Finding My Father
If you’ve read my blog for any length of time you’ve probably learned a few things about me.
1. I love writing poetry and books for kids, my dog, my native plant garden, Santa Cruz, and chocolate.
2. A little over a year ago I was laid off from my day job and have spent the last year adjusting and enjoying being a full-time writer.
3. I’m filled with all kinds of doubts and insecurities about who I am, what kind of a writer I’m supposed to be, and if I am ever good enough whatever task is waiting right in front of me. (In other words, I worry a lot about things I should quit worrying about.)
But probably the single thing that tells you the most about me is that I have never known my father. His name, yes, but that’s all. I’ve never met him or anyone in his family. The only pictures I’ve ever seen were of him as a gawky young man in a white suit at their wedding. He was gone before I was born.
As I kid I used to bug my mom all the time for information about him but she never really said much. No one in the family talked about him and when they did, they never painted the prettiest picture. But here’s the thing, I didn’t want them to tell me whether the picture was any good or not. I wanted to see for myself. Still families do what they can to protect what they feel needs protecting and by the time I was in the 4th grade and someone asked me if I was Tommy Webb’s daughter I said no, without hesitation. I had been trained well.
When you have a hole like that in your life it’s like a scab you can’t let heal. And people who don’t have the same kind of hole often find it difficult to understand why just can’t leave it all alone and move on. I can’t explain the why. I can only claim the hole. It’s grown smaller over the years but it’s still there.
Last week I wrote about the distance we need between real life and our stories before we can write about them. In the past I’ve written about feeling safe enough to write the truth of your story. I believe we should always strive to write with emotional honesty, even when (or especially when) that seems like an impossible task.
That’s where Flyboy comes in. Every question I’ve ever had about my father, about my worth as a person, about how I felt something missing when there was no reason to feel that way because my life was just fine the way it was….all of that has been pouring into Flyboy for, well, over 25 years now.
Characters and plot, I’ve got them. But to take that emotional plunge into the ice water of my past…I just couldn’t make myself do it. I give myself a lot of sleep suggestions about my books, hoping my subconscious will take me where I need to go.
Four years ago I had a dream about my father. In my dream I went to answer the front door and there was a man there, kind of old, his short beard was gray but he had some black hair on his head. He wore a suit that had seen better days. He handed me a box, a white box, like one you might get clothes in or a little bigger. It was tied with string, not a ribbon. I asked him what was in the box. He shook his head. I asked him again to please tell me what was in the box. Nothing. I don’t know why I didn’t just open it myself but I didn’t. Then he walked away. I asked him to wait. He kept walking. Then I asked him who he was. He turned around and said, “I am your father.” And then I woke up without opening the box.
Last week for some random reason I decided to check for my father on Classmates.com. I knew where he had gone to high school so I kept hoping that he might show up there. It was a far-fetched hope since people in his generation aren’t as into the Internet as I am. Once I had gone there and found nothing I went through my normal little routine, putting in his name, the town he went to school in and the state where he was born. I’d never gotten anything back with that combo before but it was a familiar search I had done many, many times.
This time was different. This time an obituary popped up. I read it and burst into tears then almost as quickly I chastised myself for crying over someone who had never wanted me.
I’ve pieced together a story from my mom over the years. My father Tommy Webb was born in Arkansas and went to high school in Vallejo, California. His family eventually moved to Concord, to Bonifacio Street, into the little duplex across the street from where my mom lived. He worked at a service station in Walnut Creek, back when they had guys who pumped the gas for you. My grandmother’s name was Tina. She was pregnant with my uncle Robert at the same time my mom was pregnant with me. I had an aunt Kitty who was two years older than I am. There was another aunt Janette. That’s about it. Except for the not so pretty stories that I’ll keep to myself because, as my mom told me today. He could have changed. Turned his life around. People do it all the time.
My father died in Missouri. In January. This year.
In January I was still recovering from being laid off, trying to piece my new life together, trying to figure out how to create a life that nourished my creative soul. I was whole but with rough edges that still needed smoothing. I think if I had found him then it would have been too much. Much too much. Sometimes distance is a good thing. Even if it means we never get the chance to say goodbye.
His obituary mentions my aunts and my uncle. Where they live. It also says he has two sons and a daughter. My half-siblings. And lots of grandchildren. Aunts and Uncles. Bothers and Sisters. Nieces and Nephews. Family or not. It all depends on your point of view. The kind of picture you want to paint.
The obituary does not, of course, mention me.
I keep thinking about that dream I had. How odd to think that my father, who never paid a dime of child support, might give me a gift I’ve always wanted. Answers to questions that have haunted me for years.
The Internet makes things easy sometimes. Really it took no more than a few hours of searching to locate most of the family. They’re not active online. No websites or blogs or Facebook profiles. But mailing addresses. Phone numbers. I have some of them now.
It’s a chance. A chance to see at least part of the picture for myself.