One of the heaviest weights that I have carried throughout my life has been my father’s absence. It has colored how I define myself–my struggle with my last name–and how I relate to other people in my life, not least of all his other children. It was a constant battle between my mother and I, as I kept holding onto hope that one day my father would mature and we would be able to have an okay relationship.. and I kept getting stood up over and over and over. “He’s my dad,” I would argue, and my mom and I would yell at each other until we had nothing left. For years, I thought that she was just angry at him; bitter over being left behind when he married someone else before I was even four months old. I know better, now–I know that her anger had nothing to do with herself and everything to do with watching me spill countless tears over someone that just wasn’t worth it.
Still, the anguish remained. “He’s my dad” was the refrain every time I had to confront his faults, as if the biological accident that was my conception gave the dude a free pass. Over time, I got better at pretending that it wasn’t a big deal, brushing it off with a flippant designation of “daddy issues” whenever anyone inquired. The first time that teenaged me admitted to someone how abandoned I felt, I said it to my pastor. I was about thirteen years old at the time, an awkward girl who was “too adult” for her peers and desperate for some sort of positive attention. When he invited me to hang out with the youth group, which I was still technically too young to attend, I began to see him as a figure I could confide in. So a couple of weeks later, in the middle of a tearful prayer, I blurted it out. “Every time I pray, I ask God why my dad doesn’t care about me.” In true pastoral fashion, Fernando refused to make excuses for him–as well as for me. “Why are you so concerned with him when God is your Father?” he asked, and the words branded themselves into my heart, being a huge part of my decision to pick a Hebrew name with His name in it.
Aside from God Himself, who has always seemed very paternal to me, I have had the privilege of being raised by three more fathers: my maternal grandfather, my stepfather, and my aunt Myrka’s husband. My maternal grandparents raised me up until the time I was twelve years old, and since I was the only granddaughter I received my fair share of spoiling from both of them. My grandfather was, until I lost him shortly before my eighteenth birthday, the number one male figure in my life. My stepfather had started to take a more prominent role, then–he’d been around for half of my life, and we were resolving our differences and finding that we had more in common than we had originally thought. And my aunt’s husband… my uncle had been around for as long as my stepdad, and he let me and my cousins call him Uncle way before he got married to my aunt. But it wasn’t until I moved to Chicago in 2007, and he and my aunt Myrka were my only family here, that I truly began to realize that he’d become another father figure–always looking out for me, and willing to do whatever needed to be done for me without asking questions.
As wonderful as those men are, though, they are not a daily part of my life anymore due to the miles that separate us. God saw this, and resolved to fix it–and during mincha on Yom Kippur, yesterday afternoon, I gained a fourth father.
This one is probably the one that I was least expecting. I met Alan, a fellow congregant, a few months ago–before my conversion was finalized. He invited some people from the congregation back to his apartment after services, and I tagged along. For three hours after that, we had an intimate, honest conversation that brought us very close, despite the fact that we do not see each other very often. So on Rosh Hashana, when he came over to tell me how lovely I looked in my tallit and how happy he was for me, I was glad to hear him murmur, “If I’d had a daughter, she would be your age. I would be very proud if she were you.” Yesterday, when he sidled over to me during a lull in the service, I knew he had something big to say–his face looked grave. “Do you have a Jewish father in your life?” he asked. I shook my head no. “Would you like one?” I felt the smile starting to grow on my face, and he smiled back. “I think, my dear Eliava, that we should adopt each other.”
And so, by the grace of HaShem, we have–and now I have a JDad of my very own. 🙂