I wish I'd found him sooner.
I was incredibly blessed to be reunited with my father after almost 40 years without him. My father left when I was 14 months old and the only memories I had of him were watching him on television (he was a professional bowler), and leafing through a scrapbook that my mother vindictively threw away.
I spent my whole life longing for him. I was certain that he was my knight in shinning armor, and if I found him he'd rescue me from my abusive mother.
There were times I wanted to lash out at him; times I was so angry that I wanted him to pay for abandoning me. But more than anything, I really just wanted — needed — him to love me.
He was never far from my thoughts. I knew who he was; I knew he was remarried with a new family including two children. I knew I had two siblings from his first marriage and I was the middle child from the middle marriage.
Little did I know that he was living with his new family a few blocks away from my aunt's home where I spent part of my summers. I walked by the house on my way to the park almost daily.
Part of my father's decision for leaving me behind was rooted in the belief that my mother cheated on him and I wasn't actually his child. My father requested a DNA test before he'd speak with me.
After what seemed an eternity, the results came in and my phone rang. I answered the phone, a lump in my throat hearing my father's voice for the first time in memory. I knew instantly in hearing my father's voice that the results were positive.
I made the 25 hour drive from Florida to the Laurentien Mountains where my father and stepmother's home was, anticipating the un-anticipatable. I was looking forward to connecting with my father but had no idea what it would feel like. I felt his love but I wasn't counting on it to continue.
We pulled up and there were hugs, long embraces, and joyous tears abound. It was a movie scene directed by the purity of love, and this is what I learned from it all.
1. You can prepare for joy, but not for feelings of pain and loss.
I couldn't predict what would come next when we met. With exception of my sister, I was so focused on my father that I didn't for a moment think outside of him. I was enveloped by waves of being overwhelmed with joy and horrible loss in the gain of an entire family.
One would think it would simply be all joy, all the way through, all the time. I was only prepared to feel joy; I was completely broad-sided by the feelings of pain and profound loss. In having that knowledge, I would've absolutely taken the same journey. The only thing I would've done differently would be to pursue it years earlier.
2. You never stop thinking of what could have been.
The loss began sitting in my father's home looking at family photos taking up every inch of space on the walls. It was overwhelming. The fact that this was a home, a real home, where family was valued and I wasn't, was the very first hit as the dust settled.
My biological mother's house was nothing like this. It was always a half-finished page from a magazine — cold, beautiful, decorative, but only a very few family photos littered a small area. The family warmth I always desired lived in this dwelling, a place I should've always been but wasn’t.
3. You're forced to deal with feeling invisibility.
The photographic evidence was unavoidable and served to document my lack of existence. As I unpacked in my brother's room (who was overseas and unable to be at the reunion), I numbly gazed at the photos of him, all of my siblings from two marriages, my stepmother and father throughout the room.
I sat on the bed weeping, and berating myself for sobbing, as I should've been nothing but grateful and happy. I dried my tears and went upstairs trying to brush it off so as not to lose a moment of what was in front of me, taking a page from the "good little girl" that I was raised to be.
4. You can't immediately accept the reality of a whole new family.
A loving parade of aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings, and close friends of my father and stepmother were in front of me, for days and days. Stories unfolding of things I was a part of and things I wasn't; bittersweet moments watching my children become acquainted with the cousins they should've always known.
As they sat on the floor playing board games, I felt so much anger at my father for the first realization that I wasn't the only one who lost here. I was also filled with joy watching the children become acquainted with a unique familiarity that blood connections provide.
I saw across my father's face the realization of not only what he was robbed of, but the acknowledgement of what he robbed his grandchildren of: overwhelming joy and sadness taking root simultaneously.
5. You belong, and feel like an outsider, all at once.
Becoming a family member is a culture all of its own and one only those raised in it can fully understand or revel in the rhythms of. I cannot adequately describe what it feels like to belong somewhere and feel like an outsider at the same time.
My father wasn't the only one to welcome me in; my stepmother has become the mother I never had. I actually cringe referring to her as "step." She's my mother and deserves that recognition.
6. You realize that there will be pain...
Every moment of these newfound relationships should only bring joy; sadly, they don’t. Getting past the memories I wasn't a part of may never come to pass, as there will always be a new memory I'm faced with. It's a searing stab to my heart of a moment in time I'll always be wistful of.
As a runaway child, conflict makes me run. As a rejected child, conflict makes me feel like I don't really belong. These are the pains and realizations that come with reunification.
7. ... But there will also be blessings.
My father of his own accord sat for three hours and bared his soul. He validated facts I remembered but that no one on my biological mother's side would support or explain. He took ownership without excuse. I guess you could say he manned up.
More importantly, he opened the door for us to truly become father and daughter. He taught me the meaning and feeling of receiving unconditional love.
8. It's always worth the journey.
With love comes pain; with gain comes loss. You'll have to face what should've and might have been. You'll have to learn how to become a member of a new family and find where you fit. It's a process and an open heart willing to take in pain and love is a must.
More than anything, it's all worth it. As you learn about where you came from, you learn about yourself. You learn to love yourself more with each passing day, and forgiveness is essential. Holding a grudge for what cannot be undone serves no one.
Keep your heart wide open and you'll be received with open hearts — not by everyone, but to be received by one open heart is more than worth the journey.