Most kids don’t remember the first time they met their father because they were tiny little babies. But what about daughters like me? I didn’t meet my dad until I was an adult in my 20s. I had no idea how the meeting would go — or even if my father wanted to meet me! But I went to Israel anyway. If you’re getting ready to meet your dad for the first time, you may find my “the first time we met” story encouraging.
You may also find it helpful to read 3 Ideas for Daughters Who Miss Their Dads before you meet your dad; you may not miss your father now, but you will after you meet him. I’ll also share a few tips for kids, both young and old, who are getting ready to meet their makers (ha ha, get it? Maker 🙂 ).
Here’s the most important thing I knew when I met my dad: do not expect anything from him. Not a hug, handshake, or handout. Not an apology or even an explanation. I traveled all the way to Jerusalem to met my father for the first time. I was 29 years old, and I expected nothing from him.
Actually, to be completely honest, I had prepared myself to be rejected by my father. I’d sent him a letter (an actual ground mail print letter) a couple months before my trip to Israel. I didn’t get a response. I’d sure love to see that letter now! I don’t remember what I wrote; I just wanted to tell my dad I was going to Jerusalem for the first time and wanted to meet him. I said I’d call him.
I used to think I was weird or even crazy because I grew up with a single mom and no dad. I thought the whole idea of meeting parents for the first time was nuts! Now, as a grownup, I realize that I’m not as weird as I thought. Millions of kids are adopted, fostered, abandoned, rejected and neglected. I am not the only one — and neither are you!
What Happened When I Met My Father in Jerusalem
This is an excerpt from my book, Growing Forward When You Can’t Go Back:
The first time I went to Israel, I was 29 and on a mission to meet my dad for the first time. I’d sent him a letter a six weeks earlier, not wanting to catch him off guard by showing up unannounced. I suspected his wife and kids didn’t know about me, and I didn’t know if he’d want us to meet. He didn’t respond to my letter. Did he even get it? Did he read or speak English? What if he rejected me or denied being my father? I was a stranger, the illegitimate daughter from his past. I had no idea what to expect.
When I arrived in Israel, I found many reasons to avoid calling my dad. I was in the Holy Land, after all! I had to explore all the Biblical places I’d read about: the Mount of Olives, Galilee, Bethlehem, Nazareth, Ein Gedi. I expected to see my dad everywhere I went. I didn’t know what he actually looked like, of course. I could only imagine.
My dad said the exact right thing
The first thing my father said when I finally summoned the courage to call was, “What took you so long to contact me?” We met in the lobby of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. We immediately recognizing each other because I look just like him. I look so Jewish, in fact, that both Jews and Palestinians talk to me in Hebrew. I look more like my father than his other children, but I’m the outsider.
After our meeting at the King David Hotel, my dad invited me to stay with him. He didn’t like my hostel accommodations in the Old City (because of all the “Arabs” — he’s Jewish, and does his part in upholding the battle between the Jews and Palestinians). So I met my dad’s Canadian wife and three grown children. His wife is from Vancouver, where my dad met my mom 30 years earlier. In 1971 she did what my mom couldn’t: moved to Israel and started a family with him.
Meeting my father was both good and bad
Before meeting my dad, I struggled with anger and indignation. It wasn’t fair that he abandoned me and didn’t offer any support while I trudged from one foster home to another. It wasn’t fair that I had no emotional, social or financial resources to help me through university. It wasn’t fair that I had to teach myself everything about growing up.
Lots of things in my life didn’t seem fair, but meeting my dad didn’t heal the pain. In fact, meeting him had the potential to make me feel worse. He was an excellent husband, provider, and father to his children, giving them everything they needed to succeed. Yay for them! Boo for me. Fortunately, meeting my Jewish family didn’t make me bitter.
I would’ve loved to have grown up with a supportive, loving father. It didn’t happen, though, and I accept it. Acceptance is easier than fighting what is 🙂
3 Tips for Meeting Your Dad for the First Time
- Expect nothing from your father.
- Be prepared for anything from your father — and from yourself.
- Accept your father for who he is.
Here’s what surprised me the most about meeting my father: he’s not my most favorite person in the world. In fact, I didn’t enjoy talking to him or spending time with him. Maybe it’s the culture and language barrier (his English is passable, and I don’t speak Hebrew). Maybe I’m picking up on his feelings of guilt or shame; maybe I’m even harboring resentment and bitterness (though I don’t feel angry or resentful).
Whatever the reason, I was surprised to discover that I’m not comfortable spending time with my dad, and I’m not eager to visit him again. Meeting my dad once was enough! And, I suspect he feels the same way. I wonder if it’s because our personalities are too similar? Hmmm. Food for thought.
Want to write about what it feels like to meet your dad for the first time? Feel free to share your story in the comments below. Writing is a great way to work through your feelings and figure out what you really think about your father.
If you feel nervous about meeting your father, read Tips for Reconnecting With an Estranged Family Member.
In peace and passion,