I met my birth mom when I was 33. Twenty years later, I’ve met my father.
Technically, I met his son first. He spotted me as soon as I walked in the door, waved me over, spread his arms wide in welcome. Then came two sisters—three half-siblings in all. (There’s a fourth who wasn’t able to make it. I hope to meet her soon.)
Eventually, I stood before the man himself: a little shorter than me, trim, smiling, not fussily dressed but definitely put together. He waited patiently beside a sofa in the lobby of the hotel where he and his children were staying on their trip to New Orleans.
I expected him to be reserved, probably a little anxious. Then again, who wouldn’t be? Meeting a grown adult that you conceived over five decades ago during a short-lived college romance—that would be challenging enough, but introducing that man to your children? There’s no chapter in Emily Post for that kind of thing.
Since our first phone chat in 2007, my father had often said that we would meet, insisted that he would arrange it, but I knew right away what was happening. I’ve encountered many men like him over the years, men who say that they’ll get around to something but never seem to. My adoptive dad was like that. So was the president of my Carnival krewe. My old landlord, too: “Sure, I’ll sell you this house. Let’s talk about it sometime.” But “sometime” can be years in coming.
I’ve never understood that kind of behavior. Are guys like this (and yes, they’ve always been guys) testing me to make sure that I really want what I say I want? Or are they trying to put me off because they have no desire to go through with the deal, and they’re hoping that I’ll eventually forget about it?
My father’s case was a little different. I’m 99% certain that the 15-year gap between our first talk and our first face-to-face came down to one simple thing: he was worried about his children. More specifically: he was worried about how they’d react.
I was worried too. I knew his kids were curious about me, I knew they had plenty of questions about who I was, about how much of themselves and their father they’d be able to see in me. But was that the end of it? Was I just a curiosity, a 3D fun-house mirror, a walking, talking, long-term study in genetics? Or worse, would I represent physical evidence of our father’s “wayward” life before he met their late mother, a symbol of something they wish they’d never known?
In the end, neither my father nor I needed to worry at all. There was never any question in his children’s minds about who I was or what my role should be. The three of them embraced me and Peter (John was away at the time) like we were long-lost relatives—precisely because we were, in fact, long-lost relatives. They weren’t just courteous, they were kind, loving, open-hearted. Friendship came like a flood.
None of this would’ve happened without the kids, who brought our father to New Orleans for his birthday. I think he might’ve put off our meeting for the rest of our lives to avoid the possibility of hurting them, but his children were determined, fearless.
Over a long weekend, the eight of us (me, Peter, my father, three siblings, and two nieces) shared meals (some good, some not so much), stories (they’re a close family, with lots of good-natured teasing), and many rounds of comparisons. Apart from our hair (they have tons) and their slim physiques, we seem to have a lot in common. More than enough to build a friendship.
I can’t really describe what I felt during the reunion. I can only say that, just as with my birth mom Callie and my half-sister Tiff, something clicked when we met, something fell into place. The timing couldn’t have been better: I’ve been feeling a little rootless and disconnected since my adoptive father died last year. Meeting a small army of new family tethered me back to earth—not wholly, but it helped.
Just to be clear: I’m not suggesting that nature outshines nurture, I’m not saying that a family can be built on genes alone, that DNA is magic, that it can replace the decades I’ve spent among a family that raised me. I’m only saying that, at our first meeting, my father, my siblings, and I got along like a house on fire.
And I will also say: between my adoptive family, my birth mother and father, and two amazing sets of in-laws, my extended family is large, loud, and loving. I’m a lucky man.