Yes, I borrowed the title from Obama’s book, Dreams for My Father. No, this blog post will not be as brilliantly written as his book. In fact, my blog post will most likely be full of grammatical errors and may insult small nations. I hope not, but I can’t predict what’s going to come flying out of my fingers at 9:12 AM.
The title, Dreams for my Father, is not me being hyperbolic. I do have dreams for my father. The way we relate, the way we interact, the relationship we could have.
However, something happened yesterday that left me numb and sad, determined and resigned. If you read through my previous posts, you’ll find a post called The Stranger and the Friend. This was the last time I had spoken with my father. Go ahead and read the post…I’ll wait.
(time goes by, so slowly…tick, tock, tick, tock)
You’re back? Oh, good. So, that post happened, and since then, let’s just say that things haven’t been super hunky dory between me and the man who inseminated my mother. How so? We haven’t said anything. He continually “lost” my number. But all of it — ALL of it — came to a head as recently as Sunday through Yesterday (Yesterday is not a real day of the week, but in this example, it is Thursday).
His mother had passed away two months ago. I, being the compassionate person I am, reached out and organized flowers to be sent from myself, my brother and my sister. We couldn’t be there in person — and frankly, didn’t feel it was right. We didn’t have a relationship with this woman, save for a few awkward hugs across 39 years. I can count on one hand the number of times we had seen each other. I didn’t dislike the woman — I just didn’t know her.
Nevertheless, it was my grandmother, and my father’s mother. Not wanting to seem insensitive, we sent a beautiful bouquet of flowers and card expressing our condolences. My father and I texted over the course of the week before and after the service. I wanted to make sure they got there, and that he received them. He did, he said thank you, and asked if I would like a memory card from the service. I said yes, please.
This past Sunday, I was catching up on some correspondence, and reaching out to people I love, which I do every Sunday. I send a little text that lets them know I’m thinking of them, asking how they are, scheduling time to talk during the week. It’s something I’m doing to be more engaged with people around me. I sent him a very innocent little text, something that read, “Hey. How are you doing?”
Three days later…(read that in your best SpongeBob SquarePants voiceover voice), I got a text back that said, “Who is this?”
Who is this?
Um…I was stunned. I was floored, I was flabbergasted, gobsmacked. Whatever you want to call it. I mean, I had the chat conversation from the previous two months where we had discussed his mother’s passing. I didn’t know how to respond.
Why was this so important? I’m named after this man. I’m his first child. I didn’t know how to respond. I had spent 39 years trying to be a good son, reaching out, wanting that relationship, and then to be caught by this information was truly surprising.
If I were to take an honest and hard look at the past relationship with my father, I really shouldn’t be surprised. Hurt, yes, but surprised, no. I can give multiple examples of how myself, my brother, my sister were afterthoughts. One that comes to mind immediately was in 2006. I was on the road, and happened to be playing in his home state of Michigan. I had called three weeks earlier to ask if I could have Thanksgiving with them, as we would be there at that time. He said, yes, he would love to have me.
I was excited. This was the first time I would have spent a major holiday with that side of the family. We made arrangements, and agreed I would reach out once I got into Michigan to finalize everything.
I can remember that week like it was yesterday. I had called, emailed, called, and called again. But nothing. Not.a.single.response. My father decided he didn’t want to follow through with Thanksgiving with his son. His first born son. I sat at a restaurant and had Thanksgiving dinner alone, as everyone had already left for the week. I was devastated. Thirty years old, and devastated on a day reserved for giving thanks.
Then, of course, you know about the incident three years ago. And now this.
These are just a few of the examples that come readily to mind of disappointment after disappointment.
I wasn’t sure what to do, and so finally, I responded back stating that I was looking for my father, is this not him? No response until…
three days later…
He wrote back and said yes, who is this. I have yet to respond.
I know what I want to say. And the only things I want to say are angry and emotional. And now I share my first draft of what I want to write to him:
This is your first born son. I am hurt that after 39 years, I am not in your phone, but I suppose after 39 years I am not surprised. I have wrestled over what I have done or may have done to anger or upset you, to cause you to be so emotionally distant. After a lot of consideration, I realize that it’s not what I have done, but what you haven’t done. Thirty-nine years I have spent investing in something that was not even in the back of your mind never mind the forefront. Your continued non-action has showed me that the only thing I share with you is our first name. Because I would never and have never treated my own son this way. Your life in Michigan seems to be pretty complete without me complicating it. I wish you only the best and I won’t contact you again.
Am I hurt? Absolutely. Do I wish he would grow a pair and be a man? Yes. Tell me you hate me. Tell me that I’m not what you wanted. That I was a mistake. Anything except for apathy.
My father is a coward. Any strength I have learned in this world comes from my mother. My mother, who left this coward of a man with three children, after being subjected to the abuse by his hands, and his constant belittlement. My mother who raised four incredibly independent children, all with quick and sharp minds, able to see through people’s bullshit. Sometimes we get blinded, though — some of that bullshit gets on the window of the car we’re driving through life — but we’re able to wipe it away and see with more clarity.
I write this because I am still angry. And who knows, maybe I will send this message to him. I can’t say that it would make any difference if I did. Would he even care? Who knows.
All I know is that these actions reaffirmed the choice I have made for myself: next week, I go and change my last name to my stepfather’s last name. It’s the name I know. It’s the name I was raised with. It’s now time to make it official.
To my stepfather, my dad — I say I love you. Thank you for having the courage to raise me as your son when I was not of your blood.
To my father, a man with whom I have nothing in common — all I can do is wish you well.
Oh, and go to hell, you selfish piece of shit.
“Hey there, I’ll be in your area. I picked up a trip to the Northwest, let’s go get something to eat.”
“Okay! Let me know about what time you’ll be in the area, and I’ll make sure I’m out of work, and ready!”
“Okay, sounds good!”
Sounds innocent enough, right? Don’t worry, this doesn’t lead into a gruesome tale of murder and dismembered bodies. I mean, would I be telling you that sort of information if my head had been chopped off? No. I suppose I could write, but I would probably only get about three sentences out before my body finally quit working due to the massive loss of blood.
No, this is a story that sums up a lot about my past, my present, and my future.
I waited in the parking lot for him to show up. He arrived, and went immediately to the pump to fill up the truck. “Wait for me over there, and I’ll find a place to park.”
After about 10 minutes of waiting, he walked over. “There’s nothing here. I found another place down the road. Follow me there.” I agreed, and we started down the road, only to be driving for 30 minutes. This way, that way, under ways, over ways. And we ended up back in the same parking lot.
“Well, I don’t know what to do,” he said. “Did you see those trucks parked over there by the casino? I can park my truck there.”
We started over towards the Casino, and he parked the big rig. He disappeared in the back, and emerged five minutes later, completely changed. He got into the car, and I said, ‘Where would you like to go?”
“How about we go in there?” He was motioning to the casino. “Okay,” I said. “They have a few restaurants inside. That should be fine.”
We find parking, making small chat about the day, mostly his, and start to walk in the casino. As soon as we get inside the doors, he hands me $20 and says, “Go play. I’ll come find you.” And then he’s gone.
Not gone. But gone. In a different part of the casino, playing whatever games he could find. I stood there for a moment, looking like a lost puppy, with $20 in my hands. “Okay,” I thought to myself. “Let’s see if I can get lucky.”
I sat down at a slot machine, and played the $20. It was gone in a matter of minutes, as is the case. I wandered back over to him. “How are you doing?”
“Doing okay. I just won $100 on $20.” “Congratulations,” I said. He cashed his ticket out of the machine, and went up to the teller, handed it in, and got his cash. After receiving the cash, he turned to me and handed me another $10. “I don’t want you to be bored while I play. I’ll be right here.” He sat down, and played.
I sat near him, and played that $10. It went incredibly fast, and I turned and saw him. He was staring intently into the one-armed bandit’s screen, clearly engrossed in the game. I needed to use the restroom. So, I went.
I was gone for maybe a minute, at the most. When I came back, he was gone. I looked around to see if maybe he had moved to a nearby machine. No dice.
I wandered around the area, looking, trying to place a call on my cell, but reception was spotty. I walked up and down the casino, looking for his distinctive white shirt, but nothing was popping out. I couldn’t find him.
Of course, this casino was pretty large. About the size of two football fields. Finally, I decided I would page him. I had sent three text messages, and was able to get out two phone calls, but I was hearing nothing back, and the evening was waning, and my stomach was getting more and more hungry.
I went to approach the concierge desk, and then I saw him, playing some sort of Asian-themed game. “There you are!” “Yeah, this game isn’t doing so well,” he said. Silence. “Are you getting hungry?” I asked. “Yeah. Let’s get something to eat.” He cashed out.
We went to the small deli, and he ordered the meals for us. As I was telling the server what I wanted my sides to be, another server placed a new batch of food into the serving area rather forcefully, sending hot water up and over the spit guard and onto the front of my body, hitting my hand. More shocked than anything, I just stood there. This was turning out to be a perfect representation of what this evening had become, just a complete and utter mess.
She apologized, and handed me some burn gel, but fortunately it was more the shock of the water than the actual temperature. I was okay, as my clothes took the brunt of the liquid. I received my food, and went and sat down.
We then went and proceeded to have a conversation, me asking about his wife, about the boys, about babies that were on the way. He answered, as most people would. People like to talk about themselves.
I wasn’t trying to mitigate the silence, simply just keep the conversation flowing. After all, we hadn’t seen each other in five years. This was the first time he had been out to my neck of the woods since 1998. There was a lot of catching up to do. I was busy rehearsing two shows, had a job interview lined up, was getting ready to celebrate a birthday, and had a son of whom I was very proud, due to his scholastic achievements this year. Lots to talk about, if he had asked. But why volunteer the information when clearly he wasn’t interested?
After about 20 minutes of this uncomfortableness, he said, “Well, I think I’m going to go back and play some more. I’ll walk you out.” We walked out to my car, making more small talk. “I’ll call you tomorrow.” And then he said, “I love you,” and opened his cell phone, and walked off.
I stood there, somewhat dumbfounded, wondering how in the world how I could be completely different from this man, a man whose name I share, a man whose DNA courses through my veins. He may be my father, but he was a stranger to me. Completely different, separated by 36 years and 2,500 miles.
As I started my drive home, I thought long and hard about what had transpired, and made a decision. I picked up the phone and called my stepfather.
“I just want you to know how much I appreciate you. And I want you to know how much it means to me.”
“Where did that come from? It’s sweet, but completely out of the blue.”
“Sometimes you have to let the people who’ve made a difference in your life know. And so I’m taking this time.”
“Wow. Thank you. Is everything okay?”
“I’m fine. I can tell you the story, if you’d like, or we can leave it at that.”
“Tell me the story. Come on.”
And so I did, albeit a truncated version of what you saw above. I got somewhat emotional, at 36 years, driving down the highway with my headset in, speaking to the man who had married into our family, raised me and my siblings as his own, and provided the best he knew how. Rocky relationship at first, but something that has grown to be admired and loved over the years.
I closed by simply saying, “I love you.”
And that was the Sunday evening spent with two men, my father, the stranger, and my dad, the friend.