Mourning a man I never knew

This is a picture of my biological father. He came into my life like the wind, and he left like a whisper. Now I’m mourning a man I never even knew.

In fact, I never even knew his name until a few years ago. I knew I was adopted, and I had a few paragraphs worth of information about my biological parents, and that was it. I had (and have) two great parents who raised me, so it wasn’t that I lacked for love or family. But I lacked for information about my blood and my roots, and it was a big issue for me for most of my life.

In the summer of 2000, while at work at Discovery Channel, I got a call from Child Services, telling me that a search request for info about my origins had finally come up – eight years after I had placed it. Did I want them to proceed with the search? I said sure. I then had to choose one parent or the other for them to search for. I figured my biological mother would be more worried about me, so I picked her. My heart went crazy.

Three days later, they phoned back, again at work. They couldn’t find her. I’ll never forget that terrible sinking feeling – after all those years of waiting and wondering. Not to mention the hours of fruitless searching I had done myself, in the early days of the Internet. But they asked if I’d like to try again with a search for my father. I said yes.

It was only a day later when they called back. We found him, they said. We just put his name in Google, and there he was. He’s a web guy, actually – that’s why we found him so fast. We talked to him, and he’s willing to talk to you. Are you up for it?

I was. And so after jumping through a few more official hoops, we emailed back and forth for a week or so, and finally, we spoke on the phone, maybe three times in all.

I can’t even describe what that was like – intense, starkly honest, humorous and deep. Wild like the wind. Here was a man who had made most of the same mistakes I had, only far worse. Depression, drugs, divorce. Family problems. Anger management. Women. Through it all, a ruthless, relentless pursuit of who he felt he was. Who he needed to be. An artist. A seeker after spirit. A man. Not an easy man, or an admirable man perhaps, but man who was earnestly trying to write his own story. In his own blood, if need be.

I’ll always appreciate his openness and his honesty in those difficult but exhilarating calls. Neither one of us was much for small talk, and we went right to the big stuff. What his life was like. Who my mother had been, in the details he could remember. How I wound up in an adoption agency in Ottawa. He hid nothing, as far as I could tell, although his stories sometimes conflicted.

I didn’t hold anything back either. I was never angry with him about my having been given up for adoption, but I insisted that he honour my experience. It wasn’t easy for me, handling the big hole in my life. He had a hard time understanding that. He said his own kids had it a lot worse than me. He was right, but that wasn’t for him to say. I heard it from them.

He was a difficult acquaintance, potentially a dangerous friend for me. I was grateful to have had to wait 8 years for the search to come up; had I met him in my own wild years I might have followed his ways, and it might have done me in. As it was, I became convinced that I had somehow been living out his karma, rather than my own, for much of my time on this planet. Such was our shared darkness.

I was glad that we came in contact when I already knew that I’d had the best life possible under the circumstances. Once we had gotten to know one another, I also knew that I was terribly glad not to have been his son. Our greetings and our wisdom and our weird ways acknowledged and exchanged, we pretty much parted. I knew he was out there. He knew where I was. There’s been no contact for a few years.

And then yesterday, in the most trivial way, I discovered that he was dead. I was at work, on the Web, looking for some information on the original (Polish) spelling of his last name, and wham! the first thing that came up was a memorial page. He died last March, aged 54.

I never knew him in life. I don’t know him now in death. But I’ve seen the picture of his face on that memorial website, and I saw my own eyes looking back at me. In the space between us lies a grave, and over that grave hovers a feeling of sad wonderment that I must call “grief.”

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