My mom worries about me.
She is my mom after all.
She thinks I am ‘unsettled’, that I have never come to grips or made peace with our ‘estrangement’.
Most of the time I am annoyed that we are having the conversation at all. Which is one of the points on my long list of many to support that I am fine. I prefer to ignore your existence in the world 90% of the time. I have a house to maintain, a husband and two children to care for, and my own dreams to chase. In my day-to-day life you are just a really deeply hidden dark shadow that (thankfully) allowed my life to begin.
And then I pull into the Starbucks parking lot. And I see him, a man smoking a cigarette holding a coffee (I don’t know if you drink coffee or if you even like Starbucks but I do know you smoke – or at least did once upon a time). And of course, he vaguely looks as I would imagine you to look now. Maybe thinner – maybe you have taken up going to the gym or that ketogenic diet I hear so much about. And I immediately start wondering if you are in my neck of the woods. Are you checking up on me?
It is a ridiculous thought really. You have your own life to tend to just like I have mine – and yet when this happens my body immediately reacts with a fight or flight response.
Again, ridiculous – my memories of you aren’t particularly traumatic and as far as I can remember I loved you exactly as a daughter is to love her father, you lived on a pedestal. But my memories in those early years are littered with disappointment, unpredictability and absentness.
As I got older I began to worry.
My mom and dad met and married. We were a family. I became a big sister. We had family holidays, events, and traditions – but you were still looming in the background.
You didn’t really come around often, but when you did I often felt conflicted or ambushed – sometimes both. Like the time I had spent the day shopping with your mom and you ‘just happened’ to call while I was at her home.
I know it was planned.
I was embarrassed and ashamed to be sitting on her balcony crying uncontrollably. I don’t know how long it had been since we had spoke at that point but I know I was caught off guard, I was frustrated, angry, and confused.
I also knew that as my legal father you could show up in my life and make demands. Not ones that my parents necessarily had to follow, but ones that could result in a legal dispute and ones that could ultimately change the course of my life if it ever got to court and they ruled in your favor.
Memory is a precious and tricky thing. We can form ‘false’ memories, we can romanticize our recollections, and of course we can forget things. I struggled for a long time with this – were things really as I remembered them? Was your understanding different? But ultimately I realized it doesn’t matter. Perception shapes our reality and reconciling different perceptions is what we most struggle to overcome in relationships.
I don’t think you know much about me – I am not sure how you would. So I will tell you I have been accused of being a bit of a control freak. Anything outside of my control makes me anxious and makes my life hard.
So naturally this wide open gap in my life that was your legal right as my parent of record was an issue. It left me feeling unsafe and insecure.
We waited until I was 14 and could be sworn into court – so I had a voice, a say that day.
My parents filed for adoption.
You had no case.
I felt bad for you.
I was still waiting with baited breathe for you to step up and be the man you needed to be. I was still waiting for you to fight for me.
You asked me to call you and tell you in my own words that this is what I wanted – despite the letters I had written in years pass that all I wanted for Christmas was for you to sign over your rights. You said you would sign once you got to talk to me. I thought this was it – this was either my chance to say my peace or the point when you were going to fight to be better for me.
I shakingly picked up the phone and made the call on the day and time our lawyer specified.
A woman answered.
I asked for you.
She was rude.
You weren’t home.
I hung up and cried.
You didn’t know this but I used to have recurring nightmares of you taking me from my family – sometimes they were right there but couldn’t see or hear me, sometimes they weren’t there. But I could never get to away from you.
If you want to know the truth, that phone call is where the final break down occurred. The final straw; the point where I had no more time for you. Until that night I still held hope – you would never be my dad, not like my dad was.
By then you had already missed so much. You weren’t there to dry my tears, to explain the stress I experienced when I fought with friends was the cause of my headache, to push me to try (and stick to) things I didn’t think I’d like, to teach me to finish what I start, to teach me how to give everything I have, to beam with pride when I got something right or the endless list of all the other ‘dad duties’ that occur in a woman’s childhood.
But I still held hope that we could have a strong healthy relationship – if somewhat unorthodox.
Turns out I never had to place that call.
You signed the papers before the specified days and times you gave our lawyers to call. I know you dispute the times given to me. I know you say that the time I called wasn’t one you had given. I don’t care. Wires get crossed, maybe it wasn’t the time you specified – maybe it was and you decided against talking to me to spare me. Whatever the reason, the result was painful.
And to learn you gave up on me before I gave up on you – frankly that is the most painful part of this entire situation. Potentially the most telling too. At 13 and after all the let downs, I still believed in you. I guess that is what they call child like faith, or maybe just a testament to my desire to see the best in people.
We celebrated my 14th birthday and of course Christmas and then a few short days later, my legal entry into my family.
Adoption day came and went.
I want to say that it was a great day – full of joy and happiness.
And it was.
I was the last adoption of the year for the judge, we celebrated with a wonderful dinner. But to me it was just the day that the law finally recognized my reality. The day I finally felt safe and protected. The day I no longer worried you would just suddenly pop back up and demand some part of my life.
… until I got closer and closer to 18 …
You never did show up.
But a girl claiming to be your daughter eventually did.
I wish I had words to explain what that day did to me.
I wish I could empress upon you how deeply hurt I had been by our relationship over the years and how deeply that bonded me to my dad.
I am a daddy’s girl through and through.
He and I don’t agree on everything. He thinks I am too trusting and forgiving, I think he is a little stuck in his ways. But he has held me when I cried over my first heartbreak, and bit his tongue when mr. first heartbreak and I got back together, broke up again and of course did so again, he fearfully watched me take my first international mission trip, experienced what I can only imagine is a joyful, fearful knowing when he was introduced to my now husband, he held back tears when we announced our engagement, and he has held, loved, teased, and taught my babies.
He isn’t perfect but he is all the things a great dad should be. Most importantly, he has never given up on me no matter how dark the moment, no matter how hard I dug in my feet – I have never worried he wouldn’t be there.
I have always worried that any interaction with you or your family would hurt my relationship with my dad. He has seen the conflict and pain I have gone through. No parent wants to see their child hurt – and what kind of thanks is it to him for having gotten me through some terrible times if I build a relationship with the man who abandoned me.
But when I was 20 something, there you were, through the power of a young girl and Facebook.
I cried … A LOT.
I threw my phone … A LOT.
I worried … A LOT.
And then somehow you were sort of gone again.
But you were back – to make sure I knew how unhappy you were at missing an invite to my wedding.
A man I hadn’t seen at that point for 17 years.
Honestly, how could you be mad? How could you have any feeling that you had been wronged or jilted by a lack of invitation? How could you think you had a right to be there? And how would I have introduced you? And would you have been upset that you didn’t get to walk me down the aisle?
To be honest, I revoked that privilege from your future long before I met my dad.
Before I was 7 years old, one time when you had let me down, I remember telling my mom you wouldn’t be walking me down the aisle. Frankly I would have rather had my mom, my grandpa, a stranger, hell, I’d have even done it myself before letting you get that honor.
My mom has been like a loyal defender for you.
I don’t understand – I am 30 and she still goes to bat for you. Like she is afraid that if I think poorly of you, I will in turn think poorly of myself. She tells me all the time she knows you loved me. I guess if I try to step in her shoes I would do the same for my kids. I wouldn’t want hurt or hatred take root in their hearts, I would want them to feel as if they were loved and worthy.
But I have learned, since becoming a mom, that love is a verb – its something you do – not a construct of an emotion to be felt and said.
Frankly, I have yet to see you do anything that feels like it is out of love for me.
With the impending birth of my daughter I kept saying you were running out of time. That I didn’t understand you and your choices already and that I was sure once I was a parent myself I would understand you even less.
I was right.
The thing that confuses me even more is that your own father was less than present in your life … at least to your own account. If that was true, how could you possibly treat your own child in a similar fashion?
I am still a second chance kind of person and I still occasionally have thoughts of trying to reconcile – but then I think about my own children. They have a papa who loves them, who plays on the floor with them, who teases them, and who asks after them.
Would you even be satisfied having some small alternate part in our lives or would you (like with my wedding) be mad because you aren’t ‘grandpa’?
The thing is, in some ways my mom is right.
I think the interactions we have had in my adulthood have actually ensured that complete peace is nearly impossible.
You have demonstrated a lot of things I can’t respect.
You blame others for your choices, for your actions, and for your shortcomings.
You pointed the finger at my parents. Don’t worry, I know they aren’t perfect and I can even entertain the idea that they created barriers for you in order to give you the benefit of the doubt. But the thing is, even when I do that I see all the ways you should have tried harder. Maybe that is unfair, but if someone was creating barriers to keep me from my kids, the narrative would read much different than yours.
You refuse to accept that regardless of the reason for the choices you made and the part you played it resulted in pain and hurt for me.
I wouldn’t say I am bitter.
I am disappointed.
I am disappointed that I will never truly know my genetic family. I am disappointed that when you disappeared from my life so too did my relationship with cousins and aunts and uncles … and eventually your mother.
Maybe more upsetting is the relationship I would have had with siblings also disappeared. I love being a big sister. It is a HUGE part of my identity, and I am missing out on that with your son. I know you claim I could be in his life and not yours, but I don’t see how that is possible.
I see you when I look in the mirror – usually more than I see my mom.
I wish I didn’t – but I do.
I don’t wish to erase the past. I don’t wish for things to have been different.
You shaped me as much as my mom and dad did by your inconsistent presence in my life and eventual estrangement.
I grew up fast.
I avoided things that I probably otherwise would have tried because I didn’t want to be you. I hope that doesn’t sound mean – I learned from you.
I never smoked, even though I was curious – because I remember you doing it, I never liked that about you so I never even tried.
I didn’t drink underage because I wanted to be a different kind of person – I wanted to finish school and achieve.
My choices and my peer interactions were always informed by who I wanted to be. A maturity you helped foster from our rocky relationship.
I am a planner, a big picture thinker that takes in all the little details. I believe the butterfly effect is a real and powerful thing.
I like who I am over all – I like when I am not being the person I want to be I usually have the confidence and ability to seek out change to be the person I want to be.
I don’t want to change that and so I don’t want to change you or our history.
30 has been a big year for me. Frankly I can see time slipping away – not in like a morbid way but in a logical I have lived 3 decades and its time to stop waiting for my life to start so I can start living and achieving sort of way.
You’ll be 50 soon.
Tomorrow isn’t promised.
To be honest, I think I am sadder for you than for myself.
I have a rich and wonderful father daughter relationship in my life.
Don’t get me wrong; you weren’t replaced – just like my dad could never be replaced. There are still things I wish I knew about my family history and heritage – things I am no longer connected to since my great-grandparents passed. They were my last tangible lifeline to the familial element I have been missing.
But you don’t have that relationship – that strong bond to your first-born. Maybe you don’t need that – maybe I am overly sentimental. But you have and continue to miss out on so much. Like watching me become a mom, making some really hard choices about my future, and becoming my own person.
My oldest is about to be 5 and I could never imagine missing a single minute of this messy crazy life.
I know I am hard, I don’t have the cleanest vocabulary, and I have high expectations for myself and the people in my life. I know that even those closest to me sometime struggle to relate, and often tell me I ‘think too much’. I know that when I have a passion for something, I can become blind to all other things. I know I call things as I see them, I am unlikely to let things slide, and I have been harsh with you.
I have been called intimidating.
But I am fun, loving, giving, thoughtful, creative, a thinker, a planner and so very much more.
I am not really hurting any more but sometimes I get caught up in the what ifs. What if we were able to work through the past? What if I was able to add another rich and fulfilling relationship to my family?
But what if I am let down and disappointed again? What if it puts stress on my relationship with my dad? What if you want more than I am willing to give?
I have always thought the day would come that I would meet you face to face. That I would deliver the letters I had written to you over the years, and that I would ‘say my peace’.
I no longer think about that day. I no longer feel as if it is an eventuality of life.
The last time we communicated I left the ball in your court, I told you if you are ever willing to put the hard work in I will meet you half way.
Nothing has changed.
Somehow, today, I needed to say a little peace.
Mostly because I am caught off guard when these moments pop up.
My sincerest hope is that my genetics come from a man who is always striving to do better, to be better. A man that looks to the future and learns from the past. A man that I might not ever fully understand but may someday be able to respect.
On that note:
Live well and be happy.