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Years of Elusive Answers


Feeling Fatherless With Three Fathers

By Danielle Flood

Hilary Bunch found her father when she was about 40 and yet she feels something is missing from their relationship.
She tries to explain through an anecdote about her younger daughter and her father, a father with whom her daughter grew up in a traditional way. "They're very similar, she and my husband. I don't feel that he disciplines her or backs me up with disciplining her. My girlfriend, who was always raised without a father, said, 'But you know, thank God [your daughter] has someone who will always have her back. That is going to change who she is  -- knowing that there is always someone there who has her back.' And I just thought: Wow, that's really true, because I don't feel that. I don't feel that anyone has my back. I feel that I am alone in this world. And my daughters won't have that." 
For years Hilary thought Bruce, to whom her mother was married when she was conceived, was her father. He was the father of her two older brothers. She says: "I thought this was a mother, father, with three children and they divorced when I was a baby and he moved out west...We were on the east coast. He wasn't paying child support. So one by one my mother sent both of my older brothers but she kept me and I was raised with her...So I never saw him or had anything to do with him..But I thought he was my father and then when I was ten my mother married my stepfather, Bob. They were married for 30 years 'till she died two years ago. So he is still very much in my life and he is a good father figure. But when I was 23 my mother told me that Bruce, whom she was married to when I was born and who was the father of my brothers, was not my father...
"It was very late at night...I had just had she and my stepfather over to meet my new boyfriend who is my current husband. And we all had drinks and dinner and it was wonderful. And around midnight he left, my boyfriend. And I was going right after him. I was going to stay with him so my parents could have my bedroom at my house. And I was literally almost heading out the door. And she said: 'Oh, by the way, your father: not your father.' My mother was an alcoholic and she often played mental games. And I felt this was a way -- she couldn't get enough attention -- and I felt like this was her trying to keep me there to talk to her and drink with her all night long...And she had been known to do things in the past, not as severe and I just really felt that she was playing a mental game. Um, but I sat down with her and I probably stayed until 3 a.m. and we talked and she was drunk and I didn't really give it a lot of credibility...
"Honestly almost a year went by I don't remember my thoughts at the time. I really think I blew her off."
Then one night when Hilary's husband was at a conference. She says: "I thought: I'm going to call some family people and ask if anyone knows of this or had heard of this. So I called my grandmother, my mother's mother, and I called my 'father,' the one she was married to who was the father of my brothers." He was in New Mexico. Her grandmother was in Maryland. She was in North Carolina. "My grandmother said she was not shocked at all. She said she did not know. But she said she had heard there were rumors at the time and that it was quite possible that Bruce was not my father. And I called Bruce. He said: 'You know, I've heard; there's gossip. But I've always thought of you as my own.' And that was really the end of that discussion. But him saying he thinks of me as his own doesn't hold a lot of water being that he's never ever contacted me on his own accord or sent a card or visited or sent a child support check. So we never had a very good relationship. But we had that conversation and so I started thinking: well maybe there is some truth to this. And I still didn't do anything about it. I was in a new marriage and then I had a baby and then I had another baby and I lived my life, my young married life."
About ten years later, Hilary and her mother had "a very bad falling out." They didn't speak for four years.
During those four years, she lost most of the relationship she'd had with her young stepfather, Bob. "He was very codependent on her. And very much felt that everything she said was the gospel truth. He did try and contact me a few times in those four years and said it was breaking my mother's heart...that I needed to have forgiveness...And I would say, 'Bob, she called three nights ago stinking drunk...So she's not sober.'...He really truly felt that she was sober because he worked all the time -- [he was in the military] -- and she said she was not drinking. It wasn't the truth...He was just blind. And he was totally in love with her. He was very young; he was seven when my brother was born, my oldest brother. And then he marries this woman who is so much older and...granted, my brothers only visited, but he took us on and he would introduce us as his own."
Life went on. Hilary had been a stay-at-home Mom, something she and her husband had agreed upon. Eventually as her children grew older, she was able to form a company and do college admissions counseling. 
Then, Hilary says, "I got a phone call from a family member that my mother was in ICU and not expected to live. And I flew up [to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in D.C.]...she ended up surviving for three weeks in ICU and I was with her the entire time but she couldn't speak. She was on bypass. And so nothing got spoken about or discussed and she died... Multiple organ failure. There were several infections and they never really figured out what the exact infection was. She was 65. In 2008. It's important in the timeline.
"It was incredibly hard, which I didn't think it would be." For four years that Hilary and her mother did not speak, a friend had said "What if something happens to her?" But Hilary thought: "I'm OK with that. We're done. I've already mourned her death...I was very strong about it. All my close friends and family were really thinking that I needed to work this out with my Mom just for my own peace of mind...When she died. Wow...It probably took me a year. Thinking about her every day, crying very easily. Never cried much in my life. Very strong. It was a rough rough year.
"So my friends thought: You need to find out if it this person she said is your father is really your father. You need to get some closure. You didn't have it with her."
Hilary's mother had told her who her father was when she was 23. "Yes, and it was someone I was familiar with. It was a family friend. I met him once or twice when I was little. And that's all I know. I mean, I knew the name, from you know growing up with family and hearing his name. He was a very good friend of hers from her childhood on...when I was four, we moved from Maryland to Florida. I just wasn't really a part of that [Maryland] life but I had heard the name. He was an attorney. So anyway I called an old old friend of hers and she knew how to reach him...
"I got the phone number and contacted him and I asked him on that first phone call if he would take a DNA test. And he said he would...He lived 45 minutes south of here in Florida.
"So he came up in August [2009] and we took the DNA test. And it turned out that he was my father.
"I was really surprised, more than you would think being that I was told this years ago. [But] I had no faith. I did not believe my mother was telling me the truth. And I was pretty shocked that he was my father." 
"The biggest thing was that...I love my brothers, and I felt, although it doesn't matter...I felt that I wanted to share the same parents as both my brothers had. That was the thing that was the hardest for me. I was realizing: wow, my brothers and I don't share the same father."
Hilary's natural father has three daughters older than she. He was married at the time she was conceived. And Hilary's mother was married to her first husband, Bruce, when Hilary was conceived. From the contact she's had with one of her older half-sisters, Hilary learned that when they were teenagers, there were parties at their house and that they babysat Hilary. They remember her mother at parties at their house. And yet Hilary didn't know she was related to her babysitters, for decades.
People say there is a strong resemblence between Hilary and her half sisters, and she sees it. But with her father, she whispers, "Everybody sees it" but Hilary. When he came for the DNA test, her husband and daughters came to the door. Her elder daughter and her husband looked at each other and said: "My God she looks just like him." "It was very interesting," Hilary says, because she took a friend of hers whom she has known since she was four with her to visit her father. "And she cried when we went there. I thought: Wow. I didn't cry. I haven't cried yet. I didn't cry when I found out he was my father. I don't even think to cry when I'm visiting him. Really I just want out of there...and here she is crying and seeing that we're very similar -- that's what she explained later." In time, Hilary has noticed that she and her father "have a similar sense of humor. Kind of dry, sarcastic. Um, we really like to have a good time and we love to travel, we love to read and when he talks it's something subtle, I don't know what it is, when I listen to him I think: Wow, that sounds just like me. The way he expresses himself." 
What was her real father's reaction to learning he had another daughter? Her father is nearly 80 (in 2010): "And he's had a major stroke," Hilary says. "It's hard for him to talk and get around. But he said with almost no emotion what you would expect. He said, 'well, I'm very pleased.'" And Hilary?
"I feel honestly like I almost wish I hadn't found this out. I feel like this is one more deadbeat person in my life and I would have loved to have had a relationship with him or his children. Really that was the big thing. That was why I agreed when people said, 'You need to find out who your father is.' I said: I didn't feel emotionally for myself that that was a piece missing that I needed to search out. But I thought maybe there would be an extended family there, that I could have, someone close.
"I have very little family. And I love family. And so I thought this would be wonderful; maybe it could open up doors [that] I never thought of. But it didn't. It didn't. It was just more work for me.
"His daughters took it like: We're not that surprised. And that was it. They don't contact, he doesn't contact me, but I've been down three times to visit him. And he's fine if I call today and said, 'I'm going to come down.' And he'd say: 'Come on over.' But that's how my [first stepfather] father, Bruce, was as well. It was always on me if I wanted any relationship. They never did the work. So I just felt like this is one more person I've got to do all the work for. And I don't need it in my life. I have a husband. I have two children. I just am apparently going to be a fatherless person.
"It upsets me that I don't have a father. It upsets me that I don't have one person that I feel loved me enough to always be there for me, have my back and care about my well-being."
The story of Hilary and her father, is replete -- as are others -- with delayed reactions or actions that take months or years to occur after someone finds their father, or vice versa, later in life.
By the time of this interview, about a year after the DNA test, Hilary still hadn't asked her father about his background -- his family history, medical and otherwise. "You know it's interesting. I really don't know, and that's what I should be investigating if nothing else. If I'm not going to get an emotional connection from [him], I should at least be finding out his background. Because that was my mother's excuse for telling me [about him]. So I need to find out."
When the DNA results came back positive, her real father, who has the same name as her second stepfather, Bob, said he would tell his three daughters about Hilary. Hilary says: "It was an excitement, when I first found out...That was a big thing, I really wanted him to tell his children. And I remember saying, after the test came back positive that I was surprised how excited I was. At what this might mean, that I could have these sisters and this extended family. And then it took him months to do it. And I would ask him many times; I would call him: 'Have you told the girls, could we possibly meet?' [But he would say] 'I haven't told them.'" He sounds like he is very reserved, but Hilary says, "He's not reserved. He's reserved about our relationship but he's not reserved as a person." Is he embarrassed? "He could be," Hilary says."...And then when he did finally tell them, and within like twenty-four hours of him telling them, two of the three had added me on Facebook. And I started conversing pretty consistently with the one in Florida. And then...she drove down and met with me.
"So that was nice -- that I had probably a few months, maybe six months of excitement. Holidays. Cousins. And those girls [have] kids my kids' ages. And they seem very well-established and normal...We haven't spoken now in many many months. It kind of dried out. Like there was getting to know one another and finding out about each other and...now we don't have anything to say...I'm a little hurt...They came to see him for Christmas and Father's Day. And I can tell on Facebook the times they've been down; nobody called me. I live forty-five minutes from this man. [But] I'm not going to beg for anything."
Hilary's half-sisters are in their 50's. There are sizeable gaps between Hilary's age and theirs and in the bank of time they had with their father that Hilary did not have. Hilary says, "I don't feel like I was robbed of anything in that particular way...I'll say that the sister who came to meet with me; we talked a lot and she got to know me and it was very good. I mean it was an immediate connection; it was wonderful to talk about all the people we know that are [mutually known] names from our small Maryland town. But she said to me later in the evening -- I'd said something about him -- maybe he seemed to be cold to me or that he wasn't that accepting. I don't know what I said exactly, but she said: 'OK; you kind of opened the door. I didn't know to come here whether to tell you that he was a deadbeat dad...It might make you feel better that you didn't miss out on anything because he was bad for us as well. Or it might make you feel sad. I didn't know whether I should tell you: He wasn't there for us either, Hilary.' 
"I don't know if that made me feel better. But I've always kind of known that about him. Very big kind of party-er. Not real responsible. And so he wasn't a very good father with his three children and I don't think he was able to do it with me either."
In the aftermath, there is Bob, her young stepfather. "He's there where certainly the other two have never been. Um, if I want anything, he flies us up...He sends the children things...He just flew us up." There is her husband. "I got more than I ever bargained for in terms of what a fabulous father he is. And I'm very glad that my girls have that. I think they're very well-balanced because of it. And I think that they'll be better able to handle the rough spots in their life. And mainly I just hope that they feel like, that they're loved." 
As for others who are looking for their fathers, or considering it, Hilary says, "I think it's important to do it for the closure. I think there's always the curiosity of whether it might turn out well, but I think its very important to go into it with an open mind that it might not turn out well. Um, this person might not want a relationship with you or even if he's willing to have one, which I would say, my father's willing to have one but it's very one-sided, and I'm kind of surprised that it's made me feel juvenile. I'm almost, and I'm pretty mature, but I feel juvenile about it. I feel like: well, if he's not going to call me, I'm not going to call him." 
I laugh. She laughs, and says: "And you know, I struggle with that. Maybe I should be a bigger person. He's sick. He's old. Maybe I should go down and spend a day every week with him and have lunch. And then I just feel like: That's aggravation. Then I feel like: Why should I do that when I haven't had one man ever do that for me? Um, and then that kind of makes me mad at myself. And I just keep busy and try and push that away. I think that that's where it's at. This is very interesting actually I may call him after this, go have another visit."


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