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.
“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.
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.