I was going to (finally) publish my New Year’s post but, instead of doing final edits on that one, I realized that I felt compelled to write about something else that seemed more important.
Today is my first dad’s birthday. He would’ve been 65.
I don’t talk very much about this subject; not because I avoid it or find it too difficult, but because 1. I have an adoptive dad and 2. I lost my first dad many years ago and it rarely comes up — especially since I say “my dad” probably a dozen times everyday when referring to my second dad, and no one would think to ask about anything different.
I was very close to my first dad and he was a big part of the world I knew. When he passed away it was quite sudden in many ways. I was young (13), as was he (41). It was a devastating moment and time in my life, and it took me many years to fully recover. Until I was in my late-teens, birthdays, holidays, graduations or any special moment felt tainted by his absence. I didn’t get into celebrating anything, if I even felt like celebrating at all. At the time if I could’ve skipped most of it, I would have.
Since I lost him so young, there are many things I felt he missed. Out of all of them, meeting my son is the one that hurts the most. Actually, it’s the only one that hurts at all now. In the early years I thought my high school or college graduation , or even milestone birthdays would top the list. But they’re not even close. I’d forgo absolutely everything else if he could’ve just met him. And I can’t help but wonder how my son’s presence would’ve changed him.
But despite my limited time with him, I do have countless wonderful memories and I shared so much with him. He was very instrumental in my life and, of course, is responsible for shaping who I am. As the years go on, there seems to be no end to the pieces of him that I see in myself. Aside from a passion for photography, a love of the ocean and some physical features (unfortunately I did not inherit his height), one of my favorites is that when I really laugh, and I mean a good feel-it-all-over-laugh, I sound just like him. So much so that the first time I recognized it, it made me cry because I suddenly missed him so much that my heart broke. Even today, the occasions that I laugh like that can still catch me off guard; but the difference now is that it makes me smile.
As I mentioned, because this isn’t something that really comes up, especially publicly, as I began this post I quickly realized that I couldn’t talk about my first dad without including my second…
My second dad came into my life when I was just three years old. So not only do I feel like I’ve always known him but he was an immense presence in our family for all the years that followed. Around 19 or 20 our relationship changed. We’d gotten much closer over the years, and by then he would refer to me as his daughter and I would refer to him as my dad. It’s not something that was conscious — it just evolved. It was perfectly natural, it fit us, and we never thought to question it. He didn’t replace my first dad, and has never tried to — that was never the point. But his involvement has changed my life in countless ways for which I feel indebted. He is one of my best friends, has been an amazing teacher, and I’ve always said that if I could have put in an order for another dad, he is what would have arrived on my doorstep. Before children were even a thought for me, I spent a lot of time thinking that one day my kids would be missing a grandpa. As it turns out, that’s not true; and my son is equally lucky to have him as a grandpa, as I am to have him as a dad. Because of his example, one of my greatest desires as a parent is for my son and I to have the kind of relationship that I have forged with my own parents.
So, here’s a little twist: he adopted me when I was 30 years old.
A couple of years earlier we had a surprisingly casual conversation about him adopting me, for several reasons: we’d been referring to each other as dad/daughter for many years, it was truly what our relationship consisted of and, in a practical manner, it would give me legal rights should he ever be in the hospital or similar situation. My response was simple, “That’s a great idea. It would make legal, what already is.”
So in the summer of my 30th year we arrived at family court, and I was the only “kid” above the age of about five that day. One of the best parts of that morning was having the privilege to see the people before us go into the court room, and then reemerge as a family. To this day that memory still chokes me up. It illustrated and drove home what family means for me.
Adoption is 100% a choice. Done purely out of free will, with no obligations, someone is choosing to love and take care of another, and call them their own. Sometimes, even if they’re already an adult. I love my given family and wouldn’t change them. Since I have a different experience of adoption than most, and I still had the rest of my given family, the process solidified my feelings around “chosen family”. So many of whom I’ve always considered family are not blood related, and I certainly count my closest friends today among that group. Lucky doesn’t even begin to describe it.
Some have asked me why I don’t refer to my first dad as my “biological”, “birth” or “real” dad. Yes, obviously there are genetics involved but I balk at all three of those descriptions. None of them are accurate enough, and I feel like it takes away from what I have with each of my dads. It implies that I either didn’t have much of a relationship with my first dad, or that what I have with my second is sub-par to the first — neither of which is true. I have two dads. And although I would give anything to have them both here right now, I was only given a certain amount of time with one, and I get to spend the rest of it with the other. I am incredibly fortunate to not just have two wonderful dads in my lifetime, but to have someone choose me into their life in this way. Some people don’t even get one chance, let alone two, and I don’t intent to waste that.
Losing my first dad made me better appreciate and understand the meaning of family. At a painfully young age I learned to hold your loved ones close every. single. day. and to tell them you love them constantly. To never waste or pass up a moment, and to never stop appreciating their presence in your life. In the end, I’m glad I never skipped a holiday or birthday (no matter how hard I tried) for I would’ve lost out on all the other wonderful memories and times that I’ve created with the family I still have. I’ve never had what would be considered a conventional family (whatever that might be these days), but I still have an absolutely amazing one, and the love and support we give and receive is a gift beyond words.
So while I intended to make this a “happy birthday First Dad” post, thinking about him all day not only left me pondering all the wonderful things I had with him and was left with, but it brought me to deeply appreciating my second dad as well. I will always miss my first dad, I will always think about him, and I will always wonder how my life would be different if he were still here. But I will never overlook what is in front of me or what I’ve been gifted. I will still celebrate my first dad today as the day belongs to him, and I don’t want to miss that. But I knew I needed to acknowledge them both today, for at least a few moments, since they are inextricably linked.
Every year on my first dad’s birthday I’ve imagined what he would’ve looked like at that age. How many gray hairs or laugh lines would’ve appeared…would he have grown another beard…would he still have his boat…would he be as active or would he be slowing down… But I always end up thinking of him in the way I last saw him: handsome as ever, wearing his shorts and flip flops, camera in hand, smiling and laughing, always living life to the fullest, and leaving nothing to stand in his way. Dad, I hope you’re having a ball on whichever adventure you’ve moved onto now, because I’m certain there have been many so far. ♥