With Father’s Day today, I can’t help but think about what it means to me now that I’ve come somewhat full circle. A few months ago, I wrote about the lifelong search for my biological father. I didn’t know all those years back, it would only take one searing question —”what are you?”—to send me on the heartbreaking journey that would create more questions than answers about my identity, biology, and genetic family tree.
Yesterday, June 20th, the day before Father’s Day, my father would have turned 55. It’s a double-whammy of a weekend; just thinking about it makes my chest tighten. And though it’s been 17 years since I last saw him or heard his voice, the last seven Father’s Days since I learned he had passed have been the hardest in my whole life. Before 2008, as I searched the internet and scoured the face of the earth, I didn’t know he had died of cancer near the town I lived, or that my name was listed in his obituary. I kept my heart open and full of hope that one day soon, I would find him and we could start anew. It took years but with the lack of information and dead ends, that dream faded.
In July, 2004, the same month and week my father passed, I met and fell in love with my husband, moved a state away, and in a sense, started over. I couldn’t tell you what prompted all these changes I knew I had to make, but looking back, I see there was something in me that knew the search for this man, my father, was over.
In the years since learning of his passing, I’ve worked really hard to know him, inside and out, so I can know who I am, where I came from. The road has been long and painful and, at times, it seems like I’ll never truly heal from his absence. And though I’m lucky to have had another man (whom I’ve always called “Dad “)step in to raise me and claim me as his own, the void and lack of closure regarding my birth father are things I’m still trying to come to terms with.
This year, I’ve realized the most integral part of this process, the reason I’ve grown stronger than I thought possible, is my husband, an amazing father to our two children. Without his love and support over the last ten years, I might not have had the courage to look for my biological father, the strength to handle the news of his death, or the desire to know all about him despite not having a frame of reference. But more than all that, my husband has shown me what a father really is. No one is born with a step-by-step tutorial on parenting (I wish) and yet, he’s shown me that real men, fathers, aren’t born, they’re made. It takes practice with lots of fails; patience with some degree of humility and sacrifice, but most of all, a complete and utter devotion to want to be there; a want to be better tomorrow than he is today and a want to raise our children with the knowledge that he will be there. No matter what.
Growing up, I couldn’t pinpoint what was missing in me; I just knew it was missing. I had no idea how connected these feelings were to not knowing about this mysterious man who wasn’t a part of my life. And now I know what it was. Being a father is being there, whether I want you to or not. It’s providing, whether you have the means or not (you find a way). It’s listening when you’ve had a long day.
It’s believing in me when I don’t believe in anything. It’s holding me when I struggle to break free. It’s catching me when I fall and yet, letting me fall when I need to. It’s giving me the tools I need to be the person I am today. Because the person I am today isn’t in spite of all this, it’s because of it.
It’s with my husband’s devotion to our children, I realize how my definition of a “father” has changed. If I’d gone on this journey sooner, those void feelings might not have been as intense because the truth is, whether my dad was alive or not, I’ve received all the above from different people, male and female. I’ve learned and grown from my experiences both good and bad, and even in those times of feeling like I can never feel whole, I’m grateful. Without this loss, I might not be as compassionate to others who’ve experienced the same or as sensitive to those on a similar journey and maybe, just maybe, I wouldn’t know that Father’s Day isn’t just for the great men in our lives but the great people, like my Gram, who have helped shape me.
Sure, I’m saddened at the thought of another Father’s Day without the man who helped create me, but I’m starting to realize that all those things above? They weren’t even from him. And now that I’m a parent myself, I know just how much he loved me. Because without his sacrifice, for me to have the life he thought was best, I might not know all those wonderful things everyone else taught me.
[Image via Shutterstock]