Meeting My Family Pt. 1
I decided to republish this article because part 2 it coming next week and you all need your memory refreshed plus, I have new subscribes. Welcome to my blog and enjoy!
This piece was written by a contributor named Eli J.
My biological dad passed away when I was 12.
I had spent the previous two years really getting to know him and building the relationship that we didn’t have for the first ten years of my life. At that time in my life, he was just the friend that I needed. He was never overbearing or strict. He let me know what he thought but had a calm about him that I wish I could mimic one day. I learned so much about him in that time and appreciated how open he was with me, his inquisitive pre-teen. One of the things I never thought to ask him about was his family. Outside of his mom, I didn’t know anything about any of them. I knew he was an only child and just assumed that he didn’t know his dad. I found out the day of his funeral that this was far from the truth.
After the funeral, I sat and cried with my grandmother in the limousine before we began to lead the processional to the cemetery. My face was buried in her chest and I couldn’t see an end to my tears. My grandma had the strength to not be consumed with grief while family and friends expressed their condolences on the way to their cars. I remember her very calmly saying, “Eli J", there’s your granddaddy.” I looked up and saw a man who looked just like the man who was lying in a casket in the hearse behind us. It was a very strange encounter because I never knew the man existed, nor did I know my dad looked so much like him. I said hi and returned to crying. I looked up before she closed the car door and he was gone.
Over the next few weeks, I tried to accept the fact that my dad was dead. I read his obituary over and over and was surprised at the fact that my dad had siblings from his dad. I learned their names and my grandfather’s name and decided that I would find them and meet them, just to have a piece of my dad in the flesh. I soon learned that was much easier to think than to execute.
The internet was definitely a large part of life in 2004, but not to the extent that it is today. I used so many online search engines to find out what I could about these people that I had recently found out existed. My grandparents hadn’t been in contacts for many, many years so all my grandma could tell me was the last place she knew that he lived was near Charlotte, North Carolina so I searched his last name in that area. I got many results of families with that name and I called every single one of them to no avail. Oddly, I never got an answering machine either so my quest subsided but I always came back to it.
In high school, I was pretty involved at school and so I’d do some more online searching when I had occasional downtime. I even paid for privately listed phone numbers with the hope that it would finally be them and they would tell me that they had been looking for me my whole life. That hope kept me going on the search. I dialed number after number for years. I didn’t have any luck until 2011.
I will never forget the moment I got an answer. I was a freshman in college. I was sitting in my dorm room waiting on my mom’s side of the family to pick me up for Spring Break so I decided to search for my granddad’s family name in Florida, where my dad was born. It seemed like any other time I was dialing numbers but this time turned out to be different. A woman answered and I told her that I was looking for my grandfather and gave his name.
“Junior or Senior?”
“Well, I guess Senior.” I didn’t consider this possibility but figured that grandfather meant Senior.
“Oh. Well, he’s dead.”
My head and heart dropped simultaneously. I lost my dad and had been searching for a dead man for seven years. I couldn’t take the pressure.
“Okay. Well thank you for your time.”
“Wait. What did you say your father’s name was?”
I gave her my dad’s name and she told me that she didn’t know who that was. She asked me his mother’s name and I told her.
“You’re looking for Junior. He’s still alive.”
I lit up.
“But he lives in Australia with his wife. I don’t know when he’ll be back in the country or if he will come back. But if you’re ever in the Pensacola area, come by and see us. I’m your great aunt.”
I thanked her for her time and told her that I would if I was ever in the area. I hung up the phone and had the weirdest feeling. I didn’t know whether to be excited or what. Confusion was all I could feel. I was glad he wasn’t dead but I didn’t know if I would ever meet him. I had zero dollars and zero cents to travel to Australia to visit complete strangers. I chocked it up to God’s sense of humor and called off my search for that side of my family.
Months later, I was back home in Atlanta for summer break and decided to check my Facebook before I went to bed. I had a message from a woman I did not know. I’ve never attracted many scammers or suitors in my DM’s so I decided to open it. It was a message from one of my dad’s cousins who spent time with him when he was younger. She told me that she was my cousin and the woman I spoke to was my great aunt, who told her mother about my call. She had been looking for me online but kept spelling my name wrong until she looked at my dad’s obituary. I was so excited. She gave me her phone number and we talked that night. She told me stories about my dad and confirmed that my grandfather was living in Australia but that one of my uncles lived in Georgia.
I was ecstatic.
She gave me my uncle’s number and we hung up.
I wanted to call that night but I had to be up early the next morning for my internship and I didn’t really know what to say. Did he even know I existed? I don’t remember meeting him at the funeral so did he even know he had a brother? If he does know about me, is he staying away on purpose? It was just so much that I decided to deal with it the next day.
And then my phone rang. I don’t know why I answered an unknown number but I did. It was my uncle. My cousin had given him my contact information right after she sent me his and he decided to call. He told me he never knew my dad had a child so he didn’t know he had a niece. Life’s circumstances hadn’t given my dad and uncle the opportunity to cultivate much a relationship. He told me that he lived in coastal Georgia with his wife and two children and was only a few years older than me. I heard noise in the background and found out that another one of my uncles was visiting him. The visiting uncle was the III to the Junior and Senior nomenclature. He put me on speakerphone and I quickly learned that they are some of the funniest people I’ve ever met in my life. Turns out the obituary had incomplete information; my dad had four brothers and a sister. In that one phone call, people who had been just names on a page to me became real. And to my 19-year-old relief, I’d never dated one of my cousins. None lived in Atlanta or North Carolina.
Fast forward a few months. I decided to meet my uncle and his family during Savannah State’s homecoming because I had a good friend who was a student there and if things didn’t go well with my uncle, I could crash with my friend. I stopped in Atlanta first and my grandma suggested that I take pictures with me so my uncle could have an idea of what my life was like. I took a photo album she gave me, my high school scrapbook and pictures of my dad that my mom gave me and I was on my way listening to Beyonce’s 4, over and over.
My uncle and I had talked frequently after our first phone call that summer so I’d say that meeting him and his family just felt right. It was like I was visiting family that I’d known my whole life but just couldn’t remember what they looked like. My uncle and aunt showed me pictures of them when they first met and pictures of the kids. It was so cool that I almost forgot my grandma told me to bring pictures of me so I grabbed them out of my bag. On the very last page of the photo album that my grandma sent with me was a copy of a picture of my dad’s school picture from elementary school that my mom stuck in there. My uncle looked really shocked so I asked what was up.
He told me that he’d seen that picture a bunch of times when he visited his grandparents (dead Sr.) in Florida but never knew who it was and didn’t ask. In that moment, everything began to feel more real to me. I had worried that they may have thought I was a con artist from the moment my uncle told me he didn’t know my dad had a daughter but having that picture made me feel legitimate. I felt like they really saw me as one of their own because of it. Since then, my uncle and I have stayed in contact and we have a really good relationship. He’s less than 10 years older than me so it really is like having a big brother and I love it. He can really push those buttons that I imagine only a big brother does with a little sister but I just laugh it off because I get it; we have a similar sense of humor. I’ve known him for six years and he’s stuck with me for life. We have a lot more to learn about each other but it’s happening organically. I still have more family to meet but I know that he’ll be there with me so it makes me less nervous about it, even if he is being a semi-jerk about it.
I did eventually meet my grandfather a few months later but you’ll have to come back in the next few weeks to find out what happened. See you soon!