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When God Called My Marker

This story was originally written for an intermediate nonfiction class I took at UNT. That semester, we wrote memoirs, which was an interesting choice, considering many of my classmates were under 25 and hadn't started to live yet. Nonetheless, I had much to say during that class, though it was interrupted halfway due to COVID. This was my first piece. It has been revised to reflect updates since the original piece was submitted.


 

God has a way of remembering our proclamations, especially when we are children, and reminding us of them much later in life. In our moments of greatest despair or confusion, when we reach out to Him to declare that if we are ever in the same situation, we will do differently, He will take note and give us a marker. In the future, if that moment does arrive, as it did for me, He will remind you instantly and call in the marker to see if you truly meant what you asserted or were reacting at the moment but unwilling to fulfill your vow. At least, that is my experience with Him.


 

I'll never forget that phone call for as long as I live. I was in my apartment when the phone rang. I had been home from work for about half an hour and read an email while my wife was making dinner in the kitchen. In the middle of reading, my phone started to ring. I ignored it the first time, but it began to ring again. As I flipped the phone open, I saw it was a good friend I met and had gotten to know when I first moved back to the area when I left the military. Whatever the call was about must be important, so I answered. After completing all the customary greetings, my friend told me "an interesting story." As I listened, it was indeed a pretty interesting tale. It was full of all the typical kinds of relationship drama that many people experience with an ex post-break-up. It was a twisting road, but it eventually got to the point. At the end of the story, my friend's voice asked me for a favor.

 

My immediate assumptions were that this favor would be like borrowing money or asking if I knew an attorney. Yes, it was that kind of story. But when the favor was asked of me, God immediately called in that marker. Before I could process anything, I could hear His voice ask, "Do you remember when you made your promise? Well, that time is now. What do you intend to do?"

 

I told my friend I would respond to the favor as soon as possible and hung up. Putting the phone in my pocket, I paused momentarily and looked at my wife. She was still in the kitchen cooking, utterly oblivious to the decision I had to make. I remember how beautiful she looked and how innocent her face was in the moment as I realized things would change for us if I honored the marker. We had been married a little over a year and a half, and everything was going great. I would have to have the most difficult conversation in our young lives, but I needed to gather my thoughts. I excused myself, explaining I needed to run to the store to pick up something for work. As I closed the door behind me, I broke down. I didn't know what to do for the first time in several years.


 

I was 12 years old when my mother sat me down for a meaningful conversation that we needed to have. At that time, I figured it was another lesson to prepare myself for being an adult. My mother had decided that it was essential to prepare me to be able to do for myself when I grew up. I can recall her saying, "There are no guarantees that you will get married or that if you do, you will remain married." This was driven by the fact that she and my dad had been divorced for a few years, but it was also to help her out. She was working full-time, trying to raise two boys, and was struggling. She was teaching me to be independent and to take on more responsibilities.  

 

The first adult life lesson I recall was how to do my laundry on my own. I was taught how to sort laundry properly, wash my clothes using the correct temperatures and cycles, and hang dry clothes or use the dryer. I was also taught how to iron my clothes, including knowing which pants were creased and which were not. In time, I was more than capable of doing my laundry without supervision. I was ahead of the game; honestly, it was a skill that helped me in the military from the first day of basic training.

 

The next major adult life lesson was cooking for myself and others. I knew what it meant to plan meals, make a grocery list, shop at the grocery store, prepare meals, and save leftovers. These lessons proved valuable, and, to be honest, I enjoyed them for the most part. Being independent came naturally to me and gave me purpose.

 

Though I wasn't sure exactly what the topic would be this time, I knew it would be something along the lines of educating me in the ways of an adult. However, this was a very different message. Instead of learning a new skill to get me through adulthood, it was a life lesson about knowing the truth of who I was. On this fateful day, I learned that my father wasn't my father. Instead, I realized that he had adopted me when I was two years old after he married my mother. I also learned that I had a biological father, a man that I never met. As my mother explained everything to me, I proceeded to unravel. My parents had split at a time when I was most vulnerable to the corruption from the disease of divorce that was inflicted on so many children of my generation. I had been trying my best to endure the trauma of this while attending middle school but was failing miserably. My life was on fire, and this revelation set me over the edge. I ran from my mother's room and shut myself in my room, crying uncontrollably. I felt betrayed that my life was a lie.

 

After a while, I gathered myself together and sat in silence in my room. I closed my eyes, let myself calm my mind, and control my body from shaking and crying. When I was composed, I spoke to God.

 

I prayed, "God, I don't know why this happened, but I promise you this: When I grow up, I will be there for them if I find out I have a child. I won't abandon them."

 

God heard my prayer and marked it in what I call His "Book of 'Member When?"


 

While driving in a panic, I pulled the phone from my pocket and dialed my mother. When she answered, I found a place to pull over and unburdened myself. I told her that I received a phone call from a friend who said I may be the father of her child. That child was nearly three years old, meaning not only was I potentially an instant parent, but I also would have missed three critical years. Together, we sat in shocked silence, the quiet passing between our two phones like ships at night. After a short bit of time, my mother broke the silence, reminding me that the most important thing I needed to do was talk to my wife about the situation. It struck me as odd that this was her initial response, but in reflecting, I figured it was due to the fog affecting my consciousness. I knew she was right that I needed to speak to my wife about this, but I was perplexed as to why she hadn't asked me what I planned to do about the news I had received. It was later that I realized that my mother knew exactly what I was going to do even before I did.   I had made a promise 18 years earlier, one that she was pretty aware of, thanks to our further conversations regarding my biological father. I was going to honor the marker because she had witnessed the effect being abandoned had on me and that I was the kind of person who would never do that to a child of mine.  

 

I thanked my mother for enduring my panic and promised to let her know how everything went. A DNA test would be necessary to be conclusive. If the DNA test came back that this child was mine, then there would need to be the obtaining of an attorney to set up the legality of adoption and custody arrangements. After all of this, would there be the integration of a new child, of my child, into the family?

 

But before this could happen, I had to speak to my wife. What I hadn't considered initially after the call, or especially when I was 12 years old, would be the additional costs of honoring this marker. I had assumed that if this scenario played out, it would be when I was a single man, free to decide for myself. This wasn't the case now. I had another person to consider and the impact it would have on her and the family she came from. As I walked up the stairs back to my apartment, I had to consider the genuine possibility that by gaining something from honoring the marker, I may also lose something. That potential loss would be my marriage. The thought of this terrified me in a way I have never been scared.


 

When I was 19 years old, I met my biological father for the first time, at least from my memory. He was a nice, personable man. He owned a few local businesses and had a family of his own. We had the opportunity to visit a few times after that initial meeting until I went to basic training a couple of years later. It was nice to learn about myself, considering that I had always felt out of place, especially after learning about him. However, as my military career began, I didn't hear from him despite him telling my mother he wanted to write to me and continue to get to know me. This continued throughout my service; questions about where I was stationed and my address were followed up with nothing. It became our thing.

 

Years later, I finally reconnected with him. As I had done myself, we did an official DNA test to confirm paternity. The result was what I expected. He was, indeed, my biological father. Afterward, we met a few times to discuss what to do going forward. I wasn't seeking a significant place in his life or anything to do with his now-expanded businesses. I truly wanted to meet his family, his two sons especially. I have two half-brothers I never met, and they had no idea I even existed. To do this, all my biological father had to do was tell his wife about me and, when she was comfortable, introduce us. We decided this was the right thing to do before meeting my two half-brothers. We shook hands on it. I remember being very excited that the hole in my life would be filled.

 

He never told his wife, at least to my knowledge, and from what I was told before he stopped speaking to me, he had only told one of his two sons. I never had the opportunity to see or speak to my biological father again. When he passed away in November 2021, more than ten years had passed since I last saw or spoke with him. He never met my wife or children.


His wife and sons made no attempt to reach out. Neither have I, and I'm not sure if I will. Sometimes the sins of the father need to be buried with him.


 

I entered the apartment to find my wife watching TV on the couch. She was excited to see me enter, but her face drew immediate concern when she saw my red, puffy eyes. She asked me what was wrong, and I responded that we needed to speak.

 

I told my wife about the phone call. That my friend had found out that the father of her son was not the father at all. How the guy had secretly taken her son for a DNA test, and when the results came back, he was not the father. I told my wife that the guy practically abandoned this child on the spot. I told my wife how my friend had a court-ordered DNA test done to verify that this wasn't some ploy to get out of his obligations. I shared what I had been told: that the results from the court-ordered test were the same as the initial test. I explained to my wife that my friend's favor was asking me to have a DNA test to know for sure that if I weren't the father, then this child would never have a father because the only alternative would have been an irresponsible blackout episode. I told my wife that my friend said I didn't have to be involved after the test. All she wanted was to know.  

 

I then had to explain to my wife that my relationship with my friend was more intimate than I had ever spoken of and that I never told her of this because I had put that part behind me when I met my wife. I had to explain that everything before her became irrelevant to me when I met my wife. Perhaps I could have told her, but I never imagined my marker would be called.  

 

But God was with me when calling in the marker. I told my wife my story about what I had learned when I was 12 years old and my promise to God at that moment. I explained to her the impact it had on my life up to this point, how I felt empty because my biological father abandoned me as a child and had told me he wanted to have a relationship only not to follow through. I explained why I needed to do this for this child so that he would not carry my sins as a father. It was, to me, the honorable thing to do. As I told her, I remember the calm over the room.

 

But I also said I understood my wife had a decision to make. That she married me believing I didn't have children. Now, here I was, an instant father to a three-year-old. I explained that whatever she decided, I would support her. I said all this, expecting a marriage of less than two years would end that night.

 

But what I didn't know was the marker had a component of faith included in it. While clearly upset by the news, my wife said only one thing to me that night.  

 

"We will take things as they come."


Bubbles
Our first time to hang as father and son.

And that is what happened. The DNA test came back that this child was indeed my son. Together, my wife and I went through legally adopting him. We endured being the non-custodial parents of this boy when his mother met someone and got married. We persevered when they would try to power-play and limit my time with my son because it interrupted their harmonious "family." We sacrificed our time for years because his mother would sign him up for activities that cut into our weekends. After all, we didn't want to punish this innocent child. We endured me taking three hours on a Friday to leave work, drive down to pick him up, and come back to our home because traffic was always awful.


Spooky

But the child noticed. He appreciated our sacrifices as he grew up and realized what we were doing. He considered my wife his mother, choosing to call her "Momma" on his own accord. He grew to appreciate and maximize the time he had with us. He grew up being treated no differently than the sons my wife and I had. He was never thought of as different or less than, even by my wife's family. He was always as much a grandson and nephew as were his two half-brothers from my wife and me. The reason: I spoke to my wife, and my wife answered.

 

When his mother divorced her husband, my son leaned on us more because he felt loved and protected by his father and stepmother, his "Momma." When he was starting 10th grade, he moved in with us and graduated from the high school my children and my wife attend and will attend when they reach that age. This child, our son, is a blessing in our life.

 

None of this would have happened had I not made that promise all those years ago and had I not honored that marker. None of this would have happened had I not spoken to my wife. But more than that, none of this would have happened had God not put faith in my wife's and my own lives. He added her to the marker, unbeknownst to me, because she was what I needed to stay true to my pledge.


 

No matter what a person believes, we all want to do the right thing for ourselves and others. We also know that doing the right thing can easily be cast aside, especially when it could forever change your path, even potentially adding incredible hardships. So, the question becomes this: What is the right thing to do?

 

I have a hole in my life that will never be filled because the man who fathered me chose not to include me in his life. But another hole in my life was never created because I decided to honor the promise I made as a 12-year-old. Given the choice, I would rather be the abandoned than the abandoner. If nothing else, I can at least sleep at night knowing that I made a difference in life other than my own.

 

God called my marker, and I answered. It was one of the best things I have ever done, and I have no regrets.


 

Looking back at this first memoir from almost four years ago, a lot about my mindset has changed, particularly about the role of fathers. In the past, I may have made excuses for guys I knew, even though I myself would never have made that choice.


Now, thanks in part to an evolution of sorts, I would never be ok with fatherly abandonment. There are too many examples of how fatherless children are negatively balanced.


I have been back and forth about my feelings toward my biological father after his passing. After the shock from learning of his passing (he died suddenly), I went from indifference to agitation to annoyance, to even outright disgust and disdain for the man. However, time and God healed my hurt. Yes, it was years of hurt caused by abandonment and not knowing and understanding why he chose to ignore me, to hide from me, to deny my existence. I'll never understand it.


I have forgiven him, but I cannot forget what he did. Or rather, what he did not do.


As for the two half-brothers I have never met...the jury is still out.


 

Men
Nic and the Old Man at Nic's high school graduation, in June 2016.

I am extremely proud of my son Nicholas. He is approaching his 26th birthday this year and is doing quite well for himself. He works extremely hard and is an attentive and caring sibling. He endured his challenges growing up in a split household, and at times, I wonder how alone he must have felt at times being the one sibling whose parents weren't together in two separate households (at the time.)


As he had become a man of his own, we talked from time to time about this chapter in my life. I hope he never has to experience what I did, but if he were to, I have no doubt he will step up.


I love you, son.

 

This piece in its original form will be added to the Athenaeum of the Unpublished.

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