Unasked and Unanswered: Why I'm OK With Not Knowing My Father

by Jewanna T. Carver

My father’s first name was Henry. My mother chose not to give me his surname, though she never doubted I was his child. I don’t know how certain he was of his paternity, but the likelihood was strong enough to notify the Social Security Administration and have me added to a long list of his dependents. The process was nothing new for him. Though married, Henry had more than a few “outside children.” I wasn’t the first or the last of his indiscretions. However it’s been my mother who has dealt with the brunt of my judgment. How could someone so smart, make such a poor decision to have a child with a married man? Why did Henry have to be my father?
I have only one memory of Henry. I was six-years-old, roller-skating outside of our house. A man walked up to the door and knocked. I stopped skating long enough to gaze up at him. He said hello. Being a shy child, I don’t think I responded. I wish I could remember the expression on his face or his voice. But I don’t. He died a couple of years later, before I had the wherewithal to even question his absence in my life. I found out months after the funeral. No one thought to notify my mother and they certainly didn’t think about me. I cried, not for Henry, but upon realizing that the opportunity to ever call someone dad had passed.

Over the years, I began to have questions for my mother. How did they meet? What was he like? Did I have other siblings? She answered as best she could, but she seemed embarrassed, distant, somewhat reluctant to share memories that she’d probably rather forget. I grew older, wiser, more sensitive to the situation. I began to recognize the signs of a discussion she’d rather not have, so I stopped asking about Henry. When as a teenager, I discovered a copy of his death certificate in her files, I claimed it for myself. It’s literally the only thing I have of him, the only proof that I had a father at all.

At 19, she left college to marry her first husband. From all accounts she was brilliant in school, not so much so in love. The marriage didn’t last, and she found herself a young mother of three, with just a high school diploma.

Being a woman, I can imagine how Henry appealed to her. An older man, close in age to the father she’d lost as an adolescent. Henry was established, smart, charming, a hard worker. She’d been hurt, and he lavished her with attention. He was married, but he was around when she needed him or maybe it was vice versa. I have no idea what happened when she became pregnant, but I imagine Henry took the news in stride and quickly moved on.

Parents are human, they make mistakes. It’s easy for children to look down on them—something I’m certainly guilty of. My mother isn’t perfect and there are many things she’s done that I’ve sworn to never do. I guess I’m not someone who can proudly proclaim, “I want to be just like my mother!” I don’t want a Henry or children asking me where their father is. I want a lasting marriage, a two-parent household for my future children, and a celebration every third Sunday in June to honor the man in my life.

I have surpassed the age my mother was when she chose Henry as my father. I no longer try to understand her choices. I don’t compare my situation to hers. Instead I’ve found empathy for her. I can’t say I relate or that I quite understand the circumstances that brought me into the world, but the judgment just isn’t there anymore. The questions have evaporated, replaced by admiration for the person who cared enough about me to stick around. I realized that it wasn’t an absent father that shaped me, but a present mother.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Jewanna T. Carver is a freelance writer from Chicago. She is currently working on her first novel as well as a blog to chronicle her upcoming wedding.

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