Philomena and My Father

by Diana Rankin

bench and pond “I wonder if he ever thought of me.” These words spoken by Dame Judith Dench as Philomena, in the film with the same name, grabbed at my heart and took me into my own question: I wonder if he ever thought of me. In the film, Philomena was questioning whether the son, who had been taken from her by Irish nuns and adopted by an American family, ever thought of her. It was the same question I had about my father.

            I cannot speak of a mother whose child was taken from her or of a birth parent who gave up a child for adoption. I can speak as a child who grew up not knowing a birth parent. Yes Philomena, yes birth parents who were unable to raise your children, and yes Father. I did think of you . . . again and again and again, and I wondered: did you ever think of me?

            I met my father when I was 19. It was the first time I had seen him in 17 years. I knew him only in memory of my two-year old self. That’s when he left our family – my mother and brother and me. I can still see us sitting on that concrete park bench, the white ducks with their orange bills open, quacking for food as they came out of the pond toward us. I still see the sunlight sparkling across the quiet blue water, still feel the spray of the fountain. I still see my father smiling at my brother and me. Even then I knew he was sad. It was a sadness of depth, a sorrow that I could not understand as a child. Still do not. It was a pretend laughter that he presented to us, a face put on for children.

            Did I ask him why he was sad? I might have. I don’t’ remember. I do remember that I didn’t ask him when I saw him again when I was 19 and the deep sorrow was still there. It was behind his eyes, in the way he held his shoulders and the way his hands rested in his lap. It was by his hands that I recognized him. They were my hands, long and slender fingers, unlike my mother’s or brother’s. It was in his hands that I saw my own heritage and the long line of ancestors from which I come.

            I didn’t want anything from him. I didn’t want any money; he didn’t have any anyway. I didn’t want a relationship or to ask for him to love me. It was all too late for that. All I wanted was to meet him, to look once again into the eyes of the man whose genes and DNA help to make up me.

            But that desire, that need to meet him, was not well received by my family. It caused my mother terrible hurt and anguish. Although we never spoke about it, I’m sure she questioned the wisdom of family silence where any information about him was concerned, and I’m sure she questioned how much I loved her if I wanted to meet this man who had caused her so much pain. My big brother, always protective of our mother, was also upset with me. How could I hurt our mother so?

            It is not something that can be understood – this need to find your birth parent(s) – by those who know the history of their genetic make-up. It is not a logical need, especially if you’ve had a good life and good parents. It is almost a biological, inborn need, inherent to the human spirit just to meet this person who helped to provide you with life.

            I don’t know if everyone who does not know a birth parent has this need that I had. In the end, my brother had the same need. He too met our father, and it was our mother who gave me the clue that led me to him. That must have been hard for her. Only in hindsight am I able to realize how much she loved me to make that kind of sacrifice.

            I don’t know if my father made any sacrifices for me. I think his leaving our family might have been a sacrifice, one that took me years to understand, appreciate, and be grateful for. Still I wonder if he ever thought of me, if he loved me. I’ll never know. He’s dead now. There’s no one to answer that.

            I know in a way I loved him, or loved the fantasy I made him to be. And maybe Philomena answered the question for me: as the child thinks about the birth parent, the birth parent thinks about the child and wonders if s/he ever thought of me.

© 2013 Diana Rankin

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