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The Impossible Greeting Card

February 6, 2010

Tomorrow is my birth father’s birthday.  As I stood in front of the cards at CVS this evening, I was reminded again of how poorly mass-produced greeting cards fit the circumstances of an adoption reunion.  In fairness, perhaps that can be said of any situation outside the norm that is captured, marketed, and perpetuated by the greeting card industry.  I didn’t bother to browse the cards for fathers, in part because I was confident that a card does not exist for a biological father I barely know and in part because I have not lingered in the father cards since my own dad died.

Sometimes it feels like an added emotional weight to bear, this new knowledge of a biological father when the man I consider my real father is gone.  In truth, I spent very little time thinking about my biological father when I was growing up.  My biological mother I considered on occasion; she was real in my imagination, in part because she was more real on paper.  In the scant notes my mom took from information relayed to her about my biological parents, there is barely any mention of my biological father other than the fact that he and my biological mother planned to get married before he changed his mind upon learning that she was pregnant.  Yet, the notes indicate, he “didn’t abandon her but tried to help.”  I spent years puzzling over these words.  Who gets a woman pregnant, changes his mind when she becomes pregnant, but loves her enough to try to help her get through that pregnancy and give up her, his, their children?  It never made sense to me, and in all honesty, when I hit my teenage years, I dismissed him as a cad. Instead, I focused my attention on my biological mother, on her sacrifice, on her selflessness, on her courage.  I never felt anything but gratitude toward her, forced into this situation, so I thought, by a man who didn’t want her babies.  His loss, my heart shrugged.  My dad wanted me.  He held out his arms and folded them around me.

When the confidential intermediary called that day in early February, 2009, to tell me that she had located my birth mother, she told me that in addition to locating my birth mother, she had found a full biological brother, just one year younger than my sister and me.  He was close to his parents, she said; in fact, they all lived in the same town.   My mind spun as I stumbled over questions.  “Does that mean they’re still together?”  I asked.  “Does that mean they got married?”  The intermediary didn’t have that information just then, but she supposed so.   I was stunned by the news.  In the farthest wanderings of my mind, I never imagined that my birth parents would still be together.  In fact, the search evaluation I had received from the Confidential Intermediary Service of Illinois had indicated that, after a preliminary search of court documents, finding my birth father would be nearly impossible.   He wasn’t mentioned in any of the court records.  His name wasn’t on my original birth certificate.  And only his first name, not his last name, appeared in the adoption agency’s records.

In fact, as I later discovered, my birth mother had kept him a secret from the adoption agency.  She didn’t want him to know that she was pregnant.  She didn’t want him to marry her because he had to.  She wasn’t sure if they should even be married.  So, when she was five months pregnant with us, she told him that she had a tumor in her belly and needed to have an operation.  And then she disappeared from his life–and from the lives of everyone she knew–until after she gave birth to us.  She left the hospital and made her way home to the family farm in North Dakota, never telling a soul about what had happened.  There, on the farm, just over a month after we came into the world, my birth father tracked her down and proposed.  When she eventually told him about us, months after they were married the following May, it was too late to get us back.   He wanted to, but she urged him not to interrupt the life we had begun with my mom and dad.

I feel for my birth father, for his lack of choice about what he didn’t know.   It pains him.  He calls it a regret.  He calls it a mistake.

But my life wasn’t a mistake.  I try to tell him that.  It cuts too close to a fear so sharp that it takes my breath away:  if he had been able to keep us, to call us back, to claim us for his own, I would not be who I am.  My entire life would be something else, including my husband, my children.  No, I say, it was meant to be.  I call upon God himself: this is what God wanted.

There is nothing in a greeting card that can capture that complexity.  Happy Birthday to my birth father.  Your loss became my life.  Can we just start over from here?  Can we let this year be the new beginning without mourning the ones behind us?  Because when I look back at those years, I don’t see or feel your sadness.  I can sympathize, but only if I remove myself and insert a character another than myself.  In the court documents, I am “Baby A.”  Yes, let’s cry over Baby A, but not over me, the grown woman named by another father, raised by another father, loved by another father, who would be the same age as you are on this birthday, had he lived.  Happy Birthday to the man who gave me life, who has spent his entire life saddened by the loss of me, who professes unconditional love, who wants to spend the rest of his life making up for lost time.  Yes, for the first time in almost 40 years, I say to you, BioDad, Happy Birthday.


2 Comments leave one →
  1. Augustus permalink
    August 3, 2014 7:48 pm

    Very beautiful story. Thanks for sharing.

    • twinprint permalink*
      August 8, 2014 5:22 pm

      Thanks so much for your kind words!

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