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My Two Fathers

By Helga Gruendler-Schierloh

PROMPT — The way I see it ...

“If your real mother shows up again, would you still love your mom?”

I asked my favorite playmate, who was living in a foster home.

I was about ten years old, and my question seemed innocent enough. However, the next time I went to visit my friend, her foster mother screamed at me, “How dare you say such preposterous things to my daughter—when your very own father is not your real one.”

I was startled, but figured that the woman was just being mean because I had somehow offended her.

Sometime later, during one of our visits to my paternal grandparents, my grandma fixed her gaze on me and exclaimed, “Oh my, such a black one.”

It reminded me once again that I was the only tall, hazel-eyed brunette in a family of short, blue-eyed blondes.

My suspicion growing, I decided to investigate.

One day, when my parents left me alone at home, I saw my chance to snoop a bit. Climbing onto a chair, I reached up into the top shelf of a closet to retrieve the tattered, old cardboard box that held our household’s important papers.

And there it was.

A slightly faded document brutally revealed to me that the wonderful man who so devotedly took care of me was not my “real” dad.

Even at that young age, I must have instinctively feared that disclosing my discovery would not only get me in trouble for nosing around, but—much worse—it might upset our very much intact family dynamics. So I kept quiet about what I'd learned.

Then, on my sixteenth birthday, my teary-eyed mother pulled me close and muttered that she had to tell me something important. That's when I promptly blurted out that “I already knew.”

Obliviously relieved that she was let off the hook so easily, Mom nevertheless refused to discuss the details of my creation.

Years later, while living abroad, I felt finally safe and brave enough to compose a letter to my birth father.

After sending it to the one address I had in my possession, I waited anxiously for an answer. I was about to give up hope—when the fervently desired message arrived.

In a heartfelt rendition, the man who helped bring about my earthly existence told me that he thought of me often, and deeply regretted not knowing me. He also asked me to send him a picture of me, and promised to reciprocate.

Thrilled, I immediately wrote back and enclosed the requested photograph.

Once more, I waited—only to never hear from him again.

Only recently, via the internet, I was able to track down his extended family—and it was a full hit.

One of his grandsons not only welcomed my inquiry, he did so enthusiastically. He also put me in touch with his father, my half-brother, who—not being computer literate—responded with old-fashioned snail mail letters.

That’s how I discovered that I had many more siblings.

Having grown up with the wonderful sister I adore to this day, I still always thought it would have been nice to have a brother as well.

Now, suddenly, I had not just one, but several. I also learned that a fatal car accident had claimed my birth father's life, thus preventing him from staying in touch with me.

Of course, I'll always love and cherish that incredibly kind man who raised me. He truly was and remains to be "my real dad.” However, I'm also extremely grateful for the opportunity to embrace my birth father’s unique legacy. Both these gentlemen, each in their own way, contributed to making me the person I am.


Helga Gruendler-Schierloh is a bilingual writer with a degree in journalism and graduate credits in linguistics. Her articles, essays, short stories, and poetry have appeared in the USA, the UK, Canada, and South Africa. Her debut novel, Burying Leo, a Me Too story, won second place in women's fiction during Pen Craft Awards' 2018 writing contest. Helga writes from Royal Oak, MI.


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