It’s Father’s Day. I didn’t do a great job this year with thoughtful gifts and perfectly planned activities. (That translates into – I didn’t even get him a gift and I have nothing planned for the day). So my plan is to not yell at him about the laundry or cleaning the garage, at least until after lunch. This he considers valuable.
My husband comes from a plain family – one mom, one dad, married for over 40 years, working-class. They are nice parents, with the normal annoying-parent qualities. They might be described as unremarkable, because they are just so normal. But they worked hard and successfully raised three kids that are now productive members of society. After raising kids for only eight years so far, I know it isn’t easy to get your kids into adulthood and have them be happy, healthy, and productive citizens.
For 40 years, my husband operated under the impression that his parents were almost boring. Everything changed this past Thanksgiving. It would take an entire blog to explain how we got to this point (and maybe I will write about it later), but the short version is that it took approximately 20 hours to unravel life as he knew it.
It took 19 hours from the time we requested his birth documents to the time when he was told (by a government worker on the phone) that his dad wasn’t his dad. He also learned that the other man had also been his mother’s first husband and he was born under this man’s name.
It took another hour to find the original dad on the internet and learn that he was not a person you would want to know or be associated with. It was worse than we could have imagined.
It is difficult to explain what this did to our family. Many were quick to say to him that it didn’t really matter, because he was raised by a dad that loved him. But life as he knew it was gone – nothing had been as it seemed. And to complicate it, the biological father was a real SOB and now he was genetically tied to this stranger. My husband now had a new history.
It also felt like a huge betrayal. His dad loved him, and raised him, and now my husband was dragging this dark secret into the family history. My husband didn’t want to hurt them. We had to decide how and when to break it to his parents what we knew, and then trudge through the immensely challenging questions that he needed answered, like was actually adopted or just a changed name.
We had to call the other siblings, that were now officially “halfs” and share not only his new history, but the personal story of his parents. And the story his mom shared (and lived) was so sad and heart-breaking. She was a new bride abandoned to deliver alone and bring a new baby home to an empty apartment. She was poor, and alone with a new baby while she dealt with the betrayal and heart-break that comes from a cheating husband.
We had our own family, and kids that now had a different genetic piece in their life. Part of the pain came from the secrets – how many knew, what hadn’t they told him, etc… A secret can make the truth seem ugly. We didn’t want to perpetuate the secret or create new secrets, and we had to navigate on how and when to share, including with our children.
But through this immense pain came the story of a man that wasn’t a father and became one through the least-normal circumstances. He didn’t find someone, fall in love, get married and start a family. My father in-law was a man that went bowling with friends and happened to help a little blonde toddler lift his bowling ball. He happened to meet a divorced woman with a young toddler, and despite coming from a Catholic small-town upbringing, he fell in love and started a very unconventional family (for the early 70s). He became a second husband and adopted his first child. He helped a woman heal her broken heart and create a new life.
If you knew the straight-laced, passive man that is my father in-law, you would shake your head and never imagine this story happened. We under-valued this man. We saw him as just normal – married, three kids, with a 9-5 government job. And when I look at my husband, and the qualities he has as a father of affection, compassion, and dedication to his children, I know that it started with his parents.
They are remarkable parents, in such a seemingly normal way, and they ushered my husband into becoming the remarkable man I love. My husband now has a history that I can’t wait to share with my children as they grow, and I hope my sons continue the trend that started with their grandfather.