How I Met My Father

Okay, most people meet their fathers sometime during Day One. And then, there are the rest of us…

I was in a classroom full of other first-graders in Mrs. Scheib’s class at Stone School. The weather was warm and we were antsy. Very soon, it would be time for summer vacation; the Nirvana of every school kid’s limited existence. Bless the good heart of Mrs. Scheib—she felt sorry for the fathers because Father’s Day always fell past the last day of school. She had the wonderfully kind idea of constructing our Father’s Day cards before school was at an end. She would save them for us and mail them to our fathers closer to the day of honor. She passed out the construction paper and we were to retrieve our crayons from our desks. So why was Robin suddenly dissolved into a teary mess?

I clearly remember the scene:  The teacher came quickly to my desk, I’m sure quite puzzled. I was howling. “Robin, why are you so upset?” I blubbered, “Because I don’t have a father!” Mrs. Scheib replied, “But everyone has a father.” At that point in my very short life, I hadn’t a clue of the biology and ancestry of humankind. “No, I don’t have a father!” “Well, do you have a stepfather?” “No, I don’t have a father at all—wail, wail!” Poor Mrs. Scheib. An inconsolable Robin was not a pretty sight (or sound). She came up with a pretty good option under such duress, “Well, do you have a grandfather?” (I wonder if her mind began racing down the other male familial connections:  Uncle? Brother? Male cousins?) I answered, “Yes, I have a Grandpa—sob, sob!” “Well, then you can make yours for your Grandpa.” And voila, the Father’s Day Debacle was solved and I eventually could see well enough through the remaining tears to start coloring the outside of the card. The teacher kindly wrote the word, Grandpa, on the blackboard for me to copy. Now, I feel horrible that I may have scarred Mrs. Scheib for life! Did she EVER dare to bring up that Father’s Day card subject again? Perhaps Mrs. Scheib needed an extra glass of wine that night?

It’s rather a messy and definitely not a “Disney” type of story (at least not Disney back in the day). Summing it up, my father chose not to be in my little girl picture. This is one possible eventuality when barely more than children start making children, because they’re just “so grown up”, you know.

I grew up believing I was of the same parentage of my three other sisters. I was three when Mom married my sisters’ father, however. The memories I have of that stepfather are not good ones. By first grade, my mother had to leave that physically abusive relationship; thus, my tear-filled statement to my teacher.

I don’t recall any other “father” meltdowns for the rest of grade and middle school. Grandpa probably loved having extra cards! It would take many years longer for Grandparents’ Day to come along.

I was in approximately 8th or 9th grade and I happened to see a copy of my birth certificate for some reason. I noticed that the surname on there was not the same as my sisters. Upon inquiry, my poor mother had what may have been one of the most heavy-hearted discussions she ever experienced. Divorce is difficult enough to explain to your child, let alone that discussion of “illegitimacy.” I’m sorry, but that word belongs in the vocabulary world of business or politics—not in circumstances of birth. It shames the child, who had absolutely no control of how or when or by whom they got here. Even my birth certificate had to look “different.” It was inversely colored from other children’s. Theirs was white with black type and mine was black with white type. A birth record Scarlet “I”, if you would. I later discovered that when I needed a replacement copy, my birth was not even registered at the local county clerk’s office—it was registered at the state capitol, as if all of Saginaw County were ashamed of my coming into the world.   Mom told me my father’s name, where he had lived, and how they met. My Mom was a very shy middle child who was quite thin during a time when being full and curvy was the fashion. Today, we would say she was “modelesque.” Then, she was teased and called “Skinny” and “Bones.” She felt overshadowed by her outgoing, curvy older sister. This deeply affected my mother. My father, also, was quite thin and this was accentuated by his several inches over six feet in height. In my imagination, they developed a relationship out of mutual relief to find another person who was regarded as less than the ideal.

I bombarded my mother with questions about my father. Where did he live? Was he still alive? Did I have any other brothers or sisters? She answered them as best she could. They had not maintained any sort of contact over the years and each had their respective families. I heard the story of my sudden and dramatic entrance into the world, a full two months ahead of schedule. The doctor had told Mom not to get too attached because I most probably would not survive. Obviously, doctors are not always correct in their prognoses.

I wondered why didn’t he ever call me on the phone or come to visit?

I’m sure this was causing my mother so much discomfort and embarrassment. She had explained that my elementary school had advised her to keep using the last name of my sisters so as not to mix up or lose my records. When I was old enough to drive, however, I would have to use my legal surname. Driver’s training was no longer very far away, and so Mom felt the time had come. I was plunged into a sort of identity crisis; although now I knew why I looked different from everyone else in my maternal family.

Life went on from there, as it does for everyone. Achievements and challenges, disappointments and successes. I gave birth to two baby boys and they knew their fathers.

In 1987, my poor Mom would receive a diagnosis of myelomonocytic leukemia, after a hellish year in which we would lose my youngest sister to a motorcycle accident. The oncologist told me that he felt my mother’s grief may have caused the leukemia to become active. She received the diagnosis on Mother’s Day and died at the end of the following August. We were lucky that there was enough time to talk and cry together and hash out what was needed…and to say, “I love you.”

The last time I saw my Mom, she was back in the hospital after a very short remission at her home in Florida. The oncologist had to tell us she was terminal, which made it doubly painful to leave, though I had two young boys at home. I laid my head on her chest, hoping it didn’t hurt her too much there. I told her that I loved her and wished she were not dying. I could not get the words out without my voice breaking. She laid her hand on my head and said, “I know, Rob, I didn’t want you to die when you were born.” She told me I would have to tell my sisters and brother things for her, because I was the oldest, since she would not be there to do that. I don’t know if she then instructed them to actually listen…;)

Two days after my mother died in that Orlando hospital, I had to register for my first semester of college. I was able to do it because I knew she wanted me to do it. I was a late college bloomer, but I was set to begin. Once again, while in school, my fatherless situation would be brought back into play.

End of Part I


~ by saginawrobin on April 23, 2012.

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