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Questions to ask your recently rediscovered biological father that you have not seen in thirty-two years:

March 17, 2012

1. How are you?

2. Is this whole thing awkward for you?

3. So you’re a… lawyer? And…um…do you like your job?

4. What do you like to do besides work?

5. Do you have a favorite book? (Then refuse to tell him your favorite book because you are afraid your selection won’t seem cool/smart/thoughtful/etc enough).

6. Are you interested in knowing things about my childhood?

7. Don’t you feel like you’re more THEIR dad than MY dad?

8. Did you ever think about me?

9. Are you sure you want me in your life?

10. Can I see you?

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Conversations

March 13, 2012

“Is this who I think it is?”

This is Jessica.

“Hi, Jessica.”

His voice is deep, he talks fast. He says something funny in the first thirty seconds of our conversation. We must be related, if only because of the quick wit.

“My son told me you called earlier.”

Yeah, I found your number.

Then I’m crying again. His wife calls out something in the background, a rapid-fire reassurance of love.

“Your mother said you did not want to see me.”

I didn’t say that. She didn’t tell the truth.

“I’m glad you contacted me.”

I wonder if he is glad.

I… I can’t believe you have four kids, Mark.

His wife calls out again, and I realize I am on speakerphone. “He has five children, Jessica. Five!”  I am one of five.

We talk a few minutes more. We hang up.

………………………………………………………………………

He calls me two days later.

His voice is the same, but entirely different. “Well, Kid. We’ve been checking you out. My wife’s been reading your blog.”

There is silence.

“I’m not normally emotional. But I think there’s some stuff we should discuss, to get it out in the open.”

Okay.

“I had no idea, Jessica. I had no idea that your mother was that sick. That your childhood was like that. If I’d known, I’d have fought for you, I’d have fought tooth and nail.”

I wait.

He continues.

“She told me your were adopted, Jessica. I believed her. And I believed it was better for you if I was out of the picture…”

Then the words come.

“…but I was wrong. I’m sorry.”

I feel the apology drift out of the phone and cover me. It settles over me like a blanket.

………………………………………………………………………

In that moment I don’t know what I feel. Do I forgive him? I don’t know. I grew up without him. It cannot be undone. My bones were shaped by my fatherlessness. My experiences were shaped by my lack.

Always by my lack.

………………………………………………………………………

The day before I married Hugh, my mother’s current husband was late – very late – to our wedding rehearsal. I stood surrounded by Hugh’s large and laughing Indiana family. Surrounded and alone.

Gary, our friend, pulled me aside during the rehearsal dinner. We’d already practiced the ceremony. I’d laughingly walked myself down the aisle, holding my rehearsal bouquet and smiling confidently.

Beautiful then. Funny.

Alone.

“Jess, if John doesn’t show up tomorrow for the wedding, it would be an honor for me to walk you down the aisle.”

I touched his shoulder. Gary understood. He saw past my cute red dress and perfect make-up to the girl filled with shame.

Thank you, Gary.

I wanted to say more. I could not.

John came later that night, some excuse muttered. He accompanied me down the aisle, but as we walked together I was still alone.

………………………………………………………………………

Now what?

Mark left a message on my voicemail.

“Hello, Jessica. This is your…father.”

I played it for Hugh. What do you think? Does he sound like me? Doesn’t he sound, like, really strong and smart?

I played the message for Hugh three times.

Then I stopped. What am I doing? I’m thirty-five.

Now what?

I’ve already kissed Eduardo in the park after curfew, started my period for the first time after riding Space Mountain at Disneyland, done missionary work in Ecuadorian prisons, graduated from college while four months pregnant with Jon-David, taught high school students because I love to be in the classroom, and…now what?

What is left? To talk with him about my wedding rehearsal when he wasn’t there and I was embarrassed?

………………………………………………………………………

My need for him surprises me. My need –  to know his other children, to kiss his cheek and see if he smells like me, to listen to his laugh – rises up.

Like his apology, my need covers me.

In this moment, I glimpse what it might mean to know him.

I wonder if I will shatter – or be made whole at last.

I called Mark and his son answered the phone

March 10, 2012

I found Mark’s phone number. I looked at it for thirty seconds. Then I dialed. I felt thirty years of fatherlessness driving me to dial.

His youngest son answered.

“Is Mark there?” My voice was barely shaking at this point.

“No, I’m sorry. Can I ask who’s calling?”

This is my brother. This is my brother. This is my brother. This is my brother.

“My name is Jessica….”

He gave me Mark’s cell phone number. He was going to get off the phone. I didn’t want him to.

“Um, you may not…Anyway, I’m related to your dad…You may not know about me.”

“Jessica? Yeah, I thought it might be you. We know about you.” His voice was calm, kind.

I started to cry.

“Oh. Did…did your dad ever say anything about me?” Why am I asking this? What is wrong with me?

Get off the phone, Jess. Hang up the phone, Jess.

“Yeah, we always knew about you. But we were told you didn’t want anything to do with us. That you didn’t want to see our dad or us.”

I tried to control my crying. “I didn’t even know you guys existed until yesterday. I thought your dad was dead. My mom told me he left us and didn’t want to see me. She told me that he was wanted by the FBI.”

He laughed. “Well, he’s been a lawyer for twenty-two years. So…um, no. I think the FBI would have caught him by now.”

My head spun. The walls changed color. As I talked to him, years of my core beliefs shifted. I felt like I was drifting. Drifting.

“Can I ask you something? Is Mark like…like a dad? Is he a good dad?”

“Oh, yeah. He’s this polish guy…super emotional. I can’t imagine him ever walking away and saying he never wanted to see you.”

We talked for a few more minutes. I hungrily asked him question after question. I could have talked to him for hours. A part of me felt so embarrassed with him, my need so obvious, so naked.

Like me, talk to me, stay on the phone with me.

He is nineteen. I am thirty-five. He grew up with two parents. I grew up as the parent. I know nothing about him. But I want to know everything about him.

In every single second of this experience, hope and fear wrap themselves around every moment.

The hope and fear war against each other, relentless.

I waited and you did not come for me

March 8, 2012

I have one memory of my biological dad, Mark.  I was three, wearing a striped headband, waiting for him to come pick me up.

He never came.

A few months later, he moved to St. Thomas.  We spoke once when I was nine.  He sounded nice on the phone, I guess.

As I grew up, I assumed he died.  I rarely thought about the man who left me to be raised by my crazy mother.  I was too busy surviving childhood.

Yesterday an old friend of my mother’s called and gave me information about Mark’s whereabouts.

As the person gave me the information, my hands shook so badly that I had to ask them to repeat Mark’s last name seven times as I wrote down the correct spelling.

He’s married.  He’s been married for a long time.

He has four children.

And he moved recently from St. Thomas to North Carolina.

I don’t understand. How come he is alive?  How come he is a dad? That doesn’t make sense to me.  I can’t really understand this.

I spent hours looking up his kids on facebook.  I scanned through pictures, whispering, “does she look like me?” over and over.  

One of his girls looks a lot like me. 

What does this mean?  Am I related to these people?  How come Mark is their father?  

He’s NOT a father.  That’s my narrative.  That’s my truth.

He left me.  HE LEFT.

I waited and he never came.

I put on a new headband and he never came for me and I grew up and told everyone for decades that “I don’t know my biological dad.”  I’ve said the phrase “biological dad” thousands – hundreds of thousands – of times.

Stuff feels like it’s spinning.  I don’t know why.  I don’t know why this matters.  I’m embarrassed that it does.

I’m embarrassed that I care.  

But a part of me wants to forget embarrassment and run screaming out of my house, jump in my car, drive to the Carolina Coast, find him, and just ask:

Why?

Why were you THEIR dad, Mark?  Did you ever think about me? Waiting for you by the window in my new headband?

The Missing

February 15, 2012

This morning I wake up early.  Harley barks to go outside and Pippin the Cat runs out when I open the door.  I stand shivering in the cold dark.

The pets distract me for a few minutes on this day.  The Missing does not immediately fill my mind.  The Missing usually starts when my children begin barreling through the house.

They throw brown bag lunches carelessly into Lands End backpacks, stuff in cheap recorders, hopefully remember overdue library books (my daughter is rereading The Encyclopedia of a Cat for the third time), and then rush to the minivan.

Most days I try not to watch my husband back hurriedly out of our driveway.  He takes them to school because of the Missing.  He loves me that much.

I wander back to my bedroom, hoping the Missing wont dictate my day.  I try not to immediately check my email.  I wonder, “Will she write me back today?”  I’ve asked my old boss if I could substitute at the school.  I sent the email last week.  I’ve heard nothing.

I get it, I guess.  Leaving last year because of my failing health didn’t exactly endear me to my administration.

But I want to tell her that I am better.  And, most importantly, I want to tell her about the Missing.

I Miss my students every day.  Not Teaching is an ache.  It is my lonely mountain.  No one understands the depth of this Missing.

Caleb, Christian, Monica, Mark, Brooke.

Matt, Josh, Chloe, Zing, Sarah.

The names of my favorites (we all have them, Teachers. Don’t lie.) fill my head almost daily.  The faces of my kids leave my chest tight and I wish…

I wish I could sit with them again.  I want to know how they are – not just from their cryptic Facebook posts.  The statuses where they try to be funny or post angst-filled pictures.  I want to know how their hearts are doing as they finish navigating High School.

Stephen King says in On Writing that “I don’t believe writers are made, either by self-will or by circumstance (although I did believe those things once).  The equipment comes with the original package.”

I believe the same thing about teachers.

We can be molded.  We can become better.  But Teaching Equipment comes with the original package.

So today this teacher is sitting at home filled with the Missing.  I will try not to check my email a lot.  I’ll write another post.  I’ll read a book.

I’ll dream about a day when I stand in front of my kids again and say, “Hey, guys, I’m Mrs. Hopper. We are going to have a great year…”

Are You My Mother?

February 11, 2012

Several years ago, I began the process of “divorcing” my mom.  After a crazy childhood and a tumultuous adult-child relationship with her, I could no longer have my mother in my life.

It was painful, but absolutely necessary.

Over the last six years, I’ve adjusted to life without a mother.  In many ways, it is a relief. Her daily drama consumed most of my energy.  As my grief ebbed, I found myself with more time to pour into work, friends, and my own family.

There are still times where I get a pang of sadness.  Holidays have hard moments. Watching my friends with their moms is often difficult.  When a good memory of my mother rises unexpectedly in my day, it momentarily takes my breath away.

I’ve sometimes tried to find surrogate mothers.  These are often bumbling attempts with unhealthy women that leave me embarrassed.

Yeah, really embarrassed.

I’m in the middle of one of these relationships right now.  Lately my friends have pointed out that – once again – I’m trying to find a mom.  Once again, I’ve found a woman with daily drama that consumes much of my energy.

When will I stop acting like I’m seven years old?  Anxious and timid and hoping to please her?  Hoping that everything won’t be so crazy?

And yet.

Somehow in my constant mess, God is weaving together the most intricate details of my healing.

One of my favorite writers spent this last week discussing the Mother heart of God.  She was joined by hundreds of other writers.  I’ve read their words, and I’ve cried.

God was in the Beginning.  God holds all things together. God is Father to me.

And God is Mother.

I’ve never – EVER – been alone.  I’m still being parented by the loving God who never leaves my side and teaches me how to live today.

Birthday Gifts

February 7, 2012

“Tomorrow is my birthday,” I told Big Mark at church last night. I don’t know him well but he still gathered a few people together and everyone sang to me.

And my birthday celebration began!

I have many reasons to celebrate my birthday this year. I am filled with a deep, deep joy because I’m alive and with my family today. I’m grateful that God is beginning to heal and restore the broken pieces of the last few years.

And today – especially on my birthday – I’m so happy to be alive.

I’m happy that my best friend showed up with Starbucks and a biscuit this morning. We laughed, gossiped, and then she waxed my eyebrows.

I’m happy that Hugh took me for lunch at the very posh 131 Main. “Why, yes, I WILL have the chilled green beans with fancy sauce, Carol,” I said to my waitress. Hugh and I talked about books and politics. It was wonderful.

I’m happy that in one hour my three sweaty children will burst through the front door.

My son will collapse on the floor, announce his day was good, and say he doesn’t want to do his homework. My middle child will head to the snack bin, grab a fruit snack from Aldi, and head to the homework table. My youngest daughter will try to run upstairs and play before I remind her once again that homework must be done first.

I will look at my three beautiful kids. They drive me completely insane, but they are here with me and – maybe more – I am here with them.

I’m happy that I will see my friends tonight. Autumn is making me a cake. We will laugh and we will talk and my kids will stay up too late. When we get home there will be a carrot cake from my friend Laura by the front door.

I’m happy that tonight I will open cards and inexpensive gifts from my family. I’ll watch the new BBC Sherlock Holmes with Hugh and then go to bed.

I’m…just happy today. I didn’t realize how much I had until I almost lost it all. I really did not.

On this day I am pausing – really pausing – to see the gifts of all the precious people in my life.

These gifts are all around me. They love me, encourage me, and carry me on the bad days. They allow me the privilege of carrying them on their dark days.

What an honor to live my life with my friends and family.

On this day and every day.