Well, I had done it. The hard part–the getting up of the courage, the awkward Big Moment–was over. I met my biological dad.
That first encounter was something out of a dream. It couldn’t have gone more perfectly if I had actually planned it out, which I so totally hadn’t. Terry looked like me. He had friendly eyes and was so happy I had finally looked him up. “You have some Scottish and Irish background,” he said. “Also Native American.” He told me about his mother and father, his sisters, his daughter. He drove trucks and sold knives at the flea market. He loved Jesus and Southern Rock music and zombie movies. His voice reminded me of Hulk Hogan. And he said he was sorry.
“Please, don’t be sorry,” I said to him. “I had a great life, and great parents…” I hesitated to say it. “My dad is the best.” As if things weren’t awkward enough already.
We talked some more. He wanted to meet for dinner that week, and he wanted Cheyenne and I to meet them at Chuck-E-Cheese sometime before we left so the girls (my sister and my daughter) could play together. And maybe one day I would call him Dad.
I met his parents. I was kind of weirded out by how welcoming and caring and open-armed everyone was toward me. It was like they thought I was family–can’t imagine what that was all about. I had a family. I didn’t want another family. I wanted to know who they were, for sure–but the loving emotion that I felt was expected of me just wasn’t there. I began to let myself feel irritated with them. “They had nothing to do with me when I was growing up,” I thought. “Just because we’re blood-related doesn’t mean that we’ll have an insta-bond.” Irritation gave way to anger. “They knew about me and I knew nothing about them, and now they think I should give them the pleasure of a relationship with me and my daughter?”
Enter Toni: The Stone-cold Jerk.
This was during a time that my biological mother was semi-trying to reach out to me and Cheyenne. I gave her nothing. I was a mega-beyotch to her and I didn’t think twice about it.
It was worse with Terry. Sometimes, a lot of times, I genuinely tried…and sometimes it genuinely worked. I loved him and his wife and his daughter and I cared about what went on in their lives. I threw him emotional bones when I felt like it, but then there were other times, out of nowhere, resentment reared its ugly head. It was during those moments that I took advantage of Terry. Want to spend time with Cheyenne? How’s about I let you babysit her while I go out with my friends? You’re giving me $100 randomly to cover some of the unexpected expenses of being a single working mother in college? Awesome. You don’t have to twist my arm. Cheyenne and I are going shopping!
Deep breathe y’all. I was 21 and selfish and rude and did I mention selfish and rude? And probably drunk? And if I wasn’t busy milking the situation, I was going out of my way to show Terry how very much he was not my dad. And it’s a shame, because the man had some solid advice and was always ready to lend an ear to listen or a shoulder to cry on.
When Mia was born, Terry and Michelle brought the kids up to visit us in the hospital. I was tired, I was hormonal and stressed, but there was really no excuse for the way I treated them that night. I was bristly and unwelcoming. I don’t think I cracked one smile the whole time and I almost had a cow when they tried to touch my precious newborn little Mia. They didn’t call me again, and I didn’t call them–not even when I found out I was moving to Oklahoma.
When Mia was 2 or 3, I called Terry. We talked, we apologized…and then we lost touch again. I haven’t heard from him in years. I think about them a lot and I wonder how they’re doing. My sister should be 17–is she driving? My brother is a little older than Mia–does he look like his dad? Terry must be in his 50’s by now. Do they still live at the same house on the same street? Do they still go to church? Do they hate me?
People, it might alleviate some feelings of resentment in the moment, but in general it’s not nice to hurt someone’s feelings. I did that. I tracked down my biological father, drew him into a half-assed relationship, and ditched him the second I started to get annoyed. I hurt him and I hurt me. I might have felt “abandoned” by him at one point or another, but if I never hear from him again, it’s my fault. I spent so much of my life wanting to meet him, and I got that wish–that’s not something many adopted kids get to say. I walked around for a long time feeling pretty entitled: I’m the adopted one. I get to call the shots. I get to treat you, biological parent, however I want because you somehow wronged me.
I was horrible to a man and a woman who were genuinely sorry for their mistakes. I was mean to a whole mess of people, all because they wanted me to be a part of their family. How was that so bad? I was no victim. I grew up with the best parents in the world and if you tell me otherwise, I’ll punch you in the face. I had two little sisters, and we are effing tight. I wore nice clothes and had cool toys and I travelled the world. I was taken care of and doted on and loved unconditionally. And I most certainly was not raised to act like an epic turd to the people who gave me life, no matter what the circumstances were. When I worried about opening up a can of worms, I never imagined that it would come from deep inside myself. If I’ve ever needed forgiveness from anybody for anything, this here is it. Maybe one day I’ll reconnect with Terry and his family. Maybe I will try to reach out but they won’t be open to it, and I’ll have to accept that.
I love my parents, and my sisters, and my grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins. We are not genetically linked whatsoever. I’ll never look like my mom and dad the way my sisters do. I doubt I have a drop of Italian blood in my veins. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have a family. It doesn’t mean I wasn’t accepted and welcomed. I have a home and it’s with the sweet, wonderful, loving people who God found for me when I was a baby.
I will always be sorry when I think of the way I treated my biological parents, but at least I had the opportunity to get to know them. I might have regrets, but I don’t have an empty spot. And for that I will always be thankful.