Maybe I shouldn’t be writing about this here. Maybe some of the people who I know can access my blog will find this hard to read. But this is my space, and it’s all a part of my journey. Today is Father’s Day and I can’t help thinking of him.
We’ve had a quiet day. Hubby got a few gifts this morning that he loved (I think) and then we went to church, where he had to put an old-school cloth nappy on a baby doll, then drink a raw egg, then build something out of lego. It was actually a pretty funny game to watch. So far, he’s not sharing the chocolates that he won. (I will find them.)
We came home and had lunch, watched some old videos from when the kids were little, took a gift over to his Dad, hung out at home some more.
Hubby’s working now, busy on his computer. The kids are watching TV, snacking, reading.And I’m putting off telling this story...
Over thirty years ago my mother, for whatever reason (the reasons aren’t important to this story, not now) left her husband. As people do sometimes. Sometime later, from what I can gather it was a few years later, she returned, and they got back together for a while. By this time, unknown to her at the time, she was pregnant with me. I was born very premature, so it was a case of maybe I was his, maybe I wasn’t...it soon became clear that I wasn’t his biological daughter. But it didn’t matter. They had their little family of three kids, and he counted me as his, even when they finally ended their marriage, they both moved on, remarried, had more children. It’s complicated, and there’s so much more to the story of course, but not all of it is clear and not all of it is mine to tell.
Fast forward thirty years and through the magic of the internet, particularly Facebook, my mother’s first husband makes contact with us. We’ve been chatting online for a year now. It’s been safe and easy, and in some ways, unreal – or as real or pretend as I wanted it to be. A virtual relationship with a virtual man who would be my virtual Dad. Then, with the arrival of my sister’s baby, he took the opportunity to fly down and meet with us, take the relationship offline and into real life.
I met him in the hallway, at the hospital. He was just heading out as we were coming in. I had turned to say something to Hubby, and when I turned back, there he stood. He said hello to me, greeted my kids, he knew their names from Facebook. Hubby spoke to him, shook his hand. I just stood there, and said nothing, like a shy little girl who was funny around strangers.
I’d tried to imagine what it would be like the first time I met him face to face. I’d tried and hadn’t been able to imagine anything at all. The whole idea was totally foreign to me. I wrote a short story a few years ago, for a class I was taking at the time, about a woman who met her father for the first time. It had lots of beautiful imagery: their hands pressed together, hers small against his; the tiny pendant he gave her, that he’d been holding onto for years in hope. The strange sense of familiarity she felt, the longing, the brief yet deep dialogue between them that explained the years of his absence. At the end of the story the girl woke up – it had all been a dream, brought on by the news of her father’s death.
I had no idea what to make of this man who was to stand in front of me and claim me as his daughter. He came back into the hospital room, which was full of visitors, enough to make it possible for me to ignore him. I wandered around the room, spoke to people, fussed over the new baby, took photos. Every now and again I stole a quick look at him – four out of five times I found him doing the same, and I quickly looked away. I moved closer to him, gradually, cradling the baby, taking photos of my kids holding the baby. And I couldn’t help myself – I glanced across at his hands, his big hands that had once held me, lifted me up, and I imagined I’d wrapped my fingers around one of his and held on.
We didn’t stay long, maybe half an hour or so, before we left. I had managed to avoid speaking a single word to him the entire time we were there. It wasn’t exactly deliberate. I just didn’t know what I should say, or how to start a conversation with him.
On the drive back to where we were staying I was miserable. I curled up on the front seat and put my head on my hands and talked to Hubby about my frustration. Cried about how awkward and uncomfortable it had been. Got angry that he hadn’t started the conversation, why had he left it up to me when it was him who’d decided to come down here and see us? Went from anger to sadness when I pictured his face, his stolen glances at me when I knew that the reason he hadn’t started the conversation, the reason he’d held back was to give me room to decide whether I wanted to let him in or not. I felt so horribly confused and full of regret. I’d missed my chance. My chance to have a Dad.
My logical mind gets in the way sometimes. I know he’s not my biological father, and I couldn’t understand how he could call me his daughter when I knew he knew that too.
The night before I had seen my brother-in-law weeping over his new daughter. I’d watched him dance around the room with a huge smile on his face and tears running down his cheeks. I’d watched him bounce down the hallway and throw his arms around my hubby, whooping and laughing with joy at the miracle of his daughter’s arrival.
On that drive back from the hospital that day, I imagined that on the day I was born, there had been a man who had done the same. Danced and whooped and laughed and smiled, and wept with joy as he held me. And for the first time I considered, how could that man who loved me like that, how could he not be my Dad?
So when Hubby suggested we meet him for coffee that night, before he got on a plane and went home the next morning, and as I was considering the idea he called and asked for one more chance to see us, I knew I had to give in and agree to see him. I thought of my biological father, now deceased, who had known where I was when I was fifteen and made no efforts to see me. I thought of the disappointment I’d held onto all these years at his lack of effort, the sadness I’d felt that he’d never come to claim me, even if it meant risking my rejection, I should have had that chance. And I thought of this man, who’d come all this way to claim me, who was giving it one more go, risking the awkwardness and the rejection, and I knew I had to go and see what would happen.
We met him at his motel, Hubby and Froggie and I. We talked for a couple of hours, about him, about us. We talked about some of the things that happened thirty years ago, and some of the things that have happened since then. He told us about his life, his children, and how he counted me as one of them, and how he always had. He looked at my little boy, snuggled in my arms and said “those are my grandchildren...” and then he broke down and cried.
I couldn’t deny him. I couldn’t say he was wrong. This man, who was there when I was born, whose name appears on my birth certificate, who had hopes for little baby me and who held onto those hopes for thirty years could not be anything other than a Dad.
We left, and he flew home the next morning, and at the end of the week we came back to Invercargill. The next week there was a parcel. Two tiny pendants, one for me and one for my sister, bought by his mother two weeks before she had died. He had held onto them in hope that he would one day have contact, and the chance to give them to us.
I am still yet to actually call him my Dad. My brain is still in the way, and thirty years is a long time. But part of me is different. I am like a person who has won the lottery, but still walking around with holes in my shoes, because I don’t know how to walk in new shoes. I don’t know what a Dad is for, or how I should respond to one. But at least now, I have a chance to work it out.