I never knew my biological father. On my original birth certificate, under the space where it says FATHER, the square is void of a name, the word UNKNOWN typed there like some dark proclamation. Years later, after I was adopted, I got a new birth certificate—with my new father’s name in the place where once there was just that lonely word. This should’ve made me feel better, but it never quite filled the hole in my heart, my longing to know who this man was with whom I shared my blood.
So when I was in my late twenties, I got out a phone book and looked up the man whom I had been told might be my father. I wrote him a letter. Several months later, he called me. I never knew what took him so long, but I drove out to his house and met him anyway. This man and I never really “clicked,” and the next time I spoke with him, he expressed doubt that I was even his son. He wanted me to pay for a DNA test, he said. Just so we could know for sure. But I never did go through with it. A few months ago, I learned that the man who may or may not have been my father passed away, so now I’ll never know if his blood is the same as mine.
As a novelist, I try to use language to shape the things in my life which I can’t understand, to help impose order and control on the otherwise chaotic and sometimes nonsensical reality which I’ve been dealt. In that vein, I wrote my second novel, Harlow, fictionalizing a boy’s search for his father and the meaning he thinks this discovery will give to his existence. Like me, though, the novel’s protagonist is disappointed with what (and who) he finds. But that isn’t to say there is not hope—hope in this fictionalized version of my search for a father, and hope in my own life now.
You see, I’ve learned after writing this book that fathers don’t have to be men with whom you share blood; a father doesn’t even have to be the man who raised you. A father is a man who cares about your well-being, who carries a light for you as you walk down your life’s dark path.
And whether that man has children of his own or has answered some higher calling to take on the role of “father,” he is doing what all good men do: he is consciously and constantly righting the wrongs of his own childhood. For I believe that the sins of the father don’t necessarily have to be laid upon the children, as Shakespeare said, but that we all have the power to start anew, to break the cycle and become the fathers we are meant by God to be. And even though I had to write a book to learn this, I’m glad that I did.