Search for father after he left family when daughter was 8 months old
I am sitting in a café having a coffee with a friend when a woman walks by. I stare at her, she seems familiar. I watch as she joins some friends and strain to hear the conversation. She is too far away but I hear her laughter. My girlfriend looks at her, then at me and says ‘Kate, it’s really odd, that girl could be your sister’, I realize now what is familiar, she looks like a younger version of me. I don’t want to talk about it and soon we are on to more comfortable topics. But as I drive home, I wonder for the thousandth time if I have a sister, a brother, a father ‘out there’, somewhere?
My father Barry, walked out on my mum when I was 8 months old, I believe he came to see me a few times but then nothing. I have one distant old photo that mum didn’t destroy. She met and married Kevin two years later and he’s my dad. He’s a good dad, he watched me dance and play t-ball and took me to the beach. He quizzed my boyfriends and dragged himself into the cold night to pick me up from parties. Now he takes my children to the park and lets them work in his shed.
He is a good dad. BUT – always the ‘but’, I don’t look like him or think like him, really we are like chalk and cheese. He’s great with his hands, a quiet, kind man, he likes routine and structure and is a very concrete thinker. A calm, dependable man. I’m more a party girl, I admit I’m a bit on the loud boisterous side, and impulsive to boot. I love cryptic crosswords, and work in human resources. I can barely change a light bulb. I know men are from Mars and women from Venus but the differences between us are even greater than that. We come from different solar systems.
My mum won’t really talk about Barry, she’s told me things were difficult, and that he had a fiery temper. My aunt has told me he was a ‘mean bastard’. I look a bit like him and sometimes I’m sure my mother is looking at me strangely. When I was younger I tried to talk to her about him, but her jaw tightens, her eyes go hard and I swear the temperature in the room drops by five degrees. So, I’ve left it and left it, the unspoken message has always been ‘how can you hurt Kevin, he’s a great dad, why do you need anyone else’. The implication is that I am simply headstrong, stubborn and difficult – any number of adjectives.
So WHY, I have asked myself the same question a thousand times, I am 34 now, I have my own children. The analogy of the jigsaw is a good one, if my life was made up of 1000 pieces of jigsaw, at least 200 pieces are missing, maybe more. And I hate it, it’s frustrating, it’s annoying, it’s painful. As if parts of me don’t exist, as if there must be dark, dreadful secrets that need to be kept from me. Sometimes I don’t think about it for days, other times I watch men walk by and wonder – could it be him? It’s much more than curiosity, it’s like a constant low level headache that occasionally erupts and becomes a migraine.
I want to understand, how did you walk out on your daughter, did I mean nothing, have you thought about me over the years? You watched me coming into the world, you watched my first smile. Wasn’t I good enough? Did you want a son, a different, better daughter? My head knows it wasn’t me, it was between him and my mum, but ultimately I still can’t shake the thought, ‘why didn’t you love me enough’?
When I was 20 I wanted to scratch his eyes out, what a bastard, not even sending token birthday and Christmas cards. Then I didn’t care, or at least that is what I told myself. But now I have two most wondrous children, I look at them and I love them to bits and I can’t for the life of me understand how, why he left me. When my son was born I was full of wonder and joy, when he first walked I thought he deserved Olympic gold. It hasn’t changed, my daughter is sure she is a real princess she has heard me comment so often. And as the kids grow and I watch my mother and Kevin’s joy with them, I’m more inclined to think ‘you poor bastard, look what you are missing’. And as I’ve matured I also understand a little more, the pressure of marriage and parenthood, the constant need to provide, emotionally and financially. The loneliness if you don’t want to be with your partner.
For years I flirted with the idea of search but I was scared of hurting my parents. Friends would say ‘don’t be crazy, your dad is lovely’. And so I left it and left it. But the itch, the pain doesn’t go away. I NEED to know. It feels like a stone in my heart, a weight that no matter my happiness, is always there, triggered by a million tiny incidents, like the coffee shop.
It’s time, I need to do this. For weeks I rehearse the conversation of how to tell my parents in my head, I imagine all sorts of scenes and outcomes. I churn the words over and over until I think I am going to go mad or at least get sick. One day I blurt it out, none of my rehearsed speeches, it feels like an admission of guilt of a dreadful sin. My parents react better than I hoped, they accept that I need to do this. Their words are supportive but I see invisible tears leaking from their eyes. Their voices are a touch shaky. I feel the size of an ant. How can I do this?
Once home I rationalize, this is my life, all I want is to connect with half my heritage, I don’t want another dad. I phone Jigsaw and the search begins. Later I meet with Isabel, she has a possible address. We talk about my wishes, my fears, my guilt, and my needs and also speculate on why he may have walked out, his possible responses now.
The search is on and I am alternately sick, excited, thoughtful, numb, nauseas. I am grateful for busyness and sometimes I can go hours without thinking about it. A couple of weeks pass and I am sick of friends asking ‘have you heard anything yet’? I wish to crawl into a log and hide – or maybe go on a fabulous holiday and do dare devil things. Instead I take each day as it comes and wait.
At last the call from Isabel, he’s found, he acknowledges paternity. He has met with Isabel. He has remarried but no kids – so not my sister, how disappointing. His wife does know about me. We discuss the options and settle on meeting at Jigsaw in 12 sleeps time!
The day arrives, I feel sick, I’ve changed my mind, and this is too hard. What do you say? My head is hurting, I’ve changed clothes three times and gone to the loo ten times. I can’t delay any longer and suddenly I’m there, waiting. I talk with Isabel but I have no idea what about, I’m not really present, just my body, not me. At last we hear that he’s arrived, she leaves the room, my heart is racing, breathe slowly I tell myself. He enters, he looks different to the photo that I have seen, much older, tired. We look, we talk, and we listen. Who is this man? He is my father, my ‘real’ father, how strange. We share our stories, he tells me he is sorry, he thought leaving me alone was best. When he and my mum separated he visited a few times, but he felt an outsider, he didn’t know what to do with a baby and mum watched him as he mishandled me. Somehow the gaps between visits became longer and on his last visit he met Kevin. He could see he was a good man, he knew he would look after me and give me the security and love I needed. He stopped visiting, he felt he had nothing to offer a toddler.
The years passed and it all seemed too late, too hard. When I turned 18 he thought about the possibility of search but thought he had no rights. Do I believe him, yes and no, I can see how it could happen, how he could convince himself I would be better off. But it’s also the easy way out and I can’t help but feel, wasn’t I worth the fight? But what is the point, we all make mistakes, I don’t know what it was like. I’ve made mistakes or taken the easy way. Perhaps we can move forward from here, for I can see our likenesses, he has a sharp mind and a quick wit. Like me he is quite musical and our hands are so similar. There is definitely something there but not a lightning bolt, he is not my soul mate, my mirror image. After a couple of hours we part agreeing to phone each other.
How do I feel as I go home as people phone and ask me? I would have to say ‘disembodied’. I don’t know how to feel, a bit flat, emotionally spent, relieved, happy. It’s only been a few weeks since we met and whilst my emotions do still see saw, I somehow feel safe, as if I’ve faced my fears and found courage. And I realize that part of the search was to face my own fears, to face the unknown, and to know that whatever the outcome I will survive. And now the Jigsaw is nearly complete, time will fill in the remaining gaps and whatever our future relationship I know more about ‘who I am’. And I know that Barry is my birth father but Kevin is my dad.