I met my father tonight. It was not a surprise, but some aspects of it were unexpected.
For those who have not kept their "Amanda's family" scorecard updated, my parents divorced when I was a baby. It was not an amicable divorce. I obviously don't recall any of the details first-hand, but I'm told that the phrase "World War 3" has been used to describe it. Since there was no nuclear fallout, I assume there's some hyperbole involved there, but you get the idea. However, my mother had developed a good friendship with one of her sisters-in-law (my father's brother's wife-- still following along?), and she stayed in touch with that aunt and uncle. I can't recall ever not knowing Aunt Lois and Uncle Gene and their kids. As time went on and cousins got married (and other family events), I met other people in my family too. Up until tonight, the only immediate relatives I had not met on my father's side were my father, his wife, and their children.
My own feeling has always been that I didn't object to running into him, but that it wasn't enough of an obsession to actively seek him out. Part of that may have stemmed from watching my mother's interactions with her own father-- she had a similar situation in which her parents divorced when she was young. My grandmother was dead-set against my mother ever meeting her father, so Mom took off one day not too long after getting her driver's license and showed up on his doorstep. He was taken off-guard. Well, wouldn't you be too? Mom says they get along okay, but the times that I've seen them together, he seems uncomfortable and generally wishing she'd go home already; she seems like a child begging for affection. All in all, not something I particularly want to emulate.
Tonight was Aunt Lois and Uncle Gene's 50th wedding anniversary party. The planning for it has been in the works for some time; I was first told about it at a wedding last June. My mother and I were invited, and so was my father and stepmother. And because Aunt Lois and Uncle Gene are considerate people, they made sure that everyone knew the others were invited. Whether or not to attend was left to our own discretion; I chose to go, and so did my father.
To me, this implies certain things-- in particular, that neither of us found the idea of meeting to be abhorrent. Because we both chose to attend with the knowledge that the other would be there, we could both be fairly secure in the knowledge that we would not be completely rejected by the other.
Apparently, that's a line of thinking that much of my family did not share. I understand that their worries came out of a genuine concern for me and my feelings, but good grief! At Christmas, one cousin sought me out to tell me that my father was going to be attending, and that we'd be seated with her for support and protection. Protection? What, did someone forget to tell me that I'm descended from an axe murderer? The worst that could happen would be that I'd get my feelings hurt. Which is, of course, what they were trying to protect me from. Okay, that's sweet and all, but I'm a big girl and I can handle a few hurt feelings. Moreover, I am firmly convinced that I am worth knowing, and anyone who disagrees is missing out. (Call it self-confidence or overblown ego, your choice. To-may-to, to-mah-to.) Plus, the chances of things going really badly were pretty slim because WE BOTH CHOSE TO BE THERE. I really can't stress that enough-- this wasn't a chance meeting in which we were taken by surprise. We had some idea what we were walking in to.
Before dinner, a couple different people asked me if I was okay with the whole concept, and were genuinely surprised when I said that I intended to go over and introduce myself to my father after dinner. (I considered doing it prior to dinner, but I wanted to make sure that he had an "out" if he needed it, and it's very difficult to make a gracious exit away from your own dinner plate. Plus, I didn't realize he had arrived until just before dinner started.) In some ways, I find their surprise a little insulting-- to knowingly be in the same room with him and NOT introduce myself would have been a slap in the face, a deliberate snub. I admit I am sometimes a tad on the bitchy side, but I would never even consider that level of rudeness.
My mother also chose to attend knowing that my father would be there; I thought that was a sign that she was finally letting it go, and I was rather proud of her. It has, after all, been 30 years-- to continue to hold onto a hatred for that long is silly. Why let it eat up that much of your life? She's also told me that she'd be completely fine with me meeting my father, especially after the resistance she encountered from her own mother.
First lesson learned: my mother lied to me. She was not completely fine. She was not even remotely fine. The entire time I was near my father (defined as "not near her"), she was a nervous wreck-- John said he felt like a babysitter, since he got stuck sitting with her for a lot of it. She also wants a blow-by-blow of all of the conversations I had with my father and my stepmother. She's not getting it. First, none of it is particularly earth-shattering; we went through the usual first-meeting type questions ("Married? Children? Job?"-- and I am ashamed to say that I did not hold up my end of the conversation by asking the same questions. I already know that he and Carol just celebrated their 30th anniversary, they have two children together and she has two from a previous marriage, and that he's contracted to the state of Ohio. The last bit was relayed by his sister, my Aunt Joyce, early in the evening while she was pointing out who he was. But it's entirely possible that he also already knew most of my answers; if Aunt Joyce is willing to relay information about him to me, presumably she is also willing to relay information about me to him. Thus, I really should have asked anyway, just to keep the conversation going.) Once we got past the initial questions, things got a bit more awkward; I didn't want to get up and walk away (rude in the best of situations, but worse when it could be taken as a rejection), but I also didn't want to push too hard if he wasn't comfortable. We ended up talking to other people at the table and occasionally joining in to each others conversation, which worked out. Second, while our conversation was technically public and could have been overheard by anyone, it's really not any of her business. To recount it all to her would feel like an invasion of his privacy. Third, my mother is not a nice person, and even less so where my father is concerned, and I do not want to have to listen to her take jabs at every single comment.
I was asked by no less than 14 people the exact same question: "How did it go?" Only two actually felt the need to define "it" by asking if I'd met my father yet; for everyone else there was only one possible It. I literally spent more time talking to other people about talking to my father than I spent actually talking to my father. And again, I understand that it came from concern-- they all care and wanted to make sure that I was okay, and to lend moral support if I wasn't. But I think I might have screamed if one more person asked me. And for the record: it went fine. Pieces of it were awkward, certainly, but that's to be expected when you're meeting someone that society says you ought to already know, especially when you're doing it in a fishbowl-- surrounded by people who desperately want to know what's going on while still wanting to keep their distance lest things explode. He seemed like a decent guy, Carol was quite friendly, and there were no casualties (unless you count Mom's sanity, but that was on its deathbed already). Before we left, I gave him my address, phone number, email address, and a hug.
And I'm tremendously embarrassed, because I wrote my address, phone and email on the wrong placecard. See, as favors for the party, everyone got a small gold frame, which had the placecards in them. Another cousin and I had exchanged contact information, and the placecards were a good size for it (and the only available paper), so when I wanted to write down my contact information for my father, I went to grab my placecard to write it on. While I was off talking, our frames had been stuck in my purse. I grabbed the first frame, and saw that it was John's placecard. So I grabbed the second one, assumed it was my own, and disassembled it WITHOUT LOOKING at it. I did not actually look at the front of the placecard until I was handing it to my father, which is when I realized it had my mother's name on the front, not mine. (I do not know where my own placecard ended up; there were only two frames in my purse, I swear.) He took it well, but I still feel like a fool.