I’m definitely in the sooner group. I’m a 46-year-old man. I had to accept certain realities in my childhood and one of them was the lack of a family. Both my mother and my father abandoned me. She left me when I was five years old to start her life all over again, and that new life didn’t include her children. She dumped me off with her abusive mother and stepfather, who made it perfectly clear that they had two kids of their own because they didn’t want three. Essentially, she left me in the care of the very people she was running away from. Her parenting skills were nonexistent and, although the 12 years I was living with my grandparents were hell, I believe she actually did me a favor by forfeiting her maternal role. The outcome was the lesser of two evils.
I’m not nearly as troubled by her abandonment as I’ve been by his, and I’m still not entirely clear why that is. He left her (and me) before I was born. All I was ever told before I was out in the world on my own (at age 17) was that my biological father was named Ted, he and my mother had a one night stand, and that he wanted my mother to have an abortion. When she backed out at the last minute, he dumped her and told her he didn’t want anything to do with me. I left my grandparent’s home in a little town in central California the day after I graduated high school in 1983. There I was in Los Angeles at age 17 with no family or friends and completely, utterly alone in the world. It was thrilling and terrifying at the same time. I did well for myself. I fell into a relationship with my first boyfriend and ended up moving in with his family. I got a job as a bank teller, kept to the straight and narrow, worked hard, and lived cleanly. I later segued to mortgage banking and then broke into entertainment when I got a job working for a prestigious talent agency in Hollywood (The William Morris Agency, no less). For someone who had no parents and no foundation of stability on which I was raised, I was turning out to be a pretty great guy. At least that’s what I thought.
In 1987, I reconnected with my mother. She was living in Europe at the time, working for the U.S. Military via the Civil Service, and was stationed on a military base in the Netherlands. After a short volley of letters and phone calls, it didn’t take me long to ask her details about my father. Having never even seen a picture of him and being given such scant information, I was naturally curious. She wasn’t able to tell me much, but did give me his full name. Helms. That was his last name. And Ted was not short for Theodore; it was just Ted. That’s all she really could tell me. I didn’t expect to get very far with that minor tidbit of information. Keep in mind, computers were in their infancy and the internet wasn’t even conceived of by the general public. I took a day off work went down to the LA County Hall of Records. Through my work in mortgage banking, I knew that copies of Recorded Grant Deeds on properties were accessible to the public and that those records were referenced by year recorded and alphabetically by grantee. On the off chance that someone with his name may have purchase some property in LA County sometime starting with the year of my birth, I pessimistically scanned the records for his name. Within 20 minutes of searching, I found out where he (or at least someone with his name) lived. It was less than 10 miles from my residence.
I had a friend drive me to the address, which was in a fairly affluent neighborhood. My friend walked up to the door and knocked with the intention of pretending to be lost and looking for a similar address to his, just to see who lived there. When the door opened, I started to cry. I was looking at a 45-ish version of myself standing in the doorway. From what I observed, he had a wife and at least a couple of kids. I surmised (correctly) his relationship with his wife and family ensued after the encounter with my mother and that my existence was omitted from the accounting of his personal history.
I had dreamt of meeting him for as long as I could remember. I had all these fantasies about us being buddies. And once he met me, then surely he’d want to be buddies too. Of course, why wouldn’t he? I was very well mannered, conscientious and respectful. I had a budding career in the entertainment industry. I was (and still am) very outwardly friendly and a great conversationalist. Most of all, I harbored no ill feelings toward him. I didn’t take his leaving me personally. I wasn’t even born then. I wasn’t yet a person, just a concept — a bump in my mother’s abdomen. I figured he was young and scared and made a mistake and I wasn’t going to beat him up over that. Besides, if faced with the prospect of being attached to someone like my mother and sharing a child with her, I probably would have run like hell myself. I didn’t care about the past; I was just happy that I found him.
Through a series of steps that were almost as effortless as finding where he lived, I got a name and address of his employer. I didn’t want to approach him at home, in front of his family, because I didn’t want him to feel threatened. I wrote him a letter, told him who my mother was and that I was his son. I made it perfectly clear that I didn’t want anything monetary from him. I just wanted to meet him and get to know him. I went into this first contact prepared for any and every possible reaction, from him flinging his arms around me, to hostile rejection. I also made it clear that if he didn’t want anything to do with me, I wouldn’t bother him anymore. The only problem was that if, for whatever reason, he didn’t get the letter I sent, his lack of response would be interpreted by me as a rejection, but would in fact mean he just never heard from me. So, just to verify that he got the letter, I called him on the day of my 22nd birthday at his home (and yes, he was in the phone book that entire time). His reaction was polite, cordial and pretty much what I expected. He said that he had nothing to say to me, that he had a family of his own, and that he didn’t have any place for me in his life. Fully prepared for that, I said that I understood, I thanked him and told him that I won’t bother him any further. I told him he has my contact information should he change his mind and said my goodbye. Later that night, I drove to his house and watched him walk past his front window. I cried really hard for about 20 minutes, and then drove home. I cried about it for the next 24 hours, and then cut it off and told myself to move on.
That was not the end of it. A week later, he called me and apologized for his response. He told me that he told his wife about me and that they wanted to meet me. We met over dinner. His wife was a very warm person and was the one facilitating most of the conversation. I got the distinct impression she was a lot more comfortable with me than he was. Over the next four years we developed what I would call a polite, cordial, albeit sporadic relationship. He eventually introduced me to his son, Kevin and his daughter, Kathy. Kevin was friendly, but neutral and his Kathy wanted absolutely nothing to do with me, which was a sentiment of his that was quickly becoming apparent to me as well. The contact was very sporadic. I’d get invited to a dinner here. Asked over for a day-after-Christmas get-together there. At one point, he introduced me to his mother (my paternal grandmother). She was just as polite and cordial as he was, and just as unenthusiastic about meeting me. I started to notice that all the phone calls were one-sided. I was calling him, but the only time he’d call me is if he was returning a message. One day, I got sick and was laid up at home for three or four weeks. He offered me some money to help out with bills, since I was out of work. I told him that I didn’t need it because I had state short-term disability benefits to draw from. I did tell him that I’d be bored with nothing to do and that since I wasn’t contagious (kidney stones) maybe we could have lunch or something, or maybe he could just call and check in on me. I decided to wait and see how long it would take him to contact me without me initiating contact with him (other than change-of-address postcards). That was in 1991.
The next time I saw him was on my way to work. I took the subway to Union Station every morning and caught a shuttle bus to the USC Health and Science Campus where I worked. He was on his way to the airport with his wife and grandson. After an awkward greeting and a 35-second polite conversation, he excused himself and said, “Well, I guess I’ll see you around here sometime,” and went on his way. I stood there watching his silhouette disappear in the sea of people walking down the corridor. “Yeah,” I replied in almost a whisper, “I’ll see you around here… at the train station… Dad…” That was in 2008.
When I met him, I was so proud of who I was. I thought I was the kind of guy anyone would be proud to have as a son. To be honest, I think a lot of what motivated me to not do drugs and work hard and be a well-read, goodhearted man was the anticipation of meeting him one day. But no matter how hard I tried, no matter how good I was, regardless of how non-threatening I presented myself to be to him, none of it mattered. I could have been holding the cure to cancer in my hand and it still wouldn’t have made any difference. He was never going to care about me. I’ll tell you, it’s hard to feel like you’re worth anything when you’re worth nothing to the two people who brought you into the world. He had two children that he loved. I was just as much his child as they were; yet they were deemed lovable, and I was worthless.
I have no illusions that I will ever have a relationship with him or my half-brother or sister. I just learned of the passing of his wife, to whom I have no blood tie, but was the one person in his household who treated me with sensitivity. I paid my condolences on her memorial website. I’m trying to muster the courage to contact other members of his family back East (essentially, my family, I guess), whose names I got from the memorial website. I guess I’m still trying to decide if it’s worth the trouble. Who am I kidding? I’m still trying to decide if I’m worth their trouble. Maybe, just maybe, someone in my father’s family will value me for who I am, and not just see me as “the hole in the condom.”
You know, in the process of writing this, I think I just figured something out. I think I know now why his abandonment affected me so much while my mother’s didn’t. It was easy to see that my life with her would have been so much worse than I managed to make it without her. And although I felt the effects of a maternal absence, I was comforted by the knowledge that her absence was the best thing she ever gave me (besides some pretty good genes… and birth, I guess). But when I see this man, with his beautiful, loving family… when I see the pictures of him attending his son’s graduation, or on family vacations… when I read of their camping trips, and the good times that they all shared… when I know that there is just as much of him in me that there is in his other children, yet he treats me like the mistake he wished he never made, it’s hard not to believe he’s right. Kevin… my life that could have been… but wasn’t. I’ve decided that I’m going to make the attempt to contact some of my relatives back East. I’ve lived for all these years with the absence of a paternal family and what self-esteem I’ve cultivated grew without that emotional nutrient, so I will not fall apart if they do not respond. That being said, I also know that deep down inside me, there is an image of a very lonely, sad little boy, curled up in a ball in his bed and crying because he’s lonely and wondering why mommy and daddy went away and don’t love him. That image is what’s motivating this desire to reach out like I’m doing because isn’t a dream or a fictitious metaphor or scene from a movie… it’s a memory… of me.