Open Letter: I Don't Know Them People

It happened somewhere around elephants …

Like a lot of children growing up…

Wait, it’s crazy that this is even a thing, what I’m about to say…

Like a lot of children growing up, I had the unpleasant experience of not having my biological father in my life. Which mean I had a paternal brother who is a year younger than me who I didn’t know. Also, I had two younger paternal sisters that I didn’t get the chance to bond with.

Despite that, I did have a father figure in my life, my maternal brother’s father, who took me in at an early age and treated me as if I was his very own seed. I’m forever grateful to him for that.

However, it never took away the wonder that I had of why my real father, as we say in the hood, wasn’t there for me.

I remember my paternal grandfather attempted to have somewhat of a relationship with me when I was younger. You see my father’s family lived two blocks over from where my maternal grandparents lived. So, every now and again my mom would tell me to walk over to my grandfather’s house and say hi to him.

As I think about this, I’m wondering why was this my responsibility to do?

After I became an adult, I lost touch with my paternal grandfather. Not because he moved, because to this day he still lives around the corner from my maternal grandparents’ home, but because I didn’t feel like doing all the work to keep up with managing the non-existent relationship.

I want to take a moment to explain that I’m not writing this post to make anyone feel bad. But I’m writing this post so that future parents can really understand the importance of solidifying their relationships with their children.

While I’d like to say that growing up without my father in my life didn’t affect me much, I know I’m lying – lying to myself. But yet, I still came out pretty darn good!

I can’t articulate how it affected me, though. Most of whatever disappointment of not knowing my paternal side of the family I pushed down and ignored. Hey, most of the kids I knew didn’t really know their fathers, so I accepted this norm and went on with my life.

Right now, I do know my sisters and brother, I have their numbers and we’re social media friends. But to this day I have a hard time connecting emotionally on a deeper level. Not because of their lack of efforts, but because of this invisible layer of unacknowledged resentment I feel. The resentment is not toward them, nor even my father – honestly, I think it’s toward the situation altogether.

In my hearts of hearts, I believe I want to connect emotionally. But here’s the hard truth that no one would ever say out loud. Part of me says, “well, I went this long without knowing them, is there any point in pushing the relationship now?”

*that really sucks to say out loud and sounds terribly cold-hearted*

My father does try to foster him and I’s relationship to some degree. We’re actually getting better than what we have had in the past, but we’re still a work in progress.

So, let me tell you a story about an incident that recently happened. My father had come into town, and naturally he wanted me to come and see him and wanted me to come visit his mother with him.

I don’t know my father’s mother at all. Prior to the visit to see her most recently, I had only seen and talked to her one time in my life. I will be 37 years old on June 24th this year. To my memory I’ve only seen and spoken to my paternal grandmother on ONE occasion, and I was 32 years old at the time…

*yeah, I know right*

So, I obliged my father and made the quick trip to go and see her. I couldn’t remember what she looked like from the first time I had saw her previously, so it was like I would be seeing her for the first time all over again.

I remember walking to her apartment. There was this short, demi grey-haired lady walking towards me talking on her telephone. Neither of us spoke to each other because we didn’t know who either of us was. As I got closer to my grandmother’s apartment, the same lady just so happens to be walking to the same apartment I’m going to.

As she opens the door, I walk in behind her and she holds the door open for me. I guess she realizes I’m her granddaughter. Oh, this must be her? I think to myself but don’t say anything.

As I come around the door, I see my father. He greets me with a hug, and I stand there awkwardly.

“You can have a seat on the couch,” my father says to me.

I smile and then I walk by my grandmother and stop shortly. I made the quick, yet awkward decision to bend down and give her a hug and then I go and sit on the adjacent couch.

My father is smiling and appears to be happy to see two of the special ladies in his life.

Honestly, I just feel awkward. I don’t do well around people I don’t know. I sat there and just smiled not really having much to say, because honestly, I don’t know what to say.

My father is pulling out old pictures of their family and showing them to me.

I’m still smiling awkwardly because I don’t know the people I’m looking at so there is no emotional connection I can pull from.

My dad smiles and hands me a picture of about five adolescent children. “See if you can find me in that picture,” he said with this big Kool-Aid smile on his face.

“You’re right here,” I pointed out rather quickly and handed him back the picture.

“Wow, how did you find me so fast?” he asked.

“I see my son. That’s how I knew it was you,” I said nonchalantly.

That’s when some type of feeling hits me. I can’t tell you the emotion I felt because I just don’t know what it was. I was just literally feeling some-type-of-way. Prior to that moment, whenever I looked at my son, the only people I could see in him was my maternal side of the family. But for the first time, I recognized that my son looked like my father when he was a little boy.

My grandmother doesn’t make much eye contact with me. I’d imagine she was feeling just as awkward as I was.

I began to look around the room searching for myself. Here I am in a room with my blood relatives and I was looking for a piece of me. Not a physical piece of me like a picture or something but looking to see if I can see any parts of me in my grandmother’s home.

I was looking to see if I could find parts of my personality or quirks or characteristics in her. I was looking around her apartment to see if she had any thing that I would say to my, “oh, that’s something I would buy.” Or looking to see if something stood out to me that would cause me to say, “oh, that’s where I get that from.”

I couldn’t see anything.

I noticed on her computer that she was on I made a mental note that I would look her up when I got home later. But then it hit me. I didn’t even know my grandmother’s full name. I was even unclear of what her first name even was – I still don’t know. And was too embarrassed to ask. Like I have two names that are in the range of what I believe her name is, but I’m not for sure.

I tried looking around to see if I could glance at a piece of mail or something so that I could get the name without asking, but to no avail, nothing.

I quickly abandoned that mission and went back to looking for myself in her apartment. I happen to turn around behind me and noticed something.

For the first time during the entire visit I finally had a genuine smile on my face.

She had a china cabinet full of elephants.

“Oh, you like elephants?!” I asked very enthusiastically.

“Yes, I love them!” she said back and smiled widely.