Biological “Father” – Part 3

As I dialed the numbers, my hands trembled.  Not that I was afraid to talk to him like it was the first time we spoke, but I wasn’t sure what to expect now that he was a free man, with free will, and with the ability to make his own choices that weren’t necessarily dictated by the solitude that incarceration brings.  Would this phone call be the beginning of the end now that he didn’t need to stay connected to someone in order to have cash flow into his commissary, or would it simply be a new beginning now that he had the ability to communicate with my brother and I as much as he wanted?  I hear a weird beep on the other end.  Phones ring differently when you call different countries.  I didn’t know that.

Beep………Beep……….Beep……….

“Ah-lo?”

“Si, soy yo, Samantha” – It’s me, Samantha..

“Quien? No se hoye bien…” – Who?  I can’t hear you well…

It’s your daughter, Sammie!!!

“HOLA HIJA!!!!  How are you!  How is everything!  I’m finally free! Free to do so many things!  Tell me, how is everything?!”

Our conversation began.  He asked about the kids and how they were doing because the last time we had spoken they weren’t born yet.  I told him that they were getting big and that they were beautiful and smart and funny, and one had red hair and blue eyes like my wife and one had brown hair and brown eyes just like me.  I was so excited to brag and share about them.  I also told him about Mary and how we would possibly be adopting her and how she is such a special part of our lives and our family.  He seemed happy to hear that we were doing something so important, taking on someone else’s kid and the responsibility it took to keep her safe.  The irony in that statement.  He asked me about my partner, and I had to correct him several times and say that she was my wife, but he still doesn’t seem to get it. He asked when my brother and I, and our families would be coming to the Dominican Republic to see him.  I told him that it would be difficult to go this year because 1) I am pregnant to which he literally cried! 2) Mary can’t leave the country without a passport, and although her mother is OK with signing all of the required paperwork, her father’s parental rights are still completely intact, and finding him to sign said paperwork has been impossible (we had a trip to Canada planned with my parents and siblings that ended up canceled at the last minute thanks to having no passport!) and 3) Passports are not cheap.  With Callie’s name change, the boys BOTH needing passports and at about $100 each, not including airfare, hotel and car rental, it would cost us well over $4,000 for a week, and that’s just not the type of money we have lying around.  That’s not even including spending money, because with our father not having a job…well, you see where this is going.  I told him it would be a while before we visited, but that worst-case, my brother and I would decide if just the two of us would go, and at some later point in time, we would take our families out there to meet him.  I don’t think I’m ready for that anyway.  For my kids to meet him.

We talked about how difficult it is for him to readjust to life outside of prison.  After almost 10 years of being locked, he wasn’t sure what to make of the world around him. It’s one of the first things I noticed talking to him.  I noticed that all that time locked up created a pretty foreign world for him.  I asked him if he had a smart phone so that we could Facetime or Skype or Tango.  He had no clue what I was talking about.  Luckily, the cousin that told me that he was being released would be arriving in DR the next day and would be able to use her iPad (provided they had wifi) to Facetime with him.  Unfortunately, that whole week she was there was no good for me.  The timing was off basically every day, and the one day that I was actually able to FT, I fell asleep on the couch after a stressful day at work. I wanted to help him reintegrate to this “new foreign” world around him.  I asked her to take him to a phone store, find out how much an iPhone would cost, and what a service plan would look like, being that he was gifted a Blackberry with a prepaid sim card.  The grand total for a refurbished iPhone4S with a monthly plan? $150.00 for the phone and $35 for unlimited talk and text.  Data would be an additional $25/month for 4GB of data.  The phone is easy enough to afford, especially if my brother would be on board for splitting the cost, but there is NO WAY with us both struggling to make ends meet, that we would be willing to pay the monthly charges for the phone and add another bill to our already bill-ridden lives.  I sadly had to tell my father that it wasn’t something that I could afford right now.  We spoke for a bit longer, and although as awkward and piecemeal as the conversation was, it was nice to be able to talk to him in “person” and hear his voice.

His brother downloaded WhatsApp for him onto his Blackberry, and since then, he has been texting me almost daily, seeing how I’m doing, asking for pictures of the kids, and of myself.  Wanting to know how my pregnancy is going, and always asking about Callie and making sure that I am taking care of her, because he’s old school and happy wife means a happy life.  He told me that he found a job thanks to a friend of his, installing solar panels at hotels and schools and government buildings.  He told me how difficult it has been getting to and from work without a car.  He asked if we would help him buy one, and that he found one for $3000.  At this point I’m feeling frustrated.  If i already told you that I can’t afford an extra $60 a month, what in the world would make you think that I could afford $3000?!?!  I sent a screen shot of the conversation to my brother.  He laughed and said to deduct it from the $100k that he owes for our child support and now only owes us $97,000 instead.  I had to chuckle at that.  My father has made several comments like this in the past few weeks.  How he has to buy clothes and how he has to buy shoes both for work and play, and that he needs a new car, and a haircut, and do I have freaking Bank of America written on my damn forehead!?  I try not to let it taint the relationship that I have with him, or to blemish this idea I have of potentially one day having this “daddy’s little girl” relationship with him that I never had with my step-dad.  I want things to be the way they were supposed to be, but there is just too much built up.  Too many emotions tied to this one person.  Too much bitterness, and despite how hard I try to work passed some of it, it’s really tough some days.

So far, I gather that he is a really nice man, that made some drastically terrible mistakes, paid for them, and is now really doing his best to acquire everything that he lost.  I’m not gonna make it harder for him to do that, but I’m also not going to put myself out there and have my heart broken, or my kids hearts broken over shattered promises.  My number one job now is to protect them like I should have been protected.  In some of the letters that we wrote, he talked about the day that my brother and I visit him at his home, where he’ll cook dinner for us “so you know that your father knows how to throw down in the kitchen!”, and then we’ll drive to the beach, where we’ll walk across the sand, hand in hand like it should have happened decades ago, watching the sun set over a Caribbean horizon, and laugh and spend our first full day together ending in God’s light and pray for more days. Just. Like. That.  On days where I struggle with the relationship (or lack there of) with my father, I hold that image in my mind. I treasure it, I long for it, I cry over it, and hope that those words that he wrote will one day come true.  I truly, more than anything, hope they do.

father1 father2

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.