SERIES: Part 3
I was often asked why I never looked for my father. David nudged me about it early on in our relationship. He would talk about genealogy and DNA, and I would bristle- adamant that I already had a family and didn’t need more.
My maternal grandfather, Antonio, was my father figure. He played old school Salsa at family Christmas parties and taught me to dance, took me on early morning walks in Tampa Bay, stopping by the Cuban bakery for coffee and bread where I listened to him banter in Spanish. He was wonderfully cosmopolitan and debonair; a skilled artist and musician I attributed my musical talent to. I was proud of my mother’s side of the family and our interesting history. I clung to my Venezuelan roots because they were all I had- self conscious that I looked so different from my dark skinned family.
I was also afraid. My father, and the family I assumed he had, knew nothing of me. I didn’t want to be blamed for the hell I imagined would break loose if I found him. I often said that I’d like to hire a detective to find out more about him, but from afar. I would never contact him.
“That’s too big a can of worms,” I would always say.
However, there is another reason for my reluctance; one so subtle I never even formed the thought completely until now.
Since childhood, my father always appeared the same in my imagination. He was slightly skinny, with a paunch and a comb-over, and lived in a dated sub-division. At best, he had a boring family and job he had done for years after he stopped playing music. At worst, he was a burnt-out loser who lived by himself and drank in front of the TV when he wasn’t in bars. This is not who I wanted for a father.
When I received the DNA kit for my birthday, I was only interested in knowing my ethnicity. I knew my father was white, but I didn’t know what kind of white. I secretly hoped I was Scottish. I’ve always loved the music from that part of the world and what it became when they brought it here. There is something about the scratchy twang of Appalachian song that jogs some deep part of me.
The results of the test showed my genetic make-up in percentages. I knew what came from my mother’s side; the African and Native American DNA undetectable in my olive, Italian-ish complexion. It was interesting, but not suprising. I was more curious about what I didn’t already know. The chart showed that 33% of my European DNA was from the British Isles, with a combination of Welsh, Scottish, and Irish, but there were other genetic populations that hadn’t occurred to me. Finnish? Vikings I supposed, but where did Ashknenazi and Iranian come from?
I also had 32 pages of DNA matches; others who had taken the test and were my distant cousins. I took the test only wanting to know my ethnicity, but something changed when I saw the long list of people I was genetically related to. I knew these English surnamed people must be on my father’s side. Campbell, Spradlin, Johnson, Davis, were all threads in a story I never had access to, and they coaxed a curiosity I had supressed for years. I wondered what my name would have been if my father had raised me, what my life would have been like. As I researched the family histories of my distant cousins, the unflattering image of my father faded away. Their middle-American stories fascinated me… and I wanted to know mine.