Saturday, March 04, 2006
Ghosts of My Fathers
I grew up with two fathers, but my interactions with both were mostly limited to fantasies.

My adoptive father abandoned us when I was only five or six years old. He left behind a mental filing cabinet of contradictory images: sitting together on the back porch during a thunderstorm while he explained how lightening worked/pointing a hunting rifle at my head and threatening to kill my mother and brother; letting me ride shotgun on the combine and overflowing the catch bin so peas filled the cabin like green snowdrifts/bringing him home from the police station drunk tank; watching him shave in the bathroom mirror/hearing my mother cry all night when he disappeared for days.

When I was a little girl, my adoptive father was my hero. He was also my terrorist.

But, for the most part, the filing cabinet of my early childhood is full of empty folders. In all honesty, those empty files scare me more than the ones stuffed with terrors.

Until my late teens, I explained my disconnect with the world by the absence of my adoptive father and presence of my crazy mother. Issues surrounding my adoption bubbled beneath the surface and, though they boiled over occasionally, they didn’t wear labels, so would simmer down, unidentified.

At 17, I searched for, and found, my adoptive father. We met at his kitchen table and the room filled with cigarette smoke and excuses. I walked away from the meeting fatherless. Not connected by blood, and lacking history, the small man in the smoke filled room put an end to my fantasies. I suppose that was the kindest thing he’d ever done for me, even if it wasn’t intentional.

Also unintentional was the rattle in my subconscious, shaking loose thoughts of my birth father. Following the meeting with my non-father, fantasies of my birth father grew larger-than-life. Over the years, he’s been many things: a Vietnam Veteran, taking his last breath on a hill at Khe Sanh, never knowing I existed; a Woodstock hippy, high on LSD, making love to my birth mother in a flower-painted van; a married man of affluence who abandoned my birth mother in her hour of need. I have loved him, hated him, blamed him and forgiven him, sometimes all within the same moment.

Of course, my father was none of those things. He was married – to my birthmother. He was a military veteran – in World War II, not Vietnam. He probably never experimented with drugs and he definitely didn’t abandon my mother.

My search for my natural father ended at a tombstone, but my quest for him did not. All these years later, I am still guilty of chasing his ghost. The result is a collection of memorabilia: Navy photos from the battle of the Pacific, the cruise album from the aircraft carrier upon which he served, his ribbons and medals (courtesy of the U.S. Government), his military records, a few photos and even a video of his ship, taken from one of the ship’s bombers during the invasion of Iwo Jima.

Each of these trinkets has come to me via U.S. mail. Each arrival follows giddy anticipation – the sense of something wonderful, even miraculous, about to happen. I tear open each package and pour through its contents. Then, it happens: I am taken over by the heaviness of disappointment and the anxiety of things unsettled. Whatever I was hoping to capture through this ghost hunt slips through my fingers. I add my new trinkets to the growing collection – in a box, in the closet – and his ghost fades away again, for a while.

I have been through this little exercise enough times to have learned my lesson – and resolve a thing or two about my birth father. While I haven’t come to know him any better, I have discovered what I am looking for: some sign he didn’t want to walk away.

Rarely, is healing about filling a void – or a box in a closet. Mostly, it’s about letting go.
Rhonda Ruminated at 9:07 PM | Permalink |

13 Ruminations:

  • At 9:21 AM, Anonymous charlie

    I am awed by your beautiful writing.

    Healing is about letting go, but how do you let go of a lifetime of beautiful dreams and fantasies about your birth father? No matter how hard you try, he will always be "Daddy".

    And you will always be that beautiful little girl, the little girl that is inside of you and a part of you, yearning for him.

  • At 1:42 PM, Anonymous Rhonda

    Charlie: Thanks, so much. I'm verklempt.

  • At 4:17 PM, Anonymous Atilla The Mom

    Stop it! I hate crying when the sun is shining, dammit!

    As always, beautifully done.

    I'm so jellus.

  • At 4:52 PM, Anonymous charlie

    Rhonda: Isn't verklempt an old Dutch painter?

    Mom: I had a peenut butter and jellus sandwich for lunch.

    I am so glad I met U 2.

  • At 6:17 PM, Anonymous Atilla The Mom

    Yuck. What's a peenut look like?

    I'm glad we met you too, Charlie.

  • At 6:26 PM, Anonymous Rhonda

    Charlie: I am also glad we met :)

    Atilla: Jellus? I assure you, every time I read your stuff I curl up in a ball and rock back and forth chanting: I'm not worthy, I'm not worthy . . .

  • At 9:34 PM, Anonymous sume

    Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. :) *sigh I've been reading so many adoption stories these days. They are different in so many ways and yet hauntingly similar in how it has affected us. The closing line of your post struck a nerve. I thought I'd let it go, moved on and got on with life. It's recently resurfaced or maybe it was always there but hidden; ghosts whispering of a circle needing closure.

    Beautifully written. Thank you. :)

  • At 9:01 AM, Anonymous Kippa Herring

    Just read this.

  • At 4:19 PM, Anonymous Rhonda

    Sume: I'm glad you dropped by and thanks for the nice words.

    I don't think we get to just move on with our lives -- or at least every time I think we do I get rudely awakened by a reminder I haven't quite done so yet.

    Kippa: Thanks so much for the feedback.

  • At 6:52 AM, Anonymous t5sdaughter

    This post is amazing. I can identify with dreaming up fantasy figures of what my father is/was.

    You write really beautifully too.

    I will link you to my journal for sure :)


  • At 12:46 PM, Anonymous Mia

    You and I really do have so much in common. I would love to talk with you some time.
    I will have to dig up the writing I did about my ghost fathers. Now I want to read it again.
    Im sorry it took me so long but I added you to my links.
    I adore the way you write!

  • At 10:14 AM, Blogger Third Mom

    Beautiful. Thank you, not only for your thoughts, but for speaking of fathers, who are so often forgotten in adoptive relationships.

  • At 3:58 AM, Anonymous Rich Carlton

    I loved this piece...the visual images by written word are stunning: rattling thoughts, shaking loose...ghosts, trinkets...
    wonderful to read, but sad also.

    The vivid memories of your adoptive father...the smoke filled room...quite chilling in a way.

    But again, the in-your-face honesty to the reader just wows me. It makes me believe you yes, but it makes me feel your frustation, anquish and anger.

    It moved me. Because of the content and because of how delicately beautiful it was written. Rich Carlton