An Empty Room in My House

For the past three decades I have carried with me an emptiness that is hard to describe. Only those that have been adopted and have never met their biological parent(s) can understand the lack of pictures, memories and feelings associated with the person or people who helped to create you.

Joseph A. Bradley Jr.

The last picture of us

My Story

My mother left my biological father when I was around two years old. I don’t have any memories of him. I only have three pictures of us together and a few stories from my mother about what kind of man he was. And it’s sad to say, but he was not a good man. As I got older the stories got a bit worse.

When I was very young, my mom said I used to make up stories about my father. I told someone that he was in jail once. My mother never told me that. One of her friends said, you need to tell her real stories, otherwise, she will continue to create her own. I was already trying to fill my empty room in my house, and I was only three years old.

The 10 Things I Knew About My Father Growing Up

1. He was not a nice man

2. He was an alcoholic

3. He was a gambler

4. He cheated

5. He was emotionally and physically abusive (my mother is partially deaf in one of her ears because he beat her up one night and caused her ear drum to burst, which caused severe scarring)

6. He was an airplane mechanic and worked for Fed Ex before getting fired

7. I was born in Enterprise, Alabama and that is where his family was from

8. When my mother remarried, they found him out west so he could sign my adoption papers

9. My coloring is like his and I am tall like him

10. I am named after his mother Rachel (my middle name)

What makes this story more interesting is my mother was adopted too. So the only blood relative I knew of was her. My idea of family has been about adoption and making your own family. Not about blood. In many ways blood meant bad.

The Clean-Up

As you can see there is not much I knew about my father and certainly not a lot of good stuff, but it says a whole lot about what kind of person my father was. He was someone you did not want in your kid’s life. And that is exactly what happened. He was never there. I never received a birthday card or a phone call. There was nothing. Nothing but curiosity, anger, sadness, and pain. Feelings of rejection and abandonment filled my early twenties. I needed to see a counselor a couple of times to work through some of my “feelings” about a man I don’t remember and never met. Seems a bit crazy.

As I began dating, I didn’t make the best choices. I found men I thought I could save, that were bad boys, or that I thought would never leave me. I did a lot of testing and I did a lot leaving, so they wouldn’t leave me first. My therapy sessions helped me work through why I kept making these poor decisions and what I really wanted from a life partner. I don’t regret anything about my process. It has made me who I am and I am thankful that I know myself so well. The best part is I am now married to a wonderful man.

One of the things I rationalized growing up, was that I always thought my stepfather who adopted me would leave too. I had to be the perfect child or he would abandon us, too. That is a lot of pressure to put on yourself at age six. What I know now is that I was so completely wrong. My dad has been there for me no matter what. In good times and bad. I am so lucky to have him and to have figured out he is not going anywhere. I am now very confident in his love.

The Empty Room

But no matter how much “work” I did on myself, or how much my stepfather loved me, there was still an empty room in my house. The 10 things I knew about my dad wasn’t much to fill but a small corner. I was always curious, but I knew that talking about my father brought up bad memories for my mom. I never wanted to hurt my mom after all my father did to her. And how much courage it must have taken for her to leave him and stop the abuse cycle. I think she is amazing to have left him with pretty much nothing to have a better life for us.

There were times growing up that I hated him and wanted nothing to do with him. There were times I cried because I didn’t know how he could leave his own child without looking back. And then there were all the questions I had.

Questions like:

Was it so easy for me to be out of sight and out of mind for him?

Did he chose alcohol over his own child?

How often did he think of me and wonder how I was doing?

Would he ever show up at my door wanting to be the father he could never be before?

Would I ever meet him and what would I say? No excuse would ever seem to make the hurt and pain go away.

I had a lot of “what ifs,” “I wonders” and “maybes” running around in my head. And lots of emptiness in my heart and mind when it came to my father. All I knew was his name was Joseph A. Bradley (one of the most common names if you do an Internet search.) And he had probably been married before my mom and there were a couple of kids from that relationship. Nothing much to go on to try to find a man you actually don’t even like.

The email that started it all

The email that started it all

I came to terms about 10 years ago that I would never have that room filled. I was okay with leaving it empty and having it collect dust. I put the box called “father” on a shelf and left it there unattended until February 14th, 2013, when I got an email with the subject line: Half Brother?

My world paradigm as an only child turned upside down. I had a brother. One that wanted to meet me and get to know me. Not someone running away from me. I can’t even begin to tell you all of the emotions that ran through my mind and heart. Someone who knew exactly how it felt to be left by the same man. My father didn’t just do this to me, he did it to them, too. While that is horrible, I felt comforted to know someone else “got it.”

After a couple of email exchanges, I called my brother for the first time. We instantly hit it off and have become fairly close through this experience.  I am thankful everyday to say I have an older brother named Joey.

This story has so many parts. I will be sharing my journey as I can formulate the words to do so.

To be continued…