I was fortunate in the amount of time I regularly got to spend with my parents as an adult. Despite being divorced since 1989, my parents managed to keep the family together. Holidays, birthdays, events with the grandchildren; these things weren’t ever an issue. They both happily attended. My parents weren’t in love with each other, but they genuinely and deeply cared about each other. And they honored each other’s roles in our lives. They remained family. If one needed a something, the other would be there to assist. As it ever was. For years, I invited both of them over to my house on Saturday nights. They’d play with my two daughters and we’d all gather around the table for dinner. Saturday nights were something we all looked forward to every week. Once, I even took the both of them on vacation with me to Maine. Neither had been back since the last of my grandparents had passed. Twenty-three years. A full week together sharing a house and a car lead to a couple of barbed exchanges between them, one regarding whether or not we “needed” to go to L. L. Bean to get my mother a sweater.
“I just need to hop over to Beans and get a sweater,” my mother directed my dad as he drove through Freeport.
“You don’t need another sweater, Sandy,” my father boldly stated as fact and as if he were entirely unfamiliar with my mother’s personality.
“Don’t tell me what I do and don’t need, Fred,” my mother snapped back.
“Welcome to my childhood,” I quietly said to my daughter seated next to me in the backseat. She smiled and rolled her eyes.
Choosing not to tell my dad that he wasn’t my biological father took no thought at all. Of course I wouldn’t. It would serve no purpose and would only hurt him needlessly. He was 78 years old when I made the discovery and had spent 48 years being my dad. I doubted he would be angry at my mom for getting pregnant with me a half-century after the fact. What would be the point? He doted on adored my children and me. He would gain nothing but sorrow from the knowledge. I don’t serve sorrow to elderly men, even if it means keeping them from a painful truth. My father raised me better than that.
That said, it wears on a person’s soul to constantly lie; to withhold the truth. The sin of omission. Every time I saw him, which was often, I felt as if I were lying to him. There was no doubt in my mind that keeping this knowledge from him was the right thing to do but as is so often the case, the right thing to do hurts. And it comes with a price.
My dad was especially close to my youngest daughter, Sabrina. They had a long-running, mutual adoration society. Sabrina was “Papa’s Girl.” They hit it off like two peas in a pod. My dad, who normally would go an entire evening with me without uttering more than a handful of sentences would pick Sabrina up from school and he would wax poetic with her for hours. “Did you know Papa almost married some other girl?” Sabrina announced at dinner one night. “It’s true. His mother really liked her because she was French and a Catholic. Her name was Pauline.”
So, it wasn’t tremendously surprising when Sabrina got her driver’s license that she insisted that my dad, her “Papa.” continue to pick her up from school at least once a week so they could spend time together. My dad was more than happy to oblige, arriving at the high school the usual hour before she was excused every day so he could be waiting at the front of the pick-up line. This, from the same man who had no issue with any of his children walking a half-mile from school in the pouring rain while he, fresh home from work, enjoyed the channel 7 afternoon movie sitting on the couch with his shoes off, eating potato chips. “Grandchildren are different,” he’d chuckle.
“It’s our Tuesday lunch date,” Sabrina announced one afternoon as she arrived from school with my dad in tow. “We knew you’d be home so we got you a sandwich, too,” she said holding a Jersey Mike’s bag. I hurriedly closed my DNA notebook and shut down my laptop. “I hope we’re not interrupting you,” my dad said.
“Not at all,” I replied. “Just the usual family history stuff. It’s great to see you!” I hugged and kissed them both.
Toward the end of lunch, and out of nowhere, Sabrina said, “I think I want to adopt kids rather than having them myself. Why have more kids when there’s so many here that need parents. Papa, would you love my kids the same even they weren’t biologically related to you?”
I stopped breathing. I couldn’t believe she asked my father this question. I swallowed hard and sat there frozen in my chair. I shifted my eyes to my dad who had finished eating and was patiently folding his sandwich wrapper, as he always did, into a perfect rectangle. “Nah, it wouldn’t make any difference to me at all, Sabrina. God uses a lot of ways to bring children in your life. How they get to you doesn’t matter at all. They’d be yours. I’m going to love any child of yours just like I love you.”
I could feel tears welling up in my eyes. Tears I couldn’t rationally explain. The exchange they’d just had was much too close to my truth. I quickly got up, went into the kitchen, and began unloading the dishwasher. It took a couple of minutes of intense concentration on plates, bowls, and glassware, but I managed to stifle my emotions and regain my composure. After my father left that day, Sabrina said, “We need to talk.” She lead me into the kitchen, turned around, took both my hands and asked, “What’s going on with you? Talk to me.”
“Nothing is going on. Why do you ask?” I said in a casual-ish sort of way.
“Mama, I know you. You’re hiding something horrible that you don’t want to talk about and it’s really scaring me.”
“There’s nothing going on. I’m just tired, you know? Work has been busy and..”
She cut me off. “You’re not good at lying and you’re definitely lying about something.”
“I’m not lying about anything, Sabrina.” Ugh. The words coming out of my mouth sounded so transparent and unconvincing; like the same dumb tone of voice I used with my parents when I been caught breaking curfew. I wouldn’t have believed me either.
“Mama, do you have cancer? Are you dying and you’re afraid to tell us? Please talk to me. Please. Please tell me the truth,” I could see tears welling up in her eyes. She really believed I was hiding something like a terminal illness from her. This was insane. I hadn’t given much thought about this lie I was living affecting my children, but it already had. Of course it would. I didn’t consider it in terms of my children but this wasn’t just about me, it was also about my children having an entirely unknown-to-them grandfather as well. And their Papa not being their Papa at all. My seventeen year old daughter was standing before me, holding my hands, tears running down her face, bracing herself to hear the news that I was dying.
I took a deep breath, swore her to secrecy, and I told her the truth.
She took it better than well. “It doesn’t matter to me at all,” she said, brushing the secret aside. “Papa is still my papa.”
Next, I’d have to tell her older sister.
Perpetually curious. I love history, genealogy, old movies, good books, all sorts of music, and adventures involving travel. In my spare time, I help admin a genetic genealogy Facebook page for CeCe Moore ("DNA Detectives") and coach people how to connect with their biological family using DNA.