Not My Father's Son

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I haven't spoken to my father in two and a half years, but I speak to my dad nearly every day. My mother and father were still teenagers when they divorced before my second birthday. My father remarried and started a new family. My mom married again as well and by the time I was seven, there were two men in my life: my father and my dad.

Shortly after my thirteenth birthday, with my father's permission, my dad legally adopted me. My father has told me that letting me go was the biggest mistake of his life and I have always believed him. Although we maintained a relationship into my adulthood, that adoption haunted me for years. After all, it occurred when I was just entering my adolescence and already experiencing so many changes in my life. For me, it has always evoked a profound sense of abandonment and rejection, even though I have no doubt the decision was made with only the best of intentions. Its purpose was to finally declare an irrevocable truce between two battling parents, but that never really happened.

Childhood trauma can take a lifetime to overcome. At least, that's how it worked for me. I formally and publicly forgave my father for agreeing to the adoption in my book, The Last Day of My Life. In it, I ask myself what would I do if I had only one day left to live? To whom would I apologize? Who would I forgive? I forgave my father. By doing so, I finally let go of the pain that event caused me throughout my life. That single act of forgiveness was never meant to accuse my father of doing anything wrong. It was a pivotal event from my past and I no longer wanted it to shape my present, or my future. My father's reaction was swift and definitive. He immediately cut off all contact with me and with my wife and children. In short, he blamed me for forgiving him. It sounds like a great title for a country song, but it's a lousy way to live.

A lot of people tell me I look like my father. Some even say we share many of the same mannerisms. He remains an inescapable and powerful force in my life. My sadness over our current relationship, or rather the lack of one, is soothed somewhat by distinct, precious memories of honesty and closeness which are mine alone as his son. I guess, like many people, my relationship with my father is complicated. There is still that child within me who longs for his approval, his love and his acceptance. Even if that never comes, there is an undeniable and inextricable link between us that no estrangement can nullify. I seek to understand my father, but I must admit that I don't and perhaps I never will. I can live with that.

It was my dad who raised me and nurtured me. He volunteered to be my Scout Master when the previous leader suddenly quit. Years later, he taught me how to drive a car. More importantly my dad helped me navigate childhood and even adulthood with strength, resolve and dignity. He showed me what it means to be a better person. Perhaps the greatest gift my dad gave me was his unconditional love. It's something I couldn't fully appreciate until I became a parent myself, recognizing that there were now three children in the world for whom I would do anything - sacrifice everything and forgive any transgression. I can't imagine anything my children could do or say that would prompt me to disown them.

I have love for both men. The lessons I learned from each were valuable and continue to shape who I am, both as a son and as a parent. To this day, when I am troubled, I still seek out my dad for advice. As for my father, the silence between us grows more pronounced and I realize our precious commodity of time is dwindling. I still have hope. As we approach Father's Day, I honor two men for two very different reasons. One man gave me life and the other taught me how to live. To each, I say Happy Father's Day.