I’ve never known my father. I’ve never cuddled my forehead under his chin while we watched TV, never ran home from school to tell him some pointless story, never had him pin a corsage on me for my high school prom, carry my stuff to my dorm room when I went away to college or listen under the hood when my dilapidated car was making a squeaky, scraping noise.
For as many years as I’ve been alive, my father has been a figment of my imagination, a figure shrouded in as much mystery as the Tooth Fairy. I’ve never met him, I’ve never talked to him and aside from two or three yellowed, ancient pictures that my mom saved of him from the height of his Afro-wearing days back in the 70s, I’ve never seen him. The same goes for my whole estranged paternal family—grandparents, aunts, cousins, uncles, the entire brood.
I’ve watched reality shows where grown folks still lament the absence of their missing parent, dig up all kinds of info on the internet and literally track their mamas or daddies down. I, on the other hand, could go weeks, maybe even months, without the reality of my missing-in-action father interfering with my random thoughts. Even as a kid, I never felt like something was missing because I didn’t have a dad.
First of all, my generation kind of ushered in the epidemic of runaway fathers, so having a man in the house—especially in my neighborhood and especially as a young, Black child—was more of an anomaly than not having one. An on-site daddy who was an active member of the household was somewhat of a luxury, something to be appreciated like having central air conditioning or a dishwasher or cable TV, but nothing that moms and their kids couldn’t live without.
Besides that, the good Lord gifted me with an awesome father figure. My granddaddy, a man of honor, integrity and masculine head-of-the-household-ness, was the quintessential daddy dearest. He was the one who sat on a barstool at the end of the driveway and watched me teeter my chunky tail back and forth on my first two-wheeler. When I busted my lip wide open with my color guard flag, my grandfather was the one who escorted my blubbering behind into the bathroom to patch up the bloody boo-boo. And when I entered my preteen years and my mother and I butted heads about going to school dances, my grandfather was the one who pulled her to the side and reasoned on my behalf. I don’t know what he said to her, but all I know is when they came back, he gave me a wink and she grunted that I could go to my ol’ silly dance.
With a man like that playing his part, I didn’t have a reason to miss the relationship I never had with my biological father. When my granddad passed away a few months shy of my 13th birthday, he’d left an impression so powerful that even now, some 18 years later, I know what to look for in the man who will become my husband and father my own children.
So life went on, dad-less, until the end of last year, when one of my eight (count ‘em, eight) half-sisters—who I met years ago purely by coincidence while we were high school students from different cities attending the same college prep program—invited me to my grandmother’s 95th birthday celebration. My dad’s mom. Dad’s mom’s party meant not only would I be meeting her for the first time, along with a consortium of other long-lost relatives, I’d be laying eyes on that man live and in the flesh. They’d like me to come, she said. They wanted to meet me. In the midst of her doing her best to convince me, I shocked myself.
The proposition stirred up a whole hodge podge of emotion that I didn’t even realize existed and probably had been festering inside of me my whole life.
If they wanted to meet me so badly, how come no one ever reached out to me?, I wondered. Why did it take her to play The Closer in order to unite that broken tie? With the advent of email, the world wide web and a take-your-pick assortment of social networking sites, why was it my responsibility to make the first toddling, uncertain moves toward our initial introduction?
These same people were adults who could have reached out to me when I was a kid, even while That Man was hellbent on being a deadbeat. Out of the whole crew who, in 2010, was so anxious to meet me even though I’ve been alive and kickin’ since 1979, no one had ever sent so much as a birthday card or initiated a phone call. Now it was up to me, after all these years, to accept their word-of-mouth invitation to meet for the first time and celebrate 95 years of life for a woman who hadn’t observed nor acknowledged not even one of mine.
It was surprising to discover that I was angry. Insulted. Maybe even a little hurt. Still, there was a part of me that was afraid to roll my eyes, pop my neck and sashay away from the opportunity without giving it some consideration. I’m big on history and ancestry, and this was a chance to fill in the missing branches on my family tree. Even though I didn’t want to offend my mother and the amazing job she did raising me by herself with no financial or emotional support from the man who laid down to help create me, I also considered the possibility that when I’m well into my own golden years, I might regret not having met the other side of my people. Maybe the resentment and hostility that had suddenly bubbled up in my 30s would come back to haunt me when I’m in my 60s and make me wish I could give my children and grandchildren a full account of their heritage—from both sides of my gene pool.
Besides that, I was curious to see myself in this batch of strangers, to pick out traits and qualities that I’ve lived with and accepted as a part of who I am personified in other folks who possibly acted or looked like me. Either way, I was putting myself out there: if I turned down the invite, there was the chance I would miss out on finding a part of me. But what waited on the other side was the possibility of another slap of rejection and a karate chop of disappointment.
After some prayer, I ultimately decided to pass on the party. Once upon a time, I never thought I’d ever have the chance to meet my father or his family. Then when I was faced with the opportunity to do it, turns out the move I made may have been a one-time-only deal. Because she’s already 95, it’s pretty safe to say I might not have another chance to talk to my dad’s mom. But when I do make the move to break the ice and meet the family unknown, if I ever make that move, I’ll feel empowered that it’ll be on my own terms and in my own time. It’s a calculated risk to hold out and hope that when I’m ready to meet my dad, he’ll be ready to answer the questions I have for him. But if it never happens, I’m fine with that. Sometimes mysteries are better left unsolved.