DIN# D.A.D…

A DIN# is the the Department Identification Number given to inmates in the custody of the New York State Department of Corrections.  It is a number that is given to those who need access to an inmate, either on a visiting day or by corresponding through written snail mail. 07***03 belongs to my father.  My biological father that I know nothing about.  The father, that in my 31 years of life, I have only seen twice and written to a handful of times.  A father who barely knows anything about me, let alone all of the exciting things that have been going on in my life as of recent.

My whole life, I grew up in a home where my parents were the center of my life.  I have an amazing mother and a wonderful father that took me in at age 2 when he was only 17 years old, and raised me like his own.  To this day, that’s my Papi, my Papá, my Daddy, and no one will ever take his place.

Yesterday was my nephew Andy’s 2 year birthday party.  He is my brother Harry’s son, my only brother from my biological father.  We met the week before fathers day, on a 100+ degree day in mid-June 6 years ago.  Since then, our relationship has flourished and he has allowed me the opportunity to share in his life.  He has blessed me with a sister-in-law that I love and adore, a gorgeous and funny niece, and a handsome and ridiculously smart nephew.

ANDY

ANDY

SADIE

SAYDIE

Both of our relationships with our father is incredibly strained, and futile at best.  While at my brother’s home, I noticed a photo on his refrigerator.  It was a Polaroid of my brother, my father, and myself taken those 6 years ago, on Father’s day, when we decided to take the trip upstate, and visit our father for the first time at his correctional facility.  It was all really overwhelming, but what was even more overwhelming was how fate played a huge role in making that long awaited for day take place.

Some 13 years ago, my maternal uncles wife was the instructor of a step aerobics class at a small karate studio some 5 miles or so from where my family lives.  A few women attended the class weekly, 2 of which were my uncles 2nd or 3rd cousins.  This aunt, (let’s just call her PB for Psycho Bitch, but that’s for a whole other blog post!) had no clue the relation between her husband and these women.  One day my uncle goes to PB’s class to drop off some stuff for one of their 4 daughters game, and is greeted by none other than his 2 long lost cousins that he hasn’t seen since he was a teenager.  They get to chatting and asking about each others families and all the siblings and rest of the cousins, being that they lost touch around the time that my mother was pregnant with me.  She asked about me, my mother, and if I had seen my biological father lately.  My uncle responded with, “What father?! She knows who her father is!”  (All of my aunts and uncles are very protective of my relationship with my stepdad {i only use step-dad for the sake of not confusing anyone during this post})  The cousin replies, “Well, I know where he is! He is married to the cousin of my cousin, and in the Dominican Republic!”. PB was intrigued and started asking the questions about my bio father every week (you can see already the beginnings of why no one in my family speaks to nosy ass PB).  A few months later, I am at a friends house, in a drunken stupor, playing our 5th round of “Sequence”, and listening to depressing love songs and a ton of slow jams, and my phone rings with a weird 718 number that I don’t recognize.  I asked my friend to answer it..

“Sammie’s Phone!”

“Yes, I look for Samantha Leyba”

“If you mean Samantha Mendez then, yeah, how can I help you?”

“Jew Samantha? I calling frong jew father.  Thees eh his seester.  I call for Samantha.”

“Hold on please….(wide eyed and mouth agape) HOLY SHIT Sammie! This lady on the phone claims to be your aunt!  From. Your. Father’s. Side!!!”

Cue racing heart! I had always thought about that day, but you can imagine how conflicted I was when it actually happened.  What’s my {step}dad gonna think?  How am I going to explain to him that no one would ever take his place?! How do I tell my mom that I am actually going to meet these people, this other side of me that I never even bothered to think existed?  How would I feel once I met them? How would I react to their sudden affection and questions about my life?! Was I ready to come out to these people?  Was I ready to let them in? All of these questions started flying through my head the second that I got off the phone with her.  All I got from the conversation was that they lived in the Bronx, they would all be together (my 2 aunts, 3 uncles, a slew of cousins) that coming Saturday, they would be beyond excited if I went, and the they had been looking for me for so many years with no success.

I go to the store, I buy a new outfit, I get my hair braided, and I prepare myself for the emotional mess that I would probably be that Saturday.  I show up, and walk into a room filled with people embracing me and welcoming me into this huge extended family.  I meet my aunts and my uncles, and I immediately see the resemblance.  We all have the same nose! My whole life I wondered about my nose, and now I knew the answer.  We sit and chat and they ask questions for the better part of an hour.  They shove a plate of food in my face but I am too anxious and nervous to eat.  I pick at chicken and rice.  The door bell rings.  Everyone’s faces freeze in time and look directly at me.  My aunt gets up to answer the door.  She tells me, “Ven aquí”, come here, and I make my way to the door.  As she opens the door, it’s like looking into a mirror.  My face is reflected back at me, and I knew.  I knew right away that it was my brother.  We looked at each other and ran and hugged, both sobbing hysterically.  He’s feeling my hair, and touching my face, and I do the same. “Is this real?!?!” “You’re my brother/sister?!?!?”  “Is this happening!” “We have the same nose!” “Our eyes are the same color” “Look at your hair so curly like mine” “We were gonna call the radio station to look for you!”.  The words are coming out a mile a minute.  Our family watches on with tears in their eyes.  We meet.  Finally.  Without me even knowing that he existed and i had missed him.  Terribly.  We talk and make plans to see our father the next day, Father’s Day 2008.

HARRY AND I TWINNING

HARRY AND I TWINNING

The next day, we meet up early, and make the 1hr 40 minute trek to the correctional facility.  Our father has no idea we are coming.  He doesn’t even know we have met or that they found me.  We get scanned, head in to a large room filled with white tables and blue plastic chairs that look like elementary school chairs but super-sized.  We wait facing the door where the inmates come in.  Every man that steps forwards could be him, but we somehow knew it wasn’t.  When our father walked in, we squeezed the others hand because we knew.  We stood up, and we walked towards us, tucking in his shirt, fidgeting with his pants, and standing straight and tall seeing his two grown children waiting for him for the first time in God knows how long.  He hesitated and then hugged us.  We all cried, but our reunion was cut short with a reminder of, “That’s enough physical contact inmate!” It was awkward and weird, and filled with a ton of truths that I’m still not so sure I’m ready to hear, but it began a relationship with my brother that I cherish, and a relationship with my father that is a constant work in progress.  I left that day feeling confused, hurt, loved, connected, disjointed.  The ride home was a quiet one as the space between my brother and I danced with the ghost of our lives before this day in the sunlight of our futures together.

The reason I am writing about this is to find some clarity and remember the hope that I felt that day.  I’ve been struggling with letting him know that he is going to be a “grandfather”.  That there are these two beautiful little creatures on their way into this crazy world.  I feel like I am betraying my {step}dad even though he is probably the only grandfather they will know for at least the next 10 years.  But I look at my brother.  He told our father about the kids, and went to see him twice, but nothing has changed.  They are still grandfatherless kids. He doesn’t call.  He doesn’t write.  He doesn’t send birthday or Christmas cards.  Will anything really be different? Will anything really change  I hope that thinking this through calms my anxiety a bit, and I find some clarity and courage to write the words to him that I need to write and express.  My boys will have their “Wito” (short for Abuelito) and they will have Harry Sr. who they probably won’t ever remember seeing.  The worst part is, it’s not like my {bio}dad doesn’t want a relationship with us.  It can just be incredibly tedious and frustrating to foster a new relationship from behind 4 iron gates and cement walls. For now, I will write to him, with my heart and share good news that he probably needs to hear…his little girl is having 2 little boys.

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12 thoughts on “DIN# D.A.D…

  1. Parent relationships can be so complicated. I have some pretty complicated dad issues, too. I like to think the challenges will help me to be a better parent someday.

  2. What an amazing story. More than anything, it highlights what a good person you are, and how much love there already is in your life. If you go into your announcement without expectations of super supportive excitement, then I think you’re less likely to have your heart broken. I’m just speaking from experience, but yours may be positive and totally different from when I told my dad we were trying to make babies. Thanks for sharing your stories. I love reading them.

  3. I am going to try and be brief. It will not work because I am not brief. But I want you to know, I tried.

    I don’t write about it often anymore because I am out of words that can do justice the relationship between myself, The Queen, and my in-laws. Suffice to say, they are not good people. They feel entitled to their grandparent role, though they didn’t support our relationship, our marriage, our life together, or either of their grandchildren prior to them being born. They have extremely absurd expectations. They are never happy with our effort. They are constantly over stepping boundaries. They are hateful with their words and their actions. They push gender roles, heteronormative behavior, and religious views on us constantly. They don’t trust us, really. And I certainly, under no circumstances, trust them. At all. Ever.

    With that said, the children have a relationship with them. WE have a relationship with them. It’s taken a decade to work out and it’s still relatively poor. They are not left alone with the kids in any environment but our house. And even then, they are only left alone under extreme circumstances for very, very brief periods of time. We have to constantly buffer their words or their actions. We’re always waiting for them to say something hurtful or ignorant or irritating or offensive.

    And this is hard because the kid’s love them. They don’t know any different. Their world is still pure and honest and good. And we don’t taint that, even though I want to most days, because it’s not fair to them. So, we do this dance and it’s ridiculous and stupid but we do it.

    All that to say, I know how hard it can be managing expectations about grandparents. And trying to find where people could, or should, fit in your new family’s life. So I don’t envy you, friend. It is a hard line to walk. I literally agree with every word of what mamaetmaman wrote above. It’s the same advice I’d give you.

    How wonderful a reunion story though? What beautiful kids! And your brother is such a stud! I’m glad they are a part of your life even if your father can’t be at this time (or any time) in the future.

    And I’m guessing here, because I don’t know him personally, but I would be surprised that such a stand up man as your step-father would feel betrayed. He knows his place in your life. He knows how you feel. I think he’d be happy for you if you could find peace and happiness, whatever that may mean. And I hope you find it, too. 🙂

    • I just want to say- I think that’s the relationship my wife and I will have with my parents when we get around to having our kid. My parents aren’t supportive or open minded either.

    • Wow, that’s a really shitty situation to be in with your in-laws. It’s hard when you don’t feel accepted or like your family isn’t valid in the eyes of the people you “love”. It’s even more complicated when you have kids, because we KNOW it isn’t right to keep the kids away from them. We’re lucky that we each love out in-laws, but there are some things that irritate us about the other. Like Callie’s mom is a chain smoker, and I have issues leaving the kids there because of the constant, incessant cigarette smoke. We’re still discussing this, because they came to watch the girls at our place and when we came home the house was BOMBARDED with the smell of cigarette. Why she felt it was OK to smoke a cigarette in the kitchen of a non-smoking house once the girls were sleeping is beyond me. But I know that my parents are also very nitpicky and this their way is the best way and are a bit intrusive. But ultimately, we all have a general level of respect for one another. It makes me sad that you guys have to experience a life like that. Especially the little ones who really don’t get it.

      It’s funny, because I know my dad KNOWS that i met my biological father but he hasn’t mentioned it either even after all this time. I bring my brother around and he is often at family gathers like Christmas Dinner at our apartment every year or birthday parties for my sisters (maternal) daughter, so we have definitely integrated him into our lives. I know he knows, and I know he doesn’t care, but there is this little fear that says, the more time i spend with my {bio} dad the more my Papá will pull away. Its silly really, but I guess the fear of rejection is deep routed huh?

  4. I’m sorry, that’s rough. My brother-in-law is in jail, it was really hard on my wife. They grew up together, but had drifted apart before it happened. It took her a while to be able to cope with it.

    • Yeah, it’s hard. He wasn’t incarcerated the whole 30 years though. When he got charged, he skipped bail and left. He remarried in DR and turned his life around. He became a pastor and started his own congregation, and when his wife couldn’t get pregnant he figured, it was god punishing him for not taking care of the 2 kids he already had. So he came back and used all his legal documentation to get back into the country and they arrested him because he’s had a warrant for his arrest out since 1986! So, he came back with good intentions so it makes it a little easier to accept him and try and start a relationship.

  5. Wow, you and your brother sure practically TWINS! Thank you so much for sharing this story. I loved it, particularly the part where you two met for the first time and were crying/looking at each other as if you were looking into a mirror.

  6. I loved reading about meeting your brother for the first time, and was also sad that you didn’t get to meet before. I heard a similar story on NPR a while back. It sounds like your kiddos are going to have an awesome family regardless of what happens with your bio-dad. My wife’s dad refuses to acknowledge our son as his grandson, which is a whole blog post of it’s own. I hope things work out well for you and your little growing family, however that is.

  7. My dad and I have a weird relationship. I’d say I relate, but I was daddy’s little girl til I came out and he disowned me for 6 years. Eh, things are just weird now. We talk, we hang out, we have some sort of relationship, but it’s not a great one. So, I totally get the daddy thing, the dad issues, the how to approach the subject with dad issue. Hope you get it sorted out in your head. I know it’s not easy – it’s a pretty tough subject. Hugs to you!

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