My niece (my father’s granddaughter) and I first connected in August of 2010, and we have been friends ever since. She and her husband were actually going to come out here from Wisconsin to meet me over a year ago, but do to the onset of some medical challenges concerning my niece, they had to postpone their trip indefinitely. One of these days soon, I am hoping to still meet them both. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, I know that my niece will be as nice in person as she is in our phone conversations, her FB messages, and e-mails.
As my niece shared an emotional story with me about the last time she saw her grandfather as a small child, it was hard not to picture myself instead sitting in his lap. I had only seen this side of my dad as an old man after our “falling out,” but how could he be so cold and heartless with his own two innocent grandchildren? Feeling disappointed in dad, I continued listening to the long-ago hurt in my niece’s words, “My father got a call from grandpa to bring me and my brother down to his office to say goodbye. Both of us sat on his lap one last time and we never saw him again.” Based on how old she was at the time, my adoptive mother had married her grandfather shortly after.
If you know me personally, I am about the underdog. I don’t know where this attribute came from. Yes, it is true; I had already missed out on the love of two fathers when dad came into my life, but to this day, I still struggle to make the losses about just me. I don’t see life that way. As far back as I can remember I have wanted to fix and make everything right in this world and with my family. But the truth is when my niece filled in some of the blanks to my parents many lies and secrets, I felt broken and defeated.
I believe it’s important to be sensitive and respectful in writing what I learned about my father’s other daughter—my niece’s mother. There is no denying dad and his first family were faced with the devastating consequences of such a tough issue—a loved one suffering from serious mental illness. But what hurt me is to have heard the affectionate words from my dad as a little girl, “You’re the daughter that I never had” and to know now that it had such a painful deeper meaning for him. My parents underestimated my ability to be able to have compassion at a young age. I didn’t want to be his “replacement daughter,” especially without any knowledge of such a tragic loss in his life.
Yes, as it turns out, the “flighty as a feather” woman at my grandfather’s door was indeed his granddaughter—my father’s daughter. My niece had only seen her great grandfather once as a child. I can only speculate as to why my father still chose not to tell me the truth about his daughter when I specifically asked him as a young adult. Perhaps, some of his vagueness was due to shame and embarrassment; however, I am not sure if that would have been entirely the case based on his many years of experience in the medical field. Closer to the truth is that my adoptive mother always had such a tight, obsessive rein over wanting to portray us to the outside world as this perfect family with no flaws. It wouldn’t surprise me that dad was forbidden to even acknowledge that he had another family, almost like he had signed some kind of prenuptial agreement with mom before their marriage.
Did my dad’s heart harden when his daughter had to be placed in a mental institution for Schizophrenia as a young married mother of two small children? It was sad to hear my niece’s and late nephew’s mother was absent for much of their growing up years, but thankfully, their loving father was their fortress.
I was torn when my niece gave me a bitter-sweet glimpse of a father-daughter love story through the eyes of her grandmother, my dad’s first wife…