What I learned when I reunited with my father after 16 years
As I write this, Elvis Presley is crooning in the background. I’ve always been drawn to his voice for one main reason:
My father really, really loves Elvis Presley.
My father’s love of Elvis Presley was one of two things I knew about him for a long time — the other was that my father is an alcoholic.
My parents split up when I was young. We moved from California to Washington when I was three, leaving my dad behind. I was too young to understand any of our reasons for moving. I grew up without a father, aware that he was ~somewhere out there~ but completely in the dark about his life, or why we weren’t with him. My mother was an excellent mother in this regard — she never talked about him negatively, and didn’t tell us much unless we asked.
Eventually, I learned about his alcoholism. Mom only discussed it matter-of-factly. I grew up wholly understanding that alcoholism was a disease, and it was one that my father had. I was never angry, necessarily, about his choices, but I was curious about his life.
When the internet came into our lives, my older cousin and I discovered what a search engine was and how we could use it to our benefit. We spent many hours Googling my father’s name. Our last name is unique, so it was pretty easy to track him down. I held my breath as my cousin found a phone number and pushed me to call it.
To be completely honest, for much of my life, I had assumed my father was lying in a gutter somewhere.
That may sound morbid, but in kid logic, it was very plausible. I didn’t think he had a job, I assumed he had no other children, I assumed he had never found love in another person, and I knew he had a drinking problem. What else could he be doing?
Panic struck me. I wasn’t sure if she was his partner, or sister, or caregiver. Though “I am his estranged daughter” would have been an extremely efficient (not to mention truthful) answer, I didn’t have the strength to speak the words out loud.
Many, many years later, my older brother came into contact with our dad. He had always missed him. Being older, he had memories that the rest of us didn’t share, and he missed the connection that I assume many young men need with their fathers. I had grown up with my mom and three extremely powerful forces in my brothers, so I never felt like I was missing much. When my brother started talking to him — even flying to California to visit him — I was supportive, but a little sad. My dad’s sister, my aunt, is lovely and kind, and was very persistent in pushing me to talk to my dad. I just didn’t want to; I wasn’t ready.
Until one day, I was.
My dad had been sober for about four years when I finally had an interest in reaching out to him. I knew it would make a world of difference to him. He had tried so hard and for so long to make amends with his kids, and had only succeeded with one of us. When I finally called him, I thought I would cry, I thought I would be mad, I thought we would dramatically bridge the gap between the many years that had passed us.
But none of that happened. It felt…normal?
I kept thinking this conversation would be the one I would write about in a dramatic novel one day — the story of one strong girl who reconnected with the father who abandoned her at such a young age. But that didn’t happen either. I did not identify with abandonment. My father had a disease, and in fact, I appreciated him and my mother for keeping us away from it. Knowing people who grew up in homes with alcoholics, I think I had it okay. I just had curiosity about who the man was, what he was doing, what he thought about. The pain of seeing my father come home drunk and arguing with my mother was not something I experienced.
I consider myself lucky.
With one phone call, my father and I began the relationship we now have.
My dad is pretty cool and always hilarious, and I appreciate his adorable text messages with too many emojis and perfect punctuation. The connection I gained to the Black side of myself — a side I have always strongly identified with — is so important to me.
I appreciated getting to know more about him than his love of Elvis. Though, I must admit, it’s the first thing that comes to mind when I think of him. Damn Elvis Presley.
Forgiveness is important. I would never suggest it to anyone who isn’t ready, but I feel satisfied in the relationship I now have with my father. It’s not insanely close, it’s not overly emotional — it just is. And that has always felt very good to me.