Finding Dad

Finding Dad

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Create Your Best Future

Finding Dad

Forgiveness is a mystical act, not a reasonable one.

~Caroline Myss

I was thirteen years old and had never even seen a picture of my father, when suddenly the invisible character of my childhood had a face. I don’t know what woke me up on that cold Michigan night, but my eyes popped open with a sense of urgency at the very second a CNN news anchor was announcing the results of the 1988 gubernatorial election in Rhode Island.

“It was a close one in the Ocean State for Bruce Sundlun,” she announced. She talked about how this war hero/business tycoon-turned politician almost beat the incumbent, Governor Edward DiPrete.

My mom had always said, “Your biological father is a man named Bruce Sundlun.” But now, for the first time, he was real and staring back at me. On TV. My real father was no longer just the faceless man who broke my mother’s heart. The news anchor proved his existence to me with a picture and a story. That night, Mom and I were sleeping in a hotel room, bone tired from a long day of moving to a new house, when I reached over and shook her. “Mom, wake up! Is that him?” I shrieked.

Bleary eyed, she looked up and answered me in a scratchy, shocked voice. “He must have gone back to Rhode Island, where he’s from.”

I wanted to press “rewind” and freeze his picture. Did I really look just like him, like Mom had always told me?

My creators met in the glamorous world of aviation in the 70s when flying was still about the coolest thing you could do on earth. He was the handsome World War II bomber pilot turned airline CEO, and Mom was his chief flight attendant. She fell madly in love with my father, but when she became pregnant with me, there was nothing but turbulence ahead. There was no DNA test in 1975, and he refused to claim me. Mom knew I was his, but she yielded to his big time lawyers and settled out of court for thirty-five thousand dollars to pay for my life, and a promise not to contact him again or let me use his very important surname.

At that moment, staring at him on TV, none of that mattered. I was a girl who had just found her father — or almost. The Universe woke me up in the middle of the night, awakening a primal need to know the other half of me. And nothing was going to stop me.

My quest wouldn’t be easy. My father was eventually elected Governor of Rhode Island in 1991, and he ignored the letters I wrote to the State House asking to meet him. Finally, we hired a lawyer, and I managed to get a secret meeting and a DNA test that proved I really was his daughter. I was positive that once he knew I was really his, he would open his heart and welcome me into his life. But, instead, he did nothing. I was heartbroken. Again. How could he do this to me? What happened to my happy ending?

I really wanted him to be a dad, but if he wouldn’t, then I felt he should at least help us pay for college since Mom had been struggling to do it all on her own for so long. I filed a paternity suit at the age of seventeen, and a media frenzy erupted. My story started leading the evening news, and the nation’s newspapers printed headlines like “Gov Child” above my picture. Even under the scrutiny of spotlights, my war hero dad was still fighting me. Why couldn’t he just be a dad? My soul ached for his acceptance.

I could have given up, but somewhere deep inside me, a little voice told me to have faith, that he would come around. “It’s all meant to be,” I told myself. I’m sure it sounded like wishful thinking, but it wasn’t. My dad shocked the world when, in the middle of the media frenzy, he agreed to pay for my college tuition and invited me to come live with him so we could “get to know each other.” I didn’t know if I could trust him, but I packed my bags and left everything I knew to uncover my other half. I welcomed his offer of acceptance. My identity was worth the risk.

The same part of me that told me to have faith also demanded that I forgive my father for all the rejection, pain, and anger he had caused me. When I showed up on his doorstep to cross the threshold of my new life, I knew I had to choose to forgive if I wanted the happy ending my soul had been yearning for so long. So I did. I gave my father a chance at redemption, and he ran with it.

There was no long, maudlin apology. Instead, we started to heal the past by living in the present. We discovered we were a lot alike, right down to our love of Oreo cookies and chocolate ice cream sodas. The daily doses of love we shared from simple joys together settled sweetly in my core, and I started to heal the cracks of abandonment in my foundation. My wounds gave way to wisdom, and on the journey to find my father I found my true self. I learned that it’s never too late to heal; my father became Dad, and then Poppy to my children. I knew my father one year longer than I did not know him when he passed away at the age of ninety-one, in my arms, surrounded by the family I had always dreamed of. Forgiveness is the closest thing I have found to a fairy godmother. Its energy has the magical power to transform us and create the happy ending we so badly want.

We often teach what we have to learn, which is why I wrote the book Finding Dad: From “Love Child” to Daughter. My story taught me that forgiveness is truly the greatest gift you can give yourself.

~Kara Sundlun

More stories from our partners