Less than six degrees
Long ago and not very far away, two Phi Sigma Kappas with a long history of rivalry decided that the winner of a coin toss would be the one who got to ask out the sorority girl from California. The winner of the toss was my father and obviously, the girl was my mother. The story has been told dozens of times, but yesterday, a familiar name from the story, appeared in a pile of paperwork. Paperwork that we have been trying to get since the 1980s. Paperwork that revealed for the first time in his sixty something years on this earth, my father’s actual birth date.
Never knowing your birthday is a hard concept to grasp. Sure, there were home births in my Mother’s family that have mistakes on the birth certificates because of the passage of time between the arrival of the official who did paperwork and the illiteracy of everyone involved, but that was several generations ago. My FATHER didn’t know when he was born.
He knows now. He also knows that his college rival
was is his first cousin. His rival’s father was my father’s birth father’s brother. My father probably looked his Uncle in the eyes and never knew it. He still wouldn’t know it if my brother hadn’t spent decades playing detective. My father was very happy with the family that chose him. He only agreed to search because his children wanted answers. We are extremely aware that any and all pain that my father suffers from the enormous amounts of information that have been revealed in the past twenty-four hours is our responsibility.
Several times at the beginning of this quest, my father tried to explain that he didn’t need answers and I always responded with overly dramatic scenarios that involved my brothers or I accidentally dating an unknown relative. My father would begin a long lecture about the number of people in the world and statistical improbabilities. “Bring me a pencil and paper so we can do the math together.” He was working from the wrong set of numbers.
Whenever people ask where my family is from, I answer that my Mother’s family is in Natchez Trace and my Father’s family is in Martin, but add that since my father is adopted, we have bonus family somewhere. Never ever, in my wildest histrionic scenario, would I have placed my father’s birth relatives in Martin and Union City. He really could have interacted with his birth parents or grandparents. As I try to sort all of this into something that my mind can accept, I find the facts that we have learned… comforting. My father really did grow up with both of his families. The rivalry between my father and his fraternity brother was like me fighting with my brothers. We only fought about the things that were really nothing. I can see that parallel because my father made a phone call today to someone he hasn’t spoken to since college. A call of love for a fraternity brother and to laugh at immature rivalries. In a few weeks, they will see each other again. Just the thought of that meeting takes my breath away and leaves me speechless.