When I was pregnant with my first child, my father gave me two guidelines for naming the baby. “First,” he said, “Let the name be gender specific. Second,” and this one he gleaned from experience, “Please, spell it the traditional way.” He is Mike, Michl actually, spelled M-I-C-H-L and this had been a source of some frustration for him his entire life. While I appreciated his advice (let me tell you, pregnant women can’t get enough advice) in the end I broke both rules.
It is not by birth, or adoption, that I consider this man to be my father, it is rather, by sheer good luck on my part.
My mother died suddenly when I was seventeen. My first father was killed in an accident at work when I was three and since my mother had never remarried, my fifteen-year-old brother and I were orphans.
Generally, when children are orphaned a family member comes forward to take them in. This didn’t happen in our case. I am sure that everyone had good reasons for not taking us in but I can tell you this: abandonment, even for very good reasons, feels awful. When the state said that they were going to place us in foster care if there were no other takers a former boyfriend of my mother’s stepped forward saying, “ If no one else wants them, I would be honored to take them.”
In a moment where the pain grief and of being unwanted felt almost as if it were crushing my very soul, a man whose only tie to us was having dated our mother, said he would be honored to take us.
And he did. And he has, for the past sixteen years been everything a dad could be in good times and bad. He was the cheerleader for me even while I made unpopular decisions about my cancer treatment, he walked me down the aisle when I go t married, and he drove 350 miles to be there to see his first granddaughter, Emily Michl Simonson, be born.
This has lead to the truth that I live my life by: I believe that no matter how hard or fast I fall, someone will be there to catch me. That even when the obvious candidates have stepped away from the race, the settling dust will uncover someone who would feel not just obligated, but honored to lend a hand, or a family, or a name.
And so, that is why, despite my father’s best advice, he and his first-born granddaughter share the thing that has brought him much grief. Perhaps in this passing on of the name we can change that. The name is for me, and I hope will one day for Emily, a reminder of a saved past and a promise for the future. It is a gift given and one so gratefully received.
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