BY ZOE AMOS
“I have a half-brother I’ve never met.” Those were the words I’d said any number of times, until recently. I don’t recall how old I was when I learned of his existence. He lived in another state, and as the years passed, it seemed a meeting would not be in the cards. I let go of the notion and then, it happened.
He (“J”) was from my father’s first marriage–a short-lived effort that produced one son. My father allowed “J’s” new step-dad to adopt him, and the separate families moved on, neither unit showing interest in the other. As an adult, “J” moved to California–where my sister managed to meet him–and beyond, spending much of his adult life in Russia and Alaska.
About twenty years ago, my father was able to reestablish contact with “J” long enough to pass along a medical health history and to meet “J’s” two children. “J” was not keen on family and severed ties after a couple of visits. This failed experiment didn’t bode well for any future meeting I might try to arrange and I didn’t pursue it.
When my/our father died in 1996, not having “J’s” address, I sent a letter to his employer in Russia, though unbeknownst to me, he had already left his post. I may have included a baby picture found in my father’s possessions, but I never received – nor expected – a reply, though years later I heard he got the letter about six months after I sent it.
In the past ten years, my sister and I exchanged a few random e-mails with him. Three summers ago, my sister planned an Alaska trip with a girlfriend and surprisingly, he invited them to visit. As a goodwill gesture, I sent her off with a hand-crafted gourd and my non-fiction book as a present for him. Their visit apparently went well, because the door opened and stayed open. He seemed receptive to further contact and not wanting to miss the window of opportunity, my sister and I planned a trip.
“J” let us stay at his house where we met his wife, daughter and his daughter’s fiancé. During our three days together, my sister let loose with every imaginable question. We found out there had been quite a bit of misinformation passed around, intentional lies obviously meant to protect, but none-the-less had caused damage of their own.
As “J” treated us to the breath-taking sights surrounding Anchorage in rare eighty-degree sunshine, he cooly weathered my sister’s questions that could have tested his patience. In hearing of his upbringing, it became apparent why he was not able to embrace a fondness for family. Times change. People change. And my sister and I are not the people responsible for the traumatic events he bore during his childhood.
As a teen, I had many questions, too. I thought of “J” as a missing puzzle piece, and in my naïveté, imagined that meeting him would somehow make me whole. During our visit, I listened and observed. I wanted to experience “J” and his family to understand what they were about. There were family resemblances in both look and demeanor. I take after my father and so does “J.” It imparted a familiarity that took the strangeness out of meeting a stranger. I heard little about his other half-siblings, one of whom is gay, born from the union of his step-dad and mother. Ultimately, I liked “J,” and I liked his family. They put in a lot of effort to welcome us and to ensure we had a nice stay. After all, we traveled thousands of miles to walk through a door.
I don’t have grand expectations that we will be the best of friends staying in touch every week or even every month. Our relationship will develop in its own way, on its own schedule. There are occasions when we can choose our family and this is one of them. Now when I tell others, “I met my half-brother,” I feel like dropping the “half,” as it serves no purpose.
Zoe Amos brings her lesbian point of view to articles and stories on diverse topics. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter. Read her stories on Kindle and Nook. Check out her other life at www.janetfwilliams.com.