Saturday, July 14, 2018

Passing and Redemption

As we cruise down Highway 20, eastbound through Texas, I flash back 14 years, to when we took the trip to Florida to meet my biological father for the first time. I was chalk full of anxiety, curiosity, and hope; not fully sure what to expect from a man who left before I was born and seemingly never looked back. Today, years after establishing a relationship, we undertake the journey once more, but this time with a heavy heart laden with resignation and acceptance. In three days time, I will say goodbye for the final time, and his body will lie in rest.

The journey to find my father was full of many intrigues, but was also ripe with regret, doubt, hope, forgiveness, and ultimately redemption.

At the age of 14, I began an earnest search for the elusive man who I knew only through a faded photo taken in the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs somewhere around 1980; a year or so before my birth. While my parents were concerned about what I might find when I located him, they ultimately supported my decision, and my search commenced. I wrestled with the decision as I was sure this was hard for my parents, especially my dad Frank, who had raised me as his own since I was a small boy. I simply held onto the hope that they knew how much I loved them.

For the next ten years, I searched the burgeoning directories available on the new fangled "world wide web", flipped through countless phone directories from several cities around the country where I believed he might have been, and placed countless phone calls to errant or disconnected numbers asking if they were - or knew a Mike Jordan.

I will pause at this juncture and say that my random placement of calls resulted in more than one hilarious and awkward conversation with a few Mike Jordan’s (or various women who answered), when I told of my search and confirmed they were, in fact, NOT my father. Hopefully, there were no unintended consequences when we hung up. Haha!

My father and step-mother - Mike and Houl
Finally, when I was 24, I decided to pay $250 to a private investigator in Goddard, KS, to locate him. Three days later, the gentleman called back and confirmed that he was living with his girlfriend in St. Petersburg, Florida. I recall well pacing on the front porch of my house, holding a scrap of paper with his phone number, debating whether to place the call. I did, and am forever grateful that I made that choice.

The next hour we spent on the phone confirmed he was in fact, the missing man I had been seeking for over a decade. About 30 minutes after we got off the phone, I received a call and spoke with my grandfather for the very first time. I learned that my grandmother, Ruth, had passed away just months before and that my grandfather had no knowledge of my existence before that night.

Roughly one month after the first call, and one DNA test later confirming everything, I was standing face-to-face in the humid Florida sun with my biological father. There was a slight resemblance to the man standing before me, but with his 6’3” tall height, I was now completely convinced I got the short end of the genetic stick. I’ll blame that one on my mom. ;)

Papa Bill and the boys
Over the days of the first trip, several significant things happened. First, and the most significant for me, was the recognition of the depth of regret he had experienced over the decades for his decision to walk away. The second, was when I met my grandfather – Papa Bill. Looking back, while I had hoped for a significant relationship with my father, it ultimately paled in comparison to the relationship built between my Papa Bill and I (but that’s a post for another day). The third significance was the new connection with numerous new family members into my life. Suddenly, I was meeting and connecting online with several aunts, uncles, and cousins around the country. I learned about an immense and extensive family history and learned significant medical background. A gap had finally been filled.

My Cousin Chis Jordan - he has some height too!
The past 14 years has had its ups and downs, as most relationships do. For the first few years, we talked regularly, as he was a history guy like myself, and we compared and shared books that we each had read. A few years later, he was in an auto accident that left him in a coma with a traumatic brain injury. After months of hospitalization and rehabilitation, he returned home but was never quite the same again. He could no longer work and despondency set in. Conversations became short, and his girlfriend Houl (who would later become his wife) and I often talked about his tendency to spend his days drinking coffee and staring out the window for hours on end. He battled numerous health conditions over the years following the accident and for the past 7 or 8 years was on dialysis at least four times per week. As time marched on, some normalcy returned and we talked intermittently and still traveled down to visit. He was a complicated man who chose to live a difficult life, and who made many decisions over the course of his life that ultimately caught up.

Aunt Karen, cousin Katie, and Uncle Paul
A week ago, amidst a busy day, I missed a phone call from him. When I called back the next day, Houl told me they were back in the hospital, and he had called because he wanted to talk to me. He was back in the hospital due to a poorly tended wound that had gone septic, and the infection was spreading. But I was too late to talk to him – his medical condition had quickly spiraled over the prior night, and he had slipped into a coma, suffered a massive stroke damaging his brain, and was on life support.

In the early hours of the morning yesterday, after several days of communicating back and forth with the hospital and Houl, I received the heartbreaking call from his nurse that despite their best efforts, the doctors were unable to revive him after his heart had stopped beating. He was gone.

A family shot a few visits back
As we travel down this long highway, heading down to finalize the funeral and lay him to rest, I reflect on the numerous things I’m thankful for. I’m blessed to have had the last 14 years to get to know my father; to see the similarities between us, to build a relationship, and for finding him. I’m thankful that he was able to get to know his five wonderful grandchildren and beautiful daughter-in-law. I’m blessed to have connected, and remain connected, with several of my new family members. I’m thankful for my little Vietnamese stepmother, Houl, who has loved him so incredibly all these years. I’m thankful for a loving mom and dad who raised me, and who trusted that my love and appreciation for them would never diminish by my search. And I’m thankful for the journey for it changed me in many profound ways.

I will miss talking on the phone, sitting around his living room recounting stories from our respective childhoods, and spending time talking about history or his latest medical ailment. During a conversation several years ago, during a very rare moment of personal reflection, he said something that will forever stay with me. He admitted he had made many mistakes over the course of his life that he wasn't proud of, but that I wasn't one of them. The childhood memories that stirred within me…wondering why someone would walk away from me before he knew other words he could have said could have been more significant. The adage says “It is better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all.” Few truer words have ever been spoken.

Through forgiveness, redemption was found and a relationship restored. There are silver linings to be found in life's many circumstances...we simply have to open our eyes and look.

You were loved and will be missed. Until we see you again...

No comments:

Post a Comment