I’m going to talk about something important here today and I’m really not sure how it’s going to go. And that’s ok. I’m using my wedding program again as reference. When we wrote our wedding program, I was smack in the middle of a writing dry spell that lasted a few years. I must have rallied everything I had in me to get the program and our wedding vows done. It was just that important. Not to mention, the impending marriage instilled in me a desire to reevaluate the people who had left my life too soon because I was strongly noticing how much I wanted them there on my guest list and sitting at the special tables during the reception. I had two special parents to walk me down the aisle, and if you count Cassidy’s family, I gained four new parents the evening we got married. Six parents. Six strong, supportive, loving parents. I am so lucky. And yet, someone was missing that day – my birth father.
I’ve spent most of my life slowly putting puzzle pieces together to solve a puzzle I’ll never actually solve. I’ll come damn close, though. It’s the puzzle of who my father was. I’ve got some flat-ended pieces of my father from here and there as I, like many other puzzle solvers, like to make the border first. I know where he was born, where he went to school, what didn’t work for him career wise, and what worked for him incredibly well. I know that he was handsome, sarcastic, charming and neurotic. I know he could polish off a bag of chips and a half dozen White Castle burgers in one sitting and that running made him puke. I know that those things didn’t help to prevent his untimely death at 36-years-old from a massive heart attack. I know that it happened in front of me three weeks before my 4th birthday and that the whole house shook from the impact of his tall body falling to the floor. I know that when the ambulance wheeled him out, that was the last time I saw him. I don’t talk about these graphic images to free them from my soul. They’ve been freed many times over. I talk about them to put them out there. No mysteries here.
So that’s my good, strong puzzle border. I’ve taken it apart and put it back together many times as I’ve grown older and more truths have been revealed to me. There are empty spots in my border but that’s ok because that’s info I can always find through research. It’s the juicy middle pieces that I’m lacking.
About a year after I graduated college, I took a job as a school photographer in Dover, NJ where I was in charge of class photos. I mostly worked in Morris County schools around where I grew up and it was also where my father taught 5th and 6th grade at Fernbrook School in Randolph. I didn’t get out to the school much but they had planted a cherry blossom tree when he died and also donated a plaque in his name. I knew the school had hired my company for school pictures so I arranged to work that day. I didn’t really know what to expect by going there after so many years. Obviously I knew it would be emotional but I just went there with an open mind. Most of the teachers were younger so I finally spoke with an older teacher who would have worked with my father. I don’t remember his name but I mentioned that my father had worked there and had died and before I could say more than that, he just looked me over and said, “Steven Klein.” I nodded and his eyes grew wide and watery. He said something that resonates with me very often: “I can see him in my mind today as clearly as if it were still 20 years ago.” He also called him charismatic, powerful, and funny. He showed me his old classroom. When I got in my car after work, I had a breakdown that I was able to pinpoint the cause of: my father has always been described to me as such an amazing man and I was his daughter and never got to learn that firsthand. I was robbed. I know we were close and I have scattered memories of spending time with him but I never got to know him through anything but a very small child’s eyes. I can tell he was a good father and that I loved him very much:
I’ll never know what it was like to sit in a room with him. I have his amazing metabolism but we’ve never shared a pizza. I have his sarcasm but I’ve never heard his jokes. I have the feeling of having been loved by a strong father but I’ve never gotten to look at him and watch the good just radiate out.
Every now and then I play a question and answers game with my mom to get to know more about him. It happens in chunks and it’s always relevant to something going on in my mind. When I was scared to go to the doctor to get my heart checked out, I asked all about his medical history. (My heart is just fine)
When I was falling in love with my husband, I asked my mom what it was like to fall in love with my father. Today I referenced my previous post about all my quirks and fears and asked my mom about my father’s quirks and fears. He was a stubborn mule as I am. He got set in his ways sometimes and just refused to try something new. My father wouldn’t snorkel or try lobster. He wouldn’t sit in the backseat of a car and he hated many white foods. If given the choice to snort cocaine or go shark diving, he’d snort cocaine. I’d go shark diving.
Anyway, sometimes it’s just fun to play 20 questions with my mom. He died a long time ago and I’m most sorry we can’t just hang out as adults. All I can do is love my daughter the way he loved me and never stop asking more questions about him. There’s people out there whose brains I haven’t picked. His older brother is one of them. Someday.
My mom remarried and my dad got to walk me down the aisle. And he raised me. And his granddaughter loves him very much, as do I. I lost a father but I also gained a whole new family.