Sunday was Father’s Day and it has always been a strange holiday for me. When I was younger I would celebrate it with my father, but ever-present in my thoughts was my biological father with whom I had never spoken with until October 2005.
It was such a surreal experience and one that I would prefer to never have to repeat. I had heard stories about my biological father from my mother who often told me how much I looked like him. She had met my father at a synagogue in Łódź a year after her first husband passed away from cancer. Whenever we discuss my biological father, my mother is always sure to add in the disclaimer, “I was still dealing with the loss of Arvid and feeling very vulnerable.” It was, I have been told, a whirlwind romance and they were both crazy about each other. A year into the relationship, my mother found out she was pregnant and went to my father. From what I have been told, accusations were made and he told her that he was not ready to get married. My mother was distraught and begged him to reconsider, but one weekend he moved away from Łódź. They didn’t speak for 3 years and during that time my mother raised all of us as a single mother, until she met my (current) father.
In 2005, my mother asked me if I would like to meet my biological father. I was still living in Missouri and didn’t know if I was ready to sit across from the man who had hurt my mother so horribly. I initially declined his invitation, but after a few conversations with my mother I emailed him to set up a meeting.
We met at a small restaurant off campus and I recognized him right away. He was tall, slender and looked like me. My stomach ached the moment I saw him and I thought about walking out right then. I was incredibly nervous about speaking with him, but I mustered up the courage and proceeded to the table he had reserved for us. The walk to the table felt like it took a decade and he stood up to hug me. I was completely terrified by him wanting a hug, so I quickly sat down before he could embrace me. Sitting across from him, he was no more my father than the person sitting at the table nearest to us. I looked at him and realized that even though we were complete strangers, I would forever be connected to him no matter how hard I tried to distance myself. He was the first to speak and he was only able to force out a heavily accented, “Hello.”
When the waiter appeared, I had never been so excited to see someone in my life. I quickly ordered a drink and appetizers, but immediately regretted ordering anything that would prolong our meeting. After my father had ordered, we sat quietly at the table until our drinks came. Liquid courage washed over me and I finally asked, “Why did you leave my mother when you found out she was pregnant?” I knew that he had been expecting the question at some point, but I think he was
flustered by the fact that it was the first question I wanted answered. He explained that he wasn’t ready to be a father, the idea of having to raise a child was terrifying to him and he assumed I would be better off without him. I told him that I would normally have understood that, if only he had not gotten married 6 months later (with a child soon after). I asked him if it was just the thought of being my father that scared him. He was pretty open about the fact that he hadn’t even been ready to be a father to his boys, but that he was married and knew he had an obligation. He had, apparently, felt no obligation to be a father to me.
When the main course arrived, I begin to feel this sort of resentment for the man sitting across for me. Here he was, wanting to see me after so many years and yet he had not found it in him to care before this very meeting. I ate my soup, giving him the occasional nod when he asked a question. When we got to the fact that I was almost through with medical school, he reached across the table, placed my hand in his and said, “What a remarkable young woman you are!”
I don’t know why, but in that instant I hated him so much. I withdrew my hand to my lap and sat up. I stared at him with cold eyes and responded, “I am who I am because of the love and support my mother and father provided me. It was nothing that you did, you had no part in the way I turned out.” At first he just studied my face and I assumed it was because he was trying to figure out how to respond. Then he gave a bit of a smirk and said, “Genetics play a huge role in the way a child turns out, I’m sure they taught you that in medical school.” His smugness was off-putting and I wanted to leave so badly, but I thought that if I walked away he would win. I had wanted to come to this meeting to show him how much I didn’t need him and to finally resolve the issues I had from not knowing my biological father. I had wanted him to see that, without him I had accomplished so much. In truth, I had wanted to hurt him.
I look back on that meeting now and it leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. We ended the lunch by exchanging numbers, but I never called him and he never contacted me. I found out later through my mother that he had two sons and was living in Paris with his family. Knowing that I have two half brothers whom I will probably never meet has always been a little odd to me. I found out their full names so that I could recognize them if I was ever introduced to them, but the idea that I am related to them still bewilders me.
Every year since I met my biological father, I tend to think about him around fathers day. I wonder what my life would have been like if he had decided to raise me. Would we have moved to the States? Where would I have gone to college and would I have pursued a different degree? Would I have loved him like I love my father now? What would our relationship be like? Would we have anything in common besides our physical attributes? Obviously these questions will always remain unanswered, but I have to think that I am ok with that as I have a wonderful father who raised me like I was his own.
Happy (belated) Fathers Day.