It's not Friday, and this is not my normal installment of Fabulous Friday Finds. But I found something priceless last weekend -- FAMILY.
First, a little history. My parents split up when I was an infant, and I didn't meet my father until I was 17 years old. At that time I also met my half sister (Bev) and half brother (Doug), who were five and four years younger than I. I won't go into the details here, but that was the last contact I had with any of them until last December when my half sister tracked me down and sent me a friend request on Facebook. It was strange for me to think that someone who only met me when I was 17 still remembered me and wanted to reconnect.
Over the course of the next six months, Bev and I emailed back and forth quite a few times, talking about our respective childhoods, our current lives, and about our Dad. While I wanted to meet Bev in person, I still wasn't sure I was ready to see my Dad again. There was just a lot of baggage, bad things I'd been told by my Mom and my grandmother, and it was a big step for me. Since he had never made any effort to contact me in the 37 years since our first meeting, I wasn't sure he even wanted to see me, but Bev kept telling me that I was always on his mind and that he was a different person than he had been when I was a baby and when I met him.
And so came last weekend. It was time for the family reunion of my Dad's family -- aunts, uncles, cousins, brothers, sisters, etc., that I had never seen. Bev kept trying to talk me into attending, but I didn't make the decision until Friday. My husband, the understanding sort, didn't bat an eye when I told him I'd like to make the six-hour drive to Cincinnati to meet this family I'd never known.
Anxious, emotional, nervous, excited, curious... I can't begin to describe everything going through my mind during the drive. I still hadn't told anyone we were making the trip, so we checked into a hotel near the park where the reunion would be held, and then I called Bev and asked if she had a sister she wanted to meet.
The meeting took place in the parking lot of a nearby Skyline Chili (when you go to Cincinnati, for any reason, you have to have Skyline!). This sister I'd never known made me feel like family the instant we saw each other. I've spent most of my life with a very small "family unit" -- just my Mom and grandparents, all of whom are gone now (way too early), and my husband. Now I have a little sister (she likes it when I refer to her as the younger one).
I had decided that I wanted to meet my Dad before the reunion. It just didn't seem right to have our first meeting in 37 years be in front of a crowd of family, so after our Skyline dinner we followed Bev to his house.
She had already told me enough history that I knew he hadn't ever forgotten about me, as I'd presumed for years, but had always wanted to see me. My high school picture, the latest one he had, was always on display somewhere in their house (sporting a wonderful 70s hairstyle, I might add). And he'd been asking Bev about me ever since he found out she and I had started to converse via email.
More nervousness, curiosity, anxiousness... and then we followed Bev into the kitchen as she announced, "Hey, Pops, I got a present for you!" And there was my Dad, standing at the sink, helping my stepmom prepare food for the reunion. Not the man I remember, but still my Dad. And so happy to see me that he immediately started to cry. Any thoughts I might have had of a "reserved" greeting promptly went out the window, and I gave my Dad a big hug.
I spent a lot of time with my Dad, sister, brother, and stepmom (as well as some aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, and a nephew) over the next few days. What I initially thought would be a two-day trip turned into a four-day trip, but that's okay. It was a great weekend.
I'm not sure I could have approached this meeting in the same frame of mind if it had happened twenty, or even ten, years ago. I thought about my Dad during that time, but most of what I thought I knew about him wasn't good. Looking back, taking everything I know now in context, I think the reality might have been different than what I thought. I also know from Bev that he's different now than he was when he was younger. Aren't we all? Life goes on, and everything we experience changes us. So he's not the same person now as he was when he was 21 (his age when I was born), and neither am I.
I'm not the same person I was a week ago. The big difference for me? Well, Bev keeps telling me that I can no longer claim to be an only child...