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I Don’t Know Who My Real Dad Is

Really – I don’t.  I have no idea who contributed to half of my DNA, where I got my height from, or who gave me my brown hair and deep blue eyes.  I sit and sigh when I fill out doctor exam forms and the family history questions pop up; I never have any answers for that section and I just write N/A and hope eyebrows aren’t raised when I turn the forms into the nurse in the waiting room.  I have no idea what my real father does for a living; did he graduate college?  Do I have half siblings?  Is he even still alive?

When I was a child, I was led to believe that an ex-husband of my mother’s was my real father.  A man that my mother detested and a man whose name was spewed at me whenever Mom was especially angry about something I’d done.  I remember getting beaten on more than one occasion because I’d walk across the floor on my tiptoes; something I’ve done for as long as I can remember.  My mother would jump out of her chair in a rage and come at me with venom in her eyes and spit flying out of her mouth.  “That’s how he walked!” she’d say with a sneer as she knocked me to the floor.  I’d get beaten if I happened to look at her in a way that reminded her of him and I was reminded on a weekly basis that I would amount to nothing – ending up just like my piece of garbage father.

I grew to hate this man I had never met; hate him for abandoning me and hate him for the punishments I endured in his name.  When Mom remarried and they had my little sister; I was made the family outcast because I was his kid and I didn’t belong in their happy family unit.  I believed that my real father was the true cause of my abuse and Mom’s anger towards me and it hurt my heart to know that he abandoned me and left me with such an abusive woman.

On my 18th birthday I got a call from my stepfather; “Sarah, he called the house today.  He wants to see you and I wanted to ask you if I could give him your number.”  My heart stopped and tears filled my eyes; he wanted to see me!  Finally, after all of these years I was going to see the man I took so many beatings for.  The man who looked like me, who had the same love of learning and reading that I did, and one of the few people who really knew Mom for who she was.  The years of anger and resentment melted away as I anticipated seeing my father’s face for the first time in my life and the hope of having a real family filled my soul.

I gave my stepfather permission to give him my number and my phone rang fifteen minutes later.  I almost didn’t answer; I was trembling as the phone rang again, and again, and again.  But I mustered up all of my courage and picked up; and to my surprise a Spanish accent filled my ears.  “Sarah!  It’s me, your father!”  I shook my head, something wasn’t right, but I told him hello, and after a very awkward and quick conversation, we planned on meeting in person that next week.

I spent the next week dreaming of meeting my father for the first time and imagining how it would feel to see his face for the first time.  I played possible conversations over and over in my head, debating on how much of the abuse to talk about or if I should even bring it up.  I wanted to hear what he had to say first and then decide my next move.  He was the one who wanted to see me; I didn’t go looking for him.

The day finally came and I stood on the apartment balcony I lived at, chewing my nails down to nubs waiting for his arrival.  I remember looking down at my chewed down thumbnail and tearing up for a moment as I recalled Mom beating me up for my constant nail chewing.  “That’s a nasty habit you got from your piece of garbage father!”  I saw a Lincoln pull into the apartment parking lot, my knees began shaking and my hands froze to the balcony railing.

But I didn’t wait this many years to just stand there and stare.  I pried my hands off of the railing and made my way downstairs to his car door.  He got out and I froze again.  The tall, brown-haired, blue eyed man with the big smile I imagined was replaced with a short, black haired, dark-eyed Spanish man in a long tan trench coat.  I saw confusion flash through his eyes as he reached his arms out to give me a hug.  I could barely move as the realization began to set in that I was staring down at a stranger and that there was no way that this man was my father.

I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt, I still had questions and I believed he was the only person who could give me the answers.  So I hugged him and invited him up to my apartment.  He sat down in my living room chair and after I had gotten him a glass of water and sat myself down on the couch, he put his water down, leaned forward towards me and said;

“Sarah, I wasn’t the one who threw you down the stairs when you were a baby.  I didn’t break your collarbone, she did.  She was on the phone, you wouldn’t stop crying, and before I could stop her…..”

His voice trailed off and he buried his head in his hands.  I didn’t feel pity for him; in fact, this admission of an old childhood injury made my blood boil and made my voice get loud.  I remember Mom telling me the story of how my collarbone was broken when I was only 8 months old.  I remember Mom telling me that he kicked me down the stairs and that he wanted me to die because I had ruined his life. After all of these years, not one question from him; just a vent and a release of a guilty conscience.

I began peppering him with questions; asking him if he walked on his toes, bit his nails, or did any of the other numerous things Mom would beat me up for.  And each time, his answers were a resounding, “NO.”  The more we talked and compared timelines, the more it became clear that it was impossible for him to have fathered me , regardless if his name was on my birth certificate or not.  That realization was devastating and a release at the same time.

Devastating because I had taken so many beatings in his name.  Devastating because Mom had lied for so many years to so many people.  Devastating because my one chance at seeing someone who looked like me had vanished.  But a release because I felt like I could finally close a door in my life.  I could stop hating this man, I could stop blaming him for Mom’s anger, and I could stop wondering about what could have been.  I could get rid of that chip on my shoulder towards him and realize that he too was a victim of Mom’s lies and abuse.

I may never know who my real father is, but does it really matter?  For all I know, my real father has no idea that I even exist and I can’t blame him for that.  It is what it is; and it’s Mom’s crutch to bear, not mine.

I Don’t Know Who My Real Dad Is

Sarah Burleton NY Times bestselling author

Victoria Gigante Writes For Psych CentralSarah Burleton was born in a little town in Illinois to a very emotionally disturbed woman. Her first book, her child abuse memoir "Why Me," spent 26 weeks on the New York Times and the print version is endorsed by David Pelzer, author of "A Child Called It." Sarah is now realizing her goal in becoming an ambassador for abused children and adult survivors and is currently conducting workshops and seminars throughout the state. Her message of strength over adversity and her story will help counselors, teachers, and other professionals identify signs of abuse and learn ways to establish trust with an abused child.

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APA Reference
, . (2016). I Don’t Know Who My Real Dad Is. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 23, 2020, from


Last updated: 27 Jan 2016
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