strength you have shown in reaching out. I can only hope that you have all gotten past the worst of the hurt for everyone involved, and that the forgiveness and letting go as you say, will make for a positive future, whatever that looks like.
    I wish you and your family, the one you grew up with and your biological father, many blessings for 2016.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Laila

      Such kind words, and thank you Jan 🙂

      The key is letting go of expectations- hard to do but really,once can’t control others thoughts or actions, so it is essential. I’m at peace where I am now, and I hope everyone else involved comes to that spot as well. Blessings to you, and yours, as well for this new year!

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  4. lila1jpw

    My family has for quite a few generations had skeletons in the closet, so to speak. I’m quite concerned about my grandchildren who have so many unknown half-sibs. Have you heard of “genetic attraction?” I suspect my two grandchildren now in their 20-somethings may be susceptible.

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    1. Laila

      Can’t say that I have and in this case, not an issue. However, if half siblings are in the same age range and live in the same area, definitely a concern.

      I don’t believe most parents have any ill will for not telling this to a child. And past a certain age it becomes even harder to reveal, I think. My personal experience has coloured my views but I believe transparency is critical on this for many reasons, including health.

      I wish you peace. But I would not wish how I was told on anyone. If I were a concerned grandparent, I would go to the parents and express concerns in a non-confrontational manner. I wish you peace.

      Like

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