I’ll just say it, Father’s Day is a bit complicated for me.
I can’t take sole ownership of that feeling, millions of people have experienced the same emotion, I’m sure. It’s a day that I love, as a father, more than my birthday. I get to be Daddy to the sweetest, most thoughtful little girl in the world. My daughter Jade is so much more than I ever imagined and in a few months, I get to meet another little girl who I get to share bloodlines with.
It’s a day that I can reflect on and be appreciative of my dad who raised me. Truly, my dad is a great man who helps everyone.
It’s also a day that I dread. There’s a part of me that dreads Father’s Day because it reminds me of the longing I have for the father I never met.
Here’s my story.
Being adopted by a white family when I was an infant, I was keenly aware of my “blackness” quite early on in my life. My parents incredibly made me feel like “one of theirs” so naturally. They were great at helping me learn my heritage the best they could while introducing me to famous African-Americans in history and genuinely teaching me what love and sacrifice really mean.
It doesn’t mean that being adopted was easy.
I grew up thinking I was “another statistic”, another black kid whose father had wanted nothing to do with me. That was the narrative told to my parents and why wouldn’t that be the truth?
The reality is, my father, nicknamed Tadpole, never knew that my biological mother had been pregnant. When he died, in a car accident on a North Carolina country road in 1999, he passed with the knowledge that I existed but without ever being introduced to his son.
I found out about his death five years later. It took some processing, of course, considering I had spent years hating the man I thought abandoned me. Months after I learned of his death, I stumbled upon his obituary online. That was when reality hit me like a load of bricks. It was the true moment when everything I had ever thought about my father came crashing down. I think the most difficult part of reading his obituary was reading about his sons, but my name was nowhere to be found. My name was missing. Of course it was. I simultaneously learned I had brothers I had never met while feeling the loss of my father as if it had just happened.
Suddenly, he wasn’t the antagonist I had always believed. No longer was he the villain my mind had created. He was my father, I was his son and the sudden realization that we’d never get to experience that relationship together was too heavy to bear.
It’s safe to say that I went through a bit of an identity crisis following that moment. I eventually met my brothers. I met my father’s wife, my step-mom Ernestine, who has taught me as much about love and compassion as any woman could. In the moment, it was all so surreal. I watched videotapes my father had made – he was big into recording the moments that mattered most – and I developed memories of him as if I was right there with him.
I learned that he was a family man, deeply devoted to those he loved and everyone, and I mean everyone, loved Tadpole. When I visit North Carolina, where he lived and died, the common phrase his friends tell me is how much they miss him. For me, I missed him.
I mourned him, yet felt guilty about it. Who was I to claim emotions for a man I never met and didn’t know? I didn’t want to take the grief my brothers had felt and pretend I knew what they were experiencing. My grief was different. I hadn’t been there when our father died, which led to more grief and guilt. It was a vicious cycle.
I’d visit his gravesite and I’d sit in that moment with him. I’d talk to him, cry or angrily demand to know why he had to leave all of us. It really wasn’t fair. Wasn’t then and it still isn’t now.
As time has passed, the mourning never ends, but I’ve learned how to cope with it all better. Or at least, I believe I have. I’ve become a father myself and have understood the importance of never taking anything for granted. I find myself gazing into my daughter’s brown eyes, searching, not for glimpses of myself, but hoping maybe I can catch maybe even a twinkle of her grandfather in her deep, thoughtful and always curious eyes.
Father’s Day is a day I love. I’m honored to be a dad and honestly, I can’t believe I get to hear Jade call me daddy. I’ve also learned to cherish this complicated day. I can’t really cherish the memory of a man I never met, since I don’t have anything other than artificial memories of him. What I do get to do is honor two men – both who are my fathers, one who raised me and has provided numerous examples of how to be a good man and a great dad, and one who devoted his life to be there for his family. I couldn’t ask for a better gift on Father’s Day than to have not one, but two great men to look up to. It’s complicated, but outside of Tadpole still being with us today, I wouldn’t wish for anything else.
Happy Father’s Day.