I had met my grandparents one time, briefly, when I was nineteen. Bill and I had driven up to New England to see his parents, and I persuaded him to make a side trip to “the grandparents’.” While my grandmother was cold and aloof, my grandfather was warm and kind. The first words out of his mouth to me were, “You have eyes just like your father’s.” I would hang onto to those words for years to come because that matched exactly what my mother had said years prior. I would close my eyes and think about what the rest of my real father’s face looked like. Did it look like mine? Did he have my hair color? Was his nose like mine?
For the next year, I planned the meeting with my father. Although I had an overpowering desire for connection and hopefully some validation, I forced myself to go slowly and devise a plan. I had learned over the years from this grandmother, albeit grudgingly, that he had a wife and five children. I did not want to harm this man or his family in any way. I only wanted a few moments of his time, a glance at his face, perhaps a smile of approval.
To my thinking, he held the key to my legitimacy. He was my beginning, the very stuff I was made from. My mother and grandmother had told me many times that I was conceived in love. If that was true, then meeting him, touching him, seeing him with my own eyes, would somehow enable me to know myself.
I was sure that in meeting my father, I could withdraw my illegitimate label: “The bastard shall not enter the congregation of the Lord; even to his tenth generation.” All of my life, I had understood being a bastard as not belonging, not being real, not being legitimate—or, from a later biblical version of the word bastard, as being a foreigner. I recall thinking that if he would just welcome me, I would be known and therefore authenticated.
After much consideration about a course of action, I called a Catholic church near where my father lived in New York. After introducing myself to Father Joe, I explained my situation and asked him to facilitate the initial phone call that could lead to a meeting. By the grace of God—and, I suspect, Father Joe’s persuasion—my father agreed to a time and place. Over the next few months, I could barely contain my eagerness. Time passed painfully slowly.
The day finally arrived. I flew from Florida to New York and met Father Joe. He jokingly told my father that he could not miss us at the restaurant since I was female, blond, and five-foot-four, and that he was six-foot-four, black, and wearing a priest’s collar. I shall always be indebted to that angel of God. My anxious eyes were as large as saucers as I waited to finally set them on this man, my father.
Indeed, I knew at once that the man who walked through the door of the restaurant was my father. Much to my dismay, with eagerness strangling my initial words, I resorted to my childhood habit of stuttering. Finally, after a few pleasantries, we left Father Joe sipping a cup of coffee at the counter while we took a booth in the corner. As soon as we were seated, I instantly calmed down. About thirty minutes later, my father assured Father Joe that he could leave and that I would be escorted safely. My father and I had decided to go somewhere to have a few beers.