I have only a few memories of my biological father.
I remember playing a board game with him and once quietly using my dollhouse in his home office while he worked. The reason my memories are few is because the last time I saw him was when I was four. On New Year’s Eve 1995, he told my mom, my younger brother, and me that he was going on a “business trip.” I don’t remember any dramatic moments, although I used to fabricate them in my mind, but he left without incident and chose to never return.
He abandoned us.
Life dramatically changed, even though I didn’t appreciate how until many years later. My mom had been a stay-at-home mom, so she had to quickly return to work. My grandparents actually came out of retirement in order to help us pay our bills. When my biological dad left, he simply seemed to disappear, presumably to avoid paying child support. Despite hiring a private investigator, he was nowhere to be found. We learned later that he had escaped to London. All measures were taken to protect my brother and me, including obtaining a court order to not allow us passports without a judge’s permission in case he would ever come try to take us.
These were all ‘grown-up’ issues though. For me, as a young child, there were only a few uncomfortable moments; like when I didn’t have a dad to accompany me to the Father-Daughter Dance or when on Father’s Day I made my card for my grandpa. It was not too bad because there were several kids in my class with divorced parents whose fathers did not live nearby. I never felt very different.
When I was eight, he actually reached out to my brother and me. He arranged with my mom a time to call each week. In one of our conversations, I asked him, “Dad, where do you live?” He told me, “I stay on people’s couches. In London, people don’t have homes.” I wanted to believe him, but even then I knew he was lying. After three weeks of our newly scheduled phone calls, we got stuck in traffic during our scheduled time and missed his call. Apparently, this was so offensive to him, he refused to call ever again. It was the last time I spoke to him.
As I got older, the fact that I had been abandoned was pushed to the background on most days. But, once in a while, I would be reminded of my family history.
In 9th grade, we learned about the Oedipal complex in literature. Part of the discussion focused on girls being abandoned by their fathers. I don’t think my teacher or peers knew that I had been abandoned, so I wasn’t the focus of anyone’s sideways glances, but I suddenly paid extra attention to the topic. She taught us that “girls that had been abandoned typically became promiscuous and had challenging relationships with men.” This stereotype forced me to reflect on the effect of my relationship with my biological father and on my own life.
I felt conflicted. Yes, being abandoned had some effects on me. I always was a little nervous around my friends’ dads for example. But, on the other hand, I had a very happy childhood. I also knew that I was never going to let my abandonment define me, even though I could never erase it from my story.
One time, I was speaking with a male friend about his ex-girlfriend; she had cheated on him. After an hour of crying, he exclaimed, “But it’s not really her fault. Her dad abandoned her, so she’s messed up from it.” I think he was a bit surprised to find that I wasn’t very sympathetic to that excuse.
The last time I had any indirect contact with my biological father was when I was in high school. My mom remarried an amazing man, and he wanted to adopt my brother and me. They finally located a lawyer who represented my biological father and requested that he give his permission in order to legally allow the process to continue. My biological father refused because he feared that any legal ties to my brother and me would somehow enable us to pursue the child support that was owed to my mother. Now, my biological father had not only abandoned us but was refusing to allow for us to be legally protected and joined by a dad who had chosen us.
Some people justify abandonment because the parent could not do a sufficient job raising a child but this was also the prevention of someone else taking on the responsibility. When my younger brother turned 18, we were legally adopted because we could give our own permission; although it was mostly symbolic, it was significant.
Being abandoned by a parent often makes me feel differently than other people about what the parent-child relationship means. I have been in numerous conversations when someone will innocently state, “Well, he’s my dad. He has to love me.” No, he doesn’t. Because of this, I admire the real parents – biological or adoptive – that choose to raise their children. Sometimes I watch on repeat the videos that have been posted on Facebook when stepfathers and stepmothers ask their stepchildren to adopt them because it shows true love and responsibility.
At the same time, I look at my own three children and wonder: how can a parent leave? My eldest son is now older than my brother was when my biological dad left, and I can’t comprehend it. It makes no sense.
My college essay prompt for Stern College for Women was to address why Jews say blessings on bad things that happen to them. Easy, peasy. Being abandoned may have been “bad,” but it made me more grateful and showed me how lucky I am in life. When my brother turned 18 and we no longer needed my biological father’s permission, my adoptive father chose to still pursue a legal adoption to make the process of creating our family complete. It may not be the usual beginning of a family, but we’re a family that chose one another.