I just came across a picture of him; I wonder if the brains of Google know or care about the Pandora’s Box of emotional chaos they’ve opened for me.
It’s so strange. He had a thick mustache in every picture I’ve seen of him, although to be fair, I’ve only seen one picture taken on an occasion other than his marriage to my mother. The first two decades of my life were spent not trusting men with mustaches (my apologies to my father in law for any first impressions I had based on that fact). He’s shaved it now. He has pale skin and white hair, but looks intelligent and wealthy which, based on his title and resume, I imagine he must be. I keep scanning this tiny one inch by one inch picture, looking at this complete stranger for any sign of myself. Are those my cheeks? My eyes? My smile? I can’t tell if they are or if I feel obligated to claim them, as if to prove to my subconscious that yes, indeed, I do have a biological tie to this man.
I often wonder if It would have been easier had he been a drug addict, a merchant marine, a travelling salesman, a criminal in and out of jail. Something to excuse his absence. Would it effect him at all to know that nearly every day I’ve asked myself what I did that was so wrong that for more than a quarter of a century he’s had nothing to do with me? I never met the man, though he met me. I couldn’t speak then, my brain wasn’t yet developed enough, how could I have offended him? Does he ever think of me? Does he wonder about me? Does he ever wish he had done something differently? Do people change?
I dreamt about him, just once. The summer after I graduated high school, when so much was changing. It was so vivid. I stood on the sidewalk leading up to his Beverly Hills home (which really does exist). I took a deep breath, brushed the wrinkles out of my skirt. Smoothed my curly hair. It was warm out – I could feel the sun on my head. I walked up the path and knocked on the door – why do you think I didn’t use the doorbell? A woman answered. Standard wealthy, middle-aged L.A. woman. More sophisticated than the average past-her-prime Barbie doll, though. Nothing like my mother, but I didn’t expect anything different. Politely as I could, I said hello, my name is Heather, I wonder if I might have a moment to speak with Mr. ------. Can you imagine? Calling your father Mr. So and So? Trust me, it’s an odd feeling. He came to the door then, khakis, polo shirt. I remember hoping, in all seriousness, that I wasn’t keeping him from a golf game. He didn’t invite me in, just said yes?
I said many years ago you were married to a woman named Bonnie, and you had a daughter. I’m your daughter, and my name is Heather. The words sounded weak, though I said them confidently, and I could almost see them falling on the stoop below me as they left my mouth, making a high-pitched rattling sound as they struck the pavement. I looked at him, making my face as frank and earnest and I’m-not-looking-for-anything-more-than-a-conversation-ish as I could.
He said And? And shut the door.
That was the dream.
Every time I hit another milestone, I think I’m going to try to meet him. When I graduate high school. When I graduate college. When I get a good job. When I get married. When. When. When. I don’t think I know how to start.
Well, I’ve accomplished all those things now. I’m proud of myself. I’ve accomplished so much without him (or any other family, in the traditional sense). I have friends and a husband, all of whom I love very much. I neither expect nor want anything from him. Now, I’m just curious.
In college I saw a counselor briefly who only had one sentence of advice – no matter what the problem: You should meet your father. I broke up with my boyfriend. You should meet your father. My mother doesn’t love me. You should meet your father. I’m not sure what to do with this physics degree. You should meet your father. I’ve always been fascinated with sword swallowers, I think I’m going to give up on this college thing and join the circus. Yeah, you know, the 21st century travelling circus. Oh, and I’m going to take lots of drugs. And have lots of sex. With strangers. Oh, and maybe murder a few people, you know, just because I’m a drug-taking, sword-swallowing, slutty sociopath with not much better to do. What do you think? You should meet your father.
Well, I had other priorities at the time.
I wish I could gather all the fathers who love their children together at once. I would say thank you. Thank you for the tears you bring to my eyes when I see you playing with your baby at the park. Thank you for writing those checks when Junior runs a little short of funds at college. Thank you for working your ass off to put food on the table and a nice roof over their heads, even though it means you missed out on their actual lives. Thank you for the days you nagged, the days you disciplined, the days you hugged. I don’t know what those hugs feel like, but I’m sure they must be only a breath shy of Heaven. Thank you for going to the school plays, the recitals, the graduations. Thank you for picking the kids up from school, and then later, the airport. I know you’re not perfect. The kids know that. You know that. But you tried. However short you fell, thank you for trying. On this one, I’m going to go ahead and say an A for effort counts.
So, I’m thinking maybe now I’ll meet him. We’re all getting older, it’d be good to satisfy the curiosity before any of us kick the bucket. I don’t expect anything from him; Facebook indicates he has other daughters, so I doubt he noticed my absence much, but maybe he’s curious too. I don’t want money, I don’t want a friend, I don’t want to play catch with him or curl up in his lap and fall asleep or dance with him at the wedding already past. I just want to know. I don’t want to wonder anymore. And whatever happens, happens, and I will go on, as I have before, and I will live my life proudly, intelligently, and fiercely independently, attributes I may not have had without his role in my life, or lack thereof. I do not feel slighted, I do not feel owed anything, I do not feel terribly damaged. But I’m aware of the Missing Person in my life, and I’m aware of the effects that Missing Person has had. So I think I’ll roll the dice, and remove the “Missing” from his title. May they land where they do, and may I take my fate in stride.
I hope he doesn’t mind. And maybe, just maybe, he’ll leave the door open this time.