THIRTY-ONE YEARS AGO TODAY, on January 16, 1988, I was standing in my kitchen when the telephone rang. I walked over to the wall phone that hung in the breakfast nook, picked up the receiver and said hello.
“I’m sorry,” said my mom’s voice. “I called everybody in the family before calling you. I put you off until last, because you… you knew him the longest. You lived with him the longest, before we divorced.”
My mom never called me. Long distance phone calls between her home in Missouri and my home in Virginia Beach were too expensive, according to my mother’s standards. She had telephoned only once before, when a monster hurricane called Gloria was sitting off our coast. But I wasn’t home at the time, because I had already taken my three young children and headed for the mountains on the western edge of the state.
“I’m sorry,” she said again. “It’s your dad…. ”
She did not have to say anything else for me to understand that my father was dead at the age of fifty-three. As I would later learn, it had been a heart attack. He had died on the dining room floor in his home.
I did something really stupid after I got off the phone with my mother. I drove to the nearest store and bought a bottle of booze. Then I came back home, locked myself in my bathroom, and guzzled it all down. I drank too much, too fast, to the point where I had to keep reminding myself to breathe, for the next hour and a half.
In case you are wondering, drinking to take the edge off the pain when you get some really bad news, does not work. Alcohol is the most potent depressant in the world, and it takes a very long time for the depressive effects to wear off. I learned all of this the hard way. After almost two years of heavy binge drinking, I took my last alcoholic drink on January 13, 1990. Which means that I have been sober for 29 years and two days — one day at a time, by the grace of God.
A couple of days after my mother’s phone call, I flew to Missouri for my dad’s funeral. As I stood beside his open casket, staring down at the only thing that looked familiar to me, the curly hair on the back of his hands, I wondered if he really was my biological father.
I wondered about this for several reasons. The strongest reason was because my mom had taken me to meet her old boyfriend, when I was around five or six years old. And she had told this guy, a complete stranger to me, that I was his daughter. But… was that even true? My parents had just had a very bad fight, a few days prior to this. Was my mother trying to rewrite her life history, using me as the writing instrument? It wouldn’t be the only time she would do such a thing.
Another thing that made me wonder if my dad really was my dad, was the abuse. Would a real father treat his child the way my dad sometimes did? Or was he too sick to know any better? My dad was diagnosed with schizophrenia when I was twelve years old. This happened soon after he was arrested for almost murdering my mom. I was a witness to that fight, and for several terrifying, heart stopping minutes, I had believed that my mother was dead.
After my father’s arrest, he was taken from jail to a hospital emergency room, because of his hard to control type one diabetes. When his blood sugar was stabilized, the ER doctor then transferred my dad to the psychiatric ward, where he stayed for several weeks. It was there that he was diagnosed with schizophrenia.
A few years later, my dad’s psychiatric diagnosis was changed to multiple personality disorder. MPD (which today is called DID, for dissociative identity disorder), described my father much better than schizophrenia did, in my opinion. Because, beginning with my earliest childhood memories, my dad really was more than one distinctively different person.
There was the “good daddy” personality, who loved me, protected me, and did his very best to teach me right from wrong. I loved that daddy so much. This personality was a conscientious, reliable hard worker, a good provider, and an ultra conservative church pastor. He was the father that I looked up to and did my best to please.
But he also had a hippie, happy-go-lucky personality. This one smoked pot, drank booze, rode a motorcycle, listened to acid rock Iron Butterfly music, kept at least two girlfriends on the side at the same time, burned incense to a Buddha idol, never went to church, and acted as though he did not have any children at all.
There was one personality that was abusive in the extreme, abusive in almost every way that it is possible to be abusive. This was the personality that almost killed me — one of my toddler sisters — and our mother, on three separate occasions. This was the personality that was arrested when I was 12 years old. And this personality was the reason why I had not seen my father or talked to him for eight and a half years, before he died.
Who was my real father? Biologically, psychologically, spiritually — for most of my life, I did not know the answer to this question.
The mystery deepened five years ago, when I took a DNA test with Ancestry. The racial profile that I got back, stated that I am 99% Caucasian and 1% African.
But my father had told me years ago that he was 1/4 black, or “quadroon,” because his dad was half black and his paternal grandmother was a black woman. Which meant that I should be 1/8 black, an “octaroon.” Having just 1% Nigerian African DNA isn’t even close!
WHO was my father? After I got my Ancestry results, I began looking in earnest for my mom’s old boyfriend, whose name I still remembered. I found his address and some other information about him online. After several months of thinking and praying about what to do, I sent this man a letter. In my letter, I carefully explained who I was and why I was writing to him. I explained that I did not want anything at all from him, I only wanted to know the truth.
I never did get a reply. However, shortly after I sent that letter, I discovered that all traces of this man had disappeared off the internet.
I sent this letter four years ago. Although I had saved his address, I did not try to reach out to him again. But every six months or so, I would search his name to see if there was any new information about him online. There never was anything, until last August, when I found his obituary.
Had my “real” father just died? I thought that I might never know the answer to this question.
In the meantime, I took another DNA test with Ancestry, using a different name and address, just to see how accurate their testing was. Would my racial profile be the same? My second Ancestry DNA profile was exactly the same as the first. I also took a DNA test with 23andMe. Their results agreed with Ancestry’s assessment, stating that I am 1/100th black — not 1/8th, as I had expected to be.
Furthermore, none of my 1,000+ DNA relatives, on either of those sites, gave me any clue as to who my biological father might have been. I found several cousins on Ancestry and on 23andMe, that I know were on my mother’s side of the family. But I did not find one single relative that I could connect to my father’s side.
Then everything changed on December 13, just a little over one month ago. That was the day when I finally learned the truth about who my real biological father was!
I am posting a picture below that I saved to my tablet a few years ago from an online news story. I saved the picture, because I believe this is what a true father is: someone who puts himself in harm’s way if he has to, to protect his child. This awesome, quick thinking father saved his son from getting bashed in the face by a flying baseball bat. Now, THAT’S a DAD!
Sometimes, the man that raised me — the man I called “daddy” — was exactly like this father. But at other times, my dad was more like the bat.
To be continued…
TWO WEEKS LATER, on January 30, 2019, I finally was able to write the next part of this series — Finding My Father: Part Two
(I’m sorry, I don’t remember who should get the credit for this great picture. If I find it, I will add the credit to this post.)