One overcast winter's day in London, I learned that my father was dead. If I were to do it all over again, I might choose a different phone box than one near the Tower of London. The crows, grey stones and pervasive memories of death really didn't help to relieve my immediate and intense sadness. I remember hanging up the phone and feeling a sense of grief that surprised me - how could I possibly be so broken up about the death of a man I had never met?
I feel kind of envious of all the "Daddy and me" pictures flooding Facebook and Twitter and wish I had one to share of my own. I suppose, I could be bitter about that or feel resentful, but that wouldn't add much good to the universe, would it? Instead, I'll share a story, the amazing pre-Internet tale of how I found my father with a phone card and a page ripped from the Dublin telephone directory.
On that damp day in London in 1988 there were 32 McMenamins to choose from, none bearing the same first name as my dad. I decided to just pick a listing randomly - I think I began with one having the same first initial. My heart in my throat, I dialed, only to hear a recorded message saying the number had been changed. I closed my eyes and jabbed my index finger at a different listing - and my very next phone call paid off. The soft spoken gentleman who answered the phone, Conal, was actually the ideal McMenamin for me to have reached - calm, kind, still closely in touch with the family and not apparently scandalized in the least when I told him that I was searching for my biological father. As I described what I knew of Jeremiah, details such as when he lived in New York and the employment history with which I was familiar, Conal interrupted me to say that it sounded like I was describing his Uncle Jerry. When I asked if I could be put in touch with this uncle of his, he hesitated a moment and then reported that his uncle had passed on some 5 years earlier. I was too late.
Before ending the call, I offered him my address and phone number and made a request - if he had a moment to spare, could he share his impressions of my father with me in a letter some day? I explained I just wanted to know something about the man he knew as Uncle Jerry. What type of man was he? What made him smile? What made him happy? Cousin(!) Conal agreed and I hung up knowing that while a door had been forever closed, a window was now open. Someone knew about me and while I lost the hope of ever meeting my father, I found a new little piece of myself.
I had flown to London with a folded up phone book page in my pocket and, through my own efforts, introduced myself to the family which provided 50% of the DNA in my body. And, they accepted me and ultimately celebrated me as a welcome addition to their family, my family. Maybe my father and I never had a chance to meet, but we have a common love for his siblings, his country, and travel. I know now that he was a well dressed man, quick to help a friend and he liked to whistle. And that in addition to giving me life, he ultimately gave me a family.
Happy Father's Day to all you daddies. Never underestimate what you give to your children - regardless of your proximity.
|My father, Jeremiah McMenamin|