I wasn’t really sure why I added #8: Visit my father’s hometown, until we were actually pulling closer to Odessa, Texas. It had always been he and my brother who spoke about visiting. But as we were driving down the 20 it suddenly became very clear.
There were quite a few gaps in our relationship, some as wide as three years of silence. Others were smaller, missing pieces that you only come to miss when someone’s gone. It is the history, the connection to his past that I crave.
Based on what he spoke about I know exactly four things about his childhood:
- That any good dentist could tell where he was raised, because the water there was known for the stains on his teeth.
- That he moved away from his hometown and to Las Vegas when he was about 12 or 13.
- That he developed diabetes when he was 13 years old.
- That he and his friends used to cruise Fremont St before it became the “Experience”.
After he passed away, I found that he was born in Odessa, a bit of history he never really spoke about (he always just bragged about being Texan). I also found I had an uncle I never knew about (I searched all the Harold’s I could find and ended up meeting him and my beautiful cousin a day before the funeral; they never stayed in touch though). I also found a letter from his biological father just after he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes and a photo of him that I still own that looks eerily like my dad.
How strange is it to know so little of my dad before he was My Dad? My mom used to tell me stories about her and her siblings. I would visit her childhood home every summer until my grandparents finally moved. And I’ve watched home videos of her growing up. There is a history there, an ancestry I understand. I know my mother’s mother and grandmother and great-grandmother and their stories. But for my dad it’s almost as if he sprang into existence sometime in his 20′s.
So I went to Odessa, in hopes of drawing some map in my mind of who my father The Baby or The Toddler might have been. I guess in the back of my mind I was hoping to stumble across someone who had known my grandparents before they were grandparents, when they were still young and wide-eyed and bringing home a newborn baby boy. I was hoping to sit beside some old lady and hear stories of how my dad, The Baby, would cry or laugh or play with a toy truck while the adults ate together and drank ice tea in the heat.
Instead we found a directory that told me my grandfather was a truck driver, an address of where they lived when my dad would have been two, and a birth announcement with the address of his first home.
That home was gone, replaced with a concrete slab. The neighbors said it was a boarding house torn down in the 70′s, giving me more questions than answers.
The second home was there, though, and I tried to imagine my dad, The Toddler, playing in the yard. I tried to hear some child laughing or see some ghost of history there, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t picture what he looked like before the age of 29 or a grandmother who wasn’t in her 70′s.
Did I mention my grandmother died in June? No one called me to tell me. My other grandma found the obituary and my mom broke the news to me. And all I could do was sigh with the sadness of it all as that ancestral gap widen in my heart.
I didn’t know until now that I didn’t know the man I called Dad. I loved him and he loved me. But there was always something missing. Connection. History. Maybe he couldn’t give what he didn’t have.
But I can. I can love my dad for who he was, even if I’m not sure who that is. I can love the family I didn’t understand. And I can take what he didn’t give me as a gift, one of understanding just how important it is for your child to walk through the streets of your hometown and know where you once stood.
They all did the best they could with what they had. I have the chance to do better.