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  • November 9th, 2009 | 12:03 AM
Finding My Father

If you've read my blog for any length of time you've probably learned a few things about me.

1. I love writing poetry and books for kids, my dog, my native plant garden, Santa Cruz, and chocolate.

2. A little over a year ago I was laid off from my day job and have spent the last year adjusting and enjoying being a full-time writer.

3. I'm filled with all kinds of doubts and insecurities about who I am, what kind of a writer I'm supposed to be, and if I am ever good enough whatever task is waiting right in front of me. (In other words, I worry a lot about things I should quit worrying about.)

But probably the single thing that tells you the most about me is that I have never known my father. His name, yes, but that's all. I've never met him or anyone in his family. The only pictures I've ever seen were of him as a gawky young man in a white suit at their wedding. He was gone before I was born.

As I kid I used to bug my mom all the time for information about him but she never really said much. No one in the family talked about him and when they did, they never painted the prettiest picture. But here's the thing, I didn't want them to tell me whether the picture was any good or not. I wanted to see for myself. Still families do what they can to protect what they feel needs protecting and by the time I was in the 4th grade and someone asked me if I was Tommy Webb's daughter I said no, without hesitation. I had been trained well.

When you have a hole like that in your life it's like a scab you can't let heal. And people who don't have the same kind of hole often find it difficult to understand why just can't leave it all alone and move on. I can't explain the why. I can only claim the hole. It's grown smaller over the years but it's still there.

Last week I wrote about the distance we need between real life and our stories before we can write about them. In the past I've written about feeling safe enough to write the truth of your story. I believe we should always strive to write with emotional honesty, even when (or especially when) that seems like an impossible task.

That's where Flyboy comes in. Every question I've ever had about my father, about my worth as a person, about how I felt something missing when there was no reason to feel that way because my life was just fine the way it was....all of that has been pouring into Flyboy for, well, over 25 years now.

Characters and plot, I've got them. But to take that emotional plunge into the ice water of my past...I just couldn't make myself do it. I give myself a lot of sleep suggestions about my books, hoping my subconscious will take me where I need to go.

Four years ago I had a dream about my father. In my dream I went to answer the front door and there was a man there, kind of old, his short beard was gray but he had some black hair on his head. He wore a suit that had seen better days. He handed me a box, a white box, like one you might get clothes in or a little bigger. It was tied with string, not a ribbon. I asked him what was in the box. He shook his head. I asked him again to please tell me what was in the box. Nothing. I don't know why I didn't just open it myself but I didn't. Then he walked away. I asked him to wait. He kept walking. Then I asked him who he was. He turned around and said, "I am your father." And then I woke up without opening the box.

Last week for some random reason I decided to check for my father on Classmates.com. I knew where he had gone to high school so I kept hoping that he might show up there. It was a far-fetched hope since people in his generation aren't as into the Internet as I am. Once I had gone there and found nothing I went through my normal little routine, putting in his name, the town he went to school in and the state where he was born. I'd never gotten anything back with that combo before but it was a familiar search I had done many, many times.

This time was different. This time an obituary popped up. I read it and burst into tears then almost as quickly I chastised myself for crying over someone who had never wanted me.

I've pieced together a story from my mom over the years. My father Tommy Webb was born in Arkansas and went to high school in Vallejo, California. His family eventually moved to Concord, to Bonifacio Street, into the little duplex across the street from where my mom lived. He worked at a service station in Walnut Creek, back when they had guys who pumped the gas for you. My grandmother's name was Tina. She was pregnant with my uncle Robert at the same time my mom was pregnant with me. I had an aunt Kitty who was two years older than I am. There was another aunt Janette. That's about it. Except for the not so pretty stories that I'll keep to myself because, as my mom told me today. He could have changed. Turned his life around. People do it all the time.

My father died in Missouri. In January. This year.

In January I was still recovering from being laid off, trying to piece my new life together, trying to figure out how to create a life that nourished my creative soul. I was whole but with rough edges that still needed smoothing. I think if I had found him then it would have been too much. Much too much. Sometimes distance is a good thing. Even if it means we never get the chance to say goodbye.

His obituary mentions my aunts and my uncle. Where they live. It also says he has two sons and a daughter. My half-siblings. And lots of grandchildren. Aunts and Uncles. Bothers and Sisters. Nieces and Nephews. Family or not. It all depends on your point of view. The kind of picture you want to paint.

The obituary does not, of course, mention me.

I keep thinking about that dream I had. How odd to think that my father, who never paid a dime of child support, might give me a gift I've always wanted. Answers to questions that have haunted me for years.

The Internet makes things easy sometimes. Really it took no more than a few hours of searching to locate most of the family. They're not active online. No websites or blogs or Facebook profiles. But mailing addresses. Phone numbers. I have some of them now.

It's a chance. A chance to see at least part of the picture for myself.
(Tags: , )
There are so many stories only you can tell.Tell them, please.


( 37 comments — Leave comment )
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November 9th, 2009 10:43 am (UTC)
Your post touches me very much, Susan.
November 11th, 2009 05:08 pm (UTC)
Thank you, Cindy. I hope I didn't overshare.
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November 11th, 2009 06:19 pm (UTC)
Thank you, Laura. I wondered about posting about it but it seems that I've talked around it a bunch and then, to finally have some sort of answer...

I'm hoping I can pour it all into my writing. It's the only thing I really know how to do.
November 9th, 2009 12:36 pm (UTC)
What a touching post, Susan -- sad, yet uplifting and affirming at the same time. Now that you have new information, I hope you're able to make connections and build bridges as you see fit. Taking baby steps to fill the holes -- on your journey to becoming whole. ((hugs))
November 9th, 2009 12:44 pm (UTC)
Wow, Susan. What an incredible story. I'm thinking of you. {hugs}
November 30th, 2009 07:45 am (UTC)
I am late with this reply, and I'm sorry. But I wanted to say thank you for your kind words.
November 9th, 2009 01:18 pm (UTC)
Hugs, Susan.
November 9th, 2009 01:24 pm (UTC)
My sincere condolences for your loss. I'm so sorry that you and your dad were never able to connect, but I'm glad that you now have more information to work with, if and when. Sending lots of hugs your way!
November 30th, 2009 07:45 am (UTC)
I am late with this reply, and I'm sorry. But I wanted to say thank you for your support. It means a lot.
November 9th, 2009 01:25 pm (UTC)
I was very moved by your post, Susan. Take care of yourself in the next little while and move slowly to do only what feels right.
November 30th, 2009 07:45 am (UTC)
I am late with this reply, and I'm sorry. But I wanted to say thank you for your kind words.
(Deleted comment)
November 30th, 2009 07:47 am (UTC)
Thank you, Melodye. I was late getting back here to these comments because I still felt all wonky inside. I'm doing better now....trying to word a first "reach out" letter to one aunt.
November 9th, 2009 02:56 pm (UTC)
Good God, Susan!

I don't know whether you should follow this up or not. The range of responses is so broad, especially with him so recently deceased, and most of the available reactions are going to be hard for you in one way or another. But I know that, sooner or later, you're going to. That hole isn't going away on its own.

Whatever happens, whenever it happens, keep this in mind: Their initial reactions won't be about you. They'll be about him, and their relationship to him. Rejection or welcome, suspicion or kindness, won't be directed at you the person but at you the surprise. And you can handle that.

November 30th, 2009 07:47 am (UTC)
Thanks, Peni. Yes, you know me well enough to know that I'll reach out. I'm just trying to find my big girl boots.
November 9th, 2009 03:10 pm (UTC)
Wow, Susan. Thank you for sharing this heartfelt post. *hugs*

My situation isn't identical, but I can relate to some of what you're feeling. My dad passed when I was four. Up until I was twelve, I had this idea that he was still alive out there somewhere, that he'd be coming back for me.

Then I was at a relative's house one summer day, going through photo albums. I saw pictures from his funeral. I saw pictures of four-year old me at the funeral. Seeing those pictures was when he really died for me.

Obviously, I've always known who he was and his family. But it was devastating when I realized I was never going to get to know him.
November 30th, 2009 07:48 am (UTC)
I'm late with this reply Mindi but can I just say, WOW! What a shock that had to have been for you too.
November 9th, 2009 03:24 pm (UTC)
I can't imagine what you've been through.

Sending peace...
November 30th, 2009 07:48 am (UTC)
Thank you, Lisa. Sorry for the delay in a reply. Was feeling sorta odd about it all. Better now. :)
November 9th, 2009 03:25 pm (UTC)
This is such a beautiful post, Susan. You are so courageous and generous with your feelings, traits your father never modeled for you. Congratulations on rising above the hurt and ugliness to become a person who can so freely share her heart with others.
November 30th, 2009 07:49 am (UTC)
Oh Tracy. Thank you. You can't know how very much your words mean to me. Please forgive my delayed reply.
November 9th, 2009 06:35 pm (UTC)
Wow. That is amazing. I hope what you find brings you peace.
November 30th, 2009 07:50 am (UTC)
Thank you, April. Sorry for the delay in a reply. Was feeling sorta odd about it all. Better now. :)
November 9th, 2009 06:58 pm (UTC)
How very strong you are, Susan, to post this part of your life and your newest discovery. I wish you peace, whatever the paths you take with this information. You have a large network of people who care about you, let us support you.
November 30th, 2009 07:51 am (UTC)
Thank you so much for your kind words. I don't feel strong but I'm pretty good at faking it. I apologize for the delay thanks but I was feeling turned around by it all for a while. I'm doing better now.
November 9th, 2009 07:08 pm (UTC)
Finding relatives
We weave together families for ourselves, out of bits and pieces of our real families and our friends and the people who marry in and out of our lives, carrying children and siblings and parents with them like pollen. But I know there's a unique connection created by shared DNA, even the odd strand here and there between distant cousins.

Last year, I searched for the village of my great-grandfather in southern China. This man raped my great-grandmother, leading to the birth of my grandmother, and a legacy of outcast status in our wide family, a stigma I inherited without effort. Yet I wanted to know more about this man of such wicked status in our little corner of this tattered family. And when I found the tiny village of his youth, his old houses, and cousins so distant we may share just one gene, or none... I wept for joy.

I recognize your desire for that connection, and mourning something re-lost before it could be found. Thanks for sharing your story. It was lovely and heartfelt, and I appreciate it.
November 30th, 2009 07:52 am (UTC)
Re: Finding relatives
Forgive the delayed thank you for this before post of yours. What a story you have of your own. *hug* And oh my, what a feeling that must have been for you to go to that village.

I think you are a very strong woman.
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( 37 comments — Leave comment )

Who am I?I was born on the Cancer/Leo cusp and share a birthday with Ernest Hemingway and Robin Williams. The similarities don't stop there as I can go from depressed to ecstatic without ever passing go. I feel scared most of the time though my friends call me brave and I find it easier to believe in my friends than to believe in my own abilities to make what I want out of my life.

Who am I? A wife, a mother, a daughter, and even, gulp, a grandmother.

Who am I? A writer who never gets tired of playing with words, even when the words are hard to find. A writer of books for children and articles for grown-ups and many things in-between.

Who am I? A motivational speaker, writing instructor, workshop leader and full-time follower of dreams.

Who am I? Read and find out.

Susan Taylor Brown

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