Happy Father’s Day to all you dads and people who have ’em. Where I’m at, it’s a little windy but the sun is out, the air is warm and the birds are singing. I’m walking down the street as I type this and some guy just drove by in a three-wheeled motorcycle contraption. He looked happy. I’m glad for him.
Father’s Day is always a little weird for me on account of never knowing my biological father and not even finding out there was a biological father to not know until my checkered stint as a teenager. It was kind of a fucked up time for me, to be honest. I was working and hanging out with a bunch of 21 and ups at the time. My grandparents, who I lived with and who knew them, were more or less okay with it, although they had their reservations. My dad, who I did not live with and who did not know them, forbade it.
Now, at the time I didn’t realize my dad had adopted me in the aftermath of his wife’s liason with someone who may or may not have been a marine biologist. As far as I knew, he was just the drunk promise-breaker who couldn’t get a driver’s license anymore and who had only recently been released from the jail sentence he spent two years in Nevada trying to avoid. We had a very public falling out in the hall of a mall I worked in. I said some pretty shitty things about his failures as a father and how dare he spend years out of my life just to come back and suddenly try to tell me how to live it. I left him there in the mall, biked home to my grandparents and stopped taking his calls.
It was a November. I don’t remember if I spent Thanksgiving with his wife and him. I know I ignored him on Christmas. The following February was when I found out that he wasn’t my biological father, that my grandparents weren’t mine by blood.
Emotions can be a difficult thing to articulate. Needless to say, it was the shittiest I’ve ever felt in my life. I saw my dad, Rick, in a different light. Was he a great father? Not even good, not even close. But he was a man who did his best to step up. He knew his wife had cheated on him and the baby she almost didn’t keep wasn’t his. But he put his name on my birth certificate and he named me after his late best friend.
He had his demons and he slipped up, time and time again. But when my mom went back to rehab and while my stepdad was tearing shit up on the hillside, Rick took me to his parents because he knew them to be good people, and they were, and they taught me how to (at least try) to be a good man.
My grandparents told me later that Rick would call them up in tears, wanting to tell me that I was adopted, wanting to apologize for everything. My mom had sworn my grandparents and him to secrecy. Now my mother had told me, my grandparents knew I knew, but I asked them not to let Rick know. I wasn’t ready for the conversation because I was wracked with guilt over the way I treated him, so I let him go a few more years torturing himself about not telling me. I didn’t think that through. I was a kid and I was selfish.
Eventually, Rick and I were in the living room at my grandparent’s house. We sat next to each other on the couch. Everyone else had gone to bed. The tv was off. Rick said, “I have something I need to tell you, something I should have told you a long, long time ago.” I responded, “You’re my dad. My father. Nothing will ever change that.”
I hugged him tight. I left him to cry. It’s the only time we’ve ever spoken about it. I haven’t seen him in years now, nor have I spoken to him. He texted me this last birthday. I’ll try to call him when I’m finished with this.
I’ve written before about the lessons I’ve learned from Rick, and his father Dick, my adopted grandfather who was more a father to me than anyone. I’ve written here about what it’s like to grow up with a stepfather like Terry, a hard man who exposed me to the beauty of women and the ugliness of the world.
There is one father, though, that has given me nothing but life and a shitload of issues: John Buchanan.
I’ve heard conflicting things about the man. I heard he was working up here as a marine biologist. I heard I look just like him. I heard he babysat me a few times as an infant before fucking off forever. Everyone knew but me, and when I found out, I told all my friends. I was torn up at the time because a huge portion of my life was essentially a lie.
My mom gave me an address to reach him at, and I did. I wrote him a letter about myself, my interests. I told him I wanted to know more about him. I included a picture of my date and I from our junior prom despite the unfortunate mustsche/goatee/long hair combination I decided to rock. He sent me a letter back, no picture. He was living in Sacramento, said he owned a bike shop. He had no family at the time, no kids. That was 10 years ago, so that may have changed. He sajd he wanted to talk with my mother more before we had any future correspondence.
I told my friend Amber the next day. We had, ironically, marine biology together. She gave me a hug to keep me from breaking down. I’m a sensitive guy, you see. I never figured out what happened to that letter. Frankly, I don’t give a shit.
A few months later, I was at my brother’s birthdat party with Melissa, my first love. She and my mother had never met. My mom found us by the banquet table. This is the brief but unforgettable conversation that followed.
“So John called me.”
“He said he’s interested in meeting you.”
“Wh- really? Wow, that’s…”
“But he won’t come up until a DNA test is done.”
“And he doesn’t want to pay for it.”
“…you know what, fuck him. I’ve gone this long without him in my life. If he doesn’t want to be a part of it, I don’t need him in it.”
“And I don’t know what to tell you, Jered, but if he’s not your father, I don’t know who the fuck is.”
My mother, master of tact. I haven’t told many people that story. Melissa took my hand instantly, I accepted a joint my mother graciously offered and I went to my friend’s to get completely hammered on Jack Daniels.
I’ve never talked to John again. My friend and I stopped by his Sacramento home during our road trip move to Los Angeles. I knocked on the door, not sure if I would hit the first person who answered. Nobody did. A mail check revealed that he had moved. I have no idea where he is now, if he’s alive or dead, married or not. If I have more brothers and sisters.
It’s a strange feeling knowing that someone who should give a shit about you doesn’t find you worthwhile to be in your life. It’s stranger still to find a bunch of people who have no reason to care who will love you unconditionally. I have had many father figures in my life, including the phantom form that was the absence of one father. I’ve learned a lot from them, about them, about myself, about the world.
Part of me wants so bad to be successful just so John will see me on TV or buy one of my books and realize that he fucked up and I’m awesome. It’s a petty dream and one I’m sure holds me back on some level. But I get to see so many of my friends step up and be incredible, loving dads to their children. My best friend has brought me into his kid’s life as an uncle. And you know, there’s a freedom to not have a legacy of fame or infamy to live up to or be crushed under.
I’m my own man with my own talents and a future that is completely my own. Whatever impact I make on this world will be of my own doing, because I summoned the strength within myself to do it. There is something empowering by that.
So Dick, thanks for bringing up another child, one you had no reason to.
Rick, thank you for loving me like your own and for trying your best.
Terry, thank you for giving me strength, for taking away fear and for showing me that a hard will can take you places.
John, hell…thank you for showing me that the only person who can truly put value on me is me.
Dads: love your kids and keep up the good work. Happy Father’s Day.