Being the child of an addict might be the most confusing experience in existence. You’re loved, but not tolerated. Wanted, but not pursued. You may be the subject of stories, tattoos, and drawings, but you’re basically a stranger.
I’ve struggled an entire lifetime with the unanswered questions. Not just why my dad left, but who he was—beyond the trauma, the mess he made.
One of the reasons I became a writer was because my dad was a writer, before addiction took his life. I wanted to be like him, desperate for the identity he denied me through interaction. Otherwise, I wasn’t entirely sure who I was, who I was meant to be, or how I was supposed to enter adulthood with this haze of uncertainty consuming my life like a fog. I worked hard to get my act together. Working hard was the only way I knew to rectify the mess I felt had been made. I’d show him—I’d show everyone—I don’t need them.
That’s when I learned I had a brother.
In the wilder years of my dad’s existence, he found a girlfriend, impregnated her, and walked away. Twenty-six years later, I met Jonathon.
Neither of us knew our dad. He died when I was 18 and Jon was 12, and closure became impossible. I was still clamoring for something concrete that would tell me who I was, and although Jon couldn’t do that for me 100%, coming face to face with a portion of my DNA in another human being was more restorative than I ever thought possible.
Conversation flowed easily the first time we talked on the phone. He was a bachelor working for an HVAC company and I was a busy mom, writing on the side. But despite our differences, over the years we’d both migrated toward faith as a means to heal our trauma. So, we started with this commonality, that regardless of what happened to us, there was still purpose to our lives. After this discovery, we learned we both had a knack for the written word, and we both loved to read and study. Jon was reading a book written by Aristotle at the time, which both fascinated and intimidated me. I wondered if I’d met my match in Scrabble, having an unbeatable record against my husband and many of my friends. I’d never met my match in anything I loved to do, until I met Jon.
My mom used to tell me that I was adopted. I wasn’t, but it was a running joke because I was different, more like my dad, she’d say. A writer, a musician, a quiet soul. What I found in Jon were so many qualities I longed to know in our dad, without the drugs, without the insecurity, but someone like me, who liked me and wanted to know me.
Because we lived several states apart, he took a break from work and flew out to meet me. He was surprised and delighted to find he was an uncle to my five children, and he came bearing gifts. He was an instant favorite. We spent many days talking about our dad and why he left. Both of us wanted that piece of ourselves back, whatever had come from him. We wanted it to be tangible, to slide into our lives like a puzzle piece and bring clarity to our struggles, to our pain, or even the way we lived day to day life.
Our dad was adopted, and in the short time Jon was with me, we poured through phone books and internet search results looking for family. We found one uncle, but he didn’t want to know us. His brother—our dad’s father—had died 30 years prior. The more we dug, the more we discovered many of our blood relatives were imprisoned or dead. I realized we might only ever have each other, and honestly, the more I got to know Jon, I knew it was enough.
Once Jon went home, we texted to stay in touch. Knowing I had a brother brought such a vibrancy to my life. I beat him at Scrabble during his visit but when he returned home, we played Words with Friends on our phones as a way to catch up (he won enough times that my ego couldn’t take it). One day I sent a text. I was sarcastic, trying to be funny, and he didn’t respond right away. It was frightening how quick the little girl in me panicked. All I knew to do was apologize and hope he’d still be my brother. When he responded I realized how silly I’d been—well, traumatized—to think he would dispose of our relationship so easily. He said he’d been busy, stayed the night with a friend, then apologized for inciting such fear. And this is my favorite part of our story, something I’ll carry for the rest of my life:
He promised never to reject me as our dad had done.
I read his text at least a dozen times, letting the promise wash over my aching heart. It reached the darkest corners, the places I’d stuffed all the fear that men would use me, hurt me. That they were all scoundrels. I started to believe in good things again, because next to my husband, Jon was the kindest man I’d ever met.
Jon and I have known one another for two years now. He’s married to a wonderful woman, and my kids adore them both. I feel I’ve known him all my life, perhaps because I see myself when I look at him, I hear my thoughts when he speaks. Knowing Jon has helped me face the pain of abandonment and realize it wasn’t my fault. I’m worth knowing, worth sticking around for. I hope Jon knows the same is true about him.
After our reunion, I found myself wishing our dad would have been a bit more rebellious. If only he’d made me another brother or two! I laugh at this thought because it’s risky to discover a long lost sibling—or another relative. It makes you vulnerable. It’s like casting a line with all of your hope hooked at the end, praying nothing swims by and snatches it just because. But when you find what you’re looking for, it’s absolutely worth mustering all the hope you can and throwing it to the waves, watching it sink, and waiting. It’s worth it, not just because you might find a treasure, but you might find yourself along the way.
This essay was originally featured in Severance Magazine: On the Aftermath of Separation.