I work at a library, and while most of the time I am assigned to behind-the-scenes tasks like shelving or checking in books, sometimes they have me supervise the self-checkout machines.
I loathe working the self-check. Mostly because I worked retail for 10 years and know that the general public tends to use clerks and other service people as punching bags for their frustrations, but also because working at a library puts me in the position of serving people such as my ex-boyfriends, my ex-girlfriends, their mothers who hate me, family members I'm currently feuding with, or people who used to bully me as a kid.
No, that's not awkward at all.
Anyway, as I was working the self-check today, who walked past me but my biological father, whom I have not seen or spoken to in 12 years.
He glanced at me as he breezed past to the self-check machine farthest away. I helped another patron, then looked back at him, at the back of his blue EAA jacket and his gray newsboy cap. Of course the machine was giving him problems, and he kinda looked like he was getting pissed off. Shit, what do I do? I thought. Should I help him, or stay back and let him figure it out? If he was any other patron, I'd be over there helping him. I really should help him. What should I say say first? Well, maybe he didn't recognize me.
"Is that not working for you?" I said in my customer service voice, avoiding eye contact.
"These things give me a problem every single time," he groused.
"I can just check it out for you at my computer," I said. So we went to the little employee computer and were now face-to-face. I noticed he looked and sounded and acted exactly as I remembered him, only now he was a little skinnier and more wrinkled. But still agile, sharp, opinionated, and as German-looking as ever.
After I was done checking out his item, he looked at my name tag again and said, "Well, you look like someone I know."
"I know," I said, and we looked at each other for several seconds, unsmiling. Now there was all kinds of eye contact.
"Could it be?" he said. "Are you...?"
He smiled then, and opened his arms. "How about a hug?"
We hugged. And there it was--our reunion right in the middle of the downtown public library, while I was at work, just after Father's Day weekend. We then chatted for a few minutes. I told him I was moving away soon to go to grad school, and he asked if he could contact me and if we could talk. "I mean, if that's alright," he said. "I don't want to make anyone uncomfortable."
"Oh no, it's fine," I replied, and gave him my info.
I actually did want to talk to him more. I have so many questions for him, so many things that I have wondered about for years. Like, What happened between you and my mom? Why did you leave when I was a toddler? Why were there no visitation arrangements? Why were you not around when I was growing up? I understand you arranged a trip for my mom to go to New York [where abortion was legal] during her first trimester. Can you tell me more about that? Or about when I was being put up for adoption, or when I was in foster care? What was happening with you during all of this? What's your side of the story? Are you just not a "kid" person? And how is my half-brother that I've never met? Where is he--who is he? Do you still teach ballroom dancing? Do you watch Dancing with the Stars? Is it true you were once a headstone salesman?
I'd like to understand what things were looking like from his point of view, not just for curiosity's sake, but also because I think understanding these things will help me forgive a lot of the shit that went down when I was a kid. All I have now are the little bits and pieces my mom and other relatives tell me, and the angry letters from my dad that I found stuffed into my baby book. I'm assuming there's more to the puzzle. Several times I had considered contacting him, but talked myself out of it each time. I don't think he's really down with the fact that I even exist, I always thought.
"Maybe we can get lunch sometime before I go," I suggested to him today.
"I would like that."
He seemed genuinely pleased to be talking to me, if not a little surprised. And he seemed impressed by and respectful of the grad school thing, and not condescending, intimidating, and irritated with me like I remembered him as a child. It would make good fiction if I said that we had a dramatic, emotional confrontation today, but that's not what happened at all. We just talked like two adults, and as he left, he reached out and held my hand for a long moment, and smiled warmly.
So I don't know what's going to happen...I don't know what he thinks of me. And I'm not sure what I think of him. I'm trying to imagine what it's like to have a grown child whom I've only seen a few times during their life and barely know, who doesn't have my last name, who didn't spend holidays with me, who doesn't know anyone on my side of the family, who learned everything they know from other people and not me. And I'm coming up blank. I have no idea what that's like for a parent, or for a person who wasn't exactly overjoyed at having an unexpected pregnancy thrown in their face.
I later told a co-worker about this meeting, and about how I was looking forward to talking with my dad, but how I had also looked him up on CCAP some time ago and had seen that he's taken 6 different people to small claims court.
"What if I say something wrong and he sues me?" I asked my co-worker.
"He's not going to sue you," she said. "For one thing, you don't even have anything."
I hope she's right.