***Edited because I changed my mind about some of my wording...***
You all have me a little nervous. We're drawing near to the end of the story, and I am afraid you won't come back! So maybe I should just keep you hanging a little longer… ;-)
Just kidding. But seriously, I hope you'll keep reading after the story is "finished"—you know, as much as anything that's an ongoing part of my life can be finished. That being said, this is not the last installment of "Katy's Family Forest." There will be at least one more after this. OK, so now let's get to it.
So there I was, sitting in the parking lot of the restaurant, wondering if I really wanted to go through with it after all. And really, I think I felt about that meeting similar to how I feel about writing the end of the story: That's it? It's over? After so many years of this continuing real live soap opera, was it all really drawing to a close? But two things got me out of the car: First, I was there. It seemed silly to turn around and go home at that point. And second, I still kept thinking that I would someday regret if I missed this opportunity. So Jon and I got out and started up the hill to the entrance.
Der Dutchman is well-known in that area, and there is always a line. As in, out the door, down the length of the building (which is huge). Today was no exception. Fortunately, we knew that Frank and Janet had arrived before us and had already gotten a spot in line for us. So we started scanning the crowd.
And then it happened. We saw him—both of them. They recognized us right away, and we recognized them. And it was so… odd. Surreal and yet anti-climactic at the same time. After all, we're standing in the middle of a crowded line of strangers… And even though I was strangely connected to them both, I hardly thought of him as my "long-lost daddy" or anything, so it wasn't all that emotional. Just surreal. And strangely anti-climactic. Did I say that already?
And then we still had to wait in line. Ummm… The only word I have for that is "surreal." Again. We didn't really feel like we could talk standing there in line, so we just chatted… How do you chat with your biological father and his wife, neither of whom you've ever met?
Der Dutchman is popular, and it is also very, very big. So even though the lines are typically long, they keep it moving at a good pace. We probably weren't in line for more than 15-20 minutes before we had a table. Finally, it was just the four of us.
I feel like so much has built up to this moment in the story, and now I'm just not sure I can do it justice.
Frank was… nothing like I imagined. As I mentioned before, I expected him to be hard and gruff, a heartless jerk. He was friendly and a little soft-spoken. I couldn't figure it out, it didn't compute with what I knew of him. They brought pictures of them, of Frank when he was in the military, of Frank's granddaughter. (Did I mention that Frank has another daughter close to my age? She had recently had her first baby.)
We placed our orders, and then Jon and I headed to the salad bar. I think it was a good opportunity for both couples to have time to discuss our initial impressions. We were both a little… I don't know… I hate to say we were surprised that they were friendly, but… he was just so different than I thought he would be.
And again, I started to worry: What were we going to talk about this whole time? It seemed logical that we would talk about him and Jan, and why he didn't stick around, etc, etc, etc… but I didn't really need—or especially want—to. I knew that he and Jan hadn't been in a serious relationship at the time—and not only that, he was married! And again, it hadn't happened to me, it had happened to Jan. I had definitely gotten the best end of the deal, since I got placed in my family! J
So instead, we just talked. Not much about my adoption or my family, but just talked. We talked about our kids, Janet's kids, Frank's grandbaby. We did talk a little about Frank and Janet's remarriage—I think they felt a little uncomfortable about that, since I had expressed disapproval at Janet's leaving her husband (and children) for Frank. But honestly, it was all said and done at that point, and while I am sad to see any marriage end like that, it was their lives and their choice, not mine. So I think that wasn't as much of an issue as they were concerned it would be. So more than anything, we just got to know each other. And they were nice… and friendly… and easy to talk to.
So in some ways, it was anti-climactic, because there were no big… emotional moments. No breakdowns or apologies or… whatever else one might expect when first meeting your "father" after 28 years. But again, he wasn't really my father, just the man who had helped to conceive me.
But it has also become an important day in my life for a few reasons. First, I learned who Frank really is. While I can't speak for how he acted 28 years ago, deep down I don't really think that he was heartless… I think he was more… afraid of conflict, and that he tended to avoid it... strongly. That explained why he had reacted the way he did when I had tried to contact him before—it had caused a problem between him and his wife at the time, so the easiest thing was just to do away with the conflict. It also explained his history with women (multiple wives and affairs).
Second, I learned that my connection to Frank—and to Janet—is stronger than I would have thought. During lunch, they expressed interest in someday meeting the kids. On the ride home, Jon said he had no real desire to maintain contact with them… and three hours earlier, I probably would have said the same thing. But after I met them, I knew that I needed them to meet the kids. I needed them to be part of my life—not a major part, not talking every week or even every month… but I needed that connection, even if it was just Christmas cards and an annual e-mail or something.
And to be honest, the idea of a relationship that was more than the occasional card or e-mail was quite scary to me. As we sat at lunch and I came to realize that this was not just going to be a one-time meeting, I simultaneously started to worry that they were going to want to truly become part of the family… and I wasn't prepared for that.
And that's where God's Hand once again became clear. They were moving. Years ago, Frank bought a house or townhome or something in North Carolina. He rented it out, and planned to use it as his retirement home. And now (at the time we were having lunch) his job in Columbus, which was a contract position, would soon be coming to an end. He and Janet planned to move after his contract was finished. What an amazing God, who could orchestrate our meeting when he lived just two hours away, but just a few short months before he would be moving much farther. We met just in time, but also didn't have to worry about how often to visit or how often they would want to make the trip up. Whew!
And so… there it is. After 28—almost 29—years, I met my biological father. And I met the woman who had helped me to find him, who had been my connection to the past when I wasn't quite sure what my past was. And I shook the whole way home… I shook because it had finally happened… I shook because it was over… I shook because I did want a continuing relationship of sorts with them, and I wasn't sure why… I shook because—well, have I mentioned the word "surreal" yet in the last sentence?
Before we left, Jan had the foresight to ask someone to document our visit with a photo. And so, friends, here you are. Here's a little peek into a day I never thought would come, and certainly never thought I would be sitting here writing down for all to see… Meet my biological father…
Well, I guess I've gotten over the "short post" thing, eh? J Honestly, there is more that I want to share with you, so I hope that you will come back. But that's enough for one post.