A Tale of Two Fathers
In the course of more than twenty five years of friendship (and writing seven books together), we have discussed pretty much every subject under the sun at least a dozen times, and in a variety of moods from jubilant to melancholy. Whether the subject is the men we've dated (or married or divorced) or how to cure hiccups, we've found that one of the recurring themes is the strong presence of one of our fathers, and the total absence of the other's. All of this talk has made it clear ---in a way that's personal, not theoretical--- that whether pops was at the dinner table or in the wind, what he did or didn't do is critical. As daughters, we are generally quite aware of our mother's legacies. We are like her. Or unlike her. Happy to follow in her footsteps. Determined to avoid them at all costs– even if it means stepping on a crack or two. Or we are "our own person" and in complete denial about any correlation at all. But equally fateful for daughters is our relationship, or lack of one, with our fathers.
I decided to look for my father after printing "unknown" yet again across the portion of a medical history dedicated to maladies that run on his side of the family. He left and took his family with him when I was an infant.
Often I have listened to woman friends recount fond stories of their fathers, and I get wistful with a dab of envy. One told of Friday midnight pizza runs. She and her siblings would gallop to the kitchen in their pajamas to join their dad for a slightly naughty snack. Another recalls the quiet moment when her father assured her that no matter what, he was in her corner. Knowing that one man on the planet cares for you without ulterior motive seems impossibly wonderful to me. Then I stop daydreaming. There are fathers who get drunk and wallop the first thing that moves, or those present in body, but unable to give love they perhaps never got. My father made a clean cut, not as jagged or ugly as some. Was I picking at a wound that had healed as well as it could? I didn't know, but I was not close enough to finding him to make myself answer.
At the Department of Health the clerk said I couldn't get a copy of my father's birth certificate unless he was already dead and pointed me toward the death records. I was annoyed. He was too young to be dead, but in the interest of thoroughness, I checked.
And there he was, in the ledger book for 1979--Charles Herbert Goins, my father. I stared at the page, waiting for some emotion besides shock to surface. He had never been real to me so I had no tears. He took up no space in my life, so I couldn't feel empty. Nothing came, not anger, satisfaction or sorrow.
I copied the pertinent facts so I could complete what would only ever be a rough sketch of him. If I find members of his family, they can only tell me about him. The things I most need to know could only have come from his lips.
I have added heart disease to my list of hereditary ailments. That's what killed my father. The information is somewhat useful. I have heart problems of my own, so I guess the broken ones come from his side of the family. Yet, more than a hint at future ills, I suppose I wanted a cure for the recurrent ache I feel from being left without an explanation or a second glance. I guess it's like the arthritis that runs on Mom's side of the family. It's not debilitating. Some days are fine. Others, the pain is sharp, so you take an aspirin and keep going until it passes, but you know it will always be with you.