It’s a funny thing - meeting one’s father at the age of 14. The actual situation itself is peculiar. What do you say to this man; how do you kindly ask the questions you’ve come up with in your lifetime thus far of wondering?
More than just the meeting is strange, the time in my life was strange. My mom got married for the first time when I was 12. My step-dad was and is amazing. Sure, we had our moments, but I chalk those up to growing pains on both our parts. My step-dad is the one I refer to as my dad if I’m ever talking about “my dad” in a conversation. Not only is he a great, kind human being - he’s the kind of person who doesn’t quite know what a great, kind human being he is. He has no airs, just a good, loving heart. I’m the winner winner [veggie] chicken dinner in the dad department.
If I would have met my father before my mom got married, I would have expected him to fill a void, to play a particular role in my life, but that role had been filled, so what role would this new person play in my life? I wasn’t sure. What I did know after that first meeting, was that I wanted this man in my life. We didn’t see one another very often. I’ve seen him, like actually been in his presence, 9 times all together. We were great pen pals for a while, so there’s always been an element of sharing that has made me feel like we’ve been building a relationship, but for people who wake up and see their fathers every day, you can imagine what 9 times is like compared to a lifetime. Our relationship continues to evolve.
I’ll never forget the first time I met him. We have similar distinguishing features, the biggest one being our eyes. When I saw him for the first time, it was like I was looking into my own eyes. The structure of our thought patterns is similar, and the things we find interesting are similar (though we mostly express them through different avenues). I was sure he and I were cut from the same cloth. I treasure those instant familiarities.
When I was visiting with him and my grandmother in January, I asked a few questions to help me piece together the time surrounding my birth. I ended up with some fresh insights that I’m still sorting through. I’d always known who my father was, and after stumbling upon a newspaper article tucked in a box in the closet under our stairs when I was 9, I learned that he’d been in a serious car accident. I didn’t know when the accident had taken place, nor the extent of his injuries besides the fact that he suffered a traumatic brain injury.
It turns out, his accident happened on January 1, 1985. The first day of the year I was born. He was living on the lam in Hawaii after a run-in with the law in October while a student at NAU in Flagstaff, AZ. The night of the accident, he’d been out drinking and ended up driving his boss’s truck over a 50 ft. cliff on the island of Kauai. He was in a coma for quite a while, and when he came to, the doctor asked him if he knew why he was in the hospital. My father replied that he’d probably been in a bull riding accident (BTW, he also rode bulls - he and my mom met at a rodeo, introduced by a mutual friend). With his response, he was flown to a hospital in Honolulu that had a special unit for patients with brain injuries.
(My father sent this picture to me about a decade ago, when we came across it again together a few weeks ago, he casually said, "And this is the day you were conceived. Well, right around it, I guess." Good to know.)
I think he spent something like 6 weeks in the hospital before he was able to be flown back to Arizona. 24, a life-changing injury, a baby he doesn’t know is on the way, and a whole host of legal issues awaiting. That was his life when I came into the world.
My father and I have something very distinct in common; we are both vivid dreamers. He’s shared several of his dreams/visions with me over the years [he uses dream and vision interchangeably, in part, due to his deep understanding and belief in Native American Mysticism]. About four years ago, in the middle of trying to make sense of my evolving faith and beliefs and how they differed from my Mormon faith tradition, I had a series of dreams that I’ve relied heavily on when I couldn’t quite figure out [or didn’t quite want to figure out] which way was up for me. I know that his visions and my dreams have both been guiding forces for us in our lives. I like being connected to someone who knows how powerful dreams can be.
While visiting with him the last time, I asked him two questions that ended up having two really important answers for me. The first had to do with the extent of his brain injury. His left frontal lobe was the portion of his brain that was injured. It mostly affected his emotions and short-term memory. I asked him what recovery was like. One example he gave was being in the shower and washing his hair - he couldn’t remember if he’d washed his hair, so he’d grab the shampoo and do it again, over and over and over. This happened all the time in normal daily routines. He would essentially live these tasks on repeat, not trusting that he’d fully completed them. He also had problems with association. He would go to get eggs and bring back bacon. He’d be asked to grab a hammer and get an ax instead. He’s found many coping techniques to help lessen the affects of injury, but he still deals with his injury every day, and will do so for the rest of his life.
The second question happened very spur of the moment. When I learned that he’d driven over a 50 ft. cliff, I asked him how long it took for someone to find him. The answer was pretty miraculous, really. Just before he went over the cliff, he passed a cop going the opposite direction. The cop was turning around to pursue him and saw him go over. If that hadn’t happened, it’s likely help wouldn’t have arrived on time, and he would have died in that truck, at the bottom the the cliff four months and two days before I was born. I felt myself getting emotional as the reality of what could have been was unfolding as he filled in the details.
I was 14 when I met this man who could have died 14 years before. I would have never known him. Rather than being a mystery man who was out there somewhere, the story would have ended with “Your father died in a car accident before you were born.” His life changed that day, no doubt, he had to learn how to move through the world a little differently, but he still gets to walk and talk and live and dream on this earth that he loves. I’ve cried several times thinking about the alternative, and it made me realize how much I love him. This man who I am deeply connected to, though have only been in the same room with 9 times. Life is so full of twists and turns, and surprise answers to questions that completely change perspectives. I know that I wouldn’t have known what I was missing had he died in that accident, but since I do know him, I’ve been sad at the very thought of how close it came to me never getting the chance. Mostly, though, my gratitude only continues to grow at what our reality gets to be now. I still don’t have a perfect name for the role he plays, but I’m glad we get to do life together in our own special way.
Since I shared a bull riding photo...
This is a photo of my grandmother on the same day, at the same rodeo in a horse race. She won.