Family related holidays have always been weird days for me because I didn’t have the traditional parental situation growing up. When I was about 8 or 9, my biological mother gave me up to the custody of another family. At that time, my biological father did not live with us and I remember, spotty as my memories are, that there was a lot of animosity between them and a lot of chaos in our home. Five of my siblings had already left or been moved to new homes and my brother and I were the last to go.
It was hard as a 9 year old to accept that I suddenly had a new set of parents and a whole new family. Needless to say, the concept of family is something I’ve always struggled with. I’ve always related, in some small way, to children who are born to parents of two different cultures–never quite feeling like they fit in one specific place.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve had to come to terms with and accept the fact that I didn’t get the typical family experience. I didn’t get the experience of living with one stable family from birth to graduation surrounded by grandparents and cousins and all my sisters and brothers like so many people do. I lived in a weird in-between place.
Now, don’t get me wrong. My adoptive parents did a lot for two of my siblings and me. They provided and cared the best way that they knew how for 3 kids who had been taken out of a really terrible situation. They made calls about our education that were really good for me. They offered all they could offer.
I also know that so many kids out there have it much harder than I did. So many kids don’t get that second chance, don’t get to be removed from the toxic environments, and don’t get the opportunities I ultimately got.
At the end of the day, though, I still struggle. I still have the feeling that I missed out on a piece of childhood taken from me by a life that demanded I grow up much faster than most to recognize a world where parents aren’t always there and where siblings get scattered across the state. At 9 years old, I had to learn quickly that hearts can be broken.
For years, I’ve carried around thoughts and questions and doubts and insecurities about what families are really supposed to be. And they come out a little more on days like Father’s Day.
I got to thinking about it a little more and decided that Father’s Day this year would not be a day for me to ruminate on the biological father that stopped coming around for some reason that may remain a mystery to me forever. It didn’t have to be a day where I dwelt on feelings of being unwanted or being someone’s child support budget item every month
Instead, this Father’s Day was a day of gratitude.
I may have missed out on certain family experiences, but I can rest in knowing that I did experience good in what I had.
My Daddy taught me how to throw a football and a Frisbee. On Saturday morning, we listened to Car Talk in his Toyota Tercel. When he shaved off his fiery red beard he asked me to help, stopping as we shaved, giving him a goatee and a Fu Manchu, taking pictures of every style in the progression. He pushed me on the swing, made up silly songs while helping me brush my teeth, and taught me how to make hospital corners while making my bed. I remember his guitar, his penny whistle, and I remember learning how to make a flute sing.
My Mama sang in the kitchen and played the Autoharp while sitting on the couch with green and tan story fabric. Mama also brushed my long hair every day and sewed me clothes from fabric she let me pick.
I remember playing legos and matchbox cars with my brothers on the blanket that looked like a town. One brother ran the convenience store, another brother ran a car lot. I ran the grocery store, I think.
I sat with my Pop watching movies on the couch, my head resting on his shoulder. I sang with him and my sister, caught up in the swell of the music. I laughed at his jokes and felt secure in his solid embrace. One year, he had us skip a day of school and chores so we could watch an all day marathon of The 3 Stooges. He took me to my first StarWars movie in the middle of a school day in 4th grade.
On birthdays or Christmases, I opened my gifts knowing that Mom had put so much time and effort into coming up with the perfect gifts and wrapping them with the perfect little creases. I remember working in the kitchen with her before Thanksgiving and Christmas, blasting U2, making stuffing, and the world’s most perfect holiday meals. I remember the triangular peak of her handwriting on cards. When I moved in with her, my dresser drawers were filled to the brim with clothes that she’d picked out just for me. I don’t see how she doesn’t have carpal tunnel from all the curls that she put into our hair before leaving the house.
Now, I have a mother and father in law who are some of the kindest and most accepting people I’ve ever met and I can’t believe I get to be a part of their family. I have brothers and sisters who are growing up that I get to call friends now. One of the greatest joys of my adult life has been getting to know my biological siblings. I have loved watching them, despite the odds, despite what we had to work with, grow into kind, wise, strong individuals. Some of them have families of their own and it’s been so fun to watch them step up and take on the challenges of life.
For all the things I missed out on, what I have experienced is full of opportunities to be thankful–for two sets of parents who gave me what they were able to give me and for siblings who support and walk alongside each other. I’m grateful for the potential of the future building a family of my own and learning to love the family I have around me.