When I was 17 years old, I met my dad for the first time. Growing up, I knew my stepdad was not my biological dad, but he was the only father-figure I’d known. My biological dad had been a faceless name on my birth certificate, someone who contributed to part of my genetic makeup and lived in the same state, yet my brother and I never saw him.
Surprisingly, growing up, my mom would occasionally take my brother and me to visit our great-aunt. She was the one relative we knew on the paternal side of our family. Whenever she would tell me, “You look like your dad,” I would wonder if it was just as easy as looking in the mirror to see the man who I’d never seen. In a way, my great-aunt bridged the gap for the meeting with my dad because the meeting occurred at her house.
What brought about this desire to meet me when I was nearing the end of my teenage years on the cusp of adulthood? Maybe it was just time. Maybe it was because I had the ability and the voice to say yes versus not having the choice as a child (because the decision was made for me by adults trying to demonstrate some form of adulting).
Although I could’ve been a little nervous, the meeting was pretty uneventful. Looking back, I was likely more curious than anything even though I don’t recall asking many questions. I more so just observed—took in my dad’s actions and movements. He didn’t sit down. He stood and moved around, here and there within my great-aunt’s living room. At times, it was as if he didn’t know what to say, but I do recall him mentioning something about my birth. I was born prematurely, which could’ve been considered scary in the 1970s. He told of visiting me at the hospital and having to put on the hospital gown while holding me. He mentioned doing this almost every day after work—just coming to see and to check on me.
Where have you been since then? Why weren’t you around? Why is this my first time meeting you in a space I can remember? The part of me that always wanted to ask those questions didn’t ask. Possibly because it wasn’t the time or the place.
That time and place came years later. Years after my dad and I oscillated between speaking and not speaking. Years after I wanted him to be something or someone other than who he was, a man who hadn’t been there for my brother and me. After all, he was just a man who’d had his own journey and was still coming to terms with some things while never coming to terms with others. It took this journey for me to realize that the time he grew up in was different. People didn’t talk about things; they just buried things and moved forward.
Fast forward to current times…my dad and I are on better terms. As time went on, he was actually the one who would call me when I didn’t call him. He’d call almost every day, and we’d find things to talk about: the weather, my daily walks, work, the gym I attended, church, and yes, his history. Albeit not a traditional father-daughter relationship, this one was ours—the one that we were building.
Within the last few years, my dad suffered a stroke. He survived and is doing better. He’s unable to talk or to move the way that he used to, but he’s still here. I find myself missing our previous conversations while treasuring them and the memories we created. In spite of his current medical condition, my dad still has been able to call me with the help of the nurses at his facility and a smartphone my aunts purchased for him. The nurses help him to connect the call. They will periodically say, “He wanted us to call you to let you know…” and then will give him the phone. These calls are creating new memories for us regardless of our past.
Sometimes I look at how the roles have been reversed: my dad was once visiting me as a preemie who needed to be cared for, and now I am doing the same for him. There are many things I wish were different as part of our journey: I wish that he had been there for me growing up; I wish for our old conversations where he would talk me through my morning walks; I wish he could get up and go like he used to; I wish he could have the quality of life he had previously…and the list goes on and on.
I’ve learned that while these times have passed—while he may not have been what I needed him to be and when—it is all part of our relationship journey. This journey also continues to teach me not only the importance of having grace for myself but to extend grace to my dad. Because that’s one thing we all need.Leave a Comment