Last year, I wrote a poem for Father’s Day, which has always been a weird holiday for me. It included this stanza:
A stranger to me
Gave me half my DNA
And nothing else
Well, as of three days ago, this is no longer true! My name is Sophie, and this is my own Mamma Mia! story.
As the line from the poem shows pretty clearly, and as quite a few of you know already, I grew up without my dad in my life. I really loved growing up with just my mom so we could form our close bond, but you know I still had questions. My mom and I look next to nothing alike, and I wanted to know where those genes came from. It was confusing just having tiny details about him to cling to when all of my other friends had two parents.
Fast-forward to 2012, when I officially gained a stepdad. Did he perfectly fill that vacancy in my heart? Absolutely not! To be frank, it was like seeing a cake with a piece cut out and filling the hole with mashed up gas station hot dogs, covering the whole thing in sloppy icing. I got a “father figure” that loved nothing more than himself and his two bratty kids that became my “siblings”. I guess it wasn’t the most miserable existence, but it was certainly something. As time went on and Bozo & Co moved in and out of my life repeatedly, I closed off any yearning for another parent. He was just a guy living in my house sometimes, and I wasn’t going to let that affect me emotionally anymore.
In these years, the five of us only went on one major vacation together: a week-long cruise in the spring of 2017. My mom and I escaped from the group one day and got some lunch just the two of us. As we sat overlooking the water, I started asking some more questions about my dad. I can’t remember what provoked this conversation, but I learned so much more about him. My mom didn’t want me to make contact with him previously in case he would want custody, but now that I was 16, she was willing to possibly reach out.
I mostly forgot about that conversation until around a month ago, when weirdly enough, I was watching my community theatre put on Mamma Mia. As a Sophie growing up without a dad, you cannot watch Mamma Mia without making some connections to your own life. The next day, as I was unloading my mom’s wheelchair out of the car mid-conversation, I casually said, “Weren’t we gonna try to find him?”
“Well, yeah, but he may not want to be found.”
Another time jump to four days ago, Saturday, July 27. My mom and I just got back from our favorite annual concert, Dave Matthews Band, on the other coast of Florida. Exhausted, we both collapse on the bed of that AirBNB. My voice weary from singing and screaming, I ask, “What time do we have to leave tomorrow?”
“Well… I did something crazy.
I contacted your dad.”
“And we could be meeting him tomorrow.”
I swear I thought I was high off of the copious marijuana fumes from the concert. It couldn’t be real. My heart started racing. This guy that I had heard vague details about for 18 years was going to be right in front of me in a matter of hours. Well, maybe. I had nothing nice to wear!
I wake up the next morning to hear that plans are confirmed, and my heart starts racing again*.
- *It doesn’t take a lot for my heart to race because of my postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, but that’s besides the point.
What would he think of me? Am I such a meme that he would be grateful disowning me? Dark humor, I know. Anyway, we’re in the parking lot, and I get that first look at him. Huh. He’s WAY older looking than I expected. That’s all I really registered at first. He went in for a handshake and one of the most awkward pseudo-hugs I have ever experienced. I stayed pretty quiet, focusing on getting my mom’s chair all set up because you can’t really name a more awkward scenario. Everything started getting better once we ordered lunch.
Unfortunately, the first topic was our chronic illnesses. I really didn’t want to begin there, but I guess the wheelchair was an elephant in the room. Anyway, as soon as I could, I mentioned that I got straight A’s in my dual enrollment classes last semester, and my mom started mentioning all of my accomplishments from the past 18 years, especially the ones from the beginning of Sick Kid Era on. Tears immediately filled his eyes and the biggest smile grew on his face. He was really amazed with me. He apologized for missing all that time, but he committed himself to be there for me from this point on. Let me tell you, that felt pretty incredible. I honestly thought this would be a one-and-done meeting, but that’s when it hit me: I have a dad now. It wasn’t something I thought I needed, especially with all those gas station hot dogs still in my cake heart, but I really did. We connected almost immediately. When my mom went to the bathroom, I thought it would be awkward just the two of us, but we started talking a lively conversation about animals. We just got each other. He’s intelligent. He likes music. He’s environmentally conscious. I could stare deep into his eyes and find myself somewhere in there. When I talked, I knew he was listening. That might seem like bare minimum stuff, but Dickhead 9000 usually ignores me when I ramble (or even better, mocks me for something I say that he thinks is untrue). When we left lunch, our hug wasn’t awkward at all. It was tight and intimate and warm and loving. I left with this overwhelming sense of elation. Many of the people reading this most likely heard me yelling in their DM’s that day because I needed to shout off of SO many rooftops.
The next morning, he started texting me. I swear, I have not read nicer text messages directed to me probably from anyone else. They were filled with such love and devotion and obsession with ME. Other people really get this their entire life? And it’s, like, normal? It almost made me uncomfortable because I shut those emotions off so long ago. I didn’t know how to properly accept affection like that because it wasn’t given to me by anyone other than my mom really ever. To be honest, I was wondering how I even deserved that. That’s the lesson I needed to learn. I shouldn’t need to do anything to deserve affection from a parent. I bent over backwards trying to make Mr. Rat proud of me, but he was more concerned with how well his Jeep was running. No matter how extremely well I did, somehow my troublemaking step-siblings got more attention and praise for the bare minimum. I digress.
Oh! And the craziest development of them all! At lunch, he’s filling us in on his last 18 years, and he mentions that he got married pretty soon after breaking up with my mom and had a child with that woman. It didn’t actually sink in until a few minutes later. I have a brother! Apparently, he’s 17 years old and loves theatre, just like me. I wanted to talk to him and possibly meet him in person, but I didn’t think that would happen anytime soon. The day after our lunch, I hear that my existence was revealed to said brother, and he couldn’t be happier. He wants my contact info, and I get an instagram follow and DM just minutes later. WOW, he is pretty amazing. I also connect with him almost immediately, bonding over our theatre experience and appreciation. Our senses of humor are pretty identical, and so are our faces! Oh! And he watched Brandon Rogers! I became the coolest older sibling ever very quickly. This sibling connection was so foreign to me, but it felt amazing. Just for some perspective, my 17-year-old half brother that didn’t know I existed until two days ago just made plans to see Hamilton with me next year. My 17-year-old step brother that I have known for nine years has not said more than “hi” to me in several months, and also softblocked me on instagram.
As someone very near and dear to my heart once said, “What may seem like the end of a chapter might just be an origin story all along.” This is my origin story, and this book is just getting started. I cannot wait to see where my life goes with my new family. I’m beyond grateful for the years I had where it was just my mom and I growing up and navigating the world. I’m even grateful for these recent rough patches that only brought the two of us closer. It was all meant to happen the way it did, and now I’m leaping into adulthood in a way I NEVER expected. Thank you all for starting this exciting journey on my side!