An Open Letter to the Father I Never Knew - So Close and Yet So Far Away

Dr. Donna L. Roberts

Your absence was more profound than your presence ever could have been

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No you can’t talk about it

And isn’t that a kind of madness

To be living by a code of silence

When you’ve really got a lot to say

- Billy Joel, Code of Silence

I heard you died last May. Well, that isn’t exactly true. I Googled you. I didn’t have a lot of hope in finding anything (and maybe I didn’t even really want to) given your surname is so common. But there it was. Your obituary.

I felt . . . nothing. I wonder what that says about me. I wonder what that says about you.

I didn’t know your name until I was 27 years old. Did you know that? I asked several times, but by the time I was 8 years old I got the message to stop asking loud and clear. So I stopped. And I got on with my life. And that whole time you lived just one town over.

I finally found out about you when mom decided she wanted to go looking for my brother. My brother? I was an only child! But no, at 27 I found out that you and she had a baby boy 9 years before you had me. I didn’t see that one coming. It shook me to my core.

I learned that I lived with you for the first 18 months of my life. You, mom, your wife and your six other kids. I’m a psychologist now. Do you have any idea what Freud would have said about that arrangement? I do. It’s not pretty. It’s a wonder no one suffocated me in my crib. What did you feel when we left? Sorrow? Relief?

Stalking wasn’t as easy back then as it is now, but did you follow my life? I was just one town over. Did you know I was valedictorian? Did you come to my graduation? Did you ever just drive by the house? Do you remember my birthday? The color of my eyes? My middle name?

I heard you owned a pet shop. I would have loved that. I love animals. I heard you had a chow-chow. They’re one of my favorite breeds.

There are a couple of pictures of you and your family in the photo album with my baby pictures. I can’t remember when I figured out who you must be. You’re handsome. You look a little James Dean-ish. I look like you around the nose and mouth. Your kids are there too. One boy — he looks to be about 12 — is holding me and smiling at me. Mom said he liked me.

I heard that after my mother found him, my brother knocked on your door one day and introduced himself. I heard you were surprised. That you always thought I would come around one day, but not him. I never would have done that. It’s not my style. What would I have said after, “Hi Dad”? The Oprah-esque reunions of long lost relatives are distasteful to me. I don’t regret not finding you. You were the adult all those years. Why didn’t you come find me?

P.S. I forgive you.

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Writer and university professor researching media psych, generational studies, addiction psychology, human and animal rights, and the intersection of art and psychology.

Canandaigua, NY
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