By Anne Royse
That's how I signed all my letters to him. I was his anonymous daughter referred for adoption at birth. He was my biological father. An addict serving time in prison for bank robbery. He was also a well educated, soulful man who found his purpose in prison and inspired me to find mine. Love, Me is a story of two lives upended, faith restored and the possibilities that life offers us outside of the walls of our own making.
It’s amazing to me how every little nuance about that day has been forever forged in my memory. The smell of coffee and bacon lingered in our little apartment from breakfast. Dust particles danced in early morning sunlight, streaking through vertical blinds that opened onto a small deck. The air conditioner hummed, adding to the laziness of the weekend. My husband occasionally dozed off while watching a random sporting event on television.
The phone rang, breaking through the laid-back atmosphere. It was a woman named Joan from Catholic Charities; probably looking for a donation, I thought. Boy I was wrong. Joan told me that my biological father was looking for me and that he wanted to meet me. I jumped in before she could say anything else.
"Did you send him my letter? I sent a letter… about a year ago… it tells my biological parents that I turned out okay, but that I really don't want to meet them." My heart pounded in my chest.
Joan said that she hadn't seen the letter and I panicked. If she couldn’t find my preemptive letter, I wondered, what else is going to be screwed up in this process? I heard paper rustling in the background. Joan said she was holding a letter from him. Did I want her to read some of it to me?
Of course I was curious, but I didn't want to open Pandora's Box, either. I didn't want to know too much. Not yet, anyway. I needed to process this. I asked her to read it, but to withhold the names or any identifying information. I grabbed a piece of paper and a pen. It was all so surreal. I needed to ground myself by taking notes.
"Well, I suppose I should start by telling you something that may be a little bit troubling to you," Joan’s tone was hesitant. I braced myself. "He's in prison. Apparently, he's a severe alcoholic. He says he robbed a bank."
Imagine. A severe addict with a revolving door at prison who was once a law student. My birth father discovered his life's purpose while incarcerated, and he helped many of his inmates over the years. He wrote about how much it filled him up:
"I think I may have discovered my life's calling--teaching! I'm a tutor in the education department here in prison and I love it. I work one on one with guys pursuing their G.E.D.'s. I've been there a few weeks now. I'm gaining confidence, and the men are starting to come to me with questions--most of which I can answer! This is basic math, science, literature, arts, social studies, etc. Boy, I should have tried this long ago. I've got to tell you it's so exciting to try to figure a creative way to get something across.
My all-time favorite student here in prison is Darryl, a middle aged black man who came from the ghetto with no prior education, and spent 2 ½ years here with me in class, finally got his G.E.D. last month. The smile on his face and the joy with which he told of sending his diploma home to his mother and wife, and their response—what a good thing.”