March 2003, the beginning of the Iraqi war and where my story begins. Well not quite true it began over 13 years before but this part of the story begins here.
I was a teenager, in my last year of high school. Dealing with my GCSE exams, enjoying being the oldest in the school, finding out about the joys of teenage love and generally being a normal young girl.
At the time my mother and step-dad had just split up. My world as I had got used to at that point was changing dramatically and that of the world in the army was too. And that bothered me. In fact it bothered me a lot.
The reason for that being that my father is in the Army. My mother had got wind via my Aunty that he had been sent to Iraq as part of the millitary presence which was required in the country.
In my head he was a Soldier, a running around with green paint on his face, bushes hanging out of his helmet, gun in his hand type Soldier. I was scared. I was scared that the man who had brought me onto this planet, who I was connected to by the blood that pumped through my veins was in Iraq.
I was addicted to watching the TV, every time the news came on I would cry. When I started crying I couldn’t stop. Every single day another Soldier killed in action, was that him? I would hear the news reader say, “family have been informed”. But how would they inform all of his family? He didn’t know where I was!
This was the problem, the issue deep rooted in my tears and pain I was carrying around on my 16 year old shoulders. My father left when I was four. I didn’t have any contact with him after that. All I had were pictures of him I could look at every now and again.
Pictures of a man who looked just like me, but with short hair. Pictures of a man I would look for as I walked around the world I lived in. Pictures of a man I didn’t know, but I cried for.
For those of you who read my piece about my mother will know the relationship we have now but at the time she had had enough of me being upset. So she promised me she would drive me to where she thought my father’s mum lived.
I don’t remember most of the journey but I do remember pulling into the road. Driving slowly along the row of little seaside bungalows praying my mother would recognise the one that houses my Grandmother. Part of me was resigned to the fact she wouldn’t remember and it would all be a wasted journey.
But low and behold she claimed she had spotted it, so off my brother was bundled with my then boyfriend. Just me and my mother left. Stood looking at a little brown bungalow. It looked like a nice place, with lovely flowers and pretty nets on the window. My heart was racing as we walked up the drive and stood on the step at the front door. I don’t even remember who knocked or did we ring the bell? Anyway we were letting the lady inside know that someone was at the door.
I’m not sure she was quite prepared to see who it was at the front door! It was like when someone sees a ghost on a cartoon. But she went from flabbergasted to over joyed almost instantly. I couldn’t believe we had found her. My Grandma. My Father’s mum. It was wonderful.
She invited us in to the living room and made us a drink. As she talked to us and explained where my Father was she started rummaging through some belongings in a dresser she had in the living room. She pulled out two newspaper cuttings to show me.
The first was of me when I was around 6 years old taken in the local library when I had been pretending to be working in a coal mine as part of a project for school. And the second a photo from my school around a similar age. She had kept them all this time and looked at them to remind her of me. I was so overwhelmed with the love I felt from her that day.
Whilst we were there she gave me an address in Iraq that I could send a letter to my Father and a special envelope to use. She explained he was married to a nice lady and they had a boy together about 3 years old. Grandma didn’t see them much as they lived down South. We bid our farewells and left a very shell shocked old lady behind!
The weeks and months that followed turned out to be a rather busy time in my life and I ended moving out of my Mothers house. With all that going on my letter became more and more delayed. Soon enough came GCSE results day and I knew it was time to write my letter.
I though what better way to re-introduce myself than with my GCSE results! But it is easier said than done to write to a parent you haven’t seen for such a long time. I didn’t know him. He didn’t know me. I was scared. Scared if I said the wrong thing it would scare him off. If I came over all ridiculous he might decide not to reply. I just couldn’t cope with the potential rejection.
I sent the letter off with all of its many stamps and I waited. And waited. And waited. I had started my first day at College and I got a call on my mobile from my Nanna to say a rather funny looking letter had arrived for me. I was so excited to get home I don’t think I learnt a thing that day.
I got back and it was the letter I had been waiting for! It was from him! Every year on my birthday I had wished and prayed for an envelope to come with this handwriting on, and it never did and now this was here. (I also stupidly had this crazy idea every year just before my birthday that a massive present with a big red bow on would be delivered on my birthday but that never materialised either – sigh).
I took myself off to my old bedroom is been reallocated at my Nanna’s and read the letter. I was so emotional. I’m not sure how I read the words through the tears pouring from my eyes. I’m not even sure if they were as a reaction to what had been written or just the sheer relief that I’d even got a response.
There was a lot of explanation about what had happened all those years before, an intro to his life (including the fact he isn’t a soldier on the front line – phew), and an apology. I was grateful for those things but the thing I was most happy about (other than the Dad X at the end of the letter) was that he said he was happy this day had come.
I could not have been happier! I wrote back almost instantly and we exchanged a couple more letters before it was confirmed he would be returning home from Iraq and would be making his Christmas visit to my Grandma’s with his wife and son.
Oh god, the day was coming I would get to meet my dad. I was nervous. I was more nervous than I’d ever been and I think still been to this day! That includes one wedding and two births! There was going to be a gathering at my Aunty’s house on Boxing Day and I would meet him beforehand at my Grandma’s.
Christmas Day went by in a flash that year. I couldn’t even tell you what happened! I imagine there was probably turkey and presents. The came Boxing Day. I was up getting myself ready from some ridiculous hour, I’m always late and I didn’t want to be late for this. My hair was as perfect as I could make it as were my clothes I just didn’t want anything to go wrong.
I’d been and bought presents for everyone which included a lovely pair of Dad socks! Well start as you mean to go on! And we headed off for the half an hour journey to my Grandma’s. I felt sick. I wanted it to be perfect. I wanted him to love me. To see me and it melt his heart.
I wanted my dad to be my dad so badly and kept imagining what he looked like. I knew he would be tall as I’m tall and I’d been told he was tall when he was younger. I assumed he had blue eyes like me and mouse my brown hair. I just wasn’t like my mum at all.
We pulled up at the house and I could feel my heart pounding in my ears, butterflies were floating all around my tummy and there was a stone at the pit of it I couldn’t shift.
I walked into my Grandma’s hall and gave her a big Christmas kiss, and she led me into the living room. And there he was. This tall man in his forties stood there looking at me. My heart fell to that place all the butterflies had been congregating. On the floor of the room a young boy with blonde hair and a lady playing with him.
My Grandma flung my presents towards me to open but I was just flummoxed. In my shocked state I just started handing out Christmas presents I didn’t know what else to do I was put on the spot. I’m now handing a man who I’ve only uttered the word hello to a Christmas present with the word DAD emblazoned on it!
Obviously the tension was a s bad for him as it was for me and after handing me a gift in return he headed for the kitchen. I’m not sure where I expected my Grandma to put us all but I hadn’t quite expected to be greeted with him as soon as I’d walked in like that I was over rawed by it all.
I went in the kitchen where we were finally alone and I just cuddled him. I can feel the emotion now. It burned through my veins like fire. My Dad was cuddling me at last. I was in his arms. A place I hadn’t been since I was four years old and I felt like I was as home. I didn’t want it to end I wanted my dad for me again.
We broke the embrace and talked. And cried. And talked. It was so weird to see a man in front of me I felt like I knew but I knew nothing about. He made my cup of tea and amazingly we took it exactly the same way.
We went back in and did all of the introductions again properly this time before we headed off to my Aunty’s house. I was like Lindsay Lohan in Parent Trap saying Dad at every given opportunity. I was like a lap dog I wanted to follow him around the house.
But after months of waiting and watching the war unfold on the news, I’d done it. I’d finally met my Dad!
This post was originally written for meetothermums.