Making sense of our fathers can be challenging. Especially when we haven’t known them well. Lorilee Craker shares her heartfelt discoveries.
My True Father
By Lorilee Craker
Seven years ago, my wonderings about the man whose ancestral code is bundled deep in my bones turned into action and new information to process.
Though I had known my birth father’s name (“Ted”) and address for 14 years, I had never reached out to him before that summer for a few reasons. I felt fiercely loyal to my dad, who was dead. It felt disloyal, fickle somehow to dig up my original father. Plus, showing up at Ted’s door seemed like a bad episode of “Oprah.” And if I mailed a letter, what if his wife, presumably in the dark about me, should open it?
I knew I didn’t need another dad–or did I? After all, I had my great dad, Abe Reimer.
I was even told by several people to “let it go,” or “just be happy with the family God gave you.” I felt some shame, definitely, as if I SHOULDN’T care. My therapist helped me out with that horrid word a while ago: “It doesn’t matter if you or other people think you should or shouldn’t feel a certain way if you do.”
This is what adoptees hear all their lives: You SHOULD feel a certain way, happy blessed, whole, whatever, regardless of whether we really do or not.
And I did care, more than I cared to admit, more than I knew.
So, I Googled Ted for the first time in years, and hit pay dirt in the form of my birth grandmother’s obituary.
In it I learned that she was a sweet, sassy pioneer girl named Hazel, and a devout Christian, too. The obit also identified Ted’s children, my biological half-siblings. It took me all of four seconds to look them up. My sister looks nothing like me. In fact, in her Facebook pictures she has friends who look a lot more like me than she does. But my brother? He doesn’t look like me either, but he does resemble my firstborn son to a shocking degree.
Paternity confirmed! “Ted,” was my birth father, despite the fact that he also didn’t look like me and, more to the point, was a career gym teacher. I am many things, but Sporty Spice I am not. This new information galvanized me. Ted was pushing 70 and had no grandchildren besides my three kids. Life is short, and I wanted to be the kind of person to choose love and connection despite the risk. God gave me peace about the possibility that Ted’s wife would intercept the letter I had written. As it turned out, Ted’s wife did not intercept the letter, a fat, puffy, warm, fuzzy birth announcement: It’s a girl! She’s 45! (Although, I’m pretty sure Ted knew about me way back when.)
Within a week, Ted sent me a fat, puffy letter in response. My first mistake was thinking the fatness and puffiness of it boded well. Without ever being totally conscious of it before, I knew in the moment I held the letter in my hands that I had waited 45 years for some kind of acknowledgment. After decades of hearing the busy signal, someone was on the other line.
I ripped open the letter:
“Lorilee, I have decided to compose a reply to your recently received letter.”
Thus began a seven-page, résumé of Ted’s ethnic, educational, and medical history. It was as cool as my letter was warm, as walled-off as mine was invitational, as soulless as mine was soulful. I began to breathe through my mouth, and a curiously painful sensation droned in my chest. Could my birth father really be this indifferent to me? And finally, this: “You are obviously a wonderful person, BUT I have come to a conclusion that I am unable to deal with and cannot handle an ongoing relationship of this nature at this stage of my life.”
Ugh, ugh, ugh. It was so painful. I was a mess.
I wanted this missing person to be found, to show up and walk towards me, not away from me. I wanted him to see me. Far less vulnerable now, I wanted the father who had rejected me as a baby to keep me this time.
Yet, when the tears dried and the pain was absorbed (i.e., not stuffed or avoided), it was clear where I should go with the wreckage of crashed expectations: To the Father who’s been walking towards me since the foundation of time.
God the Father knew this would hurt, but also that the pain would give way to healing, clarity and a new vision. He would pick me up, dust me off, bind up my wounds and lead me away from the smoking rubble.
So in the pain of disappointment, in the wreckage of a spectacular failure of fatherhood, I was pointed back to our perfect, loving Father. A Father who was with me and for me, wanting, choosing and keeping me then, now and always.
Eight years later it hurts so much less, but sometimes I still feel a pang of disappointment, a sting of pain. I will think “I’m over it,” but then I see a TV birth father (there are a bunch) adoring his grown-up child and vowing to be a real father to her. In those moments, I realize the loss is still there, and probably always will be. It’s another opportunity to turn to the Father to the fatherless, an Abba to fatherless me, and maybe, to fatherless you.
Lorilee Craker is the author of numerous books, including Anne of Green Gables, My Daughter and Me: What My Favorite Book Taught Me About Grace, Belonging and the Orphan in Us All; Money Secrets of the Amish; Through the Storm with Lynne Spears and My Journey to Heaven with Marv Besteman. Lorilee recently was on the God Hears Her podcast with Elisa Morgan and Eryn Eddy talking about Orphan Identity.