Death of a Stranger

tree We cannot destroy kindred:
our chains stretch a little sometimes,
but they never break.
~Marquise de Sévigné

Hi, I’m Kelli. A touch of background for those new to the show. I was born Kellie Anne a couple hundred moons ago. At twelve I was allowed to legally change my name due to adoption by mom’s new husband—the man I would come to call Dad and mean it. New name: Kellianne Elizabeth. But you can just call me Kelli.

The man that was there when I was born walked away. Oh he tried for a few years. And he tried again a few years after that. He called on my birthday some times, but too late for me to be awake let alone on the phone. He attempted some communication once I graduated high school, if by attempt you mean once a year. He met my oldest and knew my youngest was on the way. And then he walked away again, forever.

During all of that time, I fell in love with my Dad and learned an important distinction along the way: Father is only blood, Dad is earned. My dad earned every ounce of my respect and love, and honestly, shock, as we put him through hell in the beginning. But he survived and became Dad. And if something ever happened to him, I’d be devastated.

That other guy? We referred to him as the sperm donor if he ever came up. Which was rare. My sister and I have actually forgotten we’re adopted on occasion and given the wrong biological information to doctors, teachers, whomever. Ooops. Though we did stay in touch with his sister and her family. And I thrive on the gypsy blood he gave me…

Which brings us to this weekend.

I was doing a bit of research online, searching beyond what I already had. I did find some really fun things—distant cousins that were doing the same, old pictures, new names to add to the tree, etc.

And an obituary.

From a year and a half ago, for a man I didn’t know, barely remembered, and hadn’t called “dad” since I was seven.

I stared at it a while. There was no denying what was in front of me. I had met his new wife and kids—I knew their names—and there they all were. My aunt was listed as a survivor. My grandparents names were right there as preceding him in death. His date and place of birth… Oh, it was him. With no mention of me or my sister. And none of us had been notified—me, mom, his sister, no one.

When Bob asked what was wrong—as I can only imagine the stunned look on my face—he followed up my answer by asking if I was okay. And how did I feel about it.

I didn’t know.

I called my mom and she started to question, “but you’re you and do that thing, shouldn’t you have known?” but answered her own question with “I suppose, there was no connection so why would you?” I called my sister, left voicemail and emailed her the obit. We’ve contacted my aunt to let her know. My children know—one reacting like me, the other asking “Who?” And along the entire way, I kept hearing “How do you feel about that?”

I don’t know.

At first I thought I should be sad and was upset that I wasn’t. Then I thought I was upset that he hadn’t tried harder to even keep in touch, to meet or know or even have pictures of his grandchildren. And just as I rolled around to the edge of “it is what it is”, I realized something.

He died long ago.

His importance to me had been reduced to a name on the family tree and medical knowledge that could become important later. His impact in my life had been reduced to the fact that I know my bad knees come from “that side of the family”, which sadly, isn’t even specifically him but rather the family as a bloodline, as a whole.

I can’t say he’ll be missed. He was missed for years, while I gave him chance after chance. I stopped missing him sometime before puberty. I can’t really say anything about him, because I didn’t know him as a person, only a character in stories I’ve been told over the years. But I have stories of family much farther back with characters that are more fully fleshed out. He was a stranger to me. A stranger that gave me bad knees and gypsy blood. I guess for at least part of that I owe him a thank you… not that he’ll hear it.

How do I feel about it? Empty. I got nothing. Which is weird and bizarre and a little unsettling. But the thing I do know, the thing that strikes me the most about this, doesn’t even have to do with me. It’s all those other fathers (or mothers) out there that have walked away or shut out their family. It’s all the other little girls (and boys) left behind to forget, forgive, heal and move on.

It’s a shame it happens. It’s a shame it will continue to happen. And it breaks my heart, not for me but for others, that will someday be faced with the truth that one of their birth parents is really no more than dry ink on a branch of the family tree.

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