Most Saturday nights, Kurt and I watch a movie 'On Demand'. The 'sneak peek' option is a huge help in guiding our decision about what to watch. I wish that deciding whether or not to meet members of my birth family came with a 'sneak peek'.
I previously wrote about meeting my birthfather, Tim, in the posts Meeting my Birthfather (part one) and Meeting my Birthfather (part two). I wanted to share my story because I wanted to tell a real (as opposed to the made for TV kind) reunion story, even if it is not of the 'feel good' variety. I have been asked by a few readers to share what happened after our initial meeting. It's a bit of a long and complicated story but I will do my best to give you my condensed version.
I tried to sleep that night after meeting Tim. I was exhausted but unable to quiet my mind. He didn't ask me one question about myself. Not one. I was prepared to tell him about my parents, my sister and brother, Kurt and some highlights of my happy childhood. I figured that if your infant was placed for adoption and you have the chance to meet her twenty years later (especially if you initiated the meeting), you'd want some details of those missing decades. Turns out I was wrong. As I tossed and turned, I thought maybe the questions and getting to know each other part would come later. They didn't.
The next day Tim called. He was feeling great about our meeting. He began to talk. About how much I look like him. About how cool it would be if we could find Jean and have a family picture taken. About Alcoholics Anonymous. About how f **ked up his life had been and how he now finally had his shit together. About mistakes he had made. About his upstairs neighbors. About his AA sponsor. About a couple of his buddies. About nothing that had any relevance to my life. I was pretty sure he was high. When I told him I had to go, he told me again how great this all was and how happy he was to be getting to know me.
Every few days he would call. These were the days before caller ID and we didn't have an answering machine. I would listen to him ramble and then find a reason to hang up. I would make the timer go off on my oven. "Whoa, gotta go get something out of the oven!" I would stretch my long kitchen phone cord (before cordless phones, too) out to my front door and ring the bell. "Gotta go! My neighbor is here." Or, "Drat, the paper boy. Gotta go pay him!" Anything. Anything at all to get off the phone. To get him out of my head. To make myself stop feeling stupid for meeting him. To not feel freaked out that he was part of my formerly mysterious genetic history.
How to sum up the next twenty something years? His wife and son left him and moved away. Phone calls tapered off, with months or years between them. He was on and off 'the wagon'. He was in and out of jail. He would often call me on September 26th to wish me a happy birthday, in spite of the fact that I told him on the day we met that my birthday is the 29th. A few years into our 'relationship' he called on the 29th, which I thought was progress until he apologized for being late for my birthday.
I limited my contact with him to Christmas cards. I am not sure he understood (or noticed) my reluctance to have a relationship. Cards were the best I could do. They included pictures of my family. He usually called after receiving them and was grateful for the contact.
About 7 years ago, he called to tell me he was out of jail and living in the town next to mine. He wanted to see me. I got a copy of his police record. It was extremely long- close to 70 arrests over the years. I met him for coffee. He asked if he could meet my children. I said no. I don't remember what else we talked about but he had mellowed a little over the years. He talked a bit less, asked more questions. He told me that I was the best thing he had ever done. I drove home in tears.
Three years ago, Tim's brother called to tell me he had died. He had just turned sixty. He had spent his last years living in Arizona with one of his sisters. They had a close relationship. I was sad for her and for his other siblings. I kept waiting to feel my own sadness, my own feeling of loss. I never did.
At the memorial service, I met members of his family for the first time. I made some positive connections. In particular, Tim's brother Stephen and his sister Nora made a real effort to welcome me and get to know me. We have stayed in contact since then. They have been incredibly gracious in helping me understand Tim. They have shared unedited and difficult stories of their years growing up, shedding light for me for how Tim became Tim. They made no excuses for him. They had the same upbringing and have worked hard to earn the lives that they have. They are wonderful people and I am glad to have them in my life. Through Stephen and Nora I got to know Tim in a way that I never could by actually knowing him.
If adoption reunion were like 'On Demand' and I had a 'sneak peek', would I still have done it? Probably. Unlike picking a movie, there were no other options if I didn't like what my 'sneak peek' had to offer. To know the true story of how I came into the world and why I was placed for adoption I had to hit 'play.' How Tim's story affects my story is up to me.