As I’ve previously written about, my biological father, Donal, hit the road before I took my first breath. To his credit, he had asked my mother to marry him when they found out she was pregnant. But they weren’t really in a relationship. They were both teenaged runaways, who happened to be living in the same”flop house,” and just took comfort in each other’s nearness.
I was in my early 20’s when I first met Donal. I was excited to have a relationship with him, and we kept in touch off and on for a while. It was never comfortable, though. I don’t know what I expected, but I know that Donal was not it. Part of me wanted an explanation. How could he wait for me to come looking for him? If he knew I was spending time with his father, why hadn’t he written me a letter or made an effort to speak to me on the phone?
I felt like he wanted an immediate daddy/daughter relationship, and over the course of a few get-togethers, I began to feel increasingly uncomfortable with his persistent need to tell me that he loved me. How do you love someone you don’t really know? I can’t say that I love him.
I finally got around to writing him a letter to explain that. I told him as delicately as possible that I wanted a relationship with him, but that I needed time to figure out my feelings, and that it would be easier if he’d hold off on the “I love you” for now.
The next time I spoke to him on the phone, as we were hanging up, he said, “I love you. So there!” and he hung up. It enraged me. I felt like he had no respect for what I’d said to him. By this time, I had a dad. My stepfather, Mike, wasn’t perfect, but he had been there – through the good and the bad – the thick and the thin. He never abandoned us as Donal had and Chuck had. Dad is a title that has to be earned, and Donal hasn’t earned it.
Shortly after that phone call, I stopped hearing from Donal at all. I don’t play games, so I didn’t go looking for him. I think it’s been about 15 years since all of that, and I’ve recently begun communicating with his brother, David. I like David a lot. But Donal lives close to him, and as brothers would, David told Donal that he was talking to me. I gave him permission to give Donal my phone number, and Donal has called me a few times in the months since.
I dread those calls. Donal is socially very awkward. By the time we’d started talking again, I had already had my encephalitis and strokes, and have been living like a disabled person. Donal would ask me what I’ve been doing lately. I would tell him that since I got sick, I couldn’t drive and don’t get out much, so nothing really. That would trigger a conversation about some illness or pain he’s having, and then he’d ask me again, “what else have you been up to lately?”
It would get frustrating, but what was more frustrating to me is that he would repeatedly insist that he’s tried to contact me so many times over the past several years. I never got a single message, letter, card, email or Owl Post, so I can only assume that he did not really try. But the implication seemed to be that I had just been avoiding him. He’d “joke” that he thought I just didn’t want anything to do with him, “Huh huh.” It’s so uncomfortable, but I talk to him because I’m not a cruel person. I kind of resent the space he’s taking up in my life. Including the fact that he wants me to make time to see him when I go home for a week in April. He also still says he loves me at the end of every phone call. I feel like a mean person for not saying it back to him, but I can’t say it if I don’t mean it.
The majority of my teaching experience had taken place in that gap of no contact with Donal. Through my teaching experience, I’ve come to recognize some of the characteristics of students with varying degrees of autism. I think Donal may be on the spectrum. That makes me have to reconsider my feelings about him.
If Donal is autistic, his awkwardness and what I have always considered passive aggressive behavior would make sense and not be intentional on his part. I think it would even explain why he left the state when my mom wouldn’t marry him. Incidentally, he immediately got another woman pregnant, so until recently, I had a brother less than a year younger than me.
I’m really not sure how to feel about this. I’ve been wrestling with a wide range of emotions about my biological father for as long as I can remember. I never got to be daddy’s princess, and Chuck gave me away at my first wedding, which is fitting because my marriage lasted about as long as his role as my step-father did.
I feel like it would be morally wrong of me to avoid further contact with Donal, especially if he is autistic. But it’s one of those relationships that I feel takes but doesn’t give back.