(This essay was published in Chicken Soup for the Soul Answered Prayers, Oct, 2011)
I pace back and forth, one hand on my stomach, the other nervously fingering the index card with numbers written in red ink. Just pick up the phone and do it already! I say to myself. I have never even seen a photo of him. All I know is what my mother told me. Your father was a heroin addict. He’s either dead or in prison.
I pick up the card. There are five phone numbers listed, all belonging to men by the name of Ted Fisher. Amongst thousands of them in the United States, these are the few we whittled it down to. The geneologist marked one of the numbers with an asterisk. “I have a hunch about this one…” he said.
My hands shake as I begin to punch in the numbers. 713…. the area code for Texas. I hang up before I hit the last digit. Do I really want to open this Pandora’s box? I don’t need a father. My stomach tightens. It’s been like this all day and I’ve barely been able to eat.
Okay…. Be brave. Good or bad, I want to know the truth. I dial the number and quietly close the bedroom door. My husband and son are talking in the kitchen, unaware of what I’m doing. By not telling them, I gave myself the option to chicken out.
“Hello!” Loud and very southern, the woman’s voice sounds harried.
I quickly blurt out “Hello, is this the Fisher residence?”
“Yes, it is.” Her quick no-nonsense manner lets me know I’d better get to the point.
“Does a Ted Fisher live there?”
Remember what the geneologist said- don’t mention your name. They may not know about you …..“I’m sorry to disturb you. I am doing a family tree research project, and I think we may possibly be related…..” My husband Troy pokes his head around the bedroom door, eyebrows raised as if to say are you doing what I think you’re doing?
I continue, “Ummm….Did this Ted Fisher ever live in California?”
“Yes, he did. Hold on a minute- I think you found who you’re looking for” she says with a certain but matter of fact manner.
What? She must have misunderstood me. I turn and look at Troy wide-eyed, my heart starting to race now.
“What? Who is it?” Troy asks. I put my finger up, signaling for him to give me a minute. Breathe….
“Hello?” a man’s voice on the phone sends shock waves through me. It’s him. Somehow, I know.
“Hello…. is this… Ted?” My voice sounds tight and choked.
“Yes…Is this… Hollye?” he says with amazement.
My knees buckle, the breath knocked out of me. “Yes,” I barely whisper, my eyes brimming with tears. Troy sees my reaction, he laughs joyfully and claps his hands together.
The man’s voice wails, “ I can’t believe this! We were just talking about you last night! I’ve been praying to find you!”
“Really?” is all I can squeak out.
“Oh my goodness, my goodness….” He mutters to himself. Then he says loudly as if I weren’t aware of it, “Do you know who I am? I’m your Dad!” He says it with such exuberance that I laugh and cry at the same time. “You’ve got a birthday coming up!” he adds.
I manage to squeak out a small voice, “Yeah, in Decem….”
He cuts me off, “December 4th
! I’ve got it circled on the calendar. Every year I think of you on December 4th
.” He says.
I wipe my eyes with my sleeve, “You do?”
“I’ve never forgotten it. Never.” he says.
My heart is pounding. Is this really happening? Troy brings our son into the bedroom, whispering to him in hushed tones. They watch me, wide-eyed, as if witnessing a birth.
“You know”, my father says in a shaky voice, “I’m not usually much of a crying man, but this is the happiest day of my life. I prayed to God to bring my children back to the fold…. Hey! Did you know…well, of course you don’t! You have three brothers!”
“I have three brothers!” I shout out to Troy and Taylor, laughing through my tears.
I feel as though my heart will burst. Just listening to him speak in his gentle southern drawl is more than I could have ever dreamed of. This is my father’s voice, and I feel safe inside of it.
“You can ask me anything, Baby,” he says,” and it may be hard. But I will tell you the truth.”
And he does. He confirms that he was a heroin addict, as my mother had told me, and yes, he was in and out of prison for fifteen years, and it was there, in a prison cell, that he found God.
My father works for the Port of Houston as a longshoreman and is a preacher in the Baptist church, ordained eight years ago. Imagine that! A spiritual man, an avid reader, and an oil painter, just like me. We are absolutely stunned by how much we share in common. Chalk one up for the genetics argument.
“What book is on your bedside table right now?” I ask.
“The life story of Mother Theresa” he says, “what’s on yours?”
“Life story of Ghandi!” We laugh together. For the first time in my life I am laughing with my father.
He asks me what I do, am I married, do I have kids….I tell him he is a grandfather, he has a son-in-law, and I am a singer and an artist. The questions fly back and forth. We laugh and cry in the joys of discovery. With every word, we are changed. There are many difficult questions to be addressed, but not today.
Forty minutes pass but it seems like five, the conversation begins to slowly wind down, and his tone turns serious. “Before we get off the phone, I want to ask you something.” He pauses, “ How was your childhood Sweetheart? I mean, were you okay?” These words come out heavy, weighted with his regret.
I make it simple for now. “It wasn’t easy for me growing up. But I had a strong spirit. I’m okay.”
I can hear his relief, “Oh thank God. You know, I always believed your mother would keep you. She was a much stronger person than I was. I was just a punk back then, only seventeen, but I know that’s no excuse. I wasn’t there for you and I am so sorry.”
I exhale and sit down on the edge of my bed. “Thank you.” I whisper, just loud enough for God to hear me. Brick by brick, I feel my life burden being lifted.
“One more thing…” he adds in his gentle Texas twang, “Before we hang up, I want you to know… I don’t care if you are a one-legged Satan worshipper. You are my child, and ….I love you.”
In this moment, this one tiny split-second in time, the damaged little girl that I was sees the hole in the sky fill with light and hope.
|The first day I met my Dad, November 2003.