Father’s Day

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.

 

bloodlines.

i’ve tried writing about my biological father for years. it’s been a rollercoaster of emotions for me for a long time as i’ve navigated my feelings and i’m not sure how clearly i’ll be able to articulate my thoughts here. sifting through the rubble of uncertainty, pain and grief is the toughest task anyone could go through. it’s also tough to write about someone i’ll never get to meet.

i was adopted when i was a baby, and it wasn’t like I was lacking anything really. I grew up the youngest of seven kids, four of us adopted, with an incredible dad who worked extremely hard to provide for all of us. My dad was also the perfect example for us about how a husband should treat his wife. It’s just that you always will wonder where you come from when you don’t have any connections to your bloodlines.

i used to daydream about those bloodlines. maybe my father was a famous NBA star, maybe he was an actor. how cool would that be? for the most part, i figured he was a regular, non-famous, guy. even though i was born in north carolina and grew up in michigan, i wondered (hoped) if i would ever bump into him and just know that he was my father. sometimes, when i was a kid, i’d see a black man and i’d want to ask him “hey, are you my dad?” i just wanted to see someone who looked like me. i wanted to see someone and it just be so obvious that we were connected. i envied my friends who took for granted that they looked just like everyone else in their family. i never experienced that. i really just wanted to meet someone who had the same DNA as I did. anyway, as it turns out, he wasn’t an NBA superstar or an Oscar winning actor, which i suppose is okay. those who knew him would probably say he was much more than just a regular guy. he also wasn’t the man i started to think he was.

for a long time i thought he had abandoned me, leaving me as another statistic. needless to say, i grew to despise him and vowed to never be anything like him. i thought up a lot of names for him, none that i’ll display here. truthfully i was just hurt and disappointed and really, what kid would feel any differently? it wasn’t his fault though. he didn’t know that i existed for years after i was born. once he found out about me, he vowed that we’d find each other. he wanted to be my father and he wanted to be there for me. he just never got the chance.

well, i did find him. i had to go to his grave site to see him.

my father died when i was 19, on march 22, 1999. he had just turned 45 years old. his name actually was also james, though he went by the nickname “tadpole”. that’s all anyone ever refers to him as. i don’t believe in coincidences but it’s pretty crazy we both have the same first name. i never got to meet him or look in his eyes or see his smile. he liked to shoot home movies, so i’ve heard his voice and his laugh and seen him party and dance on camera. it’s pretty surreal to create memories of my father from VHS tapes. i read his obituary online and found out i had more brothers. it’s a strange way to discover that i had siblings and the younger brother i had always wanted.

sometimes i will look into my daughter’s eyes and wonder if there is any resemblance of her grandfather (“Paw Paw”) in her. i wish that they would have been able to meet. sometimes i will squeeze her extra tight and thank god that i get to be her dad, but more, that she will hopefully always have me around and not experience the emotions i’ve waded through.

never getting to meet my father has been one of the toughest experiences of my life. i remember the first time i went to his house in north carolina. it was surreal and was rainy of course, just like a movie. i walked in and i felt his presence immediately. it was overwhelming to think that my father had lived in that house, walked and slept in there and now i was there. now i get to bring my wife and daughter to his house. it’s incredibly surreal to think of the long road it’s been.

today marks 19 years he has been gone. i didn’t get to meet him, but i’ll always feel his connection to me.

i’ve often wondered how i could feel so much love and pain and grief for someone i never knew, but the truth is, you always know. you don’t have to be physically present to experience a connection with someone you love. what i’ve found is that no matter the distance, and especially when they are no longer on this earth, they will always be with you in some form. i’m proud that he was my father and that i’ll always be his son.

we’ll always share bloodlines and hopefully i’ll be the father to my daughter that i know he always wanted to be for me.

oh baby. (an expectant father’s thoughts)

expecting a baby is a phenomenon.

it really is.

the fact that my wife is growing a human almost leaves me speechless, which if anyone knows me, is hard to do. kelli is only about 14 weeks pregnant, but each week builds upon the anticipation of our little one’s arrival.

i also struggle with what to call this baby, since i don’t know whether it’s a boy or a girl yet. calling the baby… it… i don’t like that so much. so i guess i’m just gonna keep saying baby g. if it gets annoying, well… i’m sure you’ll get over it.

it’s funny the things i look forward to:

finding out baby g’s gender… the suspense is killing me.

introducing baby g to the world, and the world to baby g. i have high hopes for both and i expect them to be good friends

buying little things for the baby. i’m sure that my wife is thinking about all the practical things like changing tables and diaper bags and what color to paint the nursery. my mind is on making sure baby g is properly equipped with just the right amount of sports gear. baby g’s gonna have to represent our teams in style! yes, i have looked up pacifiers and onesies with my favorite teams logos on them.

on that note, is it weird that i’m already looking forward to watching baseball games and other sporting events with my kid asleep in my arms? k, i didn’t think so.

i think finally the overall realization that this is happening has sunk in and the excitement is starting to take over. i’ve waited a long time to become a father and when it became a real thing, all i could do was kinda freak out a little.

on a little more serious note, i’m pretty sure that i won’t always be the world’s best dad, or even the coolest one. at some point baby g won’t be a baby anymore and won’t even want to hang out with me. but i’m pretty sure that even if my kid doesn’t like sports or maps or writing or panda bears and is into things i have no clue about, i’m going to be a proud dad. i’m pretty sure that writing about my kid will be the easiest topic, and maybe the toughest too. i’m sure i’m going to be tired a lot and there will be plenty of nights when i lay awake wondering when this kid will come home. i know that because my parents did the same thing. i know that starting in about 6 months i’m going to start appreciating my parents a whole lot more than i do at this moment, and i’ll have a deeper admiration for mothers and fathers who have been doing this for a lot longer than me.  i’ll probably finally start asking for advice on things because baby g will get the best of me at times.

i’m excited about being a father, it’ll be the most important task ever given to me. someone asked me the other day if i’m ready for it, well, i don’t know that it matters if i’m ready for fatherhood. either way, it’s happening.

the best thing is knowing that no matter what, it’ll always be okay. even when things aren’t going the way i would like, it’s always well with my soul. it’s a motto i try to live out and now i get to pass that down.