Another Father’s Day come and gone. The older I get, the more the manufactured holiday matters to me, and the more surprised I am that that’s the case. I guess after forty, I feel the regrets I thought I could live with for the rest of my life with greater intensity as the rest of my life starts to arrive.
I never knew you as my father. My mother didn’t tell me the name of the man I’d never met pictured in an old family album until I was 24. Until then, I thought I was John Doyle’s son, a full sibling of my brother and sister. I never met him, either, but I never had a reason to question the fiction that he died shortly before I was born.
If you had stuck around, I might have been Michael Oropesa, son of Angelo, instead of being born with my mother’s widow name. You knew that John Doyle had died six years before my birth. If you had remained, I would have known that too, all along, instead of feeling the entire backstory of my family shift two decades later.
My mother used to tell me that she sent you away because my siblings didn’t want anyone taking the place–and replacing the memory–of their father. They were already over 18, of course, and old enough to know better. It could be that mom just didn’t love you, or didn’t want you there as a reminder that she was about to be an unwed mother. Shame has always played a key role in my family, after all. I wonder if you ever knew that she put a long-dead man’s name on my birth certificate in place of yours?
She told me you knew she was pregnant. I half-remember her telling me that you knew my name, and that you were still around in the immediate days after my birth. It could be that ours was an unequal relationship. You may actually have known me, if even for a brief time, though I have no memory of ever knowing you.
You would also have known how fractured my family was. The seams were already showing in 1969 when you met my mother. Growing up, I spent a lot of time trying to hide from the hurt that my family carried around–and often unleashed on itself. That might have been different had you been there. I doubt you’d be surprised that I could not find it in myself to begin to look for you until five years after I learned about you.
My mother told me the last she knew of you, you had moved to Orange County, California. By the time I started looking, you had already passed away. And so had my mother. If you only knew how many times I’ve pored through family records that I carry with me to this day. Old phone books. Old love letters you sent to my mother. Looking for clues.
You died in Santa Ana. It’s the next town over from Anaheim. Every single time I’ve been to Disneyland, I’ve asked God for some serendipitous moment to find the siblings I know I have, your other children, whom I’ve never met. Every moment I spend in my “happiest place on earth”, you are never far from my mind.
I wonder what your life must have been like that almost no electronic trace was left at the end of it? No obituary, no mention of relatives, almost no mention at all. Were you destitute at the end of your life? Was your family hopelessly fractured, too? After years of searching, I know where and when you were born, and where and when you died. And along with your name, that is all that I have ever learned about you.
There is so much more I wish I knew. Why did you stay away? Were you respecting my mother’s wishes, or was it you who didn’t want to be around? Did you, perhaps, have another family?
Did you ever try to contact me? To learn about me? Did my mother ever speak with you while I was growing up? Were you ever there in the background, just to be there, even though my mother had sworn everyone in my life to secrecy about your existence?
Did you ever wonder about me over the years? Did you ever look for me, too? Or did you sign me off as an unfortunate relic of your past, a book that just couldn’t be opened again?
Would it matter to you to know that at the age of 42, when I least expect it, I can think of you and be reduced to tears? That as a middle-aged man, I yearn for any trace of my father? That I sometimes fantasize that somehow, somewhere, I meet your family and finally know who you were?
That after years and years of prayer, no matter how hard I try, I just can’t seem to make peace with what I long ago came to feel to be true, that prayer is always answered, and sometimes the answer is no?
Did you ever suspect that I love you? That I so deeply love you, and mourn not ever having had the chance to tell you?
Did you love me too? Of all the things I wish I could know about you, this one thing haunts me most of all. I can’t imagine loving my mother and not loving me, too. I suppose all I can ever be sure about is that, for whatever reason it was taken away from us, we had a right to be in each other’s lives.
And that for someone I’ve never known, I will always remember you. Dad.