By Lisa Beck
“I am missing you today, Dad. I just wish for one more minute with you. A rewind button. A chance to tell you to pause, and remember how much I love you and how important and necessary you are to us. To remind you of the common sense you so liberally bestowed upon me. Today I told someone to focus on their blessings — advice I received from you so many times when I hit hard moments in my life. ‘Choose things and people who bring out the best in you. Don’t waste your life worrying about what others think. Be a light for others.’ You were a light. My light. I’m blessed in so many ways. I know this because you’ve told me that for years! Today is just another pause in my life to remember you because the focus is Father’s Day. Today I will refocus on my Heavenly Father. Because that’s what He would want. I love you, Dad. I always will!”
This is a letter I wrote to my dad after he passed away in 2014. I was 44 years old. I miss him intensely. He didn’t give me life, but he raised me as his own, and to be the person I am today. He taught me about life, love, and how to find happiness independently. He chose to become my dad. He didn’t choose to have a baby with my mom. He chose for my older brother and me to become part of his life after he met her. He chose the “package deal.” The surprising part to me was that he was only 19 years old when he met us. We were 4 and 6 years old!
My mom had married another man (my brother and my biological father) right after her high school graduation. He was abusive. They divorced when she was 23. At the age of 3, all I knew was that Mommy and “Daddy” were going to live apart and I wanted to stay with my mom. She moved us to Columbus, Ohio, and made a life for the three of us.
Within a year, she met my dad — the man who chose a woman 5 years older than himself with two young children. The man who would eventually walk me down the aisle on my wedding day. The man who would be there for his grandchildren. The man I will refer to as my dad from here forward. His name was Jeff Rader. He married my mom 3 years after they met, and we became the picture of a pieced-together family.
It wasn’t an instant connection.
I was different.
I had no connection to my biological family and I didn’t have the same name as my mom and my new family.
Before I was adopted, kids always asked me why my name was different than my family’s. I remember a cake we had for some occasion that said ‘The Rader Family.’ I felt like it was for everyone else — not me or my brother. As my younger Rader cousins grew older, they would question why my name was different than everyone else’s name in the family. At age 12, along with general insecurities of a “tween,” I felt like an outsider in my own family.
By this time, my relationship with my mom’s husband had grown. While I didn’t give much thought to being adopted, I longed to feel a sense of belonging and be able to call this man, who had truly embraced my brother and I, Dad! Finally, almost ten years after they were married, my parents sat us down and asked if we wanted to be adopted. I was jumping out of my skin with excitement!
Unfortunately, the process required my mom having to inform our biological family and make concerted efforts to inform my biological dad. Upon hearing this news, my biological family on my father’s side “disowned” my brother and me for years following our adoption.
By the time I went to college, the revelation of what this man, my adoptive father, did by taking my brother and me in as a “package deal” was more than revealing. He chose to adopt two kids into his life who would be irrevocably dependent on him to be the father they never had and to support, love and nurture us unconditionally. This is what parents do for their children — I am now clear that biology has nothing to do with it.
When people would see me with my very young-looking dad, with blonde hair and green eyes, and my dark hair and dark eyes, sometimes they would ask if he was my “real” dad. He always said “yes,” without ever feeling the need to explain. I loved him for that. He got a kick out of it because he knew they were totally perplexed and felt too awkward to pursue the conversation further. We would just laugh about it together. I would usually explain my story to others as I have here. Maybe the idea of a dad 15 years older than me and 13 years older than my brother made me feel the need to “confess.”
I didn’t have any relationship with my biological dad and had minimal contact with that side of the family. When I was 19 years old, I felt like I should reach out to my grandmother (his mom) after some years of minimal contact. She lived in Ohio and once while I was visiting, she told me that my biological dad was in town and really wanted to see me — after 13 years without any contact. I agreed.
He told me I was lucky to have the parents I had and he was going to focus on his current family. That was the last I spoke to him until my grandmother died 20 years later. At 39, I chose to forgive him. Not that there was really anything to forgive. By staying out of my life, he gave me an opportunity to build my relationship with MY dad.
I always had a very tight relationship with my mom. She was the constant throughout my life. But it didn’t come as easy with my dad, even though he was part of my life since a very young age. I never really confided in my dad through my younger years and didn’t call him “Dad” until my first day of college. I didn’t want to use that term loosely, as it had such deep meaning to me.
I remember when I finally got up the courage to ask if I could call him “Dad.” His response, “I’ve always wanted you to call me Dad.” It felt good and I never gave it a second thought. It finally felt real! I belonged in every sense of the word.
From college through my adult years, the bond between my dad and I tightened immensely. We could talk about everything — particularly my goals, my relationships with girlfriends and boyfriends, and eventually parenting my own kids. We were neighbors for many years, and he was such an amazing grandparent to my kids. He never took any of his relationships with us for granted. It was a relationship that we both earned with each other.
My life is far removed from my paternal biological family. It’s not something I miss. I am thankful for my Rader family, who became an integral part of my life. The other half of me. I see me in them. We love each other unconditionally.
I often hear my dad’s voice in my head when I have to make decisions — big or little. But he’s always here, in my heart. He always will be.
One man gave me birth. My dad gave me life, and I’ll be forever grateful.
Lisa is a devoted loving single mother of three beautiful teenagers, and loyal part-time dental hygienist of 24 years, who has found the joy in improving people’s smiles every day. She is currently balancing the “work-hard-play-hard” ethic, on a lifelong quest to find (without seeking) the love of her life, mastering the art of imperfection and embracing her given life.