You know, since I’ve fallen in love with the new NBC drama “This is Us,” AND especially with William, Randall’s birth father, I’ve been thinking again about my own birth father, “Ted” and how it all played out between the two of us.
SPOILER ALERT: My birth father is no William. In fact, every episode so far, I have sighed and said, out loud, “I wish William was my birth father.” Every birth father, including my own, could learn volumes from the gentle authenticity of how William does birth fathering.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of adoptees will never find their birth fathers, because mostly they don’t want to be found. Sadly, those who do will likely not find a good, honest (if flawed) loving soul at the end of their search. And at that point, a lifetime of wondering shatters like glass.
You see, when you don’t know where you came from, genetically, you can and will imagine all kinds of things. Your original family members are like missing persons no one is looking for but you. They vanish in air thick with unanswered questions. You give your birth parents all kinds of qualities your current life and actual parents lack. When you have no answers to your questions, you start to make stuff up, and create ever-ballooning expectations which can never be met.
That balloon starts out like a cute red blob floating at a kid’s party, but when you puff it up with a lifetime of wonderings, SO MANY WONDERINGS, it can grow to be the size of the Goodyear Blimp.
Three years ago now, my wonderings about the man whose ancestral code is bundled deep in my bones came crashing to earth.
Though I had known my birth father’s name (“Ted”) and address for 14 years, I had never reached out to him before that summer for a few reasons. I felt fiercely loyal to my dad, who died then seven years ago. It felt disloyal, fickle somehow to dig up my original father. Plus, showing up at Ted’s door seemed like a bad episode of “Oprah.” And if I mailed a letter, what if his wife, presumably in the dark about me, should open it?
I knew I didn’t need another dad–or did I? After all, I had my great dad, Abe Reimer.
For a few more hours/days, I still have a very good father in law, even though he is slipping away from us as I write these words (no wonder fathers are on my mind). I never knew what a piece of my heart he held until we were losing him.
Re: birth father: I was even told by several people to “let it go,” or “just be happy with the family God gave you.” I felt some shame, definitely, as if I SHOULDN’T care. My therapist helped me out with that horrid word a while ago: “It doesn’t matter if you or other people think you should or shouldn’t feel a certain way if you do.”
And this is what adoptees hear all their lives: You SHOULD feel a certain way, happy blessed, whole, whatever, regardless if we really do or not.
And I did care, more than I cared to admit, more than I knew.
So, I Googled Ted for the first time in years, and hit pay dirt in the form of my birth grandmother’s obituary.
In it I learned that she was a sweet, sassy pioneer girl named Hazel, and a devout Christian, too. The obit also identified Ted’s children, my biological half-siblings. It took me all of four seconds to look them up. My sister looks nothing like me. In fact, in her Facebook pictures she has friends who look a lot more like me than she does. But my brother? He doesn’t look like me either, but he does resemble my firstborn son to a shocking degree.
Paternity confirmed! “Ted,” was my birth father, despite the fact that he also didn’t look like me and, more to the point, was a career gym teacher. I am many things, but Sporty Spice I am not. This new information galvanized me. Ted was pushing 70, and had no grandchildren besides my three kids. Life is short, and I wanted to be the kind of person to choose love and connection despite the risk. God gave me peace about whether or not Ted’s wife intercepted the letter I had written. As it turned out, Ted’s wife did not intercept the letter, a fat, puffy, warm, fuzzy birth announcement: It’s a girl! She’s 45! (Although, I’m pretty sure Ted knew about me way back when.)
Her husband seized it first, and within a week, had sent off fat, puffy letter in response. My first mistake was thinking the fatness and puffiness of it boded well. Without ever being totally conscious of it before, I knew in the moment I held the letter in my hands that I had waited 45 years for some kind of acknowledgment. After decades of hearing the busy signal, someone was on the other line.
I ripped open the letter:
“Lorilee, I have decided to compose a reply to your recently received letter.”
Thus began a seven-page, résumé of Ted’s ethnic, educational, and medical history. It was as cool as my letter was warm, as walled-off as mine was invitational, as soulless as mine was soulful. I began to breathe through my mouth, and a curiously painful sensation droned in my chest. Could my birth father really be this indifferent to me? And finally, this: “You are obviously a wonderful person, BUT I have come to a conclusion that I am unable to deal with and cannot handle an ongoing relationship of this nature at this stage of my life.”
Ugh, ugh, ugh. It was so painful. I was a mess.
I wanted this missing person to be found, to show up and walk towards me, not away from me. I wanted him to see me. Far less vulnerable now, I wanted him to keep me this time.
Yet, when the tears dried and the pain was absorbed (ie, not stuffed or avoided), it was clear where I should go with the wreckage of crashed expectations: To the Father who’s been walking towards me since the foundation of time.
God the Father knew this would hurt, but also that the pain would give way to healing, clarity and a new vision. He would pick me up, dust me off, bind up my wounds and lead me away from the smoking rubble.
He would say, “Hey kid, hop in this air balloon and let me show you things you’ve never seen so clearly before.”
My Father would also show me that Ted, my flesh and blood pater, was disabled, emotionally and spiritually. He could no sooner respond to me as a true father than a paralyzed man could get up and walk. Because He redeems and makes all things new, God stirred my compassion for the man who was supposed to love me but did not.
I still think the whole situation sucked the scum at the bottom of the pond. I still think my birth father was a giant sporty chicken of a man who fled the scene of my new life with dizzying speed and cowardice, as so many birth fathers do. As so many fathers do, period.
Ted is no William, broken and beautiful, healed to give his son healing. Most adoptees will never, ever find their William, or their Jack (Randall’s adoptive dad), for that matter.
So in the pain of disappointment, in the wreckage of a spectacular failure of fatherhood, I was pointed back to our perfect, loving Father. A Father who was with me and for me, wanting, choosing and keeping me then, now and always.
And I hope, if you are adopted or not, my story can point you to the father who is with you and for you, wanting, choosing and keeping you, then, now and always.