I spent years wondering who my dad was. An only child to a single mom, I always wondered what it would be like to truly answer the questions, “What would your parents think?” or “What’s your dad like?”. I got good at evasion - masking my answer in some other off handed comment, hiding my secret longing to knwo the answers to those questions myself. What would he have done if he knew about me? Would he have cared? And would I be different?
Don’t get me wrong. I love my mom. She gave me everything I ever needed and was there for me in all of the ways she could be. But it was not easy. She had her own struggles. A woman living with, at the time, undiagnosed Bipolar Disorder and struggles with addiction, she fought insurmountable battles every day and had her own journey to go on before she could fully be there for me. And as much as I wish it was so, much of her life was dictated by a severe and persistent mental illness that was missed for years and left untreated. One of the downsides to Bipolar Disorder is the engagement in risky behavior, including sexual behavior. The idea of risk doesn’t register the same for someone who is in a state of mania or hypomania, and as such, my mom was not always given the same essence of control over her life - something that is important to understand about people with this insidious disease. Yes, she may be medicated now and in therapy and be able to better control her behaviors and choices. She has the ability to take responsibility for herself. But this was not always so. Without an external source (medication) to help the brain be in balance chemically, it CANNOT function the same way that others do. You cannot understand the impact of your decisions the way others would. You cannot think steps ahead when your brain looks for the “right now”. And the belief of grandiosity and invincibility colors the lens of reality so you do not see morality or mortality like others would. Now this is not a story about my mom and her tumultuous battle with Bipolar Disorder. That is a story for another day. But the reason I feel it important to share this is because it gives you a little more understanding as to why I was not sure who my father was. Consequence meant something different to her brain and the decisions she made did not get filtered through the same lens we would think about them through. Making matters more complicated, my mom was a survivor of complex traumas including having 3 miscarriages and a stillborn, some of which occured during a marriage to a terrible human who beat her and cheated on her, eventually being told that she would never have the capacity to bring a baby into this world. Heartache and loneliness was all she was left with and when coupled with a brain that thinks about things differently, all she could do was numb through companionship and a false sense of being “okay”. Sex became a coping tool and a way to make ends meet. Relationships were superficial and served to help her numb out. But she did not dare to dream for happiness. Her life had been filled, already with too much loss.
But, as we all learn, life is unpredictable and we all become anew as our life unfolds and hands us new challenges and opportunities. In 1987, my mom got one of the biggest life changing pieces of news she could have imagined. After being rushed to the hospital for another medical concern, she was told she was pregnant. About 3 months to be exact. Words that both terrorized and elated her. Could this be the chance she had longed for for so long? The rest of her pregnancy was plagued by anxiety, but my mother, a woman who, up to this point, had been living a life of impulsive and risky behavior, changed her life to become the mother she always longed to be. It was like the dopamine rush of becoming a mother kept the Bipolar at bay and gave her a greater high than all of the drugs she had ever done.
But she was a mother, alone, nonetheless. No husband. No partner. And no answer to the question that has plagued me for almost 31 years - who is the father?
For years, my mom dated, trying on potential stepfathers, never finding one that fit. We remained a twosome, doing the best we could to persevere through life’s challenges. Things were, by no means, easy. We know now, that her Bipolar Disorder plagued our lives much more than we thought. We moved 7 times over the course of 10 years. My mom worked all of the time - even holidays. She spent all of our money faster than she made it. She switched jobs and relationships almost as often as she changed her shoes. And the sense of consistency I so longed for was but a dream, leaving me longing for the answers to so many questions. Would I ever have a dad? Would we ever stay in one place? Would I have someone to walk me down the aisle or have that coveted father-daughter dance with at my wedding? And would I ever celebrate Father’s Day like so many of my friends?
Around my 11th birthday, things took a turn for the worst. Over the course of all of the upheavals we faced, my mom had fought a long, hard battle staying sober and unknowingly managing a hideous brain disorder. But, she finally lost. For someone with Bipolar Disorder, there is an extremely high correlation to substance use, as they are trying to self medicate to mange their mood, energy and behavior. Of course, at the time, my mom had no idea why she was doing it. She just did it. We only got an answer almost 8 years later when she was in prison and someone finally took the time to look at her history and presentation and see that her struggles and symptoms were consistent with someone with this disorder.
And so, from my 11th birthday until I was maybe 22, my life was flipped upside down. My mom was in and out of drug rehabilitation centers, jail, prison, transitional living, and even in the hospital for multiple suicide attempts, all while her drug addiction and mental illness ruled her existence and stripped me of now, any parents.
It was, by no means easy. And again, I was reminded just how alone I was and constantly wondered what it would be like to have another parent in my life, or just a parent. Especially at that age, because no matter what I know now, it always feels personal - my dad must not have wanted me and my mom didnt love me anymore. During this time, I moved in to various family homes. In and out of various friend groups, trying to pick up the pieces of my trauma filled life. I always felt like an add-on to the families I lived with, never really a part of the family. I was the child of the “broken piece” to our family and felt like a “hot potato” shuffled between people who were just “doing the right thing” but never really got too invested. And all of the while I would dream about my father somehow how finding out who I was and saving me so I could just feel a little normal again.
I would dream about being on shows like Maury and having them say “You are the father” but rather than a fight breaking out, my dad would rejoice, hug me and take me home. I would imagine my dad showing up at a volleyball game or at a parent-teacher conference and seeing me shine. He would read about me in the paper and think how much we looked a like and come looking for me. But those days never came.
As I got older, more questions came in to play. My mom had always told me that it could be a number of men who were my dad, but I grew less and less confident in her story. I mean I knew there was a guy who could be given the title of “Kyira’s Father” but I stopped believing in how short the list might be or if we could ever even narrow it down. I could sense the desperation from her to want to give me the answer to the questions that she knew nothing about.
And in a world where our identity was always asked about, I found myself longing again. Every time I filled out a survey asking about my race/ethnicity, every time I was in a discussion in grad school about race and appearance, every time I got asked about my heritage, I wondered not only who he was, but where he came from. I mean, I present white. I was raised by a white family and have never known anything else. But periodically, people would tell me I look Greek, Italian, Hispanic, Armenian…(there were a lot of opinions shared usually by people from these various racial/ethnic groups). But I never knew. And I would wonder how my trajectory would have been different if I knew him or knew where he was from. I know it may seem stupid or small, but I always felt like I was missing a part of myself. An understanding in who I am or how my life had been changed by him not being in it.
Would I have been more comfortable being around men? I mean, when I lived with my Aunt and Uncle, I would sit in the trunk of their Ford Taurus when my Uncle Bruce would have to drive me somewhere because I was so afraid of men. I would never come out of my room if my mom left me alone with one of the men she was dating. Men could not be trusted in my mind. They were predatorial rather than paternal. They felt criminal rather than supportive.
Would I be more engaged in discussions on race and identity? Was I truly 100% white/European? Was there another part of me I did not know about? There was a beautiful woman in my grad school program who was half Puerto Rican but presented more white and she talked so much about what it meant to hold both identities in her life and to see the world differently. Was I like her? Did I have more than one ancestral history but had never been given the gift of knowing the full story? And would I have empathized more about the pain of marginalized racial groups when I was a kid if I better knew who I was or even really understood the concept of identity and roots? Would the idea of white privilege meant more to me or been a concept I would have been able to better grasp?
Would I have been less scared of being in a relationship? Would I have been less fearful of men leaving me if I had had a strong father figure in my life? Or at least knew the real story about who he is? And would marriage have been less of a terrifying concept?
At this point, we can only assume, right? At least I know now that my comfort within myself and with me grew over time. And now, I have the gift of not only my mom - medicated, healthy, stable and supported - in my life but in laws who bring me more love than I know what to do with including a father who loves me more than I can put into words. A piece of me has become more complete as I have evolved in my understanding of myself and family and have moved away from conversations where parents seem to come up a lot.
Plus, the cool thing, now is that there are ways that we can finally start to get some of my other questions answered. And my husband, being the amazing man that he is, took it into his own hands to help me get them.
For us, we are in the process of starting to think about having kids and every time we would talk about it, I would get mean or timid or scared. For awhile, we couldn’t figure it out - it seemed to go well beyond the normal anxiety about becoming a parent (or in my case, the anxiety around birthing). And after many, many conversations, we finally figured it out. My brain could not process bringing a baby into this world when I was not even completely sure who I was or anything about my genetic history. What if I was a carrier for genetic diseases I was not aware of? What if there is more to my health history I can’t report? And what do I say about the race of my child? And secondarily, having been predominantly raised by 2 single women (my mother and grandmother), the fear of being alone with a kid was too real. What if Jordan left? What if he walked out and then my kid had to wonder about the same things I did growing up, like where he went, why he left, would he have loved me, and the list goes on.
Well, some of those questions were great questions for my therapist and things I am working hard to uncover more depth around and sort through. But the others, could be answered with one simple test. So, as an early birthday present, Jordan bought me a 23andMe kit from Amazon. It may not tell me WHO my dad is but I can know a bit more about who I am - all I had to do was spit in a tube. So, one night, I filled that weird tube up with my spit (not as easy as it looks), and I sent it off to the “lab”. Not going to lie, I imagined the tube going to some random house in Iowa (I have no idea why Iowa) where some guy ran tests in his basement and then sent them off. But as I understand it, this is a legit company with a lot of employees who do their work above ground. And after sending it out, we waited. For about a month. And on Thursday, I finally got my results. Since Jordan is a doctor, I asked him to look at the results without me first so that if I found out I was a carrier for any genetic diseases or had the Huntington’s gene or something like that, he would be prepared to walk me through it. And, first and foremost, in a pleasant surprise, I found out I am not a carrier for anything they tested for! I am extremely healthy (genetically) and was able to feel more at ease, at least in part, about having kids. But the biggest news was not about health assessments - I finally had the answers right in front of me about where I come from. I could finally know what my heritage is and can start to really learn more about my racial and ethnic background and history. And so, who am I?
My name is Kyira Wackett and I am officially able to tell you I am 50% British/Irish and just under 50% West Asian (or Middle Eastern). It feels weird to say it. But now I know. I may not know your face, Dad, but surprisingly this makes me feel a little more connected to you because I finally know a bit about the gift you gave me. You gave me an opportunity, now to learn more about where I come from and to think even more about the privilege attributed to me for presenting white even though I am a part of a population so largely marginalized and misunderstood in our country and in the world.
Dad, I still wish you were here. I wish I knew who you were. Even if you were a terrible, horrible human, because then I would at least know. And at least you could have the chance to know me - I think you would be proud. But as my therapist reminds me, that drive to know is my anxiety working to reduce ambiguity. I am who I am regardless of who you are and in spite of your absence. Besides, I have a pretty amazing father now, who did dance with me at my wedding and for whom I can finally buy a Fathers Day card! Maybe instead, I can focus on learning more about my ethnicity and a people whom I am connected to in an entirely different way. I may not know you but I can learn more about me.
And in all of this, I want to give a shout out to my mom. You did an amazing job being my mom. Dont get me wrong. There were parts of my childhood and adult life that were VERY fucked up and my understanding of trust is especially skewed.But that is not the point. The one thing I have always known to be true is that you love me and that you choose to show up for me every day. You have busted your butt to be there for me and I want you to give yourself a break. Me wanting to know my dad is not a knock on you for what happened in your past. Bipolar Disorder is no fucking joke! It is insidious, cunning and manipulative. You did not choose this and you did not choose the repercussions of it. We are a true family fighting to be the best version of ourselves every day. I just wanted to know the answers to some hard questions and I finally feel more connected to myself and feel like I know a bit more about who I am.
And dad, if you ever get the chance to reach out, I would love to meet you one day!
P.S. 23andMe is amazing! Here are a couple other super fun facts I found out about from my test:
A possible reason for why I have a love-hate relationship with gluten/grains that seems to mimic IBS.
A reminder that muscle composition and our body is more than just what we see and that I need to celebrate my inherent strength rather than allow external influences to tell me you have to see it for it to be real.
Vindication against everyone who EVER DOUBTED me that mosquitoes LOVE me! Is this the reason I got Dengue Fever and no one else did in Nicaragua? Oh well, it gave me the gift of connecting to my husband so it is just a small price to pay!