I looked into the eyes of my birth father for four days in Feb. 2000. I had talked to him on the phone daily for about a week leading up to that weekend. I had never spoken to him before that, and I haven't heard from him since.
He was 20 when I was born. Young, addicted and abusive. He was not a good fit for fatherhood when I was a child, but I always held out hope that he would one day come around.
We met over his twin brother's funeral. I called my father to ask if it would be okay for me to come; if he would be okay with that. I will never forget the sound of his voice on the other end of the phone... His response to, "This is Tonya... Your daughter." I could hear the shaking, the surprise, the happiness, even the regret. Our weekend together was nice, in spite of the circumstances. We held hands, stared at each other a lot, and sat alone pouring through photo albums and high school yearbooks in my grandparent's basement while the rest of the family gathered upstairs. He took me over to meet his birth father. We talked about my childhood - which was not an easy one - and he wept over the things I had been through.
It was all very hard for my father. Saying good-bye to the only thing that was ever constant in his life - his twin. Meeting his daughter after a 26 year absence. Reuniting with his parents after 15 years of estrangement. He had a lot to process; and to top it off, his daughter had a Dad-sized hole in her heart. He just couldn't do it; so he never returned a phone call or responded to my letters after that.
I'd just met my grandparents - my father's mother and (adopted / step) father in 1997. We'd had a good relationship and were very eager to know one another, but when things became complicated with my dad, they became quiet. I did too. I sent them Christmas cards for a couple of years after Zach was born, but the last correspondence I received from them was Christmas 2003 (Zach was 3 months old).
I have been waiting these last eleven years for them to heal and get comfortable. I didn't want to upset or offend them by initiating a relationship or asking about the half-brother my father told me I had, so I was waiting for "the right time". I didn't want to go snooping into the half-brother, in case he wasn't emotionally ready to deal with our father, or even me. Dad-sized holes are painful. Situations like this are complicated.
As I was watching Who Do You Think You Are? yesterday, I laughed at the seeming simplicity of ancestry.com. Rosie O'Donnell made it look pretty easy to track down her family, but I really doubted it was. Out of curiosity, I set up a 14 day free trial account and started searching. It didn't take long to find useful records. However, they weren't useful in the way I was hoping. There was no record that said my dad and so-and-so gave birth to this baby boy on this date...
Instead, I found my father's death certificate. He died two days before Zach's second birthday. Five and a half years ago, at the age of 52. I found the obituary online too. It named a loving and caring wife as a survivor, along with five children - none of us named - and five grandchildren - all of them named. My son was named as his fifth surviving grandchild. It is so surreal. Despite all I know about their pain-filled lives, I am still surprised that my grandparents did not let me know that my father was sick. I cannot believe that no one notified me of his passing, allowing me the chance to finally belong to him and sit in a place of honor as his child.
I never really believed that my father would reach out to me, but I always held out hope that one day I could know him.
Over these last seven years, the Dad-sized hole in my heart has been so generously tended to by my loving and perfect Heavenly Father. There is no way I could graciously weather this most recent storm without having had that healing. I rest knowing that I belong with Him and He calls me his, no matter what I am called by earthly beings.
Knowing all that I know, and even having processed through every what-if under the sun over the last 30 years, this reality is still so very heartbreaking. The depths of my grief has really taken me by surprise. The possibility of my father ever getting equipped for relationships with his children is now gone, and with him might have gone the names and links to my siblings too.
I've been clinging to my children a little tighter in the last 24 hours. I have defined love to my kids every day of their lives. "No matter what mistakes you make, I will never love you any less. I will always protect you. You can always count on Daddy and me. You are never alone. I am so very proud of you. I am glad God gave you to me. You are special. I will never walk away from you." I make these promises and declarations to my children every single day; I suspect, because no one ever made them to me and I want my kids to know what it means to be a parent and what it means to be loved. No matter how short my childhood home might have fallen; the record has been set right for my children. For that knowledge and wisdom, I am grateful. Out of pain and disconnection, has come love, belonging and commitment.