Posted Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2009, at 1:43 PM
When you stop to think about your sense of identity, chances are you have certain familial points of reference. "I am so like my dad," you might think affectionately as you leave four hours early for a plane. Or, "I am so NOT my mom!" as you slam down the phone exasperated. The concept of who we are in relation to those in our family begins at birth. Who does the baby look like? Does he or she smile like Grandma or like cousin Fred?
It can be tough when those reference points don’t exist. Genevera Pendroy grew up not knowing who her father was. As she writes below, she eventually found him and met him, but their story does not have a happy ending. What she makes clear though, is that she has created a strong enough sense of her own identity to have a happy story anyway. Part of gaining strength from her experience came in writing it up. "I am very thrilled that you are choosing to post this," she wrote in an e-mail. "It feels like the final step."
If you have struggled with a lost sense of identity due to not knowing who your parents are, let me know. Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I am what some refer to as a love child. I have never been fond of the term, but it certainly stops people from asking me more questions about how I came to be than I want to answer. Specifics aside, my mother was separated from her husband when I was conceived. The man she conceived me with didn’t a) believe I was his and b) didn’t want children. So she went off on her own to raise me.
All my life I wondered about him-my biological, unknown father. It was his absence that drove my Type A personality to the brink. I just had to succeed. In my brain and heart I thought that if I succeeded he would realize that he wanted me.
I waited 33 years for the moment. In all that time, I would’ve never imagined it going the way it happened. Ironically, I guess, when I got out of the service after eight years as an audio/visual engineer, I moved to my then husband’s home state of Indiana. We lived just across the Ohio River from Louisville, Ky., which was where I was conceived. I hadn’t even thought about it, but my mother found it hilarious at the time. I had been here for over seven years when the moment began.
One afternoon I checked my Facebook account and found I had a new message. My heart almost stopped. It was from my biological father’s wife. I knew who she was because over the years I had done research on him. Once a high school counselor got me to actually speak to him on the phone and he adamantly denied he was my father. Another time my grandmother managed to get me an address, to which I wrote a very angry letter. It was that letter that prompted his wife to keep tabs on me.
Her note simply asked if I had ever been in the army. I simply said yes. She asked if my last name used to be Green. I said yes. By the end of the day I had spoken to her on the phone and had a meeting arranged for the next day. Her motivation came from having an adopted daughter, whom she didn’t want to experience all the things she imagined I had experienced over the years. She seemed honest and sincere enough. When I met her the next day, she came quite prepared. She brought pictures and a typed list of his likes and dislikes that also included what she knew of his history and what she personally thought of him.
Those few pages and the four hours I sat in her car talking put so many things into place for me. It was also the first time I’d ever seen his face, as all the pictures of my mother had been destroyed in a fire when I was 7 months old. I saw myself.
For the next few days we plotted, for lack of a better term, how to get him to meet me. He finally agreed to meet me on a Saturday. We spent two hours at our designated meeting place. I cannot find the words even now to explain how I felt; there were just too many emotions to sort out. The joy. The fear. It was an incredibly overwhelming experience and the whole time I just wanted to explode! We barely spoke of my mother, as this was a precondition for the meeting. We didn’t speak of his repeated denials of me. My hope was that maybe he would like me as a person and that from there, eventually, I would get my answer-the DNA test I needed. After two hours, he invited me back to his house to have dinner with him and his wife. I was beyond elated! I spent another seven hours with him. At the end of the night, he walked me to my car and gave me a hug. I thought it had gone well. Then Monday came along with an e-mail from his wife telling me that he was sure I wasn’t his, and being a gentleman he’d leave it at that, but that I was never to contact them again.
I was at work when I got the e-mail. No amount of self-discipline could keep me from sobbing. I went home where I cried for the rest of the evening. I spent the night wallowing in self-pity and doubt until I got angry. I became so angry. 33 years of anger at being denied. At that moment I began trying to figure out away to expose him. He has a fairly prominent position as a lawyer and even if he were right that he’s not my father (which I highly doubt), the exposure would be incredibly damaging to him. I knew the right people to make it happen. I called in favors. Then I changed my mind.
I spent several weeks asking myself who I was. Was I the kind of person who could destroy another? Was I the kind of person who depended on another for her value? Could I find the hate inside myself to destroy another human being and forgive myself for it? In the end the answers were simple. I wasn’t, I don’t, and I could not.
It’s been seven months since then. I realize I got everything I always needed from those nine hours except the DNA test (which in my opinion wasn’t really necessary). I knew his face. I knew his laugh. I knew his smell. And despite his last and final denial, I found myself at the bottom of all that hope and anger and love. I knew what my mother had said all my life to be true; she got the best of him in me. I knew that I would and could go on as I always had without him.
Genevera Pendroy is an audio/visual engineer, veteran, and political junkie. She loves to read and hike and explore.
Photograph courtesy of Genevera Pendroy.