A few weeks ago, a friend of mine discovered that the man she’d called “Daddy” from her first memory was not, in fact, her biological father. He died at the beginning of this year and her mother had passed away in 1996, so she couldn’t ask why her entire life had been lived under such a huge deception.
She found two birth certificates in her name in boxes she’d been too grief-stricken to go through until now. The dates were within seventeen months of each other. Her mother’s name was on the older certificate, but “Unknown” was listed, matter-of-factly, under “Father’s Name.” On the newer certificate, her Daddy’s name was listed.
The interesting part of the story is she is a middle child. She has two older siblings and a younger one. The older siblings were no help beyond the memory of staying at their maternal grandmother’s home for a little while (they were toddlers, so had no true sense of time passing) when their mother and father moved a few states away to follow their father’s job in the oil field. Her older brothers remembered when they reunited with their parents, she was a baby.
There is no one left alive to explain. Her parents’ immediate families are long gone. The current relatives are too many generations removed to know the real story of her conception, birth and life.
The only clue is an old Ohio State Fair schedule from 1957. Tennessee Ernie Ford, Ricky Nelson, Matt Dillon and Rin Tin Tin were the draws. We ruled them all out as possible blood fathers.
My friend was born in March of 1958. Her parents moved from south central Florida to Louisiana in 1957, the time her older brothers stayed with their grandparents. Ohio was pointedly out of the way.
She found her daddy’s old pay stubs from that time, so we know he was in Louisiana and working in the Gulf on a rig. Her mother was a housewife and had never worked a day in her life. Well, that we knew of. There was a gap in the family’s history and no pictures or letters from that time have been found except for the Ohio State Fair schedule, the oil rig payroll records and those interesting birth certificates.
Instead of obsessing over why, who, when and where, my friend let go of the questions that could never be answered and said, “Well, this explains a lot.”
Her father always treated her differently than her siblings and, although she was the one who took care of him as he aged, he was always distant and somewhat cold toward my friend. I saw his attitude toward my friend on a few occasions, so I agreed with her wrap-it-up statement.
Eventually, answers to unknowns make themselves known. Or they don’t matter. In my friend’s case, she now understands her father’s lack of love toward her. She was a constant reminder to him of something he’d rather forget. Although she was blameless, the act of her birth caused him pain or shame or something she’d never know. In the end, it didn’t matter because the important question of her life had been answered: she knew why she felt no love from the only father she’d ever known.
Sometimes it takes a lifetime to answer a question that haunts you. Sometimes the question is never answered. You will go to your grave without an answer. On television the other day, a man was anxious to find his own answer before he died. His friend astutely said, “Even if you don’t find out, you’ll be dead and it won’t matter.” How true.
In my case, I found out, after over two decades, why someone I had worked with absolutely loathed me. Not just hated me; loathed me with a black heart. I remember being apathetic toward her way back in the day, but I’d done nothing to deserve her hate. Or so I thought.
At the time, I thought it was some action of mine that incurred her fury. I’m rather passive-aggressive, so I just brushed her off and forgot about her. I tossed her out of my mind and life. I didn’t think about her at all until recently when I found out why she abhorred me.
It wasn’t the me of me she hated. It was my influence over a third party that she detested. Her attitude was junior-high and immature for her twenty-something years (which, I heard, she never matured out of – her emotional development stopped at age fourteen). Since we worked together, her sudden change from friendly coworker to arch-enemy puzzled me, but since she had the intelligence of a hat rack, I felt no threat from her.
When I found out the reason, it explained a lot. For awhile, I was furious. Just like my fatherless friend, I was able to put pieces of a puzzle together. The funny thing was, the more pieces I put together, the bigger the finished puzzle became. I came away knowing a lot more about this former coworker/friend/enemy than I knew what to do with.
So, I wrote a book.
I started with parts of my history, her history and our shared third-party person’s history. It’s not a love triangle story, if that’s what you think. It’s more of a love-hate, hate-hate, hate-love, love-love octagon. While writing the story, it occurred to me that I had been a focus in her life for much, much longer than she had been a thought in mine. I influenced without knowing it.
Curiously, I still influence although I have no contact with her. I hear things through the grapevine. One of the things I heard is titillating. Her youngest children look nothing like their older sibling or father. Nothing. They do, however, resemble a mutual friend. Small-town fodder for another story.
Stories can take great liberties but as writers we must always provide a plausible explanation. Plausible, but not easy. Readers will see easy answers as lazy writing. The best is the answer that makes the reader say, “Aha.”
Life, books, secrets, answers. Everything has an explanation but sometimes only one person knows the answer and that one person may take their answers with them. There are no mysteries in life, only mysteries within our own lives.
Current enthusiasm is sharpening intangible knives and co-authoring at Rubicon Ranch