New Beginnings: When I found him I also felt like I found pieces of myself

227 months, 3 weeks, 4 days, 3 hours, 53 minutes and 20 seconds had passed since the last time I saw my biological father, yet there I was on June 19, 2017 in the Dominican Republic to meet him for the first time after 19 years. Not as the innocent and pure little girl that left the small island at the age of 4, but as a grown woman of 23 who had endured a lot in life, a whole lot … without him.

During my childhood  he would call once every 3-6 months,

“how are you,

: fine

i love you

: love you too papi  

ok bye

: ok bye”

That was more or less the extent of every conversation, but sometimes he’d include little life tips like “look both ways before you cross the street.” I remember being so annoyed when he told me how to cross the street because I was 16 years old! He was 4 years late and  missed the stage in my life where advice like this could actually be useful.

Growing up was rough, my childhood and adolescent life was a very traumatic one. I lived in an environment where as a child of 11/12 years old I wished I could disappear. I was not to speak unless spoken to… and I was never spoken to. Being the daughter of pastors, I was judged and every aspect of who I was had to fit the image they wanted for me. Absolutely everything I did was restricted and controlled, and on top of all of this I experienced abuse every single day; I continue to deal with the ramifications of the darkness of my childhood. No one knew, no one saved me, my life was a living hell and here was my distant father talking to me about looking both ways before crossing the street. Part of me started to feel a little resentment towards him because he didn’t help me in the way I needed him to, but part of me also didn’t want to blame him because he was so far away. So I began to be very indifferent towards him, I didn’t care whether he called me at all anymore and I certainly wasn’t reaching out to him. I had so much to deal with and I wasn’t in the mood to engage in small talk with a stranger. Even when we would talk and he would say “te amo//i love you”, I would say it back as to not be disrespectful or hurt his feelings. But I oftentimes thought that he is a stranger to me, I have nothing to love him for, and I have nothing else to say to him. Eventually, the calls dwindled down, but I didn’t care. Three years flew by of no communication, but in my gut I did not care.

Recently, I decided to go to pack my bags and head to the Dominican Republic; part of me thought it was really shameful that as a woman who prides herself in being an Afro-Dominicana I couldn’t recall anything about the island I was born in. Additionally, I was faced with the reality that I would have to confront the past and visit my father who lived there. I knew that even if it went terrible, I needed to at least meet him once before he or I died. I was excited to visit the Dominican Republic but the idea of having to face my father made my palms sweaty. I didn’t know what to expect, and I thought he would be angry at me; angry because I stopped answering his calls or angry because I never showed I cared. However, I was absolutely wrong! When I looked into my father’s eyes for the first time his eyes lit up.  He didn’t let me go all night and told me this moment is what he had been waiting for his whole life. I wanted him to know me, from my struggles to my successes. We talked about my childhood, and my mother which he told me he had no idea life of. Seeing that I was surrounded by so much love and support from multiple members in his family, I broke down in tears. I realized in that moment that I hadn’t been as alone and unwanted as I thought I was. I remember feeling, if my parents were going to abuse me my whole life then why didn’t they just leave me in the Dominican Republic with my father. I filled with anguish at the thought of what my life could’ve been with my dad. When I started to express these sentiments to my father, he reassured me that the present is all that matters, and things will be better from now on.  My dad, his sisters, my grandmother all welcomed me with open arms, they showered me with compliments, food, and gifts. They told me they loved me … that was major because I had never heard my mother tell me once that she loved me.

I always imagined that my encounter with my father would be awkward, that it wouldn’t feel natural calling him dad or saying “i love you” in person. However, it was quite the opposite. He was everything I wanted in a father figure….he was quirky, funny, loving, and understanding. When I found him I also felt like I found pieces of myself. My funny and quirky personality was always really repressed by my mother, sometimes I was not even allowed to laugh and I never understood why I was so different from her. When I saw  my dad belt out songs from his portable karaoke machine, I had a  realization that we were the same person. This experience allowed me to develop acceptance for myself and who I was. It allowed me to realize that nothing was wrong with me after all. He also showed me baby pictures of him holding me as a baby, hugging me, kissing me and I was mind blown because this concept of parental love and affection was so foreign to me. For the first time in my life I felt wanted and loved by family members. That feeling of love was huge for me. I’ve always really prided myself in being where I am in life because of my own efforts, but it’s also been very exhausting feeling so alone on this journey. After having such a positive experience with my father, I know that I do have a support system that I can fall back on and I don’t have to continue to face my struggles on my own.

After I left the Dominican Republic, our relationship changed drastically for the better. We communicate more and there’s more substance to our conversations. I can go to him when I’m sad or angry about something and I know he will be reassuring without judging me. When I say “I love you” now, I mean it because he showed me more unconditional love and support in the 3 days I was with him than in the 19 years I spent without him. Although our relationship isn’t the best father-daughter relationship one could imagine, I am grateful for what we do have. I appreciated his openness, willingness to tell me the complete story, honesty in admitting he wasn’t always the best father, and his love for me despite it all.This was a chapter in my life that has been open for the longest... it felt good to close it and open up one of new beginnings. New beginnings, that is the theme of my 2017.

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