We pulled onto his street and passed the house. The garage door was open and the TV was on. OMG! People are home, was the first thought that raced through my head.
When you decide you want to meet your biological father for the first time and show up on his doorstep… unannounced after driving more than two hours, you really hope someone is going to answer the door, but you are also completely and utterly terrified at the thought that someone will.
Did we have the right address?
To be honest, I wasn’t even sure we had the correct address. We had three addresses for him (all on the same street), but we parked out front and walked up the driveway. I felt like my heart was going to pound out of my chest. My knees were shaking, I thought I might faint, and I was having a hard time breathing. Thankfully, my husband grabbed my hand and said, “I got you, and it will be okay.” Or something to that effect, which was reassuring because I was ready to run back to the car and hightail it back home. He walked up to the door and I hung back at the corner of the house. What the heck was I doing? Oh my goodness, what I have I gotten us into? What if he doesn’t live here or worse…he slams the door in my face?
It Is My Father
Robert rang the doorbell and we waited. And waited. And waited for what seemed like FOREVER. Until a woman answered the door. Robert asked if Joe Bradley lived here. She said, “Yes.” And at that exact moment, my father walked up behind her. Yes, my father. There was no doubt it was him. I had been shown pictures and I guess I just knew in the pit of my stomach that it was definitely him. He said, “I am Joe Bradley.” Now, by this point I am sure they wondered who the heck we were. They probably thought we were Jehovah’s Witnesses. Oh we wanted something all right and today was definitely a day of reckoning for him.
I stepped a little more into his view and asked him if he had been married to Jean Darrenkamp. He said, “Yes.” I took a deep breath and replied, “My name is Beverly and I am your daughter.” At which point, he started crying and hugged me—hugged me hard. And then started saying things I NEVER expected my father to say: “I have been following you. You live in Fayetteville. You got married last year. You are a blogger. You speak other languages.” And so many more things about my life. He knew. He had been following my Internet presence for six years. Checking in on me every couple of weeks or so. I have to admit; I lost it a bit ok maybe a lot at this point. I hadn’t expected him to care, or him to want to know about me… to actually know parts of me. I wanted to hate him.
I introduced Robert, and my father invited us inside his home and immediately asked us to sit down and if we wanted anything to drink. I was actually sitting in my father’s home. It all seemed surreal—almost an out-of-body experience. Everything kind of slowed down.
He knelt before me by the coffee table and we talked a little bit. I can’t really remember what exactly was said because I was just looking at him. Looking at his face, his eyes, and his hair. I was in awe. I saw a familiar face. One that could not deny me. There was no doubt I was his daughter.
A day of reckoning
His wife joked that they had talked about this day; when one of his kids (there are six of us) would show up at his door.
I quickly got down to my questions. I had brought a notebook and didn’t want to forget what I really wanted to know despite all the emotions running through my body.
I asked him about his mom and dad. And he told me some stories of what his childhood was like. He confirmed my assumption of abuse and pain growing up. He clearly has demons from those early years. I am not sure about all of the stories, but they are his truth.
He answered questions about the wives and children. He confirmed my crooked family tree. I was assured there were no more “surprise” siblings out there. Knowing that was such a huge sigh of relief. I had the complete family picture now. I could simply focus on building relationships with those who wanted to. He asked me about his kids. Yes, that was a bit weird. A father asking his daughter about his children. But he wasn’t able to find them on the Internet. We spent some time going over what I knew. He was clearly relieved to see pictures and to hear about them.
He answered questions about my mom, their history, the abuse and the separation. How he moved away and started a new life without us. And how he finally sought out counseling for the abuse and his anger many years later. It was clear he loved my mom very much. He said I was beautiful like my mother. Something I don’t think I ever expected to hear his lips utter.
He answered questions about his health. He has some heart issues that mostly have come from drinking and smoking most of his life.
He answered all my questions and didn’t flinch. He accepted responsibility for his actions. He never blamed. He manned up. Finally.
Not Good Enough
I asked him why he didn’t reach out if he knew so much about me. He said he never felt worthy enough. I know he has regrets. It is clearly written on his lined face that is framed by gray hair. He didn’t apologize and I appreciate that, as an apology doesn’t make up for all those years. I think he knows that. It would have felt empty and terribly contrived.
He asked us to dinner and we talked about his life now: His job that he has held onto for 12 years and his relationship with his current wife of 20 years. He seems to have found some stability after so many years wandering. I hope he has. We took a few pictures and said goodbye.
Five hours after first meeting him, we drove home. I am not sure if there will be a relationship in the future, but I finally have peace in parts of me that I didn’t know could have peace. The meeting went far beyond my expectations. I am so thankful with how he handled the very difficult and extremely surprising situation. I can imagine I kind of rocked his world. I know my brother Joey coming into mine certainly did.
On a side note, my dad wasn’t even supposed to be home that day. He normally works on Sundays. They were going to go for a drive, but his wife didn’t feel well, so they were home. I feel that our meeting was truly meant to be for lots of divine reasons. And that makes me feel truly blessed.
What Is Next?
Three weeks has gone by and I talked to my father on the phone yesterday for the first time since that fateful day. He wants to come down and visit. He is making the effort. Only time will tell how this relationship will evolve. I just hope he doesn’t screw it up. I hope he doesn’t make promises he can’t keep. I hope he doesn’t disappoint me again. I am skeptical. I am cautious. But, above all, I am hopeful.