I have had three fathers. My birth father, a Belgian, my first stepfather, a German and finally my British father. Jokingly, or not, I often tell new friends interested in the cacophony of my family tree, that my mother was one of the founding mothers of the European Union.
My German father, Werner, is the first I remember. His voice a baritone as I remember it. It is very difficult to give the reader an idea of what kind of relationship I had with Werner….I was so young. He was a difficult man….and in my mother he had found a difficult woman and so the relationship was by default a difficult one. There were loud voices and violence…he was a man who would stay propped up drunk in a chair in the corner of the room, folding his belt in half and snapping it….rhythmically…Then there was the inevitable conversation in the kitchen.
“Who do you want to live with, your father or me?” my mother asked. Except that somehow I knew, at age 6 that he wasn’t my real father and so I said, “I want to live with you,” and my little brother, his son said, “I want to go where Kirsten goes!” He didn’t say he wanted to go with his mother or father, but with me because at age six, I was already both to him.
Werner lost that battle, but came back a few years later to claim my little brother. I wasn’t there but my brother told me of Werner almost beating him to death with a baseball bat when he found out my brother was gay. Werner committed suicide, like his father before him. One day he taped up his garage, started his car and went to sleep.
The man I call my Dad was a Britsh man named John. Soon after Werner finally left, my mother met John in a nightclub she sang at. In no time we were living with him, a widower with four sons who I came to revere as older brothers. But mostly I came to love “Uncle Jack” as my brother and I called him.
When he married my mother and told me he would like it if I called him Dad, I was so happy! Firstly, my brothers had brought me a wonderful Scottish terrier puppy we named MacGregor, but I felt like for the first time I had a real family. Dad and I hit it off big time! I used to love watching him build things in the basement…the stacks of wood here and there, shavings on the floor. He would always make sure there were big chunks of wood for me to create with, circles, bricks and half moons, all vessels of my imagination. He built a rabbit coop with me, had me hold the sea grass tight while we made benches. When I was sick, it was him who made sure the edges of the toast weren’t too hard, when he made my lunch for school there was a Roger’s chocolate and one of his special biscuits and a perfectly carved sandwich. He taught me to read time and not to cheat at Scrabble or any other parts of life.
But he was tough too, strict and unforgiving sometimes…I dreaded “going into the drawer”, where the ones who disappointed him would end up, smiling photographs shoved in drawers until the storm passed. Sometimes the storms never did pass and one or another would be stuck in the rain clouds against a mountain praying for sun. But I loved him fiercely, love him still. He was there for me when no one else was, and I am forever grateful for that.
It was Dad that encouraged me to seek out my birth father, Paul. My mother had told me that my birth father was dead. It wasn’t until I was 18 that I finally learned that he was not only alive but living in San Francisco. He had known my mother when they had lived in the same brownstone in San Francisco. At some point, the story goes, I was conceived, he questioned paternity, she took offence and yada yada, here I am! But he is not. I met him the first time in my late 20’s, but then my Dad, John, got cancer, and I abandoned the birth father ship in hopes that my martyrdom would save my Dad. It didn’t.
After Dad died, I received, in a very round about way, a call from my birth father’s(heretofore known as Paul) wife, saying in a very round about way, “He would like to meet you, I would like you to sign off on any rights to our(mine and my two children, his step-childrens) money, estate, our family history as it pertains to him and if you will do that, and take a DNA test, providing it is positive, I will allow you to come to his birthday dinner”.
And you know what? I did that! And yes, it turned out I was his daughter. It turned out he was thrilled to have me as a daughter, and my son, 4 years old at the time, who looked just like him, as his grandson. And we had a wonderful day, despite his ice queen step daughter and her mother. We connected, I played piano for him and sang and he hovered and couldn’t believe that he had a second chance with a daughter having messed up his first chance. And it turned out that his wife really wished it wasn’t true. His second wife that is. His first wife was my half sister’s mother. Confused yet?
A month after his birthday Paul was in a coma. I had received a call at 4 am from his wife that he had had a stroke and was in intensive care just outside of SanFrancisco. I took the first plane I could get on, arriving some time around noon and going straight the hospital. I was in shock. Things had happened so fast…just a couple of days ago we had been emailing back and forth and and finally said “I love you” and “I love you too!” And now he was in a coma, this stranger father man, who looked so much like me, who I knew without knowing. In the hospital room his step daughter was busy on the phone calling his lawyer to make sure that the codicil to his Will they had asked him to sign in case the DNA test came back negative, had in fact been signed. I was stunned. She and her mother left for the night, leaving me with him. I remember holding his hand, my hand. I said, “Remember how you said you never wanted to disappoint me? Well this is pretty darned disappointing!” I cried a bit…well a lot. Then after a while, his eyes opened. They weren’t focussed, and I had been told not to expect much. So I sat quietly holding his hand. Then I swear he focussed. He, from it seemed a million light years away looked at me, for maybe 15 seconds and in those seconds he reached out and held me and said I’m sorry and then he went.
I watched as his eyes checked out, felt his soul say I’m done, machines clicking and whirring around him and kissing his cheek I said goodbye. The next day I came back with his wife and son as she did her best to get him off of life support. I listened as she questioned on the telephone the expense of a $250 cardboard casket and asked why she couldn’t just bring him over in the body bag. Of course, he was still alive at this point…she was just thinking ahead.
He was alive when I left, but by the time I got home again, he was gone, dead for sure this time. His wife offered to send me a lock of his hair, one of his ties but I said no thanks. I was tasked with calling a sister I had never met, who had no idea I existed, to tell her that our father, who lived no more than a mile away from her, was dead.
Father’s Day has always been a tricky time for me. When Dad was alive it was easier, I used to look forward to making cards, to bringing him tea, to having a joke and a few of his “biscuits” in the Marks and Spencers tin. He always knew he wasn’t the only focus of the hand coloured cards. He knew and encouraged me to search out my roots, putting my happiness above his own. And so he will always be my only “Dad”. But I have had 3 fathers, none of them perfect, but then who is? Three men loved me enough to call me their daughter. Perfect or no, sometimes that’s all a girl has, and so I wish them and all of you a Happy Father’s Day! Above all, let there be love:)