My birthday, the 14th of August, I awaken filled with energy, fueled by excitement and nerves. We eat breakfast, get ready and walk a short distance to the Savoy to meet bio dad. We’re seated at an obscured table where we impatiently wait. At noon church bells chime outside, dramatically signaling our meeting time. Noon comes and goes uneventfully. Pondering why bio dad is late, our discouraging thoughts are interrupted by my buzzing phone. I have an email from his mother. Having never emailed me before, she writes, “It’s past 12 here, so hope you have met, Kisses E.” My deflating heart resumes its shape and Steve and I feel reassured that at least she is aware that our reunion is today at noon. I respond with gratitude, informing her that we’re waiting but have not met yet. A half hour later we move on from unimaginably expensive coffee, albeit delicious, to extortionately priced cocktails. They’re velvety smooth and well worth breaking the bank.
Periodically I pace the lobby, visit the decadent bathroom, roam the taxi rank, stroll through the Thames Foyer, but to no avail. Stevie, the sweet American maître d’ from Georgia asks if we need anything. She knows we’re expecting another guest and can see no one has arrived. We explain that we’re waiting to meet my biological father after 32 years. Her face drops in disbelief. We describe him: tall, glasses, Dutch, 65 years old. She agrees to look out for him and in turn all of the Savoy staff become involved, eagerly anticipating his arrival. Unable to help myself, I write bio-grandmother again asking if she knows if he’s coming. I tell her we’re still waiting. There’s no reply. At 2 p.m. Steve and I, dejected, start discussing our plan. I have a sense that something will happen at 3 p.m. We decide if nothing’s happened by then we will leave to eat something and regroup. My sixth sense is foiled as the clock strikes 3 p.m. On the back of our Savoy receipt, I leave a note and contact number to call. Our newfound friend Stevie, sharing in our disappointment, promises to look out for him and relay our important message.
Shrouded in disappointment, the tears start to flow. Devastated, frustrated, exhausted, destitute, we find the nearest burger joint. Wearing my sunglasses, I stealthily order a burger and wine. The disappointment is palpable. I desperately want to meet. I want answers, and all I have are more questions. Anger ensues—through tears I fight to regain my composure. We pay the far more reasonably priced bill and prepare to leave central London. Then, the phone rings with a Dutch dialing code. It’s bio-dad: “Molly, is that you? It’s me. I’m here. I hear it’s too late. You’re gone.” I quickly respond, “No, it’s not too late. We’re down the street. We’ll be there in minutes.” More tears, this time cathartic, flowing with relief and elation; we rush back up the Strand.
He sits there in the corner of the Savoy lobby, a tall Dutchman with glasses, wearing a cream suit. His stale breath greets me first. We embrace and stand there astonished. He begins his perfunctory explanation of why he’s late. I quieten him, and say, “I’m glad we’re here at last.” We proceed up the stairs to the now overcrowded American Bar. Seated in the corner, we’re promptly served complimentary champagne to commemorate our reunion.
Constantly talking, he’s nervous and almost manic. He speaks of the difficulty he had finding a flight and the pets he left behind. How he’s asked his older daughter to watch his dog, and how he left a window open during the rain and the water came into his home. He explains that he’s not competent to make travel arrangements without his wife. He unabashedly says, “I’m that type of man.” Seeing his nerves, settles mine. I tell him I’m grateful we’re finally meeting. It is a pleasure to see him and I thank him for coming. I’m composed, brave and in control. He continues discussing his tardiness, describing confusion with the term noon etc. Eventually we move on. His English is flawless. He studied in the American School and considers it his native language.
During his tangents I have plenty of time to observe him. The boisterous bar around us is muted, his speech is dulled and I stare at him in virtual silence.
He’s noticeably better looking when viewed from the side. He has a slender straight nose, prominent square jaw, clefted, masculine chin, and full, disheveled, hardly graying hair. He sits slightly hunched over, indicative of tall people, perpetually trying to meet the gaze of others. Occasionally his face breaks into a squinty smile and he reaches across the table to stroke my face and hands. Sporadically kissing my cheek, he seems to touch me to convince himself I’m real.
We discuss the past 32 years. I ask everything I want to know. His constant streams of philosophical and historical stories flank my intermittent questions. He’s highly intellectual and at times his theories border on delusional. I ask him about the characteristics of the Dutch. Grasping at understanding my Dutch roots. Instead, I learn about Dutch history from what feels like the beginning of time to present day. I refer to his letter in which he stated that my correspondence filled an unknown void in him. I ask if he thought of me all these years and he confirms that he felt a void, but he doesn’t elaborate.
He shares dark periods in his life. At age 17 he ultimately was made to choose between his wife and his mother. He chose his wife and this marred his relationship with his parents forever. His mother has no relationship with her granddaughters and great-granddaughter. He currently works as a driver for the elderly and highly anticipates retiring and collecting his pension. He has studied many subjects and worked in many occupations. His scattered work history reflects his many passions and he readily shares his knowledge of these topics.
Much of the conversation is disjointed but what is evident is his self-proclaimed love of love. He believes in love and is certain he loved my mother. He exudes sadness over the end of their love affair. Bitter about how the relationship ended, he wants to know why it had to end the way it did. Describing the first and last time we met, in Beverly Hills in 1982—his story aligns with my moms. Unwilling to leave his family, my mom didn’t want to stay a mistress forever. She ended communication and bio-dad returned to the Netherlands, to his newborn daughter, his older daughter, his wife and his transparent life—now tainted by a deep secret.
They say hindsight is 20 20, but in this case my mom made the correct choice from the start. Bio-dad’s desire to pursue love and have the best of both worlds meant perpetuating a secret. My mom would have been that secret and bore the product of that secret—me. I am grateful that my mom chose to sever ties. This liberated us to live freely, unfettered by deceit. 32 years later I feel a renewed sense of liberation. I’m relieved we finally met and I’m full of self-pride for embarking on this journey. My invigorated sense of self leaves me satisfied.
Visit to London to meet BD in pictures.