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Many of you know last February my dad passed away. It was, without a doubt, one of the single hardest times in my life.
But what you may not have know was that my dad wasn’t my biological father. My biological father may have passed away last week, and been the man Gretchen found in the park, or he may be alive and well picking through the trash near Union Station. I don’t know.
I last had contact with my biological father at the age of 13. He called to talk to me and I handed the phone to my mom, telling him I knew who he was and didn’t want to talk to him. He honored my 13 year request. No one has heard from him since. I don’t know what happened in the call with him or my mom, and it’s not my story to tell in any case.
But this part is my story.
I have lots of wonderful memories of my dad. I remember the time he hid by the couch and my 4 year old self screamed Daddy at finding him there. I rememmber girl scout meetings he led and long rides in his embarrassingly beat up blue truck to let the dogs run in the dry river bottoms. I remember someone who made me scrambled eggs with cheese, ironed my jeans, and taught me to make his mothers spaghetti sauce. I remember my dad.
I didn’t know he wasn’t my biological father until a few weeks before that last phone call. Of course, everyone else in the world knew. But no one had ever, ever treated me like I was a ‘half’ or ‘step’ anything. It was this huge family secret. One that at 13 felt like a practical joke the world played on me. But I was applying for a private highschool and it was likely the first time they would have needed to produce my birth certificate. Plus, I remember having questions. Why wasn’t I more Italian looking? Why were certain dates not adding up?
I knew my biological father as a friend of my moms. Someone we didn’t really talk about in front of Dad, or my brothers, or my uncle. No one seemed to like him. He would breeze in and out of town once a year or so and buy me some cheap trinket from the mall. I never understood why I had to meet him with my mom. To be honest, he made me uncomfortable.
The day I finally found out my mom and I were driving back from a swim meet in Tucson. I could tell it was going to be one of ‘those talks’. To this day I hate when I get that sense from my mother. It makes my stomach hurt. I think I will always have that pit in my stomach that I am about to get another big secret dropped on me. 13 was not the age to reveal this. When my mom told me I remember I asked her to do one thing: stop at a rest stop so I could use a payphone. To call my dad. And tell him I loved him and thank him for being my dad.
Through my teenage years I remember fights and screaming “you’re not my dad” when I didn’t get my way. But that is the thing about real dads, they don’t hear those words. Or they do. But they never let on.
Were things perfect in my house? Nope. Can anyone say there were no fights in their house? Or bad times? That is what makes a family at times.
I often think how differently my life would be if I hadn’t had the gift of my biological father walking away. And through the years, especially for Carters health reason we have tried to find him. The last known address for his social security number was the Salvation Army in Louisiana about 10 years ago. He is a drifter, by choice, and I have long ago rationalized that he wound up dead in a park like the John Doe Gretchen found.
My heart has ached for him to not know what an amazing family I have and I have cried many grateful tears that he doesn’t know. I have a fear he may one day show up and want something from me. But mostly, I just feel peaceful knowing that he choose his life and left me to mine. Which is why, every single time I pass a homeless man on the street I think “I wonder if he has my DNA?” and then I drive right by and go on with my life.