By Christina Basil
On April 16th, 2003 my life changed dramatically. I was sitting at the kitchen table after school.
When my mom came in the room, she asked me if I had any critical school work coming up. When I said I didn’t, she told me she had something important to tell me. I smiled. It was unlike her to be so dramatic.
I guessed she was pregnant, or that we were going on vacation. But when the words tumbled out of her mouth, they buried me like an avalanche.
My father is dead. Those words ripped apart my dreams of one day meeting my father. She kept talking, but I couldn’t hear anything else she said.
My parents divorced when I was two years old, and my mom remarried when I was eight. For as long as I can remember, I’ve lived with my older sister, mother and step dad. I don’t have many childhood memories of my real dad.
Besides the stuffed beaver he gave me, I remember him calling me koukla, the Greek word for beautiful, and giving me orange-flavoured chewing gum.
On our car rides, he introduced me to Del Shannon and the Everly Brothers. After my parents divorced, he only exercised visitation rights for a few years before vanishing.
As far as childhoods go, mine was pretty regular despite not having a relationship with my dad. I took swimming lessons, played piano, and watched my fair share of Full House.
Talking about my dad made me feel ashamed, so I avoided the topic at all costs. I didn’t know many other kids who came from divorced families. Of the few I knew, they saw their fathers on a regular basis.
Growing up I felt the need to prove to the world that my family wasn’t trash, and that I was perfectly fine not knowing where my dad was, or why he never called. I didn’t want teachers or friends’ parents to judge me.
I joined as many clubs as I could and pulled in good grades. I convinced everyone around me, including myself, that I was happy. But in high school things changed. The older I got, the more I realized what I was missing out on.
I looked around and all I noticed were the daddy’s little girls. I stopped pretending that I didn’t care that he never called, and the bitterness and anger started creeping into my relationship with my mother.
I blamed her for a lot of things that she couldn’t control. I love my step dad, and he’s been in my life since I was three, but I couldn’t help but wonder where the other half of me came from.
I was curious about where my dad was living, what he was doing, and if he had a new family. When I couldn’t sleep, I would sketch out a million different scenarios of meeting him, in my head.
Sometimes I imagined screaming and swearing at him. Other times I dreamed of staking out his house like a CIA agent, and watching him check his mail.
In Grade 11, I decided that, when I turned 18, I would find my dad. Standing in the kitchen that day, my heart sank. I felt an overwhelming sense of loss.
Realizing that I would never meet my dad was devastating. I needed to meet him so that I could move on with my life. My mom broke down with me. I think it hurt her to see me in so much pain.
My sister never openly talked about my dad, but she cried with me. I missed a week of school and spent most of the time in bed. The news of my father’s death was based on speculation and hearsay.
My mom heard the news from my sister’s Godmother, the only relative of my father still alive and living in Toronto. My sister’s Godmother told my mother that it wasn’t confirmed, but she heard from a friend that my father had passed away.
There were no details about how or when he passed away. That same week, my sister and I set out on a mission to end the mystery surrounding my father’s death. My dad wasn’t listed in the phone book in Canada or Greece.
We knew that my uncle, who I’d never met, lived in Greece. We looked him up on the Internet and a few matches surfaced. My best friend, who speaks fluent Greek, made all of the phone calls for us. The last number was my uncle.
He reassured us that my dad was fine, and gave us his phone number. My dad is alive. My uncle was happy to hear from us. I spoke to him briefly in a m?lange of Greek and English. He was warm, and I took it as a good sign.
My sister didn’t want me to call my dad. She was in bed, and my friend and I were on the floor of her room, next to the phone. We’d never really discussed my dad until that day. He was like an illness that we ignored.
She is a year and a half older than me, and the divorce was harder on her. I decided to call. When my friend passed me the phone, an uncertain voice tumbled out of my mouth. “Dad?” It was a word I hadn’t used in 12 years and it felt awkward and uncomfortable.
“How are you my sweetheart?” There was a pause followed by a flood of tears on both ends of the receiver. He told me that he never forgot about my sister and me.
He said he couldn’t sleep some nights because he was thinking about us. It was bizarre to have to ask my dad for information that most children take for granted. We exchanged basic information. My sister was in university, I was graduating high school. He had a new family, and we learned of a half-sister. Before I hung up my dad asked for our number. “It’s the same one it’s always been Dad,” I said before giving it to him. That night, with tear-stained faces, we celebrated my mom’s 50th birthday. On the way home from the restaurant, my sister said it looked like I’d been through a storm. I felt like I was still in it, so I pressed my head against the car window and drifted off into space. I decided I would travel to Athens to visit my dad.
I was 18, the age I had planned to meet him. But not everyone in my family was supportive of the decision. My aunts and uncles were worried I was opening up a can of worms.
My mom was open to the idea, but my sister was absolutely against it. We fought about it constantly. She said that I was living in a fantasy land, that I didn’t have a father, and to accept it. I told her to stay out of my life. I didn’t understand why she didn’t care to know. I just wanted to know. I wanted to see for myself where I got my eyes, and the shape of my face, who my half-sister was and what my dad was like. The argument spilled over into the next year.
I started university and became sidetracked with freshman year and school life. During this time, we kept in touch with my dad. On my 19th birthday, I got a phone call for the first time in 13 years. When first year came to a close, a good friend of mine pushed me to go to Greece. “The sooner you deal with it, the sooner you can get on with your life,” she said. I took her advice. I booked a ticket and made arrangements to stay with my dad for two weeks.
A few weeks before I was scheduled to leave, my sister booked a ticket to come with me. She didn’t want to go, but hated the idea of me going alone.
The day of our flight, she sobbed at the bottom of the stairs because she was so unhappy. I couldn’t believe I was finally going to meet my dad. I had a mental picture of what he would look like.
I had spent hours of my life looking through my parents’ wedding album and other family photos. I wanted him to be proud of me. I wanted him to think I was smart and beautiful. Before we landed I touched up my makeup. My sister told me I was ridiculous. When we got off the plane, I started to get nervous. I thought the reunion would be theatrical. I was expecting a scene out of Les Mis?rables, with orchestral swells in the background.
But when we came through the door we walked right past my dad. He was standing with my Godfather, whom I also hadn’t seen since I was little. Each of them was holding a bouquet of deep red, purple and burgundy roses. We turned around to scan the crowd, and it was my sister who recognized my dad first. They looked so old. The dark brown hair in the photos was now silver and white. We hugged them both, but the experience was more subdued than I expected.
I think we were all in sensory overload. I don’t even remember crying. “Kouklares mou,” he said when he greeted us. The trip was originally scheduled for two weeks, but we ended up staying for three. My dad took us all over Athens. We visited the Parthenon, the Acropolis and the beach. He was a captivating storyteller, and every night we stayed up talking until three in the morning. The trip had its ups and downs. I went in search of answers I never found, and came back with lessons I never expected to learn.
I realized there is nothing my dad could ever say to make me understand why he left us. I never expected to forgive him, but I did, and with forgiveness came liberation. The distant feeling I had expected never surfaced. I was surprised I became so close with my father in such a short time. It was amazing how soon it felt like we had never been apart. I have accepted that my relationship with him will never be typical. My Godfather passed away last November.
I’m thankful I didn’t wait to take the trip or I would have never met him. I still talk to my dad regularly, and I hope to go back to Athens this summer to visit him.
This May, it’ll be two years since I travelled to Greece. Looking back, the experience was surreal, like something out of a movie. We never did find out who started the rumour my dad was dead, and I often wonder if the way I ended up meeting my dad was more than just coincidence. Life has a funny way of working out.