My Family Secret, Part Two – How I Found Out

We were at the kitchen table, sipping coffee, just like usual when I visited home. But that was the only thing that was usual.

Dad’s chair was empty. His slightly dirty napkin from 48 hours before was still at his spot. He always liked to reuse napkins – an unlikely recycler.

I numbly clutched my mug, unsure what to do with myself. The house was still. My eyes settled on a note my mom had left for my dad on his placemat. “Cat is outside, don’t forget to bring her in” – a reminder he never got to follow up on.

I scanned the room. His shoes by the door. His reading glasses on the counter. Everything was where he left it. My eyesight blurred and my face started to crumble.

My mom saw me falling apart and suddenly broke the silence.

“I have to tell you something about your father,” she said in a voice I hadn’t heard before. It was thick and laden with meaning. It was the voice of a mother who had unwillingly carried a secret for years and couldn’t contain it any longer.

I stared at her. Her words hung heavy in the air. The first thought that popped into my head: He’s not my dad. I don’t know why I thought that, but I did.

But that wasn’t it.

She watched my face, evaluating whether or not I was open to hearing what she had to say. I must have looked like I was – or she couldn’t stop herself – so her mouth opened and the words spilled out.

“Your father has another daughter. You’re not his only child.”

I sat there, dumbstruck. Unable to breathe. All my life I had wanted a sister. And I had one? How, why, when? But I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t think.

My mom took my silence as permission to continue. It all happened long ago when my dad was at MIT. He was 19 years old. His girlfriend got pregnant. All my mom knew was that my dad told his parents when it happened, his parents paid for the girlfriend’s care, the girlfriend had a baby girl, and the baby was put up for adoption.

And then silence.

 

I stared at my mom incredulously for a few moments. Then the questions tumbled out. What’s the girlfriend’s name? What’s my half-sister’s name? Was my dad in touch with either of them? Where did my half-sister live?

And the answer to all my questions: “I don’t know.”

That’s it.

That’s all my mom knew.

My mom never asked my dad anything about it after he told her. My dad never offered more information. The only time it ever came up again was when I went to college in Boston and my mom told my dad she thought I should know. And he said no. End of story.

That morning I sat there at the kitchen table for a good twenty minutes, unable to move. I was stunned. Confused. Angry.

And then I had to shelve all those emotions and move on for a while. Because I had a eulogy to write.

********

Catch up on the real-life family drama in these posts: Here’s Where I Start to Reveal My Family Secret and My Family Secret, Part One: How It Began

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34 Replies to “My Family Secret, Part Two – How I Found Out”

  1. OK-just re-read it without interruption. Still got goosebumps. Well done. I thought that he either had another child or wasn’t your father. What a journey you’ve been on!

  2. I keep thinking of the 1960s when on the daytime soaps they would stop in mid-story and say…tune in tomorrow when…
    So much to take in here. Anxious to hear more.

  3. Wow. I can’t imagine the shock that must have been for you! Adding that revelation to your grief must have been overwhelming to wrap your head around.

    Great job painting the picture of you and your mom at home grappling with your father’s sudden absence. It’s those little things that stick in your mind, like the note and glasses that keep making it real.

    1. Yeah, little things definitely stick out from those days. Little things now still affect me. Like right now I have a single rose in my room from Valentine’s Day, and it’s slowly and beautifully opening. It makes me think of my dad and his roses, and how he used to cut a perfect single one and put it in the kitchen.

  4. My jaw actually dropped open while reading this. There is nothing like grief and shock to destroy the walls that have kept secrets hidden.
    I just feel so tantalized by the reveal. How agonizing to have this dropped on you and to have the only answers be, “I don’t know.”
    And the motivation for the reveal was truly perplexing. With the paucity of information you were given, I imagine your mother suggesting that your kids ask their prom dates for buccal DNA swabs. Fiction is so much tidier than truth. -Ellen

    1. It’s still agonizing – I still don’t have real answers. More on that later.

      I know, I can see my mom analyzing my daughters’ boyfriends in the future for qualities that are similar to my dad. Blue eyes, brown hair, and a computer whiz? Sorry, too similar. You can’t date my granddaughter.

  5. I was reading this thinking it was fiction the ENTIRE time! It wasn’t until i read the comments that I realized. Wow. What a terribly difficult time for you- for your whole family. Your father never knew you knew? How hard that must have been for your mother.

    1. Well, if ODNT (above) had her way, my dad would be gay too. Ha!
      Yeah, it’s been high drama for a few years now. When I go home at Easter I’ll be digging through my dad’s files and I’m hoping to find some more secret info. Hoping…

  6. Okay, I just read these for the first time (how did I miss them?). And I repeat, feelings for dads, not always so simple. I thought I didn’t know my dad very well growing up because he was quiet and worked all the time, but that was all. This is HUGE! I really hope you get the answers you desire someday.

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