Monday, April 14, 2008

Nuthin' funny here

Long time no post, I know.

Went on a Spring Break vacation and was busy the week prior getting ready for the trip. So, that explains two weeks’ absence. The other two are a little harder to talk about.

My dad has had some health issues for the past couple of years. First the doctors would say it was cancer, then all the tests would come out negative and we’d be convinced it wasn’t. After a major surgery 20 months ago, we hoped he was on the road to recovery. When the road was a lot bumpier than expected, he decided to go to the Mayo Clinic to find out once and for all what the heck was wrong. Well, it turns out he has pancreatic cancer.

I’ve spent the last couple of weeks trying to come to grips with the diagnosis. It’s not easy and I don’t think I’m there yet.

I have a kind of convoluted family history. I like to say I have a family forest rather than a family tree. Dad and my mom lived in wedded bliss for a grand total of 56 days. And they’re not even celebrities. My dad moved around a lot due to his job and decided that since my mom remarried when I was an infant, it would be better for me not to be confused by having two dads and being bounced around between them. He allowed my mom’s second husband to adopt me when I was in 3rd grade. When I was 19, I decided to track him down. I had no idea how I’d be received. Maybe he’d hang up in horror. Maybe he’d be distant. Maybe he’d let me know he wanted no further contact from a part of his past he regretted. I was a nervous wreck.

I’ll never forget that first phone call. I called him at work and introduced myself, thinking he might recognize the name. Not surprisingly, he didn’t (my maiden name was a very common name). I clarified, saying I was [mother’s maiden name]’s daughter. There was no hesitation. No feeling like I was a not-very-pleasant interruption. He just started talking to me like we’d seen each other moments before. I learned that I had two sisters and a brother and that, unlike my mom (for whom the third time was the charm), his second marriage was still going strong.

We spoke on the phone many times over the next 8 years and I corresponded frequently with one sister and occasionally with the other. I also corresponded with my paternal grandmother and aunt. In 1987, while on a trip back East, I arranged to spend a week of my vacation with Dad and meet my brother and sisters. When I got married and moved back East, we made regular trips to visit my “new” family. Dad and my newest mom were among the first visitors when I had my daughter, and New-Mom stayed with us for a week to take care of my daughter when I had my son.

In retrospect, I think that contacting Dad was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I feel incredibly close to that side of my family and, in fact, am much more like those sisters than I am like the ones I was raised with. Nature apparently trumped nurture big time in my case. Not only did I gain a great father, but I gained another incredible mother. And a fun bunch of siblings. Dad and New-Mom were instrumental in making sure their 10 grandkids grew up with close relationships to one another. Something I’ll be eternally grateful for.

I’ve only had Dad in my life for 20 years and I’m not ready to lose him. So far, he’s beaten the odds by surviving 20 months with his cancer (most folks live 3 to 18 months). Although we know it’s a long shot, I’m clinging to the belief that he’ll be his doctor’s longest-lived pancreatic cancer patient. I just can’t accept that he won’t.

1 comment:

Kendra said...

I don't know if I ever told you, but I was 15 or so when dad took me and our other sister for a walk to tell us something "important". He told us that we had another sister. You had sent him a picture, and I will tell you that I was thrilled to see you had blonde hair like me (everyone else in the fam has very dark brown to black hair). There was not a single moment's hesitation between our other sister and I, but we immediately wanted to know all about you. I was thrilled to have another sister!!
When we first met you in person I guess I was about 23 and already married. You and your "new-mom" came to the small town we lived in to meet my husband and me. I told everyone I knew that I had possibly the bravest sister that ever lived. I was so impressed with the fact that you flew accross country, to meet a part of the family that you only knew through occasional letters. I want you to know that I am so glad you took that step, I can't imagine our family without you!!