I don’t write about my Dad (“Papi”) as much as I write about my mother. My father hightailed it when I was 4. My younger sister was one. He came back after they were divorced and made me another sister. While my parents were still married, my father made me a half-sibling which I later found as an adult through various Internet searches. My father eventually remarried and his affairs broke up that marriage, too. He had two kids in that marriage. And before I knew it, by the time I was 21, I had 10 siblings through my father and one extra on just my mom’s side.
I have a strange relationship with my father. When I was little, I fantasized that he would save me. When I realized he wouldn’t, I pinned all my hopes on G-d…or some Prince Charming. But G-d was more real to me than my father was, than any man would be. My father was a funny man with a mustache who fought with my mother about money and never called us on our birthdays…or ever. They tell me he’s antisocial, he doesn’t call anyone but that doesn’t make it any easier. (The “Prince Charmings” I dated before my husband were all cheaters, liars and worse and in many ways men that perpetuated the issues I had as a fatherless daughter.)
By the time I was 10 or 11, I stopped talking to my father altogether. He stood me up on Christmas Eve when we were visiting him out in Santo Domingo. Then he called. He called to tell me he wouldn’t be coming. And I hung up on him. Over and over and over again over the course of an hour. I didn’t speak to him again until I was 21 years old.
A friend paid for me to go see my Dad, to spend my last winter as a senior at Fordham University with my Dad in Santo Domingo. For the first time ever, I saw where my Dad lived. Because my mother was a known stalker, my father never took us to where he lived. The fact that she knew his phone number and where he worked was more than enough information.
The story of how I uncovered my father after not only cutting off contact for nearly ten years but also running away from home is one of those great miracle of G-d. My aunt threw me out. I was 20. I had a full scholarship but no place to live and no money to live on despite working two jobs. When I went searching for a roommate with an apartment, I visited a skivvy one with a friend refused to let me look at alone. And it turned out that the déjà vu feeling I felt in the building was because my cousins lived upstairs.
I walked through the building until I found the floor and the door that felt right and I knocked. I didn’t recognize the cousin who opened the door. Puberty had changed him. His mother recognized me instantly. And she told me that when my mother had told her I’d run away with my boyfriend, she hadn’t believed it. She wanted to get me in touch with my father but she didn’t have his number. She sent me to another relative, my father’s sister who hadn’t seen me since I was a baby.
I showed up on her doorstep hours later. “Hi, I’m your niece. Remember me when I was 2?”
I told my aunt about my childhood and it confirmed some of her worst fears about my mother. But when she called my father to announce that his eldest child had found her way home, back to the family, my father cursed me out. As far as he knew, I was the kind of girl that ran off with her boyfriend from her saintly mother (that’s the story my mother fed him when he came looking for me shortly after I’d run away!). I was not the child he had abandoned to a mother who had tortured her for 17 years. I was not the child who would months after meeting him kidnap my sisters and wage war for three years to remove custody not just from my mother, but also my absentee father.
I forgave him when he apologized because…I wanted to build a relationship. And when I left the Dominican Republic after a month of spending time with him, I had hope that we would actually build one. He cried when I told him about my childhood. He explained his abandonment with words that still shake me to the core, something like: “I didn’t grow up with a father so I thought you’d be just fine without one.”
He never calls. He never writes. But he’s always happy to hear from me when I do. Though not always happy with what I have to say. He is quick to call me “crazy” (for getting married, for thinking about having children, you know, for being) because he sees me as my mother’s daughter always. Every once in a while, I am his “bebe,” his baby. Every once in a while, I remind him that I have his sense of humor and I make him laugh. I tease him a lot. Sometimes, with a bitter edge.
When he mocks me for being bad at math, I remind him he never once helped me with my homework. Ever. When I mock him for being a workaholic, I bite my tongue just before I ask why he let me starve for so many years when he knew I was starving. Where is all that money he’s working so hard for going? Oh, I tease him also for dating girls my age (and I say prayers for these girls who are dating my Dad, who I know is playing the Big Bad Wolf to their little Red Riding Hood). I know exactly how easy it is to fall for my father because I was one of them. I was born to him and I never stood a chance.
I don’t tell him that often I don’t know why I’m calling. We talk for 15 minutes at a time at his work number. Sometimes 5 minutes every 3 months. Sometimes 10 minutes every 6 months. I call more often when I have something funny to say or something to tell him about my siblings…who he never asks about. They never ask about him either. They don’t even have fuzzy recollections of him. To them, he is a total and utter stranger. A man they visited in the Dominican Republic as adults because I coerced them and where they found, they were not as angry at him as much as they pitied him. Pitied a man who could not understand the irrevocable loss of knowing the wonderful, inspiring, hardworking daughters who he had merely donated sperm to create.
Sometimes I test him on vital statistics. What’s my favorite color? (It’s always been blue.) What’s my birthday? (Still the same.) I don’t ask him what my husband’s name is because he doesn’t know. He’s only met him once. I don’t ask him when my anniversary is because though I asked him to the wedding, he didn’t come. Perhaps, he was too ashamed to meet my father-in-law who was paying for the whole thing. Perhaps, he just didn’t care.
More than my father, I have come to appreciate my father’s family who met me as an adult but accepted me like they had known me since I was a child. When we visited the Dominican Republic in 2007, it was my uncle who offered to take my husband and me out to eat when we visited him in an area with no kosher restaurants. When we explained we kept kosher, he bought us kosher food from a local supermarket. I told him that it was more than my father had ever given me and I thanked him profusely for treating me like his own daughter.