By: Shannon Ralph
I have not celebrated Father’s Day in quite a long time. My own father passed away when I was eleven years old. My grandfather on my dad’s side died when I was an infant, and I have no memory of him. My grandfather on my mother’s side was around well into my adulthood, but he scared the living shit out of me. He had twelve children of his own, but his paternal instincts were questionable, at best. When I was a kid visiting his house, I vividly remember him barking, “There’s no crying in my house!” whenever any one of my thirty-something cousins would begin crying, as small children often do. He terrified me, so I talked to him as little as possible. Being a lesbian, I do not have a husband. Nor do I really have any living father figures in my life. Father’s Day luckily falls in the summer, so I do not have to figure out to whom my kids can deliver their home-made classroom cards. All in all, Father’s Day has been a moot issue with me for years. Just another humid day in June. That may all change soon.
My partner, Ruanita, has had nothing to do with her father since she was a small child. He left her mother when she was pregnant with Ruanita. His girlfriend was pregnant at the same time and he left to start another family with her, leaving Ruanita and her brother to fend for themselves with a mother who was both mentally ill and a completely non-functional parent. Luckily, they had amazing grandparents who shielded them from a great deal of their mother’s egregious maternal shortcomings and helped raise Ruanita to be the amazing woman I fell in love with.
Several years ago, stricken with an obvious bout of guilt, Ruanita’s father called her out of the blue to try to make amends for abandoning her as a child. He asked for her forgiveness. She responded by saying that she had nothing to forgive as she never really knew him and, therefore, did not feel that she was missing anything. Her grandparents did a fine job of raising her. She told him she had no feelings for him, but wished him no harm. They left the conversation at that.
In recent months, however, Ruanita has reconnected with her father via email and, via Facebook, with the half-sisters she never knew. She explained her about-face by saying, “I was not ready then. I am ready now.” She is now sharing photos of our children and commenting on photos of the nieces and nephews she has never met. It’s all quite surreal.
She has come to some sort of peace with her father’s decision to leave. Perhaps it has something to do with the years upon frustrating years she has dealt with her mother’s illness, and the realization that everyone has their breaking point. Or perhaps it is becoming a parent herself. Or maybe it has to do with wanting to avoid regrets once her aging father is gone. It could also have something to do with his seemingly open and completely accepting attitude toward Ruanita’s lesbian family. Whatever the reason, she has moved into a place of forgiveness and seems to be all the better for it.
As a result, we are going to meet her father when we are in Kentucky this coming weekend. He still lives in the same town Ruanita and I grew up in. We will be there visiting my brother, so we made plans to have dinner at her father’s house with her father and one of her half-sisters. I am not sure what to expect. I am not sure whether it will be a sweet, tender reunion or an awkward comedy of errors. It could very well end up being a really bad Sandra Bullock movie. The movie you wouldn’t pay good money to see in the theater, but will watch over and over again ad nauseum when TNT airs it ten times in one weekend.
Of course, we are not going on this journey alone. For the first time in their short lives, our three children are going to have a grandpa. We have tried to prepare them for the upcoming visit, but it is all quite daunting. Since we do not really know what to expect, it is difficult to properly prepare them. They have never had a grandfather and do not seem to entirely understand the concept. Lucas knows that my father died when I was a child. And I tell the kids all the time how much he would have absolutely adored all three of them. Lucas was surprised to learn, however, that Ruanita had a dad, as well. He doesn’t quite have a firm grasp on the birds and the bees just yet. I assume he just figured his mom simply didn’t have a dad like he doesn’t have a dad. He seems excited about the prospect of meeting his grandpa, however. Lucas is nine years old and has few male role models in his life. So perhaps this will be good for him. Then again, this is a man who abandoned his young children and cheated on their pregnant mother. What kind of positive role model will he be? Were these the acts of a selfish coward? Or simply a desperately unhappy man? Are we all entitled to a second chance? Are we all entitled to forgiveness? Or does there come a point when one simply forfeits the right, by his actions, to be a part of his children’s lives anymore?
I do not know the answers to these questions. However, I suspect we will get a glimpse at the answers soon. And the answers to these questions may evolve and develop in the upcoming months as we see how this relationship blossoms or doesn’t. Either way, there will be no regrets. Ruanita is making the effort, come what may.
Our children do not need a grandfather. And Ruanita, at forty-eight years old, certainly does not need a dad. But perhaps we can find a place in our little family for something different. Something new. Something “Next.”