Tamara Adelman


It had been five months since I’d spoken to my father—ever since he announced he had a secret daughter.

“How long can I stay mad?”

“Forever,” my mother said. “Your father gave me a venereal disease.”

Talking to my mom always made things worse.

My mother said the first seven years of her marriage were a honeymoon. It’s true; my parents did travel a lot in the first half of their marriage.

“When you were born, your father took all his love for me and transferred it to you,” my mother said. She’d been a psych major. She said my father had no character.

I saw an interview of Maria Sharapova, the professional tennis player, when she was fourteen years old. She spoke of her father, who had done so much for her to make her game possible. “He is my heart,” she said. “I trust him.” That’s how I felt about my dad.

It wasn’t more than two weeks after my grandfather died that my dad told me he had a secret daughter. He’d known and had been in contact with her for all of her thirty-four years. She’d not known my dad was her dad too, until her husband guessed it. She was a few years younger than I and thought another man was her biological father.

I experienced the news as a loss. I thought I was close to my dad. Even though I wasn’t raised with him, we talked on the phone every day. We’d taken trips together and when he came out for visits, we spent days together.

I thought I might evaporate from sadness. I was angry too.

I tried to see the positive in the situation, but seeing the positive was the problem—that’s what I’d done my whole life to the point where I was living in a fantasy: One where my dad was like Maria Sharapova’s dad and paid attention to me instead of everybody else.

My dad had a lot of women in his life and he treated us all the same: like we were special. He’d ask questions and remember details about things that were important. He was savage about it—going from woman to woman to woman and I knew this, but tried to overlook the behavior, because I told myself that was his business and had nothing to do with me. It could be a romantic interest, a friend, or a daughter-type, but over the years, the behavior made me desperate to try to keep his attention, because the more attention he paid to other women, the less attention he paid to me. The result was that I did not feel special at all. What I felt was ditched and desperate. The ever-shifting attention made me competitive.

I was overly concerned about my dad and whoever he was with, because it had everything to do with the treatment I got. When he got married for the second time, he and that wife then moved to Florida and began a separate life that included my brother and my stepmother’s two small children but not me. I was living with my mother at the time and rarely saw him. It was during high school. My teenage years were overshadowed by my parents’ divorce; my mom was in a constant rage and my dad had disappeared.

I was happy when he got divorced and I moved in with him and my brother to finish high school. It was the first time I’d been happy since I was a little girl. I was the woman of my dad’s house. I cleaned, organized closets, and drove my dad’s car.

Toward the end of college my dad got married again. I remember crying at the wedding. The marriage was short-lived. After that, my dad seemed to give up on marriage. He just dated women and let them move in, displacing me if I happened to be living in his house at the time.

I felt more like an ex-wife than a daughter. I had developed an over-dependency on my father’s attention, but I convinced myself it was ok because all the other women would come and go. I would always be his daughter. I always had that.

I’d seen the world through the eyes of the woman I had been: the only daughter. No matter what wife, girlfriend, or “friend” my dad had, I always had that: I was his daughter.

It was my identity. He took that. He broke my heart.

I felt as if my life had veered completely off track because of my father. It’s like he had no corrective mechanism and I was water skiing behind him.

I called my Great-Aunt Jeannie to tell on my father. I wanted somebody to judge him. I wanted somebody to say, “What a betrayal.” I wanted somebody to say, “I feel so bad for you.” What I wanted most was for somebody to say was, “That must be hard for you. What do you think would make you feel better?”

But instead, Aunt Jeannie was excited that I had a sister who lived in Berkeley.

“Well, now maybe you can meet somebody. Your whole world revolved around your father,” she said.

He did affect the way I related to men. Nobody was ever good enough, because they couldn’t jetset like my dad, they didn’t adore me like he did, and they certainly couldn’t provide for me as he had. It wasn’t that I wanted a man who fixed my car or loaded my moving truck—that was certainly not my dad.

What I wanted was a man who let me know where I stood. With my dad, I was either sinking deep or floating away. He was slippery like water and as a result, I tightened my grip. It was a move I tried with many a potential romantic partner, but my devotion to my father was the only thing that stuck. I could never be close to anyone except for my dad.

The news of this other daughter made the perfect version of my life that I’d concocted come unearthed. The lie made me question the past. I didn’t want to meet her or have her at my dad’s seventieth birthday party or his funeral or maybe included in his will.

It changed the way I felt about him. I felt that he was a creep, and I was uncomfortable around him. I wondered what kind of person he was, what other things he lied about.

“I’m done having children,” my father said to me a few years ago.

I always thought it was a strange statement because my brother and I weren’t too troublesome. I think now it was the weight of his secret child that made him say that. The mother of this other daughter had been my ice-skating teacher, and my dad blamed the secret on her.

“Blair didn’t want to tell anyone,” he said.

I finally called my dad after a five-month hiatus. He was happy to hear from me, but his tone is always over-excited. I invited him to visit for Father’s Day by way of establishing in my mind where his loyalties were.

At the end of our visit, we took my dog for a walk in the park across from his hotel. We hadn’t talked about the other daughter until he brought her up.

“Lisa is going to have her baby soon,” he said.

“Who’s Lisa?” I said.

But I knew who she was.

That night I couldn’t sleep.

Lisa wasn’t just a person; she was about to be two people, maybe more.

“How are you doing?” Aunt Jeannie asked. She’d taken to calling me every couple of weeks, and was anxious for me to get to the point of acceptance.

“Things will never be the same,” I said. She let it go at that, but it seemed to me that I had a long way to go.