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Remembering Dad

By Angela W. Schultz

Six years old, I stood behind my mother, staring up at the tall, dark-haired stranger framed by our front door.

“You don’t know who I am,” he began.

“Well of course I do,” Mom replied warmly. “You look just like him. He isn’t here now, but please, come in.”

It was Greg, my father’s grown son. A son I had never known about. A son who had been adopted by another man when he was a small child.

Later, my father explained some of the details to me. His first wife left him, and he allowed their two very young sons to be adopted by her second husband. In those days family judges didn’t grant custody to single fathers, and he thought it was best for them to have an intact family. He didn’t meet and marry my mother until years later. It was years more before they learned my mother couldn’t have children and adopted me.

“You aren’t mad at me, are you?” he asked.

Hardly. I was fascinated. It had never occurred to me that my father had a life as an individual, distinct from his role as my dad. I insisted on tagging along when Greg and Dad went out to lunch. I didn’t understand what they talked about, but as I wiggled in the yellow laminate booth, picking at my brownie, I felt somehow older, as though sitting next to an experience larger than my own could grant me wisdom.

I never had the chance to see how that relationship might have developed. Greg and his brother Scott were killed in separate auto accidents a few months later. When we heard the news I followed my father into the back yard, where he worked on our fence and cried silent tears. I stood watching him. I had no words for new feelings washing over me—compassion, and a sort of quiet reverence for the truth of raw emotion and the pain of another.

How little even those who are closest can understand of a father’s heart.

This spring, almost thirty years later, I learned the name of my own biological father. Tom. I heard for the first time pieces of his story. How he took his fiancé home to the family farm to meet his parents. How in the flush of springtime and love, planting tomatoes and dreaming of their future together, I was conceived. How a few months later he was diagnosed with a spinal tumor that changed everything. And how the years following the breakup of that relationship and my adoption he struggled through many more broken loves and dreams.

Thirty years later, wordless ideas still tumble through my mind as I try to stretch to understand the many meanings of father, to honor my dad, and to remember that other man—both stranger and parent—who gave me life, and whose own life was changed forever because of it. Though I know I can’t understand it all, I am grateful for the chance to sit next to them, to share in their stories, to grow in wisdom, compassion, and grace.

About Angela W. Schultz

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12 thoughts on “Remembering Dad”

  1. Beautifully written!

    As an adoptee myself, I have always wondered what role my bio-dad had in my being placed. I have never been able to find out why, but have always known that it was a decision made for the best. My adoptive dad went through a ton of interesting and weird things in his lifetime, and unfortunatly, I was only around for 19 of those crazy and hectic years. I watched him pass away from cancer, and had to deal with that while 3000 miles away from him. I think that I would love to know who my Biological father was, because I had such a wonderful adoptive one.
    It is hard for me on Father's Day, but I look at it as a day to celebrate my husband and the wonderful and special dad that he is to our 4 little monsters. The meloncholy never really hits me until later in the evening, when all the festivities are over for the day, and I see my husband cuddling one of the kids. I miss that ability to hug my dad, and hope that whoever my biological dad is, that he also has loved ones around him, and that he knows that the baby he gave up 30 years ago understands, and accepts it!

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  2. seperate auto accidents? The heartbreak that must have been for both your father, and their adopted one is hard to imagine. it is interesting, and not always comfortable, to see our parents as individuals, isn't it? Beautifully written.

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  3. Thank you for sharing some of your story. It helps me want to honor my father for the role he has played in my life, and my husband for the gift of his presence in my life and that of our children.

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  4. Thank you for sharing this exquisite piece of lyrical writing and insightful thinking. The role of father can be complex and crucial. Both my parents grew up without fathers (My dad's father left before he was born, and my father never met him; my mom's father died when she was a child).

    Today I honor my husband, my father, and all mothers who serve so valiantly when fathers are not there. My father, husband, and grandmothers are my heroes.

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  5. …today I'm loving and appreciating both the wonderful father of my children and the fathers who gave me life and nurtured my life. Read more at Segullah.

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  6. What a unique perspective you have on fatherhood and family. Thank you for sharing such a personal part of your life.

    This is so true: "How little even those who are closest can understand of a father’s heart."

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  7. Gorgeous. "Though I know I can't understand it all, I'm grateful". It reminds me of Nephi saying he didn't know the meaning of all things, but he knows God loves his children. I think Heavenly Father holds understanding in his hands and unravels it before us as we are ready.

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  8. What a heartbreak for your father. I can't even imagine…

    My father and sister were adopted. I wish I could find their birth parents/people, but so far, we've had no luck. (My sister agreed to let me search, but she didn't want to search herself. I'm not certain why, though I suspect she resents being given up by a couple who had conceived another child before my sister. They were adults and together, though not married.) I think she is letting me look because she's somewhat interested in finding the sister but can't quite get herself to go there either.

    My husband's brother was also adopted, and he has not searched for his birth parents at all. He has told us it would make him feel disloyal to his adoptive parents.

    I think (but can't be sure) that I would try to find my birth family. But who knows? We can never really know what we would do in any given situation until we experience it.

    At any rate, I loved your post. I agree, that fatherhood (and motherhood, for that matter) are not so black and white.

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