One of my earliest, most startling memories was being told that my father was not my father. All the other children had a mama and a dada. I had a mama and Billy. I figured something was different when I was 5 and started to ask questions. That’s when my mom told me as kindly as she could. “Billy is not your real father. You grew in his heart and he adopted you when you were 2 years old. He chose you as his little girl because he loves you”.
It was difficult to process as I was so young. Only years later I took it up with her again. Turns out my biological father was a drug addict. My mother left the relationship when she found out and only realized she was pregnant a few weeks later. Although she never wanted to exclude him she did so because it was best for us. She met Billy when I was 7 months old and they married when I was 2. He is the only father I have ever known and is the kindest man I know. I am his child and he is my father. At night when he kisses me goodnight he whispers, “to the moon and back little girl” in my ear. It’s our secret and melts my heart.
As the years disappear I often wonder about my biological father, especially now that I am getting married. Dave and I met 3 years ago and fell in love. I really want to fill in the only missing area of my life. I want my father at my wedding. I asked my mother if she would object to me finding my father. She looked me straight in the eye and said “Go for it Anna. Just don’t expect too much”. She helped me look and finally – using his family’s old address we were able to find his details.
I sit trembling with the number in my hand. “Do you want me to call?” I shake my head – scared to speak in case my voice breaks. “Ok”. My mother smiles and her and Billy each hugged me tight. “To the moon and back little girl” he whispers. They sit outside where I can see them and call to them easily. Taking a huge breath – I dial.
A man answers. My heart is beating through my chest.
“Hello, can I speak to Shaun please?” I manage to say sounding more confident than I am.
“Its him speaking. Who is this?”
“Its Anna speaking. I’m your daughter” I went on to explain that my mother Carol had not told him and that now I wanted to make contact. He was quiet.
“Are you sure? I mean..”
“Yes” I wait feeling faint. The next few words will determine our entire relationship for the rest of our lives.
“Well that’s fantastic!” he says, crying softly. I burst into tears and my mother and Billy came running. “Its ok” I manage to squeak out. “He’s happy!” Their relief is evident. My mother takes the phone and speaks quietly to Shaun – explaining everything. My mom is scared he is angry, but he understands. She wants to know what his life is like now. They speak for ages.
We agree to meet the next day as he only lives half an hour away. It’s like looking in a mirror. He hugs mom and warily shakes Dave’s hand which turns into a brief, uncomfortable hug.
He was in a terrible place years ago and understands my mother’s need to protect me. He admits to being a drug addict but is now clean for more than 5 years. Sadness and guilt pours out of him, like a grey river when he speaks about it.
“All I can do is focus on the future – I can’t keep looking back”. Billy whose brother had died at 24 of a drug overdose feels his pain. They spend many hours chatting around the fire about the heartache they have endured.
I introduce Shaun to Dave and we invite him to the wedding. He’s so excited to be included and immediately agrees saying he is honoured to walk me down the aisle. I notice the brief but intense flash of pain in Billy’s eyes.
Our big day arrives. Shaun had been part of my life for just over 6 months now and is a permanent fixture in our home. Him, Dave and Billy are like the 3 Musketeers – always laughing and joking. I can sense the amount of love these men have for me and I am sincerely grateful.
The day of the wedding comes, and the excitement is extreme. I sleep late. Have a long bubble bath. The morning passes in a blur of flowers, giggles, tears of joy and sneaky champagne just for us girls. My toes and fingernails painted and am waited on hand and foot. What a perfect gift from my loving family. It’s wonderful and I vow to remember and enjoy every single second of it.
“It’s time” mother says, coming to the room for one last cuddle. She arranges my veil and checks my lipstick and hers. The photographer is all around us, getting me to pose alone and with my mom. I didn’t mind. “I promise I won’t cry” she says – her eyes shiny and bright. “I love you so much Anna” she says stroking my curls behind my ear. I know that she is thinking of the years gone by and what we have been through.
“Thank you for everything mom. I am who I am because you are who you are” I say choking on emotion. One last hug and she leaves. I have a few minutes alone until Shaun comes in. He looks so good in his charcoal suit. Freshly shaved with a lovely yellow rose on his jacket. “You are exquisite” he says, “your mother and Billy have done a magnificent job”. The tears stream down his face. “I have to stop crying or I’m going down the aisle tear-streaked”. I laugh. We hug, and I can’t believe how blessed I am.
Sniffing, wiping his tears and clearing his throat he gallantly offers me his arm. I take it with a smile and some deep breaths. We are ready. This is it! I am beyond excited. Our wedding is under the trees in a lovely garden, filled with singing birds, dappled sunlight and a light breeze which carries the smell of jasmine and roses. The sky is cornflower blue with a few cotton clouds just to make it picturesque and perfect.
We start off down the aisle as the first few notes of “Here Comes the Bride” start to play. Everyone is looking at us and I can see my mom and Billy their faces shining with pride. It’s magical.
Suddenly Shaun stops a thoughtful look on his face – I’m confused. “What’s wrong?” I ask feeling uneasy.
“Wait here please” he says. “I’ll just be a minute”.
“I…” wait he shows me with his hands. Now I am really confused – where’s he going? I can’t see anything wrong – everything is in its place and working. The guests all start whispering and some frown in confusion.
“What’s going on?”
“Why did they stop?”
Shaun takes off down the aisle – confident and quickly. He stops next to my mother leaning in to grab Billy by the arm. “Please come with me?” he asks. The guests are now dead quiet. The air thick with anticipation. No-one makes a sound as they wait to see what’s going to happen next.
My mother stares at Shaun, wondering what’s going through his mind. Billy hesitates, looking puzzled. “Please” Shaun says again holding out his hand. Billy stands and goes with Shaun. Shaun stops in front of me, taking Billy by the hand and places my hand in his. He walks to my other side and takes my hand. I understand. Shaun is giving Billy the greatest gift he can. A gift of thanks, appreciation and love.
“Music please” Shaun says – his voice cracking with emotion. I look up at these 2 men – these men who are my fathers. And I weep. Billy stands straight, but the tears are pouring down his face. Shaun’s too. Not a single person at my wedding is untouched by this act of complete and utter kindness. Shaun realises that this lovely man had been there for me as he never could be. That he has loved me as his own and he is acknowledging this and thanking him.
We walk slowly down the aisle hand-in-hand. All three of us – our raw emotion on our faces. I have never felt so blessed or so loved in my entire life.
Shaun lifts my veil, kisses me gently holding my face and walks away.
Billy turns to me, kisses my cheek and whispers “to the moon and back little girl”.
My mother never managed to keep her promise.