I had to pull the car over twice. Driving to meet my father, I didn’t know if I would punch him, hug him or shake his hand. Either way, I knew I was about to have one of the most difficult, if not awkward, encounters of my life.
Until I was 22, I had only two flash memories of my father. One, I was about six years old and he picked me up in a yellow car, to go get ice cream. The other was watching him play his guitar. Other than that, what I knew of him was what the adults in my life spoke of him, which was hardly ever. If he was mentioned, it was never in a pleasant light.
In 2002, my sister and I started talking about locating him. It was quite a shock when she called me at college and said, “I just found dad.” She paid $10 to one of those find-someone websites and within ten minutes, had his address and phone number. I knew I couldn’t be the one to call him. My sister is 12 years older than I am and actually had somewhat of a relationship with our father when she was young. She would have to take the reigns on this one.
Fast forward months later and my dad flew to NY to visit us. He was staying at my sister’s house. I came home from college that weekend and drove up to her house to, what felt like, meet him for the first time.
I walked in my sister’s house and he stood up. I looked at him – a worn, tired body, and eyes that seemed to harbor both a joy for the moment and a sadness for the past. I hugged him but if I’m being honest, it was more for him. I wanted nothing more than to turn around and walk away from this too-late reunion. I wasn’t really mad, I just felt like I didn’t need this.
As the evening went on, we sat on my sister’s porch and talked for hours. We talked about my life, my sister’s life and what went wrong all those years ago. We talked about my mom passing back in ’97 and how heart breaking her loss is for all three of us. Until my sister contacted my father, he had not known Mom had died.
My parents had a complicated and difficult life together. They were very young when they started having children. My Mom was only 15 and my dad wasn’t much older. Add drugs, alcohol and mental illness to the mix and it became a very broken attempt to raise a family. They separated before I was old enough to even retain a memory of them being together. Both of my parents walked away from parenting at some point.
Being ten, twelve and fourteen years younger than my siblings, I’ve always relied on them to fill in the gaps for me. If it wasn’t for them all stepping up, helping to raise me in their own way, things would look very different for me right now.
Like I am with my Mother about all this, I’m not mad at my father. I guess I just accept things for what they were and what they are now. I can’t imagine making the choices that they made, but I’m not them. It makes me sad actually, to look at my kids and to think about all that my father missed out on with me. I’d like to say I’m sad for myself, missing out on having a father in my life, but I won’t – or perhaps I can’t. It’s hard to miss what you’ve never known.
Since our “first” visit, I’ve seen my dad on just a few more occasions. We call each other on holidays and follow each other along on Facebook. I don’t talk to my dad as much as I should. His absence was so present for me for such a long time that I tend to forget he is only a phone call away.
Even though distance, both physical and emotional, prevent us from forming a strong father-daughter bond, I’m grateful to have connected with the man that helped bring me in to this world. Despite the history that got us where we are today, I’m grateful for the survivor’s heart my father passed on to me. Without that, I never would have been brave enough to finish the drive to meet him.