When Franny had her brief peek into the treatment center world (most kids there were cutting, attempting suicide, having sex with dangerous sorts, etc. while she was there because she hated her parents, who were in the middle of a nuclear divorce and could not manage her slightly higher than normal teenage defiance) she discovered there was always a separate therapy group for adopted kids. The theory was that the level of primal rejection experienced by these individuals was so debilitating it was nearly impossible to recover from.
Because I came along when my siblings were 14,11 and 8, the joke at my house was that I was adopted. It was not funny. It was never funny, but biting, hurtful humor was de rigueur in our family and got the biggest laughs and most attention from my dad. Given how little he was around, his attention was to be gained and savored at all costs.
At my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary party I told the “joke” about allegedly being adopted. I then turned in profile and asked my dad to do the same. Paternity not in question. I have his nose, his cleft chin, his small mouth, his bad teeth and his scary fierce will to get what I want. His athletic prowess went elsewhere.
But despite all that, he didn’t want me. I think I always sensed this under the surface, but for some reason my mother decided to confirm it well into my adulthood when my dad was already dead. This woman who could barely say the word sex and claimed to never have liked it, actually told me that the diaphragm had some defect, my dad was mad but told her to go see the family doc who would “take care of it.” She refused. You would have to have witnessed their marriage up close to understand what that must have cost her. He was not a man accustomed to being refused anything and certainly not by her.
This did explain something that has always troubled me. When my parents married, my dad opened a savings account and told my mom they would go to Europe in 20 years. True to his word he slaved away saving for the trip and even though they had 4 kids by the time the 20 years had passed, off they went, with every kid in tow except me. Now I was 3. I get that Europe with a three-year-old would not be fun. But they left me for 6 weeks with his college roommate’s family, lovely people who lived a state away and vacationed with us every year. I had a great time, but when my mother came home I didn’t know who she was. It occurs to me that I could no more have left one of my girls for that long at that age than fly to Jupiter. It must have broken her heart. Maybe that was the point? Payback for having had me at all.
Fast forward many years. My dad was very big on birthdays and holidays and mandatory thank you notes for every possible kindness. To fail to toe the line in any of these areas was to risk receiving the most dreaded of all correspondence —a mean letter from dad. One year I had apparently forgotten to thank him for the extremely generous (and equally unnecessary at that point in my career) $500 Christmas gift. I got a letter. It called me an ingrate and many other things. I walked to the first floor of the bank where I worked, asked the teller for five nice crisp $100 bills and put them in an envelope with a note that said I was never again going to open one of his poison pen letters and did not need or want his money. He called to apologize (I think) but I did not take his calls and we were estranged for weeks. His hold on me was much looser after that incident.
When my mom told me he hadn’t wanted me I almost laughed saying all my siblings thought I was his carbon copy and thus his favorite. She looked aghast. “You? Oh NO! Annie was his favorite!!” OK then. But I still think he respected me and took pride in my accomplishments in the male-dominated business world which he had planned to conquer himself prior to receiving “the call” that clergy always list as their reason for entering seminary. My dad never provided a single detail nor did any of his four children have a clue about his personal faith. He was a mystery until his death and beyond.
But the underlying feeling of being an oops, the thought of not really being wanted seems to have shaped my relationships with men. It explains a lot about why I would enter two marriages that were complete mistakes—one to a man I liked but didn’t love and another to a man who had sent so very many signals that he was troubled and possibly incapable of loving me not to mention the children I was hell-bent on having. In both cases they pursued me. They wanted me and I needed to be wanted.
This is not really ancient history. It keeps coming back like a rash. Tom wanted me too, but that’s not how it started. It started with him declaring MY love for HIM. I was shocked and annoyed and thought him cheeky and egotistical. He was, however, also right. He claimed to be able to see my love for him in my eyes, to feel it in the way I looked at and treated him. Maybe that look of love drew him to me? I can’t know for sure, but shortly after this reverse love declaration he carved me a beautiful wooden heart and told me he loved me too.
Nice man from the dreadful on-line dating fiasco claims I am the woman of his dreams, the one he thought he would never find. This is patently ridiculous as we have been on exactly three dates. He doesn’t know me and whatever he feels is pure infatuation, something I don’t often inspire. But it may be enough to buy the time necessary to reveal true selves to each other and for me to figure out if I feel anything for him BESIDES gratitude at being wanted. I think he is a good man. I think he truly loved the mother of his children and was devastated when she divorced him hoping to sail into the sunset with her boss/lover. I accused him of never getting over her and suggested he try reconciliation even after decades as co-parents and friends, but he claims he already tried and it is not to be. This may be good news. He will never be Tom and I will never be wife #1. Maybe we have both lost the loves of our lives. Maybe this creates a level playing field that could work.
What I know is that I have more work to do than I thought and certainly more than I’d hoped. I need to get over wanting to be wanted and start figuring out what I really want in a partner or if, in fact, I even want an actual partner. And even more important I need to be happy and ok and not so damned anxious and jittery being with JUST ME. I am not bad company. I play decent piano, like to sing just for/to myself and have lots of other creative outlets that bring me pleasure and amuse me. I am less good at just sitting quietly with my feelings or truly doing a sitting meditation, but I am getting better and trying harder than ever. Those who go out into the world whole and happy are more likely to attract equally whole and happy people as friends, colleagues, lovers.
So my mom saved my life 62 years ago and wanted to be sure I knew it. I’m glad I got to live. It’s quite a ride. And I’m still choosing to believe that once I got here I made my dad proud. If nothing else, I was his carbon copy and who doesn’t like having a mini-me around? And if I’m wrong that’s ok too. Still grateful to have all these years to grow my soul and prepare for whatever comes next.