My father: not as evil as Darth Vader, at least.
June 21, 2012 11:46 AM   Subscribe

I've found my father and decided to contact him after about 25 years of silence. I need to come up with something better than, "Hi. You helped spawn me. I have questions."

Inspired by the Darth Vader Was A Horrible Dad cards (I'm only half kidding) I've decided that, before he ups and snuffs it, I probably ought to get in touch with my father. I haven't seen him since I was about five. I'm not particularly sure why -- I just know that we moved and he moved around the same time, and contact was lost. That's what I was told, anyway, and what my mother sticks to. Contact with him was sporadic before that, I didn't know him enough to miss him.

I have his contact information now. Not an easy guy to find -- doesn't leave much of a trace online. When I knew him, he was always on the road, but apparently he's kept the same address since 1990. I don't know how to interpret that.

In a perfect world I'd hire a film noir detective who'd contact the guy and then get back to me, having vetted him first -- yeah, your daughter might want to hear from you, answer this stuff and then we'll see if she gets back to you. Someone to run interference, you know? If he's going to be a jerk and claim I never existed, I'd much rather he not do that to my face. Though, I've made it to thirty without his help, I figure I can manage the rest of my life. It would hurt, but I'd survive.

If he's interested in catching up I'd be up for that, sort of, on my terms anyway. I'd like to know genealogical/genetic stuff -- medical histories especially, as I have some problems that nobody else in my maternal family has. I'd like to know how many more half-siblings I have: there are two older ones, and I doubt he stopped after spawning me.

Honestly, I have pretty low expectations: if I even got a letter back I'd be amazed.

So -- how the hell do I do this? I figure the thing to do is write a letter, but what on earth do I say? "Hi, you're my dad. You never blew up my home planet, so at least we have that going. After all this time you better have worked up a good story." Yeah. That won't fly, I don't think.

I'm sure it's obvious that I have no idea how to go about this. Help?
posted by cmyk to Human Relations (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Hi Dad,
Fathers' Day started me thinking that maybe I should try to get in touch with you...
posted by Cranberry at 11:51 AM on June 21, 2012 [5 favorites]

Not sure how to start, but I like Cranberry's suggestion. I would be clear to him that your intentions are peaceful. Just want to meet you and find out some basics before deciding how to proceed from there. He may be defensive if you contact him not knowing if you are going to be friend or foe.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 11:58 AM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Hi X,
I'm your kid and I'd like to see you.

He may think you're after his assets, all those years of child support he didn't pay, whatever, so you might want to make it clear that you're self-supporting, maybe by mentioning whatever work you do. If, by some chance, you happen to have lots of assets yourself, don't mention them.

Your mom is commendable for not bad-mouthing him to you all these years.

Of course you could recruit some mefite wannabe noir detective to go scope him out before contact, sit outside his house and snap pictures with a miniature camera, analyze his garbage.
posted by mareli at 12:01 PM on June 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

Send him a letter, and say in it that you'd like to ask him some questions about genetic/medical/family history. That's neutral/non-threatening enough that he'll respond, unless he's utterly bent on ignoring your existence (in which case, fuck him anyway.) It also gives you an easy out if you meet him and decide you don't want to continue contact with him--"Well, thanks for the info, bye now."
posted by kagredon at 12:09 PM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

A few more bits of info: he's in Ohio now, and I'm in Tampa, so barring any flying or cross-country road trips (which I'd need a damn good reason for) it'd be mail and phone only, at this juncture.

He was not listed as my father on my birth certificate because my mother wanted sole custody. I think that cancels out any worry he might have about me trying to extract money -- and isn't there a statute of limitations on that, anyway? He was a nomadic industrial painter then, and never in one place for long. I remember his (few) visits as positive things, when I was a kid.

The way my mother explained it to me was putting on that song -- "Papa Was A Rolling Stone," and telling me, your dad is sort of like that, he just keeps moving. Five-year-old cmyk, newly human and strangely literal, listened carefully to the song and proclaimed: "He must have a BIG hat!" There was never any rancor or bad-mouthing, just, he kept moving and we stayed put.

Thanks, y'all -- and please keep the ideas coming! This is so so helpful.
posted by cmyk at 12:15 PM on June 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

Are you in touch with your half-siblings? That may be another approach, through them. If you're not, but you know who/where they are, try friending them on Facebook, and then (if they agree) open up the conversation as to How To Engage With Dad.
posted by xingcat at 12:19 PM on June 21, 2012

" I haven't seen him since I was about five. I'm not particularly sure why -- I just know that we moved and he moved around the same time, and contact was lost. That's what I was told, anyway, and what my mother sticks to. Contact with him was sporadic before that"

You might want to be wary about what the real story is. I don't know your mom, and I'm not trying to assign motives to anyone's actions, but I've seen cases where the mother actively took steps to limit or eliminate contact and then told the kids that the father was the one who didn't want to see them. And I've also seen cases where everything is indeed at face value and the father was a less than exemplary human being. So I guess I'm saying just keep an open mind.
posted by barc0001 at 12:27 PM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Hi, I'm a long lost daughter, and it was a good idea to contact my father. The thing to keep in mind is that someone can be a poor match to be involved, as my father was, and still worth it as far as questions regarding genetic history, cousins, etc.

Go into it with very little the the way of expectations. Make your intent clear, if you know what it is, and if you don't know what it is you can be up front that you just felt the urge to contact him. He might very well say he doesn't remember, or hit you up for money, or go all sentimental and then leave you five years later. Basically, if he turns out to suck you made it this far without him, and if he doesn't suck, it's an extra life bonus.

(Also mefi should not encourage me into a career in noir detective work, since I'd like nothing more than to wear a trench coat taking pictures with a small camera and speaking wordly about dames and whisky)
posted by Phalene at 12:31 PM on June 21, 2012 [6 favorites]

he'll respond, unless he's utterly bent on ignoring your existence
Or unless he has reasonable intentions but horrible carrying-through skills, which wouldn't surprise me in the least. To avoid this scenario, you may want to maximize ease of response (enclose a stamped addressed postcard on which he ticks off boxes) and/or set things up so contact is the default response ("I will be calling you on Saturday; if you'd rather I not call, please let me know").
posted by feral_goldfish at 12:34 PM on June 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

I like Cranberry's start, it's gentle and eases into things. Add something about you'd like to know how he is, as well as how you yourself are doing ("I'm an architect now, and I live in Nebraska with my spouse and kids/dogs/goldfish").

While I agree that a snail-mailed letter is the best method, I would not give him your actual street address or phone numbers at this point: this is the kind of thing a post office box is good for. You could include an email address, but only if it's a throwaway email you'll only use for him...... the point being that if the worst happens and he turned out to be a leach who only replied to see what he could get off you, you could easily protect yourself and cut contact. Go slow and take your time getting to know him before you give more info.
posted by easily confused at 12:40 PM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

I like your original idea of contact through a third party. Is this not something a social worker could do? And I agree with protecting your privacy - he may be a sweet man that regrets his immaturity as a young man, or he could have untreated mental illnesses that have driven everyone else away. When you DO connect, ask about his relationships with others, the lack of ANY long term friends or family in his life would give me pause.
posted by saucysault at 1:41 PM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Please talk to your mom or a close family member before contacting him. Your mom may have been trying to protect the 5 year old you by not giving you the whole story. He could have been inappropriate with you. He could be the sickest, most horrible person on the face of the earth.

If family members stick to the story that he's just a rolling stone, then send him a letter. You have a great sense of humor. That is evident in your question. Use that in your letter. Sign it, your abandoned spawn, if you like. If he doesn't laugh, then you probably wouldn't have much to talk about anyway.

Do try more than once. Flakey 'rolling stone' guys tend to take a bit of effort to get to know. Don't be discouraged if it takes several tries before he replies. Keep your humor.
posted by myselfasme at 5:43 PM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Though I agree that you clearly have a terrific sense of humor, you also sound somewhat bitter. I can't blame you, but I suggest you decide to be very clear about what you want out of this. Do you want to confront him for not staying close? Or do you want medical/family history type stuff? Whatever you want, I think clearly understanding YOUR expectations is the first step towards taking action on this.

I, too, would suggest telling your Mom you're considering getting in touch with him. See what she says.
posted by arnicae at 9:51 PM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

arnicae, yeah, there is some bitterness in there. It's all mixed up -- on one side, I can see why and how he would have done the things he did; on the other, I'm sore that I had a parent who loved me as an idea but bailed once I became a reality. Kinda hard not to take that personally, though I try to be objective about it.

I've asked my mother about this, and she's all in favor of me doing it. She swears up and down that there was no bad blood, just that a bad coincidence meant all the letters came back addressee-unknown. She thinks he'd be happy to hear from me.

I am going to look into having a third party do the initial contact (We come in peace! We swear! Look, a little flag!) for that specific reason, to keep it all neutral and make sure none of that bitterness bleeds through. I'd like to know why he did what he did, but things like genealogy/medical histories/potential siblings are a higher priority. That comes first.

So I guess the first thing is to find someone to be an intermediary. And then figure out what I want to say. This has been helpful, very much, and if you have more ideas/input, please keep them coming.
posted by cmyk at 10:38 AM on June 22, 2012

« Older website about sound engineering/production?   |   nerdy overthinker needs a highlighter, heart and... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.