The Dads We Were Given

Kathy Wells McMenamin - Lafayette, Colorado
Entered on January 29, 2008
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: family, gratitude

I believe in my dad. He did not contribute physically to my creation. I was adopted when I was three months old. He did not want me at first. He told my mom he was not comfortable taking on somebody else’s kid. He felt tremendous guilt because a genetic condition rendered him sterile and unable to give my mother the children they both so deeply desired.

My dad was not a highly educated man. He finished high school and apprenticed in a machine shop at the Washington Navy Yard. When I was in elementary school he transferred to the Goddard Space Flight Center where he made parts for the moon buggy and the Hubble space telescope. He was a hard worker and, after the idea of being an adoptive father took root, a great dad.

My dad chatted with everyone, a trait that caused me great embarrassment when I was a teenager. He would strike up conversations in line at the grocery store, in the seats at the movie theater, and at all the campgrounds we ever frequented. Once, while we were visiting a small airport, my dad talked a local pilot into giving me a ride in his airplane. I am amazed that he trusted a complete stranger enough to let me go, but he did. He never said “no” when I tested my own wings, whether somersaulting on the front lawn or taking off in the family station wagon to go to college four states away.

My dad saved lives. Once while swimming in a lake in Iowa, he rescued a drowning boy. To my dad it wasn’t a “big deal”—it was just what you did. Then there was the time our next-door neighbor’s house caught fire. My brother (who is also adopted) saw the flames and woke my dad to tell him. Dad told my mom to call the fire department and then he went next door to help. He opened the front door and called out. Our neighbor answered but he could not see her because of the thick smoke. So Dad stretched out on the floor with his feet hooked on the doorframe and kept calling to her to come toward his voice. Eventually he felt her hand and pulled her out of the burning, smoke-filled home. He stayed to assist the firemen when they came and only after my mom pointed out that he was only wearing his skivvies did he go home.

My dad fixed things. He fixed the car when it broke down. He repaired the hot water heater when it stopped making hot water. He kissed skinned knees and mended the skateboards that caused them. I don’t remember anything he couldn’t fix except maybe his own appetite for good food, and the brain-stem stroke that took him in his sixty-fourth year.

As I said good-bye to my dad in the Neurology ICU, I told him that I loved him. I told him that I didn’t need to find my “real parents” because he and Mom were my real parents. I thanked him for being my dad.

I believe, sometimes, the best dads are the ones we are given.

Kathy Wells McMenamin lives in Lafayette, Colorado, with her husband, Mike, and their two daughters. At her mother’s urging, Ms. McMenamin researched her biological parents’ health history. She learned that her biological father, who had reluctantly relinquished her at birth, died in a car accident in 1983. His family told Ms. McMenamin that he had carried her baby picture in his wallet for years. She considers herself lucky to have had two amazing fathers.