As the holidays approach, I find myself thinking a lot about family. My family story is complicated at best, traumatic and painful at worst. Recently, I was going through some of my old published pieces and came across this one from 2010 that I hadn’t read in awhile. It’s always challenging for me to write short pieces, whether fiction or non-fiction, so I appreciated my editor’s work on cutting this one down without losing too much emotional depth. Someday I’d like to get a longer version of this story published, hopefully in a book-length memoir. For now, here’s a glimpse of my somewhat strange and unique family arrangement (at least on my biological father’s side, my mother’s side is a whole other crazy story that I only touch on in my essay Lucky).
“There’s a story that I met my father when I was a few months old, just before he left my mother and me behind for good, but of course I don’t remember that. After that, I heard from him three times: he called me while I was in college (I refused to speak with him), he sent me a cryptic letter and a $1,000 check for my graduation, and he once mailed me an empty Christmas card, signed “Best Wishes.”
So I didn’t get to choose whether I had a father when I was growing up, but always felt a void, knowing he was out there somewhere. Fourteen years later, after an uncomfortable exchange of phone calls and emails, I flew to Philadelphia with my partner, Henry, to meet my father for the first time. As we got near the bottom of the airport escalator, I saw him: portly and balding, with a round, fat-cheeked face and eyes just like mine, only older. Two women in their thirties were with him—my half-sisters. I knew I’d meet them on this trip, but I hadn’t expected it so soon.”