I remember, I was about 11/12 years old, crossing the street of my projects complex in the South Bronx when a female voice with a heavy Southern drawl called my name. This would be around 1981 or 1982 and we were well trained back then – no talking to strangers. Still, the woman calling my name had authority in her voice. Made me feel like I should respond. I turned around and an old woman of less than 5 feet, dark complexion, stood there with her hand on her hips and said, “Nariko, do you know who I am?” Umm, well no I could not recall, I thought and shook my head. Turned out she was my dad’s mom! How did she recognize me when I could not recall her? She pointed across the street to the other side of Twin Parks projects where she now lived, gave me the apartment number and told me she expected to see me often. Then she wrote something down on the brown paper bag of groceries she was carrying, tore off a piece, folded it over several times and handed it to me.
Well, I’ll be damned! I just bumped into my father’s mother! I’ve never seen, nor ever even spoken to my father! My mom had quietly, always spoken highly of him. She told me that my father had been the best man she’d known in her life and after him there could be no other. She also iterated, he was locked up for a long, long, long time on a federal charge of some sort of theft. I could not recall if it was bank robbery or jewelry theft. She said not to worry, that he had hid some of it away so when I was grown I’d have some of it. Hell, what did I know? Sounded like a good thing to a young girl growing up in the projects! I couldn’t be more happier except I was confused. If daddy was so great, why weren’t you together?
My mom, (for as long as I could remember) was the lifetime partner of Denise*. Denise, was an aggressive female who was head of our household. My parents were both females. That however, wasn’t what confused me. My mom had explained my father to me as if he’d been a fairy tale. Beyond reach. How is it with a piece of paper and a pencil I could actually, (gasp) communicate with him?
Those were my thoughts as I skipped home after meeting my grandmother for the first time. I told Mom everything. Hard ass Denise tried to say this or that to end the conversation but for once, my mom wasn’t having it. Guess she really had loved my daddy because she never stood up to Denise for anything. I showed her what Granny had given me; an address to write daddy. I could see the steam coming out of Denise’s ears but nonetheless mom found me a pad, pencil and 3 crumbled mail stamps. Later that night while Denise threw my mom around their room beating her and making her cry for allowing the extension of my father into our home, I selfishly ignored them and wrote my dad my very first letter. I so wanted a father. Someone outside this madness to love me and claim me.
From that night forward, the relationship between my dad & I was just that. My mom never questioned me and Denise kept to her own business. It was my dad, through letters who introduced me to Islam and the Quran. We explored and shared many things that I had no need to involve my mom in. That was until I turned fourteen and needed my social security card and birth certificate to register for Summer Youth Employment. Casually my mom handed me my birth certificate and left my bedroom.
Slowly, I rubbed my fingers, then my palms across the aged paper. Then I read the contents; Mother: Luz Maria Gonzalez* of Puerto Rico, Father: Barrington Wright of Jamaica, WI. Huh!? I shook my head as if there were bubbles in it. This was wrong. The man I have been writing to for two years, my father – his name was Bobby Simmons*. I called out for my Mom. That is rare in my family. You wait to speak when you are spoken to, yet she came to me as if expecting my call.
She explained the discrepancy on my birth certificate as such; she said that her and my dad had dated for a while and my father had told her she was not the only one. My dad, being the smooth 70’s cat he was, openly dated a few women and none would risk fighting each other and losing him. Mom, with love in her voice explained to me it was her, not him who decided to move on. She left my father’s dating circle and began to date a Jamaican by the name of Barrington Wright. In the interim of dating Barrington, she found out she was pregnant. She said, while she knew by the calendar date that the child in her stomach was Bobby’s, Barrington was kind and loving and most importantly needed a green card. That was the reason why she named him as my father on my birth certificate. It made sense to a pre-teen who was happy just writing a father who two years ago didn’t exist. What the hell did I know about green cards?
Fast forward to a decade or so, after my mother died, after my father and I agreed to disagree on some of the choices I made in life while he was still incarcerated, after my first and only child was born: my father was released from prison. If I remember correctly my age was somewhere in the early 30’s. On my birthday, he pulled me into a private room of the church he worked in and over a lighted cake, told me he didn’t think I was his daughter. Just like that.
He said it was impossible that I was his daughter because both he and my mom stopped having “affairs” many months before I could have been conceived and it simply was not possible. Internally my glass shattered. He was all I had left. I’d been writing him for decades, sending money orders to him for decades, writing the parole board begging for his release many times. What is he saying to me? And why now, when I can finally see him in the flesh and hold him in my arms? Mom said my dad was all of this but he was telling me he was none of that. Now what? The child within me conditioned to neglect and abuse put a smile on the face of the adult I now was and said, “Oh Daddy, stop it! I am your daughter!” So he said no more about it.
Still, I was overwhelmed by his declaration. I questioned my oldest sister (I have three older sisters who share the same father) and she said, “Come to think of it, Mom was away from Bobby a long time before she got pregnant with you. I remember Barrington you know? He was short and so handsome. Light-skinned Jamaican. Cooked real good but right after you were born he was gone. You DO look like him, actually.”
I asked my aunt, the oldest living sister to my mother, the aunt who raised my sisters and I when my mother couldn’t or wouldn’t. “Titi Maria*, my dad said I may not be his. Mommy is gone so tell me the truth – is it possible the man on my birth certificate IS my actual father?” “Oh, no, no, no” she said, “that’s not possible. Bobby is your father and don’t ask any questions about it.”
Several years passed, and circumstances and events beyond my control kept bringing me back to my father’s declaration that I may not be his daughter. I couldn’t take it anymore. I ordered a paternity kit from on-line. When I approached my father about doing the procedure, he cried. He NEVER cries. He asked why would I want that? He seemed to have forgotten it was he, who brought it to my attention – that I may not be his daughter. Privately, we followed the instructions and swirled the swap inside our mouths collecting the needed saliva. I packaged the swabs as directed and sent it off in the mail. Results take up to six weeks.
After eight weeks, I received the results. Slowly, I rubbed my fingers, then my palms across the envelope. Just like I had my birth certificate the very first time my mother handed it to me. I put it down. I needed a drink. I fixed myself a shot of Jameson, took it back into my throat and let it warm my heart. Only then did I retrieve the envelope. Now, with courage I did not have five minutes ago, I tore it open and pulled out the results.
It said, I was 98.9% not related to the man I’d known to be my father. The year was 2008 and it would prove to be one of the worst years of my life!
Like Nene Leakes, I wish I had not pursued the truth …
From my heart to yours,
I am Luz’s Daughter…
For I know not who my Father is.
*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of the person/persons referred to in the story