In February 2018, I mourned a man I was told was my biological father but never had the chance to meet. In April 2018, three days after I was reunited with my birth son, my adoptive father died. I was experiencing grief associated with losing someone I didn't share DNA with but who loved and raised me as if we did. After my adoptive dad passed, I had one question: Am I still a daddy's girl if I no longer have a biological or adoptive dad?
There was no point growing up that I did not feel that my adoptive father loved me. Unlike my mother, he was the one to offer hugs, kisses, advice, and words of encouragement. His form of discipline was a conversation where he would allow you to explain yourself, and that would always make me wish he would just spank me because I hated hearing the disappointment in his voice. He was the eldest sibling of 15, which helped him relax around my siblings and me. My dad understood that sometimes kids do stupid stuff, and you can't let everything get to you.
My dad was not perfect. When I got pregnant at 16, this was territory he did not know how to navigate. His uncertainty led me to feel for the first time that if I did something to his dismay, our relationship could change. I didn't feel like he didn't love me, but that love was mutatable. When I was about 30 or so, we had a conversation where he pondered the nature or nurture question when trying to reconcile a trait in one of my three adopted siblings. I would not suggest an adoptive parent goes to the Nature or Nurture debate with their adoptive child. I remember staying neutral and feeling uncomfortable as my dad questioned who was at fault for perceived personality defects.
When I told my adoptive parents that I had found my birth mother and siblings, my mother was territorial and didn't want to hear anything about my discovery. My father told me regardless of my mother's response, I had every right to know where I came from. I was 45 when he said this and wished he would have said it when I was younger.
For the last two months of my dad's life, he was in in-home hospice care. DNA was of no consequence as I watched this larger-than-life figure, who was the only father, dad, and superhero I knew, morph into a human. My dad was committed to loving, nurturing, and raising me to the best of his abilities.
I am thankful that the man that adopted me became my dad. As I continue working through the perplexities of adoption, I wonder not if my biological father would have been better but how would he differ.
This is what I learned about losing my adoptive father:
There was no separation of my grief because my adoptive father's sperm didn't contribute to my existence.
I still smile when I think about him and reflect fondly on our relationship.
Someone I have no genetic bond with will always be one of the most influential people in my life.
Those things he didn't get right were overshadowed by all the things he did.
The tears cried for him were as salty as those shed over my biological father.
Fletcher Johnson 1927-2018