A little over a year ago, when I was 21 years old, I found out that my dad was not actually my biological father.
I didn’t hear it from either of my parents, I found out by doing my own snooping around old photos, letters, etc. (mistake). I was floored. So many aspects of my childhood fell into place. Things “clicked” and made sense in a heartbreaking sort of way, while other things fell apart and unraveled at a pace I couldn’t keep up with. A million and one emotions ran through my head — a thousand questions for him, a thousand more for my mom, and even a couple for my “real” father came to mind. Instead of asking them, I slept and cried/slept and cried/slept and cried… for three days straight. (Thank god for the privilege of being a college student with a summer vacation to let that sort of depressed binge happen, huh?)
Growing up, I had doubts. When people would refer to my dad by his real name and quickly correct themselves with “your dad” or when my father was so absolutely cruel to me that I couldn’t bear to be in my own home, I would wonder — is this really my dad? How could this really be my dad? Around the age of 8 or 9, I asked my mother (who has always been one of my best friends and was always admirably honest with me) on two separate occasions. Each time she reassured me that people called him by his real name because they had broken up while she was pregnant, things were complicated in the beginning, and so on. She said that he was such a bastard to me, only to hurt her. Furthermore, I was constantly told that he didn’t have the capacity to love, and that he could only love me in his own special way. So I put the suspicions to rest and went on about my life.
My dad and I do not have the best relationship. Growing up, I was convinced he hated me.
I would lean in to kiss him goodnight and he would pull away with disgust. I would try desperately to please him in every realm of the high expectations he set for me, only to be ignored or put down. He would call me a fat ass when I walked by or curl his nose up at me as if I was unbearable to look at.
If I did something wrong, he would ignore me for weeks, sometimes months. He did all of this while micromanaging and controlling every aspect of my life. In public, to the outside world, I was “daddy’s little girl.” I was his princess and I was perfect. Putting on that kind of show for years is exhausting. I spent most of our relationship hiding from him or lying to him about friends, boyfriends, and what I was doing to try to obtain some sort of normalcy outside of my home. If not for my mother, my depression and obsession with self-harm and suicide would have taken me from this world a long time ago.
The day I found out that he had adopted me, I felt this overwhelming sense of gratitude for a man that I spend most days disliking.
I hated that feeling. I didn’t want to appreciate him for anything. I didn’t want to owe him for anything. And here I was, thankful to him for taking me in as his own, providing a roof over my head, and clothes on my back. The fact that he hadn’t ever held it over my head or thrown it in my face was mind-blowing to me. My parents had one of those Lifetime-movie relationships. You know, the ones with the kicking, and punching, and beating; the ones with an inescapable exertion of power and control; the ones where every insult known to man was second nature and every possible thing that could be used against my mother was. But in all the years of physical, verbal, and emotional abuse- he never used the fact that I was not his. And in all the ways he had hurt me to hurt my mother, he never uttered the words that he was not my father. For this, I also felt uncomfortably grateful.
My dad and I don’t really have a relationship today. I speak to him when I want to see my siblings (whom I adore more than life itself). We exchange forced and artificially kind words on occasion to maintain what little father/daughter relationship we have left. Sometimes he ignores me for months without explanation, then texts me out of the blue like nothing is wrong. I respond accordingly and wait in anxious uncertainty for the next time that he will write me off without warning.
When I am with him, it is still the same “daddy’s princess” act, but I’ve learned to cringe to myself and smile to the world. I have also begun trying to let his cruel and hurtful ways role off my back. I try to pretend that he can’t hurt me anymore. I also try to hate him. In our blow-up fights (which we have now, because I have learned to defend myself with him), I know I can throw my new knowledge in his face- that I know he isn’t my father, that he can’t hurt me the way he used to, and that he can’t control me the way he wants. I know that by using the fact that he isn’t my “real” dad, I can break him, even if only momentarily. I know this because I know he loves me in a sick, twisted, and shallow sort of way.
But on the occasions that we can bear to be around each other, people comment on how much we look alike. He laughs and says how lucky I am to have inherited his looks. He jokes about when I was born. He reminisces about the earliest years of my life.
Maybe I am still completely vulnerable to his manipulative ways; despite my attempts to shield myself from the pain he causes me. Maybe I just want to hold on to the last remaining pieces of our broken relationship, no matter how jagged the edges. Whatever the case — he doesn’t know, that I know, none of those memories can be true. And I hope he never finds out.