Entry #19

It’s funny how the pieces come together. The little stuff you’ve forgotten, or the big stuff you’ve never really thought about. I’m not sure which this is.

Until my sophomore year in college, I spent a lot of time onstage, and much of that time was spent singing. I performed in community theater musicals and in the church choir and even managed to squeeze my way into my high school’s semi-elite show choir. I’m pretty sure that last one happened because I’m a decent dancer and I was moderately strong, and the director was always in need of male dancers who could throw girls around. Every time I see photos from that era, I’m reminded of the lyrics to that Smiths song, “Shakespeare’s Sister“: “I can smile about it now, but at the time it was terrible”. Except in my case, it’s the reverse: back then, it was kind of awesome. Now, I grimace.

Anyway.

In those days, I was given solos fairly regularly, mostly because there was an unwritten rule that every child in any choir had to have a solo now and then. The other kids loved singing alone, but it made me nauseated: I didn’t have a soloist’s voice, and I hated performing by myself because — believe it or not — I never enjoyed being the center of attention. I still don’t. Apart from my obvious lack of talent, that’s why I stopped singing long ago. Acting, too.

But despite my fears and my shortage of star quality, I did all that musical stuff, and I was the only one in my family to do so. My adoptive family never showed a lick of interest in anything musical (and it’s just as well they didn’t, because none of them can sing a note).

When I met my biological family — at least my mom’s side — the theatre stuff was an obvious match, but there’s a musical side to that family, too, that I don’t think I ever fully processed.* I was reminded of that today when my sister posted a scan of my biological grandfather’s business card. He was a New Orleans jazz musician named Stuart Bergen, though it looks as if he preferred to be called “Red Hott”. The card features a little devil — presumably my grandfather — floating over a lake of fire and wailing on a trumpet. It encourages the recipient to “BE DIFFERENT” at her/his next event and book my grandfather’s band.

Now, even if I wanted to have a musical career, I know I don’t have enough talent for it — not nearly as much as my grandfather or my sister or my other bio-relatives. But I have a little, which is far more than anyone in my adoptive family can say. And in a correspondingly little way, my grandfather’s business card is one more instance of my biological family putting me in context, making me less of a black sheep, explaining things from my adolescence that, looking back, seem kind of weird and out of place.

I guess what I’m trying to say is: I continue to be amazed by it all.

* For non-performing arts folks, the worlds of theatre and music may seem similar, but they are light years apart. You’ll have to trust me.

Entry #18

As I was saying:

I suppose I could’ve just rung up Mr. __________, but there were a lot of variables to consider. Would he even remember Callie? Or that she was pregnant when they parted ways? How would I persuade him to admit that he was my father? Hell, how would I even introduce myself? “Hey there, it’s me, your bastard son! Happy holidays!”

No, an out-of-the-blue phone call to my long-lost potential bio-dad seemed imprudent, so I did the only sensible thing I could: I let someone else do the dirty work. I forwarded the email and the link to Callie and waited for her to call. (She’s a very responsible woman, so I knew it wouldn’t take long.)

It didn’t. In less than an hour, she called, fresh from a few rounds of web-searching for info on the mystery man. Mr. _________, as it turned out, had several children and an estranged wife who was recently deceased. That last bit was oddly good to hear–only because when I tried to imagine all this from _________’s perspective, I presumed the hardest part would be telling his wife. “So, how was your day, honey? …Uh-huh. …Well, that sounds good. By the way, did I mention I got my college girlfriend pregnant? Because–funny story–the kid called me today. Could you pass the baba ghanoush?”

Still, I was excited, and so was Callie. Like me, she’s a born researcher, and this news gave her the opportunity not only to use her investigative skills, but also, more profoundly, to fill in a missing chapter from her own life. I don’t mean to imply that Callie still carried a torch for Mr. _________, or that she wanted to rekindle any long-ago flame, but to reconnect with the man who fathered your first child…. I mean, that’s kind of a big thing to check off your to-do list.

But even more than the thrill of research and rediscovery, Callie was excited about a very strange coincidence: that day, December 7, was the very day I’d been conceived 40 years before. Exhibiting memory skills that, alas, I didn’t inherit, she recalled that the one and only time she and _________ did the deed was on Pearl Harbor Day. (Which begged the question: what made that particular Pearl Harbor Day memorable? Was there a besotted Pearl Harbor Day party that led to my conception?) So in keeping with the general weirdness surrounding my adoption saga, I’d found my father exactly four decades after I became more than just a sparkle in his eye. Assuming, or course, that this was the right guy.

I asked Callie how she thought I should proceed, hoping all the while that she’d volunteer to make the first call. I mean, at least she knew the guy, once upon a time. Maybe she could just play it off like she found him by accident and called to say “hi”. Worst case scenario, they’d talk about the weather for a few minutes, then go their separate ways. Whether Callie sensed my unease or whether she was just eager to speak to him, she offered. She said she’d call me back as soon as she was done.

I went back to work, and before I knew it, an hour had passed. Then two. Finally, just as I was about to run out to lunch, she rang. She’d been on the phone with him the whole time.

As I suspected, at first Mr. _____________ was reluctant to admit that he was the right guy. Callie played it cool, calling under the pretense of gathering info for an alumni database, but he didn’t bite. Just before he hung up on her, though, she must’ve said something that broke the ice, something that made her identity and her intent clear. After that, it was gab, gab, gab.

She said he was warm and funny and very talkative, despite his initial reticence. He’d lived through a lot but still bore similarities to the man she’d known in college. He’d mentioned that he was pretty conservative, and he’d asked if I was married. Callie said no, and he asked if I was gay. She said yes, and the subject was dropped…. That didn’t sound especially good, but at least he knew.

Most importantly, Callie said that Mr. __________ was interested in chatting with me, but that he wanted me to call at a specific time so he could speak freely. (The Yellow Pages listing only had his business line, and he didn’t offer a home or cell number.) I had a long list of things to do that afternoon that I couldn’t avoid, so I called and arranged for a chat the next morning. He rang me at 11am on the dot.

We talked for over an hour that morning. He told me some harrowing stories about living through the wars in Lebanon, fearing for his life, escaping in the middle of the night to Cyprus, going back to Beirut and trying to raise a family, and eventually moving to the states. I told him about my life growing up and my life now. I sent him some photos to look over, which he seemed to enjoy, but it’s hard to tell. We’re still kind of feeling each other out.

Not surprisingly, my chats with ____________ have been very different from the first ones I had with Callie. She was overjoyed when I contacted her; she’d been waiting for that moment for years. We had a lot in common–including many friends in New Orleans–and she and my half-sister and I got along like a house on fire, right from the start.

With Mr. ________, it’s slower going, much more cautious. I mean, hell, he’s only known about me for a couple of weeks. In forty years, I don’t think he’d thought of me at all, and he certainly wasn’t anticipating the moment of contact. He’s very different from me, raised in a different culture, with a large family who don’t even know I exist. I can tell we differ in our political and social views–but then, I have the same problem with my adoptive family, and we somehow manage to avoid killing one another at Christmas. So I’m guessing that Mr. ___________ and I will gradually get through it.

I think things would be easier if I weren’t gay. ____________ seems fairly religious (Christian, fyi), and when I bring up Jonno in coversation, the subject changes pretty quickly–though that might be my own doing, to avoid making him uncomfortable. Still, his children sound pretty cool and laid back, and they get along with him, so he can’t be a total ogre. In fact, I have to agree with Callie: he’s a very warm, inquisitive, and talkative man.

Bottom line: Mr. ___________ has clearly indicated that he wants to keep talking. And in our last chat, (we’ve had three now), he even mentioned a possible meeting in the not-too-distant future. So it may not be as easy and immediate and open as my relationship with Callie, but it’s happening. And I’m happy.

Stay tuned….

Entry #17

Okay, so here’s how it all went down: since Callie’s first letter all those years ago, I’ve been on a half-hearted search for my biological father. I say “half-hearted” because I knew that he’d gone back to Lebanon after college, and I knew that Lebanon was not a very safe place to be for most of the 1970s and 1980s, so I figured there was only a 50/50 chance he was even alive.

My optimism wasn’t exactly boosted by the inadequacy of online Lebanese directories, or by the conversation I had with a woman at the Lebanese embassy in DC, which was about five minutes of “Oh, I see…. Is that right? …Okay, I’ll have to get back to you,” after which she never got back to me. I’d even made a point of hiding the real nature of my search, claiming that my father was looking to reconnect with one of his former LSU classmates. (I’ll leave out that detail when I recount the story to my adoptive father, a dyed-in-the-wool Ole Miss fan.) Maybe Embassy Lady didn’t buy it–which would be totally plausible since I’m an awful actor–but did she really need to lead me on?

In my head, it finally came down to this: I’ve built a great relationship with Callie and my half-sister, Tiff. We chat, we email, we exchange presents. It’s really hokey to say, but they complete me somehow. I fit that particular puzzle. So why go and flirt with disappointment by looking for a father who’s quite possibly dead? Or, if he’s not dead, he’s almost certainly got a wife and kids–what’re the odds he’d want to disrupt the life he’s built by befriending his bastard son? His gay bastard son, even? Why bring all that tsoris on myself?

Then, dumb luck. Like, Jed Clampett-shooting-at-some-food dumb luck.

Back in October, I was noodling around Facebook, looking to see if any of my offline friends had recently signed up. And as I searched for one name in particular, someone with the same name popped up–someone from Beirut. And I thought to myself, “Hmmm. This could be useful.”

So I ran a search using my father’s name: no dice. But then I searched using only his last name (which is a little unusual), and bingo! Eight people in Lebanon came up. I chose the first one on the list and wrote her a short note using the ruse I’d used before–namely, that my father was looking to re-connect with some of his college classmates, and did she perhaps know a man who shared her last name, a man named ___________? I apologized for the out-of-the-blue and vaguely creepy nature of my request and signed off, never really expecting to hear from her.

I had a reply in about 20 minutes. No, as it turned out, she didn’t know of anyone named ___________, but she had several relatives on Facebook who were really well-connected, and she suggested that I write them. She said the request wasn’t strange at all and wished me good luck. She hadn’t led me to my father, but I’d gotten my foot in the door.

It totally wasn’t what I’d expected. I’d expected her to respond like Embassy Lady, or frankly, like I would’ve myself: with loads of skepticism and more “Is that so?” In fact, if I’d been in her shoes, I don’t think I would’ve responded at all. “Just another freak,” I’d have said to myself. “Maybe even a stalker.”

I was so shocked by her generous response (it really was sincere) and so distracted by my impending trip to Italy that I couldn’t focus on following up with her relatives for while. Then finally, not long after Thanksgiving, I sent letters to the other seven folks on Facebook.

All responded within 24 hours, and six responded favorably. (One was a total dick, though, just like I’d have been. What would’ve happened if I’d written him first? More dumb luck on my part, I guess.) Each said they’d be happy to ask around, but they needed more info–most importantly, was he from the north or the south, and was he Christian or Muslim? Unfortunately, I didn’t have any more details to give them. Again, pessimism set in.

Then something strange and magnificent happened: the next morning, over the course of one cup of coffee, two of the people wrote to say that they’d asked around, and that their relatives remembered a man by the name of _____________ who’d left Lebanon years ago and moved to the US. One of them had gone a step further and looked him up for me. He sent me a link, and with one click, I was staring a listing for my father on YellowPages.com. The name was spelled differently than the one I’d been circulating, but surely it was him, right?

To be continued…

Entry #16

I know it’s rude to drop a bomb like that — saying “Oh yeah, by the way, I found my biodad through Facebook, and I just spoke with him for the first time ever,” and then taking forever to follow up. But honestly: it’s a longish story and kinda weird (like everything else in my adoption/discovery process), and with all the wassailing going on, I just haven’t had the time/energy/focus to write it down. Soon.

Entry #15

And in other news: I was conceived forty years ago today. (Yes, my mother remembered the date.)

Also: I have just spoken to my father for the first time. Thank you, Facebook.

More later.

Entry #14

THE MEETING

 

My first look at Callie. I made her stand in the door ’till the flash went off.

 

Just before leaving for dinner. Am I standing like a big nelly or what?

 

Me, Callie, and Tiffy at Sid-Mar’s with Jonno (who’s taking the photo). They make me feel so…swarthy.

Entry #13

Callie called Wednesday to confirm: she and Tiffy were planning to get in town yesterday, and we’re all going to dinner tonight. We’re going to Sid-Mar’s, a seafood restaurant out on the lakefront, near the neighborhood where Callie grew up.

I’m not really nervous or anything. I know I should be. I should be concerned or giddy or shopping for flowers or something. Maybe it’ll hit me when I see ’em.

In fact, the only nervousness I’ve felt came when I was telling my dad. I wanted to tell him when we were face-to-face last weekend, but there wasn’t really an opportune moment. So I had to tell him Wednesday over the phone.

He wasn’t surprised, really. I mean, he told me years ago that if I wanted to track down my biological parents, he’d be happy to help. He said he was proud of me and that he’d have done exactly the same thing, had he found himself in my position.

I told him about my uncle, about the fact that he was a theatre person and gay and all. I jokingly told dad he could stop wondering where he went wrong and just blame my uncle. He laughed, and I could tell he’d never even given the matter much thought.