(When a DNA test revealed I was an NPE – the child of a Non Paternity Event – I decided to write about the experience in order to destigmatize the situation, and to let others in the same position know that they are not alone. These are my stories.)
I watched our wedding video last night.
It was the first time I had seen it since we were married, in the year 350 B.C. There were the expected reactions from both David and myself: the OMGs were we ever that young? Look how skinny I was! My collar bones are so sharp they could stab you!
There was the anticipated sadness at seeing our family members who have passed captured for eternity on video. Joe, Dan. Lisa, my mother Ernie. David and I reminisced, smiled when they appeared on the screen, mourned their losses all over again.
We laughed at the way we behaved when we were in our very early twenties: David’s bravado and my demureness…hold up… Demureness? Me? Any of you who know me as a performer know that I am anything but demure. Was I really that way back then? Shy and mortified to have all eyes upon me? I mean, come on… Y’all know I love the spotlight so why was I so reserved in this video?
And then it struck me. This is how I always tried to be with my family: Reticent. Trying not to make waves. Dimming my wattage because it was wrong to pull focus. My loudness, my inane attention seeking, my born to be on stage persona didn’t fit in. I didn’t fit in and I couldn’t understand why I felt that way. There was a family secret that needed to be hidden, and demureness was a good way to keep it from coming out in the open. How could I have known that the secret was me?
It was all right there in front of me on the tv screen, and watching myself move like a ghost through my own wedding, I remembered my conflicted feelings on that day: wanting to be in the spotlight as a bride but knowing, always knowing that there was something intangible I couldn’t quite grasp, some reason why I didn’t want everyone to look at me, why I didn’t talk too loudly in front of my mother or want her to see how bright and shiny I could be with other people.
I saw it as I walked down the aisle, way too fast for grace and pomp. It wasn’t because I was eager to get to the altar (sorry David), it was that I was committing an act of defiance by walking down the aisle alone, and I knew it.
When we rehearsed the wedding ceremony I pulled my mother aside and told her, I want to walk down the aisle alone. That was for Daddy and he’s not here anymore. There was challenge in my words, as there always was whenever I spoke to my mother about my father. I waited for her to speak up, to fight back, to refute me and tell me he wasn’t the perfect husband or father and that was why she had divorced him, but she never did. She never spoke a bad word about Tom Goodrich. She got quiet and shy. Hurt, maybe, but she never said so. She became demure.
I knew there was something behind that quietness but she would never say what it was. Because what was behind her quietness was the truth. That I was the secret. My Daddy was not my father.
I watched that wedding video and I teared up with the memories, knowing I had wounded my mother. I should have asked her to walk me down the aisle, but I was defiant. I was my own person.
Except when I see the video now, I notice how quickly I walked, I remember how mortified I felt having all eyes on me, knowing I was walking alone, as I have always walked alone, separate. In my mind, anyway.
There was another thing that struck me while watching this video. As David, our daughter Celia and I sat on the leather couch and laughed our way through the hairstyles, the baby faces, the numerous mishaps that plagued our special day, I found myself looking for something the two of them weren’t.
Every time the camera jerkily panned to the house, or to the guests at the wedding ceremony, I scanned the crowd quickly, hoping to find an anomaly. Was he there? My real father?
Now that I have made the discovery that my father wasn’t my father and that my real father knew about me and loved me, I find myself constantly, obsessively, looking for signs of his presence in my life. Yesterday, I ripped apart my childhood Raggedy Ann and Andy, thinking maybe he had left a secret note written underneath their patchwork clothing. Or, I tear through my box of childhood drawings looking for something I had labelled “Daddy Don” in childish scrawl. And now, I was watching my wedding video to see if he had secretly appeared, hidden in the back pew, refusing to miss the day his daughter was wed, even if he couldn’t make his true role known to me.
He wasn’t there.
Of course he wasn’t. But I wish he had been.
You folks who are lucky enough to know your parentage, who have not had the truth of your biology and your potential identity hidden from you, well, you won’t think of these things. Why would you? You look at your past, your wedding videos and your children’s photos and you know who you are, where you’ve come from. I look at memories with new eyes, scanning the pews for my father. I look at pictures of my daughters as children and I think do they look like him? Or my grandparents that I never knew?
I think about the time we did blood typing in high school biology, and I was pestering my mother to tell me Daddy’s blood type. Was she panicking? Did she realize that if I knew his blood type I could have figured out the truth?
All these moments I replay in my mind - it’s like I have to go through my entire past and recategorize everything, relive those moments through the lens of who I really am, not who I thought I was.
And here is my point to those who are not in our NPE situation. You take your pasts for granted. We are still searching for ours.
I know that there will come a day when I have fully integrated my past identity with the one I have now, or at least I hope that day will come. But right now, I’m like a hormonal teenager, pushing boundaries, searching to form my identity from all this new information. I’m having to reshelve the library books under a different class number. I don’t go in the ‘my father had blond hair and blues eyes’ category, but instead go on the ‘my father had brown hair and hazel eyes’ shelf. I am not English, but instead I am 25% French and 9% Irish. It makes my head spin at unexpected moments - like watching my wedding video. It will make Father’s Day unbearable again this year, as it did last year, because I think part of me will always be looking for my father in the pews, hoping he is there to see me.