Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Dallas Finally Meets His Dad

Dallas and I flew to Memphis with only three carved-in-stone plans; a. Bingo night with Grandpa (he ended up being too sick to play); b. Spend 2 ½ days in Missouri with Jodee and her family; and c. Celebrate Fat Tuesday on Beale Street with Uncle Tim.

Dallas made it clear all along that he really didn’t have any desire to see his birth father. He was pretty sure that if he did see Terry he’d want to tell him off. After Wayne passed, Dallas was especially grateful for the planned outing to Missouri, as he knew a funeral wasn’t the place for a father/son confrontation.

I gently encouraged my son to not let the opportunity to meet Terry go by. I didn’t want him to have any regrets. I wrote about the “daddy place” a couple of posts back, and I knew my child wanted to have some questions answered—needed some closure.

Monday afternoon we got ready to leave Jodee’s home and head back to Wayne’s house in Mississippi. Carm prepared a fabulous lunch for us. The pasta and shrimp was crazy good. As we were sitting at the bar in the kitchen, Dallas got a text message. “I’d like to take you and your mom out to dinner before you leave town.”

Dallas was still not sure he wanted to see Terry at all. “We’re having with lunch with Carm and Jodee right now. I’ll be back at Grandpa’s tonight.” Dallas told Terry he’d contact him when we got back to Mississippi. It was 20 minutes before the confirmation text came, “K”.

During the five-hour drive back “home” I again nudged Dallas toward seeing his dad. He agreed with me about not wanting to have any regrets, so he sent Terry a text message telling him he had homework in the morning, but would be free at 2 or 3. Terry said that sounded great.

The schoolwork took a bit longer than Dallas had anticipated, but Dallas kept in touch with Terry. At 3:30 my son sent a text message; “I’m all done and we’re heading into Memphis.” He told him we were free till 6:00. Terry responded, “Have fun.” Dallas laughed. “Well, I guess we’re NOT meeting him after all.” Are you kidding me? Terry was going to blow Dallas off? Unbelievable.

Dallas and I wanted to eat at the original Neely’s location. We love watching The Food Network and we didn’t want to be in Memphis and not have some authentic BBQ. Neely’s did not disappoint—it was delicious. We walked in the rain, took pictures down by the river, and just kicked around.

A few minutes after 6:00 we headed to Uncle Tim’s house, where we met his wife and little daughter, Mattie for the first time. Mattie is just three years old and she’s the youngest of Dallas’s cousins on that side of the family.

While visiting with Tim and his family Dallas was texting wildly. I felt like the mommy of a 10 year old. I wanted to say, “put that phone down right now.” My son looked at me and rolled his eyes.

At around 7:30, Tim, Dallas and I walked out to my rental car. “Apparently”, Dallas said, “We’re meeting Terry on Beale Street at 9:00.” The wild texting was going on between Dallas, Terry, and Terry’s mom – who lives in Michigan! She was mad at Dallas for not making time for his dad, and Terry was saying we were only going to give him an hour (or something like that). Hmmmm…3:30-6:00 is 2 ½ hours! Whatever. Drama!

Dallas knows that his uncle doesn’t get along real well with Terry, so he gave Tim the option of staying home. No, we’d planned to spend Mardi gras together, and he’d been looking forward to it – as did Dallas and I.

Down on Beale Street there was no one around! Fat Tuesday on Beale Street in Memphis, and there’s not a soul in sight. Crazy! We had The Hard Rock CafĂ© to ourselves, so we chatted with the waiter, drank a beer, ate onion rings, and settled the bill. We walked up the street to meet Terry.

Dallas was not even crawling when his dad left, and now Terry was shaking his grown son’s hand. He hugged me. He was accompanied by his fiancĂ©, who is lovely and kind. Dallas talked about his music, his plans for the future, and the classes he was taking. Terry chitchatted about this and that.

When I met Jodee I told her she had Terry’s teeth, and now, as I sat across the table from my ex-husband and listened to him talk, I thought, “yep, Jodee certainly DOES have his teeth.” And, by the way, she has her grandma’s eyes. Dallas shares many of the same mannerisms as his dad, his uncle, and his grandfather. After an hour or so, my son looked at me and said, “I’m ready to go.”

No pictures were taken that night—Dallas wasn’t comfortable with that idea. He said he didn't want to hurt his dad (Tom). Terry’s girlfriend graciously understood. Terry hugged Dallas goodbye, kissed me on the cheek, thanked me for bringing Dallas to visit, and we were gone.

Within a few minutes, the drama began. Terry made phone calls and accused me of “ambushing” him. Dallas wasn’t to be blamed because I had “brainwashed him”. The claim was made that Terry’s mom and my own mother both agreed that I “kept Dallas hidden from Terry”. Oh, My Gosh! And I thought things had gone so well too. Sheesh.

Both mother’s denied ever saying such a thing – or even thinking anything like that. I was so angry. None of them walked the streets with me when I searched for my meth-addicted son. None of them cried their eyes out during the days and weeks when we didn’t know if Dallas was even alive out there. None of them went to County jail every weekend to visit my son, nor did they drive 100 miles to the State Prison to see him. If it weren’t for Tom and I (and God’s grace) Dallas wouldn’t be here—healthy and whole.

I’m sorry there are people who believe Terry’s lies. But you know, I think my son finally found closure. I think the questions have finally been answered.

Uncle Tim, Mattie Grace, Dallas

Monday, April 25, 2011

Sibling Love

As soon as my ex-sister-in-law contacted me with the news that Dallas’s grandfather had taken a bit of a turn for the worse, I knew we had to go see him. We could not have known that Grandpa Wayne would die within just a few hours of our first visit with him in 13 years.

Many months back I went on Facebook and found Dallas’s little sister and her family. They were immediately open to us and we quickly exchanged photos and stories. Like Dallas, a wonderful man adopted his sister Jodee and raised her as his own.

You know, men get a lot of bad press and there’s no doubt that some of it is deserved. I mean, men have the luxury of walking away from their children, and many do. BUT, there are tons of great men out there who become daddies not because they have to, but because they want to! Dallas and Jodee have both been blessed with that kind of a daddy.

As soon as I knew we would be traveling to Memphis, I contacted Jodee and her mom, Carm. They live five hours from where we’d be staying and I told them we’d love to visit. They gave us a resounding “YES”, and even offered up their home to us.

On a chilly Saturday morning in March, Dallas and I made the drive through some of the most beautiful countryside in America. The Amish communities in Missouri are just gorgeous. The rolling hills are dotted with big barns, simple wooden houses wrapped in wide porches, cattle, and lush trees reaching to the sky.

As soon as we walked in the house my son and his sister embraced as their moms cried happy tears—as moms are wont to do. Carm captured the moment on video and I snapped still pictures.

Carm and I look nothing alike, but our children share so many physical similarities. DNA is an interesting thing. Dallas and Jodee both have blue eyes, the same nose, and that cleft in the chin. I loved Carm and Jodee the moment I met them.

We had a great few days with the family. Carm, Darin, their other daughter Kiera, and Jodee are just fabulous. We spent the first evening eating and laughing. On Sunday we went to church in the morning, and hung out in Branson, MO all afternoon. Sunday night – more eating and laughing.

Later Sunday evening we watched a video Carm had of her family celebrating Christmas 1988. It was of interest to us because that’s when Carm and Terry were together, and he was featured prominently with the rest of the family as they celebrated the holiday.

I wasn’t prepared for the tears that came when I heard Terry’s voice and saw his face staring back at me from the television monitor. He would have been 29 that year—so much hope and promise. If love had been enough, Terry would have been wildly successful. I loved him, Carm loved him, and our families loved him too. His own family showered love and favor onto that boy (his Grandma Mattie doted on him).

I watched on that tape as Carm’s family interacted with its youngest member – a one-year-old boy with bright eyes and blond hair. Dallas was 4 in 1988, and he hadn’t received a birthday card or Christmas nod from Terry in three years. I stared at that grainy old VHS video—looking for any sign that my son’s dad was thinking about him on that day. Was he? I don’t know.

Everywhere we went on our trip, people were always saying, “Wow, Dallas looks so much like Terry.” Dallas had seen pictures, but as the tape played that night, he was listening to Terry’s voice and watching his mannerisms for the first time. Jodee didn’t remember ever seeing any pictures, so this was all new to her. We all now agree that, when comparing them side-by-side, Dallas did not look quite as much like Terry as we thought he did (although the similarities are unmistakable).

My marriage to Terry was hard and there have been times I wished it never happened. However, because of him, we now have an extended family in Missouri for whom we are so grateful. Dallas loves his sister Giana so much and watching them together is a blast. He summed up Jodee as “tight" and if they’d been raised together he imagines he’d have a similar relationship with her that he has with Gia. They were awfully darn cute together.

Dallas and his sister, Jodee

So, to all the family members who hosted us when Dallas and I were in Tennessee, Mississippi, and Missouri – thank you! You guys rock, and I can’t wait to see how our relationship grows over the years ahead.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The "Daddy" Place

Christian music artist, Plumb sings, “There’s a God shaped hole in all of us, and the restless soul is searching.” An Agnostic friend of mine thinks that’s the most ridiculous lyric he’s ever heard, but that’s not the point of this post.

There IS a “daddy” place in each and every one of us, and people without a daddy struggle to fill that hole.

It’s not only little kids that suffer loss when a father walks out, or dies prematurely. I have an adult friend whose heart was broken by her daddy’s selfishness. I myself have a mentor who was like a surrogate daddy to me. I’d give anything to hear that Music Minister say, “I’m sorry. I believe you. Come home.” Ugh…

Tom has been an incredible dad to all three of our kids. I’m a blessed mom. Dallas, however, still had an empty place left by the father that walked out on him when he was barely seven months old.

I was shocked to see Dallas grieve for his absent father over the years. He was so young when the marriage ended. When he learned to say “da da”, he said it to Tom. He didn’t even remember Terry. How could there be a “daddy” hole in my son?

I sometimes wished I’d never told him about the sperm donor to whom I was once married. I knew, however, that truth was always the best policy. Who would’ve guessed the Internet would explode the way it did, and Dallas’s dad would contact him via a social media site called MySpace one day? Crazy.

I’ve written before about the fact that my ex-husband was absent from our lives for 23 years. The door, however, was ALWAYS open to him. I maintained contact with Dallas’s uncle and the grandparents, as I knew it was the good and healthy thing to do for everyone. Besides, I truly love my ex-husband’s family and they are great people.

Terry always knew where we lived and how to get in touch with Dallas. Again, the door was ALWAYS open. It was not easy for Tom to share his son with a phantom father who had abused me—his wife!

When Terry contacted Dallas three years ago I blogged, “We’ll see.” I’d prayed for my son’s bio-dad for 22 ½ years, and I asked God to let Terry live long enough to see his son grow into a man. I prayed for healing of hearts and addictions.

Tom and I walked with our oldest son through crazy challenges, including drug addiction, arrests, prison, rehab, joblessness, and sobriety. We would do it all again.

Dallas spoke to his bio-dad briefly back in 2008. Sadly, Terry immediately told him lies, and that angered my son. A few months later my ex apologized to me for “betraying the vows of our marriage”, and thanked me for never giving up on Dallas. He told me I was a good mom. I took him at his word.

When I asked about Jodee, Terry denied fathering the little girl I knew was his.

Shortly after Dallas spoke with his bio-dad, I began getting notices from Fresno County Family Support. I’d never received a dime of child support—presumably because Terry had never worked at a job long enough to be caught. Now, however, he seemed to be settled and the government tracked him down.

Fresno County was receiving all the collected monies, and I didn’t get a penny. Finally, after about a year of this, I contacted them to inquire as to whether or not I was entitled to any of the collected money. Turns out, the case was so old that they’d kept track of what was owed to the County, but lost track of what was owed to me.

Family Support quickly corrected their error, and I (thinking Terry was new and improved) expected my ex to do the right thing. He went ballistic!

He wrote me a terrible letter in which he accused me of all kinds of bad. He called me a liar and told me I’d hidden Dallas from him, and “poisoned our son” with my lies. I know what Tom and I did and the extremes we went to in order to keep doors open. I don’t have to defend myself. My son knows the truth because he lived it.

That inflammatory letter was the push I needed to renew contact with Dallas’s little sister and her family. I’m so grateful I did!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Finding My Son's Sister

Before I tell you about the amazing moment when Dallas met his other little sister for the first time, let me tell you how I first learned of her.

Even though Tom isn’t Dallas’s birth father, he’s the only daddy my son has ever known. Tom had planned on adopting Dallas from the moment he kissed me goodnight after our first date. Yes, HE kissed ME—don’t believe anything you might hear to the contrary. :-)

In 1988 Dallas was 4 years old and Tom and I had been married for two years. We gave a lawyer $200 to begin the adoption process, but shortly thereafter he closed up shop and skipped town. It would be five years before we could start the ball rolling again.

We did all the adoption heavy lifting ourselves—filing paperwork, securing letters from family, putting ads in local newspapers, etc… Terry had never made any real attempt to see Dallas, despite receiving a letter from him in 1989 in which he promised to come see his son soon. He never paid a dime of court-ordered child support. He said, “God told me” he didn’t have to pay because he was “going to win custody”.

I had to prove I’d done all I could to give my ex-husband ample opportunity to respond to the adoption request, so I worked like crazy to try to track him down.

Terry’s dad hadn’t talked to him in years and his mom stopped contacting us when Dallas was about five years old. I’d always sent both grandparents letters and pictures of their grandson. They’d been divorced for years and did not live near one another.

Grandpa Wayne was great at keeping in touch with his first-born grandchild. However, one day I sent an envelope filled with new Dallas pictures to Grandma, and it came back to me with the red words “return to sender” stamped on the front. The phone number I had was disconnected and she stopped sending birthday cards and Christmas cards. We wouldn’t hear from her again for many years.

I knew Terry had gotten married again after we divorced, but I was pretty sure they were no longer together. I had to find her.

Vicki had lived with my son’s father in Springfield, Missouri. I called long distance information and dialed the number provided to me by the operator. Vicki answered the phone. She told me they’d gotten divorced and she had no idea where Terry was living. I asked her if they’d had any kids—if maybe my son had a brother or sister we didn’t know about.

Sadly, Vicki had miscarried, but yes, Terry had fathered a child in Missouri. Shortly before he married Vicki, a young woman from a small town 20 minutes outside of Springfield had given birth to his daughter. She gave me the mom’s name and I think she even had a phone number. As soon as we said goodbye, I dialed the number I held in my hand.

The young mom who answered the phone was delightful, and so happy to chat with me. That night I learned that Dallas’s little sister was five years younger than him. Like my son, she had a cleft in her chin, blue eyes, and blond hair. Her name was Jodee.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

California Pretty

I told you all in the previous post about the trip Dallas and I took to Memphis, TN last month. Dallas was able to sit and chat with his Grandpa Wayne just hours before Grandpa passed away. It was a precious time.

When we arrived at the nursing home that night, Dallas’s uncle Tim was there to greet us. My ex-brother-in-law is one of the kindest men I know. He was 19 or 20 years old when I married his brother, Terry in 1982. Tim has a quiet, sweet nature, and when we first met he made me laugh. We always got along great, and I’m proud that Dallas gets to call him “Uncle”.

My ex-husband had apparently been to the hospital often to see his dad. I say “apparently” because the staff seemed to know who Terry was, but he rarely (if ever) visited his dad when the rest of the family was around. Wayne’s wife Sue hadn’t seen Terry in 15 years.

While we were all visiting in Grandpa’s room, a bubbly nurse came in and happily greeted “Mr. Clay” and the whole family. Terry’s stepsister, Tammy pointed at Dallas and said, “Do you know who this is?” She looked at my son and she knew immediately who he was.

“You’re that hot man’s boy. Oooo, you’re daddy’s hot.”

The Memphis family hadn’t seen Dallas Wayne in 13 years, and everyone was blown away by how very much he resembles the birth father he never knew. We all laughed at the nurse’s correct assessment of just how my son was connected to the family.

She looked at me. “His daddy’s hot.”

I said, “You don’t have to tell me. I’m the mama.”

You’re the mama. Oooo girl, I thought you were the girlfriend!” She crossed the room to deliver a high-five. “Where ya’ll from?”


“Oooo”, she squealed, “I’ve got to get out to California and get me some of that California pretty.”

Her enthusiasm was absolutely contagious—and her compliment was nice too.

The whole exchange got me thinking; do people know when they look at me that I’m God’s kid? Do they see the family resemblance?

Ooooo, I’ve got to me in The Word and get me some of that Jesus pretty.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Weak Body, Strong Spirit

I’m still processing all that’s happened in the past month or so, and I’ve got to share some of the, uh….excitement with you. Dallas and I saw his bio-dad for the first time in 26 years, AND the little sister he’d never met!

I’ve written about some of the frightening details of my tumultuous 2-½ year marriage to a cocaine addict. I always prayed that my ex-husband would live long enough to one-day meet the son he hadn’t seen since before Dallas began crawling.

Before I get to the crazy details about the first face-to-face between father and son, let me tell you a bit about how it came to be.

In mid-February I received a Facebook message from my former sister-in-law telling me that my son’s grandfather had taken a turn for the worse. Grandpa Wayne was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s a few years back. Although Dallas hadn’t seen his grandpa in 13 years, they had kept in touch via phone calls, cards, letters, and occasional emails. Sadly, there had been little contact during my son’s drug years, and Grandpa hadn’t been well enough to understand how Dallas was struggling.

When I heard Wayne’s health was failing, I was nearing the end of an eight-week run in “The Dixie Swim Club” at Second Space Theatre, so I couldn’t leave right away. I asked Dallas if he’d be interested in a trip to Memphis, TN (of course!), and I began looking at travel dates.

The show ended on February 20, and at first I considered heading east somewhere around March 9. In looking at available flights, however, I realized that there was little difference in the cost of flying sooner rather than later. Something told me to “Go!”, so I made reservations for a March 2nd flight to Memphis.

We arrived in the southern city that had once been my home at 2:00 in the afternoon. My former sister-in-law Tammy and her mama, Sue met us at the passenger pick-up door for United Airlines. The four of us chatted happily during the 30-minute drive to their home in Olive Branch, Mississippi, just south of the Tennessee/Mississippi border.

Five hours later Dallas and I gathered with family in a care facility in Memphis, TN at the bedside of Grandpa Wayne. I will never forget the awestruck joy that filled the eyes of the frail man as he looked at my grown son.

Sue had been telling Wayne that Dallas was coming to see him, and although Grandpa was unable to speak, his eyes told us he was very much aware of my son’s presence in the room. When we asked if he recognized Dallas, he nodded in the affirmative. When Sue urged Wayne to blow a kiss, he did just that, so I know Wayne was truly cognizant. His eyes followed Dallas as if he was trying to drink in every precious moment.

Wednesday night is Bingo night at the nursing facility where Wayne stayed, and it was our hope that we’d be able to participate in what had become a weekly family ritual. Grandpa, however, wasn’t feeling well and his breathing became labored during our time with him. The nurse listened to his chest and felt Wayne should be transferred back to a hospital where he could get a big dose of antibiotics and a breathing treatment. He’d be good as new in a day or so.

The family walked alongside the stretcher as the EMT’s rolled Grandpa to the waiting ambulance. We all waved and promised to see him soon.

The phone rang at 4:30 in the morning. Wayne was gone.

I’m amazed at the spirited determination of the human heart. We know Grandpa Wayne stayed alive long enough to see his grandson Dallas for the last time. I’m so glad I listened and responded to that still small voice that told me to “Go!”.

Dallas, Uncle Tim, and Grandpa Wayne