There’s no way I could accurately describe what looking at a picture of your father for the first time feels like. Most people don’t have a memory of the initial time seeing a family member; they’re kind of always “there” from the beginning. It was mentally draining to stare at a frayed photograph of a person who makes up genetically half of me, not knowing a single thing about them, yet desperately wishing I did. Not having any idea how many creamers he takes in his coffee, what book influenced his life growing up, or even something as simple as what his voice sounds like haunted me. All I could think about was that if things had been different, this is a person that I would that I would have known the most useless facts about what have had such a huge role in my life.
When I was younger, I absolutely hated my widow’s peak. At the time, I didn’t even know it had a name. I thought it was just an awkward mistake where my hair formed a v-shape formation on my forehead. I believed it made my hairline look ugly and weird and I would avoid wearing my hair back at all costs to hide what I thought was a heinous facial feature. Experimenting with different ways to pin my hair so that it wouldn’t show, I even considered trying to shave it off at one point (thank god my best friend talked me out of that). However, I could have never predicted how much it would come to mean to me later in life.
I got off the bus after a normal day of my freshman year of high school. It was January, my birthday month, so my spirits were high and the temperatures were low. Life was going great for me. My best friends had been quizzing me for my drivers permit test for weeks and I got to finally wear all the clothes that had been tucked away in my closet all year long.
After arriving home, I went to my room to put away my things but heard my parents calling me into the living room. They said they needed to talk to me about something important. I could tell my the way my parents looked at me as I walked into my living room, they were giving me blank stares with not a hint of a smile indicating that something serious had happened.
I sat down as my parents looked at each other, almost nudging the other person to begin the conversation. My mind was racing, mentally running through different tragedies that could have possibly happened while I was at school. Our usually cozy living room started to feel like a jail cell and my hands were beyond clammy.
My dad plunged right into it. “Well, your mother and I have something to tell you. The truth is, uh, that I’m not your real father.”
My hands started to quiver and my mind spun with different scenarios, each one more horrendous than the last. Initially, my thought was: “Perfect, my real dad is some junky out there who bailed on my mom and I when I came into the world. He must be in jail; how embarrassing.”
“…What do you mean?” I was finally able to spew out as tears began to trickle down my face. My mother took the conversation over and told me that when I was two weeks old, we were living in Holland and my father went to go to the hospital to return some forms regarding my birth. On the way there while he was stopped, as he got out of the car he was hit by a drunk driver that killed him, thus leaving my mother alone with a newborn baby.
Hearing all of this was unfathomable. I couldn’t even begin to wrap my mind around it.
Questions were darting through my mind one after another. “What did my dad look like? Wait, this means I have a different set of grandparents I’ve never met. What’s my real last name? So, this means Maggie is only my half sister?” I couldn’t help but think this stuff doesn’t happen to someone like me. I’m supposed to have a boring life and complain about how lame it is to live in the suburbs. There’s no way this is real. This is an overly dramatic and cheesy plot for a Lifetime movie.
My mother explained that a year and a half later, she and I visited Orlando as your typical European tourists. She with her fanny pack prepared for any and every emergency and I sporting my milk bottle white skin. While on vacation, my mother met my adoptive father. Over the course of a few months, my mom and I flew back and forth from Holland and Florida where my dad and her fell in love. They eventually got married and my dad insisted on adopting me as his own. My parent’s decided it would be best that they didn’t tell me this information until I was older so that I wouldn’t think anything different of my dad growing up. I was always told my mom moved to Florida, met my dad, and then I was born. Just a minor change in detail.
It was crushing to realize that half of me was a man I’d never known, and never will get the chance to know. It was hard not to feel as if my whole life was one giant, elaborate lie.
The following weeks were rough. I tried to put this new information to the back of my head and just get on with my life. I put all the pictures, newspaper clippings about his death, and my baby book in a box under my bed to hide away my life. I was resentful, confused, and mostly hurt that no one told me this earlier. I didn’t want to have to think about the situation or my dad ever again.
We still don’t know to this day what my father got out the car for, but it really doesn’t matter. Knowing won’t change a thing but it’s haunting not knowing what he was doing in his few last moments of life.
One of the hardest parts to wrap my head around is that no one saw his death coming, so it’s not like he planned on leaving our lives forever. No one ever imagines they’re only going to have two weeks with their child and then they will disappear. There’s no note, no memorable trinkets he left us, and no more than a few dingy pictures of the two of us together. He only had the chance to write one thing in my baby book. The question asked what his first thought was when I was born. The response he scrawled out was, “This is the happiest day of my life.”
The times that I would let myself become consumed by thoughts of my father, I would have trouble trying to find some way to make sense of it all.
However, the next month in Freshman Biology, we were learning about human genetics. Dominant and recessive traits, punnett squares, alleles, we covered it all. It wasn’t until the teacher started talking about widow’s peaks that I realized something. My mother doesn’t have one, and seeing as it is a dominant trait, it must mean that my dad passed his along to me.
My hand darted to my hairline and it hit me, I physically have something on my face that 100% represents my father. He’s the one that gave it to me.
It was as if I finally realized that just because I don’t have any recollection of him, and just because I don’t want to believe it, that man is still my father and he still helped bring me into the world. Something in me ‘clicked’ and I immediately cherished this “ugly” and “inconvenient” path of hair on my forehead.
Of course I’m not glad my father passed away, but I also can’t imagine giving up the life I have now and the people I’ve had with me along the way. Had my dad left the house that night 30 seconds later, I would be living in another country, speaking a different language, with other best friends, and living a completely foreign lifestyle. More importantly, I wouldn’t have two of the most important people with me: my sister and adoptive father. Nothing changed between my adoptive father and I when the news broke, and he’s absolutely still my “dad” to me regardless if his blood runs through me or not.
My dad was only with me for two weeks, so besides life, he didn’t have time to give me much. However, my widow’s peak is something that I’ll have forever as a constant reminder of who I really am. I’m Michelle Mitchell-Collins, Dutch-born and American-raised. My widow’s peak is much more than just merely a type of hairline to me and I’ve come to accept that my story isn’t perfect, but it’s perfectly fine that it isn’t.
It took a widow’s peak that I had seen a million times before to help me realize that, but I can promise that you’ll never hear me talk about how much I dislike it again.