Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
1 Thessalonians 5:18
Mom was right. She may not have known exactly how or why she was right, but she was indeed right, at least about this one thing. She believed that everything happens for a reason. Although she was prone to making poor choices, she called things as she saw them and was pretty much a fatalist, believing that things would eventually turn out the way that they were meant to be.
Mom was not a religious person, believing that most who profess faith seldom practice it. But she did believe in God. She had little education, never having graduated from high school, but she was a prodigious reader, especially of things written by either Zane Grey or Louis L’Amore. She also loved poetry and she read it to me often – The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, Little Orphant Anne, The Highwayman, and so many more favorites. On cold winter evenings after dinner was over, there being no television when I was young, there was little else for us to do but to climb into bed and read to each other. Accordingly, I grew up with a vivid imagination and a love for the imagery, rhythm and rhyme of good writing.
One of mom’s favorite poems was, Whatever Is — Is Best. It’s by Ella Wheeler Wilcox.I know as my life grows older And mine eyes have clearer sight — That under each rank wrong, somewhere There lies the root of Right; That each sorrow has its purpose, By the sorrowing oft unguessed, But as sure as the sun brings morning, Whatever is – is best. I know that each sinful action, As sure as the night brings shade, Is somewhere, some time punished, Tho’ the hour be long delayed. I know that the soul is aided Sometimes by the heart’s unrest, And to grow means often to suffer — But whatever is – is best. I know there are no errors, In the great Eternal plan, And all things work together For the final good of man. And I know when my soul speeds onward In its grand Eternal quest, I shall say as I look back earthward, Whatever is – is best.
I loved the artistry of this poem, the rhythm and rhyme. But I could never really relate to the message. How, I thought, could it possibly be for the best that I should have to grow up never knowing the love and support of a father, one who would claim me as his own, provide for my mother and me, and after whom I could model myself? It just didn’t make sense.
For years I fanaticized about a man that would one day come knocking on our door and say, “Kent, I am your father – your real father. I’m sorry for not having been here for you up until now. Let me make it up to you.” But of course, this never happened.
Abandoning this fantasy by the time I was a teenager for the prospect of one day finding my father on my own, I considered first, how to go about it. Next, I considered just what I would say to my father if I ever did manage to find him. This led me back to the anxiety of being rejected and denied again. So I never made an attempt, not until much later in life.
What did I know about him anyway? Well, I knew his name: Gordy Gary; I knew that he was a Cajun Roman Catholic from Rayne, Louisiana, and; I knew that he had been an enlisted man in the U.S. Navy stationed in the San Francisco bay area during WWII. I had a picture of him too, one that mom had kept and gave to me when I was old enough to appreciate it. His image confirmed for me our blood relationship; it was he who was responsible for my nose. But I never made any kind of attempt to find him until, while on active duty in the U.S. Army, I planned to drive from Ft. Wolters, Texas to a new duty station in Georgia and take a roundabout route through New Orleans to get there. My plan was to visit my father’s home of record en route and do some research — looking in the Rayne, Louisiana phone book, knocking on some doors, and maybe checking with the local newspaper for any stories that might have been published about him. This was, after all, years before personal computers and the Internet. But it was late at night and raining when I approached the highway exit for Rayne. I slowed to make the turn off but got cold feet. I kept straight and pressed on to New Orleans. Oh well…
Years later, as I anticipated retirement from a full career in the Army, I again considered how I might fill the hole left in my heart by my father’s abandonment. I sent off for a phone book of Rayne, Louisiana and discovered that there were still a whole lot of people living there with the last name of Gary. I started calling them long-distance from our home in Virginia. One after another, they denied ever knowing or hearing of anyone by the name of Gordy Gary. I didn’t call them all. But after ten or so, I concluded that no one was about to give up any information about my father, even if they did know something about him. Oh well…
This was when the plethora of different feelings I experienced over the years about my father turned to resentment – something close to hate. How could he just disappear like this?
Many years later, after reading the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo trilogy and being impressed by how easily the protagonist of these stories was able to find information that existed anywhere in cyber space, I decided to try Googling my father’s name. I did and up popped his picture, a picture that accompanied an obituary. I learned that he had passed away a little more than a month beforehand. I was saddened by the fact that it had taken my father’s death to make it possible for me to finally find him. But I felt oddly relieved too by the fact that his existence – his life – was no longer such a mystery. Now too, I would never have to confront him.
I was dumbfounded and emotionally overwhelmed by this information. I debated with myself, asked for advice from my wife, family members and church friends, and I prayed about it too. What do I do now? Everyone told me that I just had to contact my father’s other adult children – make myself known to them. And, spiritually, I knew that I had to make the effort. But, how would they respond? Would they respond? I was experiencing the same old cold feet, the fear of rejection that had kept me from trying harder in the past to discover my paternal roots and the capacity within me to forgive.
After discovering, with a little more on-line detective work, my newfound siblings’ addresses, I took a day (actually I think it was more like several days) to carefully craft a letter to them. I sent them all the same letter, giving them the option to respond or not and promising never to bother them again if they chose not to respond. A week or so later, I received a cautious inquiry from Bill, one of my new brothers who happens to be a lawyer. Bill asked for more evidence to support my claim of kinship. To this I responded with a copy of my birth certificate naming Gordy Gary as my father. I also sent an old snapshot of Gordy taken in his Navy uniform and a poem that he had written to mom in his own hand – things that mom had given to me before she died. I included the web address for my blog, The World According to Opa, so that they could know me better and examine photographs published on-line of me and my sons – clear evidence of a common blood line.
The rest is history. After a year of exchanging letters and emails, my new brothers and I met recently and communed for the first time over steaks and a couple of bottles of good wine. I trust that Gordy would have approved.
They were planning their annual getaway ski trip to Park City, Utah. And, since this was near where I had grown up and near where one of my maternal brothers, Jack, still lives, I couldn’t resist meeting them there.
We agreed to meet at a nice, quiet restaurant and I arrived early. With trepidation, I rose to greet them when they arrived with my hand offered for a polite shake. My brothers ignored it and warmly embraced me instead. In that instant, all my doubt and fear vanished.
Here I am with my fraternal brothers, Bill on my right and Mike on my left. They are avid skiers — much like I used to be. This and other similarities and parallels in our lives that we discovered are absolutely amazing. Brother, Jack, who went with me for moral support, bless his heart, took the photograph.
During our time together, I learned a great deal about my brothers, their families, and about my father. I learned that they, and their sister whom I’ve yet to meet, are good, caring people. I learned too that our father had been a good, loving and successful man.
Whether it was actually true or just a reflection of my father’s true character that Bill wanted me to understand, I love him for sharing this with me. Bill told me that, before he died, Gordy confessed the love relationship he had with my mother. He confessed too about knowing that he had fathered a child with her. Bill told me that our father had had an issue with his own legitimacy, having been raised by a man other than his biological father. He told me too that Gordy had wanted to find me, had tried to find me, but couldn’t any more than I had been able to find him. For this reason Gordy had felt guilty. For this reason he had carried remorse about having walked away from my mother and me to the grave. Surely, if this is true, and I do choose to believe it, Gordy took this to Catholic confession and received absolution for it.
I thanked Bill for sharing this with me. Hearing it and believing it made me feel both glad and sad – glad to know that my father had had feelings for me, but sad that neither he nor I had been able to find the other before it was too late. But I didn’t need to hear and accept the truth of this to finally be able to forgive my father. I forgave him before actually meeting my new brothers. I forgave him because mom had been right – everything does happen for a reason.
If Gordy and my mother had not separated, there would never have been a Candy, a Dawnie, an Ed or a Jack. Doubtless, I would never have met my wife and fathered my sons. Neither would there have been an Antoinette, a Bill or a Mike. And I would never have known the love of my grandchildren, especially that which I now receive in abundance from my precious little Kaleiyah.
We will never know what alternate reality might have been had my mother agreed to convert to Catholicism so many years ago, or at least had agreed to raise me in the Catholic faith with Gordy as her husband. She told me once that it had been this choice she had to make that led both her and Gordy to the conclusion that marriage for them just wouldn’t work. Although Gordy had been the love of my mother’s life, and she told me before she died that he had been, she just couldn’t disappoint her Mormon family any more than she already had.
Whatever might have been, even if I could choose now and had full knowledge with which to make a choice, I wouldn’t change a thing. Even if I could go back and have that other life to live all over again, I would choose to keep the life and the lives of others that my birth parents’ choice made possible.
Yes, everything does happen for a reason.