Several years ago I had a homemade t-shirt that I would wear to adoption conferences. On the front it said, "Darth Vader could be my birthfather for all you know" (on the back it said "Help! I'm in the witness protection program and nobody will tell me who I am!"). Imagine my surprise when I found out that People of the Second Chance had picked Darth Vader as this week's Never Beyond villain. Take a look at this bad boy:
Isn't that a face that is just in desperate need of a second chance?
Okay, seriously now...
Let's just pretend for a minute that the Star Wars saga is real (sorry, Star Wars fans, it is just pretend). Luke Skywalker had been raised believing that his father had been killed. He ends up thinking that it was Darth Vader who killed his father, Anakin Skywalker. He had some mighty righteous rage going at Darth Vader. Can you imagine the sorrow and revulsion Luke must have felt when he found out (after his hand has been cut off by said villain) that Darth Vader actually was Anakin Skywalker, his father? Luke was literally hanging on for dear life while having to process the fact that this evil mask-wearing killer, who had slaughtered innocents and been party to blowing up whole planets full of people, was the father he had always yearned to know. Not afraid to lose his Macho Card (because he obviously didn't know we were all watching), Luke cries and screams out, "Ben [Obi-wan], why didn't you tell me?" He's asking his friend who is dead, but lives on in The Force, why he didn't tell him this awful news. You have to admit, that is a lot of information to handle at one time.
Let's think about that for a moment. What would you do if you found out that your father had gone over to The Dark Side of the Force? How would you handle knowing that he had willingly embraced evil? For anyone that would probably be devastating, but if you had pledged your life to being a warrior for all that is good and right - the "light" side of The Force - would you be able to just compartmentalize that information and say, "that is his stuff - nothing to do with me"? I do not know your answer, but I know mine.
[Oh Holy God my Father, did you orchestrate my life just for this poster series? Really?]
As I have said before, "It is sort of just an academic exercise at this point, isn't it? So let’s bring it a little closer to home."
Being adopted at birth, I had almost no information at all about my birthfather. When I decided to search for my biological family at age 23, I had a great support group (in person and online) of adoptees, birthmothers, and adoptive parents. They did such a wonderful job of holding me up through the hard times and celebrating each small victory in the process with me. They prepared me. They prepared me for whatever I might find when I finally located my birthmother: Birthmother is alive. She's dead. She's a hooker. She's a Senator's wife. She has kids. She's been laying in a ditch calling your name for 23 years. Whatever I found, I was prepared to deal with my birthmother's story. What we truly neglected (not on purpose, I don't think - just nobody remembered to mention it) is to prepare me for whatever might be true of my birthfather. That's an important detail there, because I was surely expecting him to be a good ol' Texas cowboy just waiting for his "little girl" to show up so he could love her along with all his other kids.
So when I finally contacted my birthmother, I was shocked when she told me that my birthfather was dead. What? No fair. I haven't had a chance to... anything. Not a chance. She says she'll contact his family and get more details. The one time I ever saw her face to face, my birthmother had to tell me that my birthfather, David, had committed suicide. His family wanted to meet me, though, as I was his only child. CUT! We are seriously off script here people! There must be some mistake! No. No mistake. This is the reality.
I contacted David's parents and they invited me to come visit. I drove about 2 1/2 hours from where I was living at the time to Grandma's house. They wanted me to call them Grandma and Grandpa. I was family. There I am, sitting on the floor with Grandma, Grandpa, and an uncle, looking through a box of David's belongings. Pictures he had drawn when he was younger. His marksmanship medal from the Marines. Photographs. Lots of photographs. As we are going through all of this, we come to a photo of David with a lovely blonde lady sitting on his lap. I asked, "who is that?" Answer: "That is JoKay." Aha! I'm already thinking, "here is another person I can talk to who knew David." So I asked, "where is she now?" Deadly silence. Deadly. They all look at each other for what seemed like an eternity but was probably a few seconds. Finally, my uncle reaches into the box and pulls out the front page of an old copy of the Denver Post. What? Why are we looking at an old newspaper from Colorado? My uncle says, "Other than how David ended up in the Denver area, this is pretty much what happened." And he pointed to this:
With that headline screaming out at me, I'm surprised that I didn't spontaneously combust right there on Grandma's carpet. If the article is somewhat hard for you to read, here's what happened: David shot JoKay (Josephine) and then shot himself. Nope, there won't be any tearful reunion with David's beloved JoKay. Not for me.
There I am, with family that I had just met, about 30 minutes into our meeting and BOOM! my world just implodes. I know that I kept a fairly composed demeanor, but it was all a fake. Inside my head I heard screaming. "YOU ARE THE DAUGHTER OF A MURDERING, SUICIDAL MANIAC!" That was my new reality. That was my new identity. Did I have to take it on? Was it part of my legacy now? How do you deal with that kind of information? Nobody had given me a handbook that had a chapter on this in it. Nobody had really given me any kind of handbook at all. All of the kind preparation of my friends in the adoption community was just ashes in the face of this information.
To be fair, I do not think that my grandparents or my uncle were trying to shock me. They just didn't know how to share that information with me. I cannot imagine what I would have done if I had been in their position. It was just a painful situation all around.
Bringing us back to the comparison to our Villain Du Jour, Luke Skywalker decided to see the good hidden deep inside his father and give him a second chance. And in the end, there was redemption for Darth Vader. Restored in death to his identity as Anakin Skywalker, he even finds life in The Force with his old buddies Obi-wan and Yoda.
But that is just a story that George Lucas made up. My story is real.
Don't think for one second that it didn't matter just because I had never met David. Don't ever think that. And I didn't get a chance to talk to him about it. I didn't get to ask him why he felt a need to hurt somebody else, or even to hurt himself for that matter. Without him giving me any answers at all, I had a choice to make on how I was going to look at him, at myself, and at our family legacy. I could choose to continue to look at David as a murdering, suicidal maniac and take on that identity myself. Or I could see him as a man lost, who just could not find his way - a man who gave up and ended things badly. I could choose to see him as a man who loved me, wanted me, and cried every year on my birthday. Even in death, I could choose to give him a second chance or not.
I wish I could say that it was as easy as just looking at Luke Skywalker for inspiration and following the way of The Force. It didn't happen like that. I struggled. I gave a lot of mental and emotional energy to pondering murder, suicide, and God's forgiveness. What I ended up with is that I cannot completely know the mind of God. I do know, however, that He is the God of second chances. I have been given grace enough and some extra. Wouldn't the God who gives that grace so freely want me to share?
May grace be with you.