Meeting John Doe
Delta Winds: A Magazine of Student Essays
A Publication of San Joaquin Delta College
Meeting John Doe
I never had the chance to be "daddy's little girl." I was the product of a one night stand after a work party that only my mother chose to take accountability for. My father, six years younger than my mother, thought he was too young to raise a child and, frankly, didn't want to. So my mom took on full custody and cut him loose from having any responsibility. She got a baby, he got his freedom, and I got the highly coveted title of "bastard."
My mom didn't talk about my father until I asked. I was five or six, and it was the night before Father's Day. Our arts and crafts project that day had been to make a picture frame out of popsicle sticks to give to our dads as a gift. I remember being confused by the project and asking one of the day care providers: "What do I make if I don't have a dad?" She gave my popsicle sticks to another little girl, replaced them with crayons and paper, and told me I should draw my mom a picture instead. So I did.
On the way home, I asked my mother about my father for the first time. She gave me watered-down details and tried her best to skim over the fact that it was his choice not to be in my life. But once I knew he actually existed, I was determined to meet him. Everyone had always told me that I was a great kid, so why wouldn't he want to meet me? I begged her to call him and invite him over to play Barbies or whatever dads liked to play. She told me not to get my hopes up.
A few weeks later she called him and invited him to a picnic in our backyard (my idea), and to her surprise, he accepted the invitation. I was finally going to have someone to make popsicle stick picture frames for. I picked out a dress for the picnic and spent hours rearranging the toys in my room. It all had to be perfect. But on the morning of what would be our first meeting, my mom answered the phone, and I saw the expression on her face change: He wasn't coming. She did her best to console me, but I was crushed. I spent the rest of my childhood haunted by that day and the question it raised: "Why was I not worth his time?"
As I got older, the feelings of grief I had towards my father transformed into bitterness. I hated him, but I was also very curious about who he was. He still worked at the same UPS facility as my mother, and she would overhear conversations he had about his life and family. She gave me as much information as I asked for, and I asked for a lot. But the more I heard, the worse I felt. He liked to golf. He got married to a dental hygienist a few years after I was born. He had a son named Tyler, who didn't know I existed. The images I conjured up of his happy, suburban life swirled around my mind like a cyclone. He had claimed to not be ready to be a father, but there he was coaching Little League every weekend. I promised myself that one day I would tell him how wrong he was to have ignored my existence, and show him that he had missed out on a great kid.
I got my chance the summer before my freshman year of high school. My mom told me that there was going to be a company picnic and that there was a good chance my father and half-brother would be there. She told me that I didn't have to go if the thought of seeing him made me uncomfortable, but I was determined to go and finally give him a piece of my mind. I made a list of everything that I wanted to say to him and spent a week picking out an outfit that made me feel as mature and "put-together" as possible.
The morning of the picnic, I was a nervous wreck. Throughout the car ride over to the public park, I hyperventilated. As I helped my mom carry a cooler full of drinks, I struggled to compose myself. But he wasn't there. Hours passed and still no action. I started to calm down. Maybe he had flaked once again? I relaxed and let my mom lead me around the park and introduce me to her coworkers. I smiled as they commented on how tall I had gotten and how my mom had told them such good things!
But then my mother said those fateful words: "There he is." And there he was. In the flesh, ladies and gentlemen, The Invisible Man! My heart began beating in slow motion, and my vision became blurry. My hands shook and every cell in my body was telling me to run away, but I stayed. And I watched from somewhere outside of my own consciousness as my mother introduced this stranger to me as "my coworker John and his son Tyler." Everything I had planned to say, every ounce of strength I thought I had, vanished in less than a moment. "Nice to meet you," I stammered, avoiding his gaze. This was the moment I had waited my whole life for, and all I could do was stare at my shoes and attempt to fight back the tears that had begun boiling beneath my eyelids. I told my mom that I was going to the park bathroom, and turned to walk away. But before I was out of earshot, and after I began to feel that familiar ache in my heart, I heard him remark, "I guess she didn't have much to say."