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…