I’m writing this on Father’s Day.
For me, this year was different than any I’ve experienced in the last 53 years. I am more emotional, wiping away warm tears that drip down my cheeks.
A few months ago, I lost my father on the same day that I found him. The thing is, I wasn’t looking for my dad. He wasn’t lost or even missing.
Life is complicated. It can be exceptionally beautiful, and at times incredibly challenging. There are peaks and valleys and bumps in the road. We all experience love, loss, and pain. I am no different than any of you—just living my life as best I can, making mistakes along the way.
I have always known how my story began: my mom got pregnant by my dad when she was 19, so they got married. They would go on to have my two siblings but ultimately divorced when I was eight or nine. We continued to have a typical daddy-daughter relationship, seeing him on occasional weekends throughout the course of my childhood.
When we became adults, the dynamics changed. And sometimes, so do the personalities and behaviors of the people we love most in the world. In our adult life, the relationship between my dad and I was off and on. As I got older, into my 40s, the bumps of life became a roller coaster and we became estranged.
Sadly, he lost his battle with cancer in February 2018. We never did make amends or reconcile. There is no one to blame, at least from my perspective. He made choices. So did I. What is true is that I loved him very much. I have never—now, nor then—wished for a different father.
But on February 7th of this year, I received an email that proved to be my biggest life challenge yet.
My husband and I (completely innocently) had taken a 23andMe test a few weeks prior for the interest of ancestry and health. On that February day, my phone beeped with a message from a stranger who had done the same test. He was contacting me to let me know that we had a DNA match—we were likely half-siblings.
If it’s okay with you, I’m going to move past the details of the next couple weeks. I have no control over my mother or her life choices. My dad didn’t know, and neither did my biological father, because as it turns out, this email was true. I had known it instantly…DNA doesn’t lie.
I felt as though my world was shattered. There was disbelief and shock. The swirling memories of childhood and the things I did with my dad: fishing, camping, snowmobiling, and the love of the great outdoors. Looking over at the picture of my grandmother that sits in my office and realizing I wasn’t related to her at all filled me with overwhelming pain. Memories and tears. More memories and tears. My mind also went to my dad’s siblings, all of whom have stood by me and supported me through my life’s journey.
As it turned out, my biological father lived less than 30 minutes away from me—so close we may have crossed paths. And just when I thought my heart couldn’t ache anymore, I learned that he had passed away. He died almost a year ago to the day of this revelation. He will never know of me. I will never get to meet him. He will never meet my two amazing adult sons, or hold the baby—his great grandson—who will be born this September.
I cried a million tears those first few weeks, had many sleepless nights, and swam hundreds of lengths at the pool downtown to ease my heart and calm my mind. I’d previously experienced this level of shock and trauma when my greatest friend, my younger brother who struggled with alcoholism and mental illness for many years, took his own life when he was 39.
As human beings, our hearts are incredible. We can accept what life has chosen for us without hate, bitterness, blame, pity, or other toxic emotions. That does not mean it does not take work, understanding, courage, strength, and change to get to that healthy place of acceptance. Trust me, I have done all those things too.
Although we all have different journeys, pain is not a contest. We all experience it at different times of our life. What we also have in common is our ability to love—just like my dad’s family did when I sat and shared this unbelievable news. They didn’t care. They love me unconditionally, now and forever, and I love them.
I am not going to focus on what I have lost, but rather what I have gained. If I didn’t, the only person it would hurt is me. I have gained three half siblings, some uncles, and the potential to meet a niece, nephews, cousins, and other relatives. I will continue to have room in my heart for the special people who come into my life. Some I am biologically connected to and some I am not.
I also have love for a father I never knew. I accept that I will only ever have stories or pictures, like the one of him at 21 that sits on my mantle. A young man, so handsome and full of life, who was going to be a dad.
And so today I say something that he never got to hear from me: Happy Father’s Day Jim Dodds.