Sunday, June 18, 2006

More than DNA

Father.
Fathers.

Such a complicated topic in my own life.
I have 2.
No, not like the 1980's sitcom.

My biological dad. His name is John. Boy, I thought he was cool when I was little. The Marlboro Man. He rode a green motorcycle and took my little helmeted self on Sunday rides. Sounds idylic doesn't it?
In a picture postcard sort of way, I'm sure it was.
Like when he'd talk to the neighbors outside. Sliding his can of beer to me when I'd beg for a sip.
The memory has a slightly grainy, greenish hue - like fading white edged photographs from that time.

When I was 4, he left. I remember sitting on the front porch, holding onto the iron railing as he walked down the 4 concrete steps to my left. Carrying a duffle bag. I was crying. I don't remember if he leaned down to kiss me goodbye. I don't remember. I don't think he did. I don't remember.

I was 4. I dont' know exactly why he left. What I pieced together was that he didn't want to be domestic.
Soon after, he lived in a pepto-bismal green apartment building with a 19 year old girl named Kim. My sister and I visited there sometimes. There were lots of half burnt candles and plates of incense.
He had long hair and smoked cigarettes. It was the 70's afterall.
Despite it all, we never stopped seeing him. I credit this to the eternal wisdom of my mother.

Enter Father number 2.
Though he wasn't a father at the time.
His name was John too. A cosmic joke in my little 5 year old universe.
My first memory of him.
We waited with some excited anticipation as my mom's new friend... old friend was coming over.
My little sister and i were playing a game in which you throw plastic rings over a plastic flower. We played in sight of the door. And then he arrived.
Did he carry flowers? I don't know. I dont think so.
He might as well have. He brought much more than flowers to my mom. to us.

They dated. He taught me how to put my napkin on my lap.
expected manners. I remember that.
We called him a neat-nik.
So different than my other beat-nik dad.

They got engaged and the wheels began to turn. A family again.
Though we never stopped seeing my biological dad, and I never (and still haven't) stopped loving him, this was a different kind of dad.
The kind you see on TV.
The kind that is there when you go to sleep and is still there when you wake up again.
That kind.

Then, a twist.
They had dated less than a year. My mom was diagnosed with cancer. 6 months to live, they said.

Would you? she asked.
Yes. Yes. Yes.
We'll have to ask him.
I know.

Will you? They asked.
Defeatedly, yes.


My sister and I were adopted by our second dad.
We moved to Chicago.
Our mom lived for two more years.
Then she died.

Though my birth father lived a short ways away, and we went on drives in his orange and black striped Datson from time to time, this one raised us.
The second John.
He was there in the evening and the morning.

Again.
and Again.
and Again.
and Again.

It wasn't always perfect.
There was an entire year of Swanson TV dinners.
There were 3 Polish housekeepers to help keep our ducks in a row.
There were adolescent screaming matches and being grounded for weeks.
There were disappointments and fears.

But he was there.

After just 3 years in our midst, he had "married" my sister and I. In a way that few marry. With a devotion to forever. with a heart that will not deflate. With a love that is not conditional. With the spirit of love.

In so many ways, this man is my hero. My Dad. My Dad. My Dad.

My first Dad. I love you. My heart often weeps for you. Please find your center and know that you are ok. You gave us the greatest gift in the world when you said that he could adopt us. It does not make you a failure. Find your path and walk it. You have shown me many truths and given me many gifts. I love you.

My Second Dad.
My Dad.
My Dad.
My Dad.
My Dad.

My Father.

My heart explodes with gratitude. You have shown me many truths and given me many gifts. And still do. 35 years later. I love you to depths surprising.

My two dads.
Both have taught me immeasurable things about this life.
Neither perfect.
Opposite ends of the spectrum.

You may want to judge one and honor the other.

Don't.

Just be grateful with me.

Happy Father's Day.

5 comments:

Anon said...

You brought tears to my eyes.

sheri said...

yeah, that was wonderful! it was truly touching.
happy fathers day whitney!

salla said...

i'm sure it's no suprise, but my monitor is very foggy as well.
miss you whit.
s.

keysunset said...

More wonderfully excellent writing. I'm glad to have made your acquaintance.

Happy Father's Day to all the fathers and those who father.

Sid F'er said...

Better be careful or you're going to steal all my readers. But I wouldn't blame them. Nice job.