My father always had difficulty accepting responsibility. He married and had two children, my brother and me. When I was 12 and my brother 6, my parents got divorced. My mother placed my brother and me in a foster home for two years, while she worked to get back on her feet again. Perhaps my father shouldn’t have had children, but I’m glad he did or I wouldn’t be here today.
When I was 14, my mother remarried and bought a house. My brother and I were able to live in a real home again. At that same time, my father disappeared and stopped making child support payments. My mother reached out to my father’s family to locate him, but they would not help. My mother then severed all ties with his side of the family, and I lost all of my aunts, uncles and cousins.
As I grew up, I became the polar opposite of my father. He avoided responsibility, and I thrived on it. My life with my wife, children, home and career was full, and I rarely thought about my father. I did not hear anything from him or about him again until I was 35 years old – a gap of 21 years.
Then one day, I received a letter from a long-lost aunt. She told me she knew where my father was living. She said that reuniting would mean a great deal to him, but he was so filled with guilt that he could not take the first step. She asked if I could find it in my heart to reach out to him.
My gut response was that my father had deserted me and he was the one who needed to make it right. I was the child who had been abandoned. I didn’t need this relationship. I had done fine without it all these years. I stayed stuck in those thoughts for several days. Then I realized that if I did not make a move, nothing would happen. After all, we were polar opposites: where my father could not take action, I could. And I really did want to see him again.
So I wrote a long letter to him, in care of my aunt, about my life since he last knew me. I ended the letter by saying, “I miss you. I want to know you, to be in touch with you again. Please, let’s build a relationship before it is too late to do so. I am still your son and I do love you.”
I mailed the letter, and then waited. A month went by without a response. I felt very vulnerable. I had taken a big risk and realized that my father might not ever be able to respond. I felt as though, having been abandoned once, I was going to be abandoned again. I regretted having written to him.
Finally, one day my wife, Ellen, called me at work to say that a letter from my father had arrived. When I got home that evening, I was so nervous I could hardly open it. We sat on the couch and read the letter together. The letter told me much about his life in the years since I had seen him. He had worked in Chicago for many years and had retired to the small town in Michigan where his family came from. It was a place that held very special memories for me from my youth.
Most importantly, he wrote, “Let’s get one thing straight. I loved you deeply then and I love you deeply now.” That was what I needed to hear. That was what I needed to heal. My father’s love filled a hole in my heart I had not realized was there.
We reunited, and my family and I visited him several times. He passed away some years later. I remember my father well. I always loved him, even during the long years apart, and I came to know that he always loved me.