The Brother I Never Knew: The Day I Met My Father’s Son

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Author meeting brother for the first time

My father was a runner.

When he was eighteen, he ran away from his entire family after his beloved mother died. That included his father and brother, who wrongly blamed him for his mother's death. He never spoke to them again for the rest of his life.

When my mother and father met, he already had a wife and two young boys. Nevertheless, they fell in love, and my father ran from his family to be with her. They flew to Hawaii and didn’t tell anyone where they went for three years. In the space of that time, my mother gave birth to me.

When I was about three years old, my father ran away from me and my mother, too. I don’t remember much about that, but my mother said we had to stay at the YMCA in addition to one night in her car because she was completely broke. A few months later, my father returned, and it was as if nothing ever happened, like had never abandoned us at all.

I never blamed my dad for leaving us when I was older, but when he told me the story of the two sons he abandoned before me, I was full of curiosity. It must have been a painful subject for him to talk about, but he answered every question I had. I wanted to know what they looked like, how they acted, and whether my dad would ever try to contact them.

"I didn’t do right by those boys," my dad would say. "I have no right to interfere in their lives now."

It was understandable, but it didn’t stop me from being curious. I found it amazing that I had two brothers out there somewhere. I wished I could meet them one day.

RELATED: How Absent Fathers Feel About Not Having Been Involved In Their Children's Lives

My father stopped running away after coming back to me and my mom. In fact, when they broke up and my mom took me to Florida, my dad moved down with us so he could live nearby. As a wholehearted Daddy’s Girl, having him around made my life so much happier.

In his later years, my dad had a lot of issues with his heart. He suffered two major heart attacks and had to have stents put in. He worked as a maintenance man at a hotel in exchange for rent and, despite his doctor’s advice to take it easy, he worked hard every weekday painting outside in the Florida heat, climbing up dangerous ladders and lifting things that were much too heavy.

Some of the best conversations I had with my dad took place when he was working at the front desk. I’d go in there and grab a chair, and we would talk for hours about everything under the sun. I still asked about his sons once in a while, but I stopped when I got older because it was too painful of a subject for him.

In the last week of my father’s life, he sent me an email asking for advice. He attached an internet post that described a man who was searching for his father. This man’s message included where they used to live, his brother’s name, and his full name. Every detail in the whole paragraph was about my dad.

The phone rang, and my dad was on the other end. "What do I do?"

"Dad, I think you should contact him," I responded. "It’s been at least forty years. I think it’s time."

My dad was silent for a moment. "Could you do it for me?" he finally asked.

I promised to reach out to this man. He had included his phone number in the post, so I called him even though I was shaking like a leaf.

"Hello?" the man said.

"Um," I said in a nervous voice. "I saw your post about looking for your father. I might be able to help you with that."

I took a deep breath when he asked what I meant.

"Well, I don’t really know how to say this, but I think we have the same father."

He asked me a lot of questions after that, wanting to make sure. Who was my mother? Where did she meet my father? What did my dad look like? After talking for about half an hour, we finally realized we were brother and sister. I’d been so interested in meeting him all my life, but I wasn’t so sure now that it was real.

His name was William, named after our father. William wanted to jump on a plane and come meet us right away. I almost said no, being protective of my dad, but that wouldn’t have been fair. I gave him my address, and he said he would look at airport schedules over the next few days.

When I told my father how the conversation had gone, he was excited but terrified. The thought of meeting his son after all these years was scary for him. I comforted him by letting him know how nice William was on the phone. I told him this would be a good thing, and he finally agreed.

RELATED: How Having An Absent Father Fundamentally Changes Your Brain

The next morning, I got a phone call from a hospital in West Palm Beach. When I answered, a nurse was on the line telling me my father had another heart attack the night before.

"Could it just be a panic attack?" I asked her, thinking of the shocking news he had endured the day before. The nurse told me he had all the cardiac tests, and it was definitely another major heart attack.

I rushed to the hospital feeling horrible, wondering if my news had been the catalyst for my father’s medical condition. When I got there, my father was arguing with his doctor about the surgery that my dad needed. He was refusing, as he always did when he had to stay in the hospital.

"Dad, you have to have the surgery," I begged. "Please listen to what the doctor says."

My dad calmed down enough to agree to the heart procedure. Breathing a sigh of relief, I sat in a chair next to him. We didn’t talk much. The topic of his son seemed too overpowering for both of us at that moment. I stayed until they took him to surgery, praying that the doctors could repair my dad’s failing heart.

I went home to change and called the hospital every hour to find out if my dad was out of surgery yet. I also called William and told him the news. Knowing that there was the possibility my father wouldn’t survive, he wanted to get on the next plane to Florida so they could finally meet again. I advised him to hurry.

When I went back to the hospital, my dad’s surgery was over. I walked into the cardiac ward to find him sitting in a wheelchair near the nurses' lobby. Patients were everywhere, and I was told the hospital was overcrowded. It seemed wrong that my father wasn’t resting in bed.

When I approached my dad, he looked up at me in shock.

"My wife is here," he started calling out. "My wife is here to take me home."

He was confusing me with my mother. I told him that I was Glenna, but it only made him more confused. He clearly had never gotten over his broken heart over my mom.

Alarmed, I hurried back to the nurses' station. They told me that my dad’s confusion was a side effect of the anesthesia the doctor gave him. I was the one who was suddenly confused. My dad had undergone two prior heart surgeries, and this had never happened before.

"Maybe you should come back later," the nurse said. "You’re just getting him more upset."

I turned to my father, who was still yelling about his wife and demanding to leave. I felt so terrified for him. It must have been horrible not knowing who anyone was and with a bunch of patients all around him. My dad was the smartest person I knew, and to see him lost and confused made me cry all the way home.

RELATED: What It’s Like To Be A Daddy’s Girl Whose Dad Passed Away

The last time I saw my father, he was in a coma.

I stayed by his bedside so long that my husband intervened and said he would stay so I could get some rest. Reluctantly, I went back home, intending to take a nap.

The phone rang suddenly, and I knew instantly who it was. I answered and my husband said, "Glenna, your father died."

It was as if my dad hung in there long enough so I wouldn’t have to see him die. I realized then how much he had loved me. He didn’t want me there to see his final farewell. He knew I couldn’t handle it.

Sadly, I had to call William and let him know our father had passed. I said I was sorry he didn’t make it here in time. It just wasn’t fair. William had just found his father again after forty years and immediately had to let him go. To my surprise, he still wanted to fly out anyway and meet me.

I decided to host a memorial gathering at my house that William would be able to attend during his visit. I also put together some photos and videos of our dad for him and his brother, Jay, even though William had said Jay didn’t want anything to do with my father, which was perfectly understandable.

I picked William up at the airport, and it was just like my father was walking towards me. They had many of the same features. Even William’s stance was exactly like my dad’s. We hugged and talked about our father and the past all the way to my house.

The memorial gathering was the next day. My husband’s family was kind enough to show up as well as a few friends. William was really my only family member who was there since my dad had abandoned his whole family years before. I didn’t want to make any sort of speech, so I told stories about my dad during the event. I think he would have appreciated it.

Once everyone went home, I spent some time talking to William. I started to feel bad that I had talked about my dad so much and all the great things he did. William didn’t have the same chance to know him, and I felt guilty about having my dad’s loving attention for so many years.

Suddenly, he said something that quickly shut me up. "You know why our dad walked out on me and my brother, right?"

I only knew what my father had told me, that he fell in love with my mother. They had been inseparable and loved each other so much that they ran away so they could truly be together.

I didn’t tell that to William. He’d already told me that life with his mother and brother had been miserable because of our dad. Apparently, his mother had some problems of her own, and they had been very poor and struggled while he was growing up. I felt too guilty to talk about that time in his life, knowing that I had our father when he never had that opportunity.

William continued, "I mean, come on Glenna. All you have to do is count backward."

All at once, William’s face changed. I represented everything he never had. I had a father to love me. I had memories of my dad while he had nothing.

I realized what he meant by "count backward." He insinuated that my mom and dad left New York because she was pregnant with me. It wasn’t the story my parents had told me, which was much more romantic. All of a sudden, I felt a new wave of guilt wash over me. It was my fault that William didn’t grow up with a father, and he clearly still blamed me.

When William left the next day to go home, I gave him a hug and told him I was glad we had finally met. As I drove away, I knew I would never see him again. There was just too much resentment, and I’d always be the baby who broke up his parents’ marriage. I was sad to say goodbye, but it was probably for the best that we didn’t continue the relationship.

I had gained and lost a brother in one week. Even though it didn’t work out, I always wished him well. He deserved a lot more than he got in life. The only difference was that now he had someone to blame.

RELATED: How To Know If You Have A 'Father Wound' — And If It Still Affects You Today

Glenna Gill is a writer and blogger from Charlotte, North Carolina. Her articles have been featured in Scary Mommy and P.S. I Love You. When I Was Lost is her first full-length book, a memoir of love, loss, and hope.

This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.