Today, my father would have been 76 years old. In years past, I would call him up, sing him ‘Happy Birthday’, and attempt to make plans to see him. He would laugh and thank me for serenading him on his birthday. He would ask me how Liz was doing, and how the younger two were. I would share an Addie story and send videos of the two playing together. He would ask me about work, and how my life was going. He didn’t understand the concept of Blue Tooth so he would think I was in danger for talking on the phone while driving. This would lead to the goodbye portion of the conversation.
Today, I sat and thought about how much I miss the opportunity I used to have to pick up the phone and hear his voice. As I sat at my kitchen table finishing my lunch, I realized that today was not just his birthday. Today marks 30 years from the day when my life changed forever.
March 18, 1987. My stepfather, mom and I were on our way back from Mass General where I was being formally tested for ADHD or ADD at the time. The H hadn’t been added yet. I knew it was my father’s birthday and my parents had mentioned that we were going to stop at my soon to be former step-mom’s house on our way home. “Are we stopping because it’s Dad’s birthday?” I asked, truly believing for a moment that he had come to his senses and moved back in with her. I was happy we were going to see them because I adored my father’s third wife. Anita was so good to me and I loved my step brothers and sister. I couldn’t think of any other reason of why we would stop by other than wishing my Dad a happy birthday.
I was a naive 14 year old. My parents looked at each other and my mom went silent. She didn’t say anything other than “I don’t know honey.” Steve kept driving. I sat in the back, my heart filling with excitement over seeing my father. What I didn’t know during that short drive is that I wouldn’t see him again until I was 16 years old. I didn’t know in that moment, that my father had done something that would change all of us forever, especially him.
My father had a few addictions. I won’t go into them here but I will say he enjoyed the slot machines quite a bit. Like many with addictions, his grew out of control and he was making poor decisions based upon impulse. He left the family law practice to start his own business. He isolated himself from the rest of the family, and caused a rift between himself and his wife. I knew that they had split up, and the news made me very sad because I loved them very much. I didn’t understand what was happening and kept asking him how it could be fixed during the last dinner we had together.
The last dinner we had together was when he told me that he and Anita were getting a divorce. We were at Mamma Mia’s on the waterfront. He gave me a fake Rolex watch and a hundred dollars. I considered it a belated Hanukkah gift. I had no idea it was a goodbye present. Funny that he gave us watches. Did he know that time was going to forever change after that moment?
We reach Anita’s house and I get out of the car. I am starting to feel as though it is a tad strange that both of my parents are here to wish him a happy birthday. What was going on? We walk in and Anita asks us to go downstairs and sit in the living room. I remember my step-sister crying and I am trying to figure out what is happening. I was told that my father was in a lot of trouble, that he had taken money that didn’t belong to him, and that no one knew where he was. He had left the area and the police were looking for him. It was about to hit the news so everyone thought that I needed to know before everything hit the fan. I was speechless.
Years later, I jokingly said to my father that one thing you don’t do with an adopted child is LEAVE them abruptly and disappear for over 18 months. Abandonment issues, anyone?
My story then goes on to taking 5 valium and a beer, a classmate saving my life by calling the police, and me finding myself in one of the three places alcoholics end up at the end of their drinking- only I had just started so….yeah. I landed in a psychiatric hospital for two weeks. I felt worthless and unwanted like I had never felt before. It was absolutely one of the darkest moments of my childhood. The man that I adored and would have done anything to be with, disappeared without a trace and hurt others by his actions.
Being 14, I wasn’t able at the time to realize that his actions affected the entire family. I didn’t know the effects his actions were on the law office or what my uncles and cousins went through. I wish I was more aware, because I think the feeling like they didn’t care would have been eradicated. They cared a lot. My uncle Richard was driving me home after a Seder one night and told me how angry he was at my father. At the time, I felt like he was mad at me but he wasn’t. He was angry on my behalf. They all were. No one could really say it at the time and today, I know with every fiber of my being how much the Levins care about me and my family.
That moment in 1987 took my life from one pathway and sent me down another. The man I knew as my father died that day, and Jeff came into the picture in 1989. Jeff hated himself and what he did to his family so much that he left for Florida after he paid his dues in prison. The shame eventually ate away at the man he was and this past October, it finally took him.
In spite of my father’s poor decisions, I loved him. Even though he became Jeff, I loved him. He distanced himself from me a few times in my life, and I did from him, but I loved him. Not a day goes by that he isn’t in my heart and today, on his birthday, I hope he was blessed with the peace he desperately looked for since March of 1987.