Monday, June 16, 2014

On Fathers--Even the Absent, Bad, and Deadbeat Ones

This Father’s Day.  

I thought it might be hard.  

The search for my biological father (a very public Facebook search) was unsuccessful.  A month ago, a DNA test I hoped would be positive came back negative.  I'd exhausted my leads and myself, and didn't have the energy to process feelings.

But then Father’s Day came along.

I loved seeing all the pictures and words people posted on Facebook about their fathers—even though I didn’t have one of my own.  It's similar to the way I love a singing voice though I'm a terrible singer myself.  The words and pictures people posted somehow validated the time and effort I had put into the search.  

Fathering, when it's done right, is a thing to behold.

Looking for my own had been a worthwhile endeavor.

Someone asked me early on if I was afraid of what I might find—not all fathers are good.

I know.

Some are deadbeat; some are absent; some are oblivious to the fact that they are fathers; some are abusive.

These kinds of fathers might not be worth the time and energy of a search.

I don’t know—

I only lived with my mother for about six years from five to 11.  Before that I lived with my grandmother.  After that I lived with guardians.  During those six years, my mother was married to Richard (not my biological father).  He was a physically abusive husband, yet she chose him over me.

For years I fantasized about him dying so I could have my mother back. 

Unfortunately, mom died first.

When the call came, I flew out to California to settle her affairs—Richard was unable to.  He’d become a broken man.  And his health wasn’t great, either.  A social worker said he’d wind up in a group home.

It took two weeks to get the remains of my mother’s small life in order.  During that time, I learned about Richard’s childhood—born in 1929 to a family unable to care for him, passed from relative to relative who mistreated him while making it clear they didn’t want him, winding up in the care of harsh nuns, all contact with family gone.

Great—now I felt sorry for him.

I talked with Sam who told me to do whatever I thought was right—he’d support me.

That’s how Richard came to Virginia to live with our family.  One day after two years with us, he said to Sam:  I never knew what it was to be a husband or father until I watched you.

Those are words that will make your heart skip a few beats. 

He had regrets. 

But he also found peace and love the last years of his life.  

Before he died, in an ironic twist I felt God had set up, Richard gave me the information about my biological father that would propel my search.  Part of me wanted to find my biological dad just because it would have made for a stunning ending to this story.

I understand some dads (or stepdads) are so toxic that having a close relationship isn’t possible and wouldn’t be healthy.  But even those dads shouldn’t receive our derision or vitriol, or our joy when "they get what’s coming to them.”  They are part of the human condition—the part that is incredibly sad and ugly.  We should be offering prayers and empathy.  Maybe even love—at whatever distance is needed.

Love changes things.

Our family never regretted bringing Richard home to us.

And in the end, I don’t regret having spent time and effort on this search, either.  

Here is a little of what I learned and gained:

--I have a high tolerance for humiliation.  Just Kidding!!!  Almost every person I spoke with was warm, compassionate, and helpful.  I made some new friends whom I like to call:  People Almost Related to Lisa.

--I have a theory (some based on proof, some on speculation) of how and why my mom migrated from Germany to Minnesota to Chicago to Los Angeles.  I feel closer to her now than I did before the search.

--I know because of DNA testing with that my father was fully Greek which makes me half Greek.  Before the test, I thought I might be, but now I can own it.  I feel some of the Greek culture was knit into me—like when a person receives an organ transplant and has feelings and memories that actually belonged to the original owner of the organ. 

--I met a fourth cousin, “Annie,” through  She’s working on her family tree.  Who knows what she’ll come up with?  One day I may get a phone call—which would be a refreshing change considering how many calls I made.  I imagine a Darth Vader voice, “Lisa, I am your father.”


I guess that’s it.

Hoping you all had a fantastic Father’s Day.

And for all who shared their pictures and recollections—they helped me process the last six months of searching.

Thank you.

All in Goodwill,


  1. All beautifully described my dear Friend. I love how you can twist the sad to make it glad.
    I do hope you have a call someday from your father, but in the meantime, you are dearly loved by the Father of the fatherless. Big hugs!

  2. Lisa, your writing always leaves me different than before I read it. I've been wondering about your search. It certainly hasn't been in vain. Praying that just when you least expect it... who knows? Your life is simply defined by wonderful you :) God bless.

    1. Thank you, Nancy--you are a consistent encouragement to me.

  3. Beautiful! So thankful that God blessed you in many unexpected ways, even though you have not found your father. But then the story isn't finished. Prayers and hugs!

    1. I was thinking the story was finished--but what you say is true. Thank you for the shift in thinking, Rita.

  4. Lisa, you have had a remarkable journey, and you've been brave enough to take us along with you. Your incredible writing makes us feel the longing, the angst, the frustration, and the resignation. I am in awe of you and your family being able to take Richard in. It speaks volumes of your hearts and your faith. I somehow don't think the story is over yet.

    1. Elizabeth, how can I argue with both you and Rita? And thank you.

  5. What an incredible journey your life is, Lisa! I am incredibly blessed to know you; to have met you; to count you as a close friend; and to ride this roller coaster called life with you. Thank you for sharing with us. <3

    1. I am blessed to count YOU as a friend on this wild ride, Laury!

  6. It is evident that you have let God take the role of Father in all aspects. What you did for your step-father will be greatly rewarded. I did post pictures of my dad. I lost him to cancer when I was only 28, a young mother who longs still for his wisdom, work ethic and love of sports to be shared with my two boys. I wonder how their lives would have been different or affected by knowing him. Through your search, I am sure you learned more about your mom, more about yourself and not so much the DNA stuff, how you fit into God's will in your experiences in life. May His peace be filtered through those who you have been blessed to nurture. Coleene

  7. I agree--the DNA stuff is not so important. I'm sorry for the loss of your father--Madeline is 27 and I know what it would do to her to lose him--though we're likely never ready.

  8. Hi Lisa,
    I found your delightful blog through Elizabeth Cottrell. What a gem you are!
    Love your bio, and your attitude! ;-)

    The dad topic is one I have wrestled with often myself, though for different reasons.
    Wishing you all the best in your journey! I'm looking forward to reading more of your posts.

    1. Thank you, Denise! I went to your site and see you've been on quite a journey yourself. God is so good to give us put people in communion to minister to one another.