A Love by Choice
I had no idea that getting passports for my kids would result in the dramatic revelation that would change how my kids view me and their grandfather.
My husband and I were with our youngest two children, aged 10 and 13, impatiently waiting in the super crowded offices of Misrad HaPnim, the Interior Ministry. I was so happy when our number was finally called that my guard must have been down.
The clerk began asking questions and typing, while our kids sat there bored. Until the momentous question came: "Father’s name?”
I quickly answered without thinking, and immediately realized what I said as my kids bored faces turned to shock and indignation. “That’s not your father’s name!” they cried, thinking I had made a mistake.
Oops. Big oops. This is not how I planned to tell them.
“Ima, your father’s name is David, not Saul!”
Well, yes. But no. It’s a bit more complicated than that…
Two pairs of eyes pleaded for understanding and the clerk was waiting. I couldn't believe this was happening in the middle of Misrad HaPnim. I don’t remember how we got through the rest of our appointment, but somehow we got out of there and I was able to take some deep gulps of air. I needed to do some urgent damage control after the bomb I had inadvertently thrown into my kids' world. Their grandfather, their Opa who they loved so deeply and fiercely, was not their biological grandfather. They had walked into those offices that morning secure in the structure and order of their world and now it had suddenly tipped on its axis.
Yes, they have another grandfather gallivanting around the world who has nothing to do with us except for the gene pool that we share.
After things calmed down, we explained what their older siblings already knew. My parents divorced when I was eight, and that yes, they did have another grandfather gallivanting around the world out there who had nothing to do with us, except for the gene pool that we shared.
While one father had rejected me and my siblings, God had sent us Opa, who became my father – and ultimately their grandfather – by choice. After the shock wore off and the tears had dried, Opa reverted back to being Opa, with a lot more respect from my kids for having chosen us, while their biological grandfather had not.
Opa came into our lives in a most unexpected way. He was the bank manager of the local branch in our neighborhood. My mother went in to plead with him to allow her to remortgage her house. Divorced, with three small children and starting from scratch, she was quite the liability for the bank to approve. He refused the loan but my mother accepted his offer to go out.
Although he turned her down at the bank, he proceeded to marry her and ended up with the very mortgage he had denied to refinance, paying it monthly for almost two decades!
The first time he drove up to our house, we saw him pull up in his little sporty two-seater, a Mazda RX7 painted fire engine red. Perfect for a single guy with no kids. Little did he know he would soon be parting from his beloved car, trading it in for a family sized sedan. He gave up his toy and got a family in return, an investment whose dividends he is enjoying to this day.
There was a quote I once read that went something like this: a stepfather is not a stepfather; he's the man who stepped in. And that is my father, whom I lovingly call Ta. From the time I was twelve, he provided our small family with the stewardship we so desperately needed. The discipline and rules we may have resented at the time were exactly what we needed to eventually thrive into the emotionally healthy adults we are today.
Ta gave us unconditional love, a love not borne from the natural love a parent feels for their biological child. It was love he chose to give from a place of endless giving. Ta was determined to be the father we never had.
Slowly making our way through the endless stream of names, my biological father walked out. And seated in his chair, stalwart and loyal as ever, was Ta.
When I graduated from high school, my graduation took place at the Miami Beach Convention Center. Our graduating class numbered about 500 and my last name began with R. You do the math. As I sat on the stage, I had a perfect view of Mom and Ta sitting amongst the crowd, with my biological father in attendance as well. As we slowly made our way through the seemingly endless stream of names being called out, I saw my biological father get up and walk out. Gone. And seated in his chair, stalwart and loyal as ever, was Ta. He sat through the entire mind-numbing, torturous event. He took pictures. He cheered me on. He was there until the very end. Like always.
Ta showed me that there’s always room to be a better parent. If he could love us kids so intensely, then surely I can find the spark of goodness in my own biological children. Some families are families through simple scientific fact and biology. I learned that sometimes a biological parent may not be fit to parent, and the one who takes their place, though missing that mutual genetic strand of DNA, can fill a void too large to contemplate.
I smile when people unknowingly remark how much my kids look like their Opa. They look more like him than they do their own grandmother. I believe it’s God's way of giving credit where credit is due. The truth is that they do look like him. The other truth is that he is their grandfather, 110 percent.
When I look back on my childhood, I don’t see a lack. I see a blessing. I see a man who could have walked away from so much responsibility and nobody would have blamed him. I see the man who has been our rock, our first port of call any time life has gotten turbulent. The man who slept with one eye open, listening out for us in the middle of the night, the man we ran to – and still do – for comfort and love. The man who designated himself as the ER escort my siblings and me, our spouses and our children, sitting and waiting on those hard, unforgiving plastic chairs, keeping vigil until the crisis passed.
Opa has loved all of his grandchildren from the day they've been born. A love so deep and sure. A love so natural. A love by choice.