on meeting the old man

Preparations began mentally at first.

Learned how to deal with the pain of sitting by a phone every birthday, thinking he would call; watching friends or family open gifts at every Christmas holiday, sure he would surprise me with his presence, pick me up with unbridled delight and promise to love and take care of me.  Every Christmas was a solitary disappointment. Through counseling had gained tools to deal with the abandonment and all that does to a little girls psyche and expands into her womanhood.

I seem to have a memory of him holding me as a baby but am not sure if it was a dream. Had no pictures of him and hadn’t a clue what he looked like.  Pondered whether it was better to find him and try to know him, or, die not knowing.  I needed to be sure the choices I was making at that time in my life were not due to his absence so chose the option that had most potential to break my heart, and, I also believed that the pain of regret would trump the pain of not knowing.

Finding him was easy.  Only took a few online searches and I was provided five addresses. I prepared a simple letter, stating who I was, and, my desire to meet, face to face.  I expressed that I was not looking for money, only wanted to meet and get to know him. I included my phone number, mailed it to all five addresses and went on about life. Got a call five days later.

“Hello”

“Baby girl? This is your Dad”.

Pause. Silence.

“Hi… How are you?”

“Oooh, it’s such a pleasure to hear from you!” as his laughter ensued.

Well, that was a strange opening.  I was somber. In a state of quiet in order to absorb him, to begin the process of knowing. He had a heavy southern accent, sounded confident, educated and spoke in a poetic and highbrow manner.  Told me he was a doctor of philosophy and rambled on about the trappings of religion for a good bit.  He used so many words unknown to me and formed his sentences in such a strange way that I would have needed a pocket dictionary and thesaurus to understand what he was saying. Though really, that would not have been enough because his entire manner of speaking included overtones of veiled meanings and undertones of anger. It was an odd direction to take this ‘intro call’ but I listened quietly. After coordinating a date to meet we hung up and my thoughts rambled:

‘wow.  i hope he’s not reading a script cause he sounds smarter than anyone i’ve ever met. yeah, that had to be a script cause who the hell talks like that? what if it’s not a script though? hmm, if that wasn’t a script then he’s a nut.’

Yet, there was something about his ‘way’ of thinking and speaking that resonated with me.  That chat provided me an almost immediate sense of my ‘nature’ as juxtaposed against ‘nurture’.  Was he the prison guard I needed to release my inner nut? I was compelled to learn and understand more.

Next stop, Arkansas. Upon arrival at the destination airport where I was to meet him, my little girl psyche revealed herself, and, walking into the terminal I expected him to be there, running to me with open arms, waiting.

‘remember, little girl?  expectations lead to pain.’  

Pushing that down I went to pick up the rental car, then on to luggage. He came up to me from behind.  I turned and there he was, in his 3-piece suit, glasses, bright smile, long hair, light skin and hazel eyes.  We hugged.  My little girl psyche disappeared.  Off to his house we went for dinner before checking into the hotel.

Upon arrival to his house I met his wife and son. There was a daughter he wanted me to meet, from another woman, but, it turned out she did not want to meet me. I also met his mother the following day at a nursing home.  She walked up to me straightaways, hugged me and in a heavy french accent berated him for having let so much time pass. She was a tiny thing, white as snow with big green eyes and brightly dyed red hair. She felt evil to me and I immediately disliked her. Turns out that her legacy was that she was still alive, despite having had a complicated case of dextrocardia for many years.

Back to day one. He wanted to take me to his office alone, to talk.  It was dark and drab and reminded me of a scene from “A Beautiful Mind”.  He had chalkboard walls filled with mathematical formulas from top to bottom, books stacked floor to ceiling against all non-chalk boarded areas; photos of him adorned in his masonry garb were placed throughout the room, and, general dirt and messiness ensued. It felt ordered and disordered all at once.  That darkness though. I felt it within him also and with that came anxiety and I immediately wanted out. I could not help but wonder if the room had been staged, but, as I glanced around, deciding I could write my name in the dust atop some of the books, I realized this indeed was a room set up without me in mind.

He sat on one side of his desk and I sat on the other.  He told me he had a picture of me and I glanced over at framed babies on his desk.  They were of Unicef children he was sponsoring.  He scrambled through his paperwork looking for my baby photo and I watched, silently, in pain.  He frantically pulled open a drawer, pulled out papers, and at last, he found the photo, unframed, in the back, under many other ‘important’ papers.  He held it up to me proudly. I smiled at him. I cried inside, over the twenty years of images passed.

I had questions for him but did not need to ask.  He just started rambling.  He started off by crying. It was unexpected and I did not know how I should react so I just sat stoically and listened.  He explained that he left because my mother had been such a bitch to him that he could no longer handle it and needed to leave.  He said he had tried to look for me several times but had been unable to find me.  He apologized for telling me that he was a doctor, that he did consider himself one but he was not legitimate.  He said he had done a little research on me and was proud of me, what I had accomplished given the circumstances I had grown up in.

There was silence.  I took a deep breath.  I got up to hug him and told him I understood and forgave him. He cried more and I remained stoic.

How could I understand? How could I forgive? The circumstances I grew up in?  Those words didn’t exist so how could he know? His version of ‘truth’ required some working through for me to accept and forgiveness required more counseling and self-reflection.

In fact, there is nothing a parent can say or do to assuage the pain and sorrow caused by their abandonment.  They can provide no answer to the question of ‘why’ that would alleviate the gut-wrenching spiritual soul chorus of

‘i was not worth staying for, caring for, protecting, loving…’

It is a heart and soul pain that becomes part of a child’s identity, for better or worse.  If for better, that child will reject definitions or limitations placed on them by societies statistics; they will separate identifying a person’s treatment of them with who they are and they will learn to love themselves.  If for worse, that child will forever seek validation outside of themselves.  In work, friends, companions, children, activities, material pursuits…

I have lived long on the side of worse and hope to now have arrived on the side of better.

Falling in love with oneself is a worthy journey indeed, but, I am not convinced it is the destination.  Now, on to dying to the self…

What am I grateful for?

  • Accepting that he left me and that in doing so, he was not meant to be part of my destiny.
  • Understanding that my self-directed path has yielded more fruit than any path he would have attempted to steer me on.
  • Understanding that worthiness is demonstrated through self-love, not through the love of others.
  • Meeting him, because it then required me to do the work of finding true forgiveness.
  • Pulling my energy away from the effort of him. Letting both my father and the idea of a father go.
  • Accepting that there may always exist a misted and ethereal sorrow that may not be muted but in death.
  • Accepting that heartbreak is better than not knowing.
  • Having no regrets. Closure.

 

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