I was eleven and a half years old when I met my father. He had no idea about me either, but as soon as he found out he couldn’t wait to be a part of my life. My mom kept my father’s identity a secret for reasons I understand now that I’m an adult. But I always felt strange growing up in a family that looked so different than all my peers’ nuclear units.
It will never escape me that he had a choice. He could have walked away and continued on the life he had planned. But he didn’t. He wanted to be my dad as much as I needed a father. He lived a couple hours away and would drive down for every recital, every ceremony, or just to get a coke at a drive-in.
Wait– it gets better. He had been dating a woman for several years at that point. They knew they wanted to marry each other one day, but were taking their time and enjoying the ride. Can you imagine bringing home news like this to your steady? He was prepared for her to leave him and he was ready to accept that in order to be part of my life– without either of them having met me yet. He drove the two hours back home, delivered the news, and (understandably) needed to rest. When he woke up, she had made a lovely dinner complete with a dozen roses, my picture in a frame and some “it’s a girl!” balloons. She said she already loved me because I was his.
The best part about the whole thing was my mom’s side of the family was pretty estranged (and we knew about each other all along); they lived all over the country and never saw it as a priority to get together but maybe a half-dozen times throughout my childhood. But, when I met my dad, all of a sudden it felt like I had a real family– like in my home state, who like wanted to spend time together. Crazy, right?! I got to feel what family gatherings should have been like all along. Plenty of warmth, love and joy to go around. I finally felt like I belonged somewhere. It was like Christmas morning got Christmas morninged. Does that make sense?
He took me on a big grand tour to meet all my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins who were living nearby the whole time without even knowing it. Finally, I knew why I was tall, had thick hair, a sharp tongue, loud voice, artistic sensibilities, stick-to-it-iveness, blue-green eyes and ginger hair.
Before meeting him, I would see someone in the grocery store and wonder “is that my dad?”
For the record, that’s a pretty weird thought for a little kid to have on a regular basis.
The point is, everything changed for me after that day. I got to fill in generations’ worth of blanks, finally understanding more wholly who I am and where I came from– and most importantly, what it means to be a family. The funny thing is that my mom was treated like a black sheep for having a child on her own out of wedlock, and the two of us were shunned for that. The family that could have turned a blind eye at a bastard child welcomed both my mom and I with open arms, hearts and minds. For that, I will always be grateful.
And I got to go from being an only child to a single mother, to (eventually) the oldest of four. I am a very proud big sister.
Thanks for letting me share this with you.