For 10 years, I’ve been struggling to find a place in my father’s family, and the truth has been slowly dawning: it’s been such an impossible effort because there is no place for me. I can’t continue to hurt myself like this, trying to carve a place out of nothing. It is too painful.
Confession: I do a fair job of hiding it, but I am actually a deeply sensitive person.
My paternal grandfather passed away a few days ago, a man who was not a grandfather to me in anything more than the biological sense. While his children and (legitimate) grandchildren mourn his loss, I mourn the lack of loss. Having lost an actual grandfather, on January 4, 1997, one whom I loved very much and who was there for me from the day I was born, I cannot really say which loss is worse.
Is it better (or worse) to have loved and lost, or to have never loved at all?
I gather that this largely unknown grandfather of mine was a pretty special guy, one who valued family and was a man of great love and integrity. I don’t know any of the stories. They are not a part of my history. On a handful of occasions, I witnessed a kind and gentle soul. That’s all I have, and yet really it has nothing to do with me.
In the scope of this family, I belong nowhere, and that is a pretty unusual feeling, an untethered sort of sensation.
Being around them is difficult, although they are mostly polite when they happen to notice me. I see their bond, it is nearly a tangible thing. They laugh and joke and, despite the miles that separate them most of the time, when they are together they present a unified front of intimacy. They seem to exude the message: our family is a huge, loving unit. That might be true, but it is a sentiment that certainly does not include me.
I can’t really blame them. They don’t know what to do with me, this outsider, this interloper. They acknowledge my existence, but they do so hesitantly. Not rudely, but in a way that makes it clear, intentionally or not, that I am not a member of this particular club and no provisions will be made.
What they might not realize, is that I am the vulnerable party. They, with their shared love and tight bonds, have the collective power to hurt me very much. I am not strong enough to force myself in, at the risk of further rejection.
It’s a sink or swim situation, and in this case I’m just going to have to sink. I made the initial effort, to find them, to connect. I tried, tried, tried…but now I’m done. Perhaps they expected more effort from me, but why should I have to bear the continuous strain of the Herculean effort of simply trying to fit in, to be a part of what should be my own family? The answer is, I shouldn’t, and I no longer will. The more likely scenario is that they have no expectations of me, simply because they do not think of me nor consider me at all.
When I was growing up and didn’t know my father, didn’t know who he was or anything about him, I constantly wondered two things: what he was like, and why he didn’t want me. These questions were an integral part of my childhood, I lived and breathed them right up until I was 30 years old and finally had the opportunity to discover the answers. It was a certain kind of background pain, a shame that was always there. The questions extended to the rest of the family, I was aware that at least some of them knew about me. But they seemed to have made the mutual decision to do what was easiest, which was to quietly agree that I didn’t exist.
I thought meeting my father and getting my answers would change everything, and it did. Just not necessarily in the way I thought it would. Turns out, that pain and shame of my childhood have been replaced with a different kind of pain, and a different kind of shame.
Now I feel the pain of exclusion, made sharper by knowing what I’m being excluded from. I feel the shame of being unwanted, but I now know the faces of those who don’t want me. I think, honestly, that it’s harder now. In some ways my imagination was more forgiving.
I can see now, in hindsight, that probably it was better that I didn’t know as a child what I know now. Because no matter what, I was always destined to be an outsider in this family. Even if my father had claimed me from the start, I would have, at best, been a peripheral member of his family. As an adult I am better able to handle the disappointment and heartache that inevitably comes with this particular territory.
I can’t really say I regret doing what I’ve done: finding my father, meeting my father, maintaining a relationship with my father. I am glad to know him. I also wish things were different, but wishing doesn’t make it so. Action won’t make it so either, unfortunately. Nothing can erase the past. What I think is that this is simply the hand I’ve been dealt, what I must accept and constantly forgive, day after day. There is no going around it, the only way is to go through it, which is what I’ve been trying to do for nearly 10 years.
It is a solitary journey, and not a smooth or easy one. I will continue on, but while keeping self-preservation at the forefront. No more trying to turn apples into oranges. No more looking for what isn't there.