Week 1: I missed the mark when ...
Week 2: What I want to know is ...
Week 3: What needs to be illuminated ...
Week 4: What I want to be filled with ...
My response to the Week 2 prompt:
What I want to know is what it would have felt like to look into his eyes. I can’t say I regret not knowing my birth father, but I do regret not knocking on his door in the summer of 1989 when I had the chance. I had gone to visit my law school roommate in Georgetown when we made the short trek to Salisbury, Maryland with her Airedale terrier, “Ella Bella,” in tow.
The decision, to knock or not to knock, would be made in real time. A lot was at stake.
I’d been told by my birth mother, Peggy, who was 16 in 1965 when she became pregnant with his child, namely me, that he had lied to her about his age. George told her, when he repeatedly came to the convenience store where she worked, that he was 21. He was not. He was 25.
He also, as it turned out, lied to her about his marital status.
“I’m pregnant,” she told him, four months into their “relationship,” if that’s what we are calling statutory rape.
“I’m married,” was his terse, shocking (according to Peggy) response. “And have two kids.”*
She never saw him again, save once, in a grocery store, years later.
“We pretended not to see each other in aisle five,” she allowed during our first meet up, when she patiently responded to my endless questions.
In what I flippantly and repeatedly refer to as my “CBS After School Family of Origin Special,” in month five of her pregnancy, when she started to show, Peggy's mortified parents sent her to a home for wayward teens run by nuns, where she was blamed, shamed and stigmatized. Picture Philomena, only worse. And in St. Louis.
It was the one topic she didn’t want to revisit or recount.
“It was just okay,” she said, which would explain my many late nights spent googling the phrase “intergenerational trauma.”
Once Peggy shared with me my birth father’s name, age and the name of his all-boys Catholic high school, it was easy to find him. I spent a decade in my first career chasing down deadbeat defendants, whether they were corporate magnates who made a habit of deceptive trade practices or ageist, racist, misogynistic employers who made a habit of being their worst selves. I knew how to access property, driving, financial, criminal and civil records, among other things.
I started this search process by going directly to the archdiocese library to purchase copies of George’s high school yearbooks – they had his sophomore and senior editions. The librarian was happy to help. Turns out I wasn't the first person who'd marched in there to unearth information about a birth father.
So when Rhonda, Ella Bella and I turned the corner onto a bucolic, serpentine road that traced its way around a duck pond surrounded by cattails, I was armed with the following knowledge about my bioDad: high school wrestler who took part in student government, had a second home in Coral Gables, Florida, was Dutch, Irish, lily-livered, looked like me. I had his exact address and the black Escalade in the driveway of the quaint Cape Cod house on the corner also matched my research. He was home.
I got as far as getting out of Rhonda's car while pretending to casually walk Ella Bella -- to get a closer look.
The Big Wheels in the driveway, wedged between his car and the garage, stopped me in my tracks. The Big Wheels, the sand toys, and the kiddie pool propped up on the side of the house. He had grandchildren. He was home, but not likely home alone. And although HE knew about me, THEY most certainly did not.
I could not, would not, did not knock.
Consequently, I never got to know what it would be like to look into his hazel eyes, to see or not to see, a reflection of me.
He died a few years later.
* I’m not positive about the timing of the two kids. This part of my conversation with Peggy is hazy. After he died, I spoke to his (very surprised) sister who resides in Illinois. She confirmed that I have two half-sisters – I’m just not sure if they are older or younger than me. It's hard to tell from their Facebook photos. I also know that his wife is still alive and bears a striking resemblance to Susan Sarandon ... and that his other sister resides not far from me in the East Bay. He told none of them about me.