Lessons from My Father(s)

My father Kova Meredith

Today is Father’s Day.

It’s  a time when those who have one remember and (ideally) honor their fathers, those who had one remember their fathers, and those who had none mourn their losses.

In my work with juvenile delinquents, it’s common to talk to kids who’ve never met their fathers. Sometimes, their moms don’t know who or which one he was. Other moms, like mine, deliberately cut contact between the child and father.

Such a shame. Everyone needs a father.

What is a father, exactly? I looked at Dictionary.com today http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/father and found the following:

fa·ther

[fahther]  Show IPA

noun

1.

a male parent.

2.

a father-in-law, stepfather, or adoptive father.

3.

any male ancestor, especially the founder of a racefamily,or lineprogenitor.

4.

a man who exercises paternal care over other persons;paternal protector or provider: a father to the poor.
My first father experience was my mother’s final husband. He appeared in my life when I was two or three years old and didn’t technically leave until I was finishing high school.  I say technically because never fully there. Many years younger than my mother, uneducated, and a hard drinker, this father inflicted a lot of harm. I’m pretty sure he didn’t mean to,  but he couldn’t ever seem to stop himself.  He wasn’t cut out to be a role model, but he did provide financially, and I’m confident he loved me. And because of his greatly negative impact, I made up my mind to never expose my kids to out of control men with good intentions once my marriage collapsed.  So that was good.
When I was twenty, I met my real father, Kova Meredith. He was seventy by then, and didn’t say too much.  But when he did speak, it was worthwhile. “No one has the right to hit another person,” he once told me.  That was a stunning departure from how I’d grown up, and this simple sentence later inspired a lot of change for me. My father wasn’t perfect, but he was transparent and accountable. He was a hard-working, plain-spoken man, happily playing with his kids long before it was chic for fathers to do so. He had to work at being a patient parent because it wasn’t modeled to him by his own dad.  To that end, he was a successful man, and I admired him for it.
Several years later, I met Hank, or Charles Henry Rosenthal. 
Hank Rosenthal
 Then, deep in my twenties and already a single parent, I hadn’t realized truly wonderful life could be.  I met him through his wife. Hank had been a prolific writer and successful oil lobbyist, and I met him just as he was about to retire. There was something about being around him. I felt safe and at peace. Hank was ornery, greeting me regularly with , “Hi, Guy! That extra weight you’ve put on looks great!”  Ouch.
 But he shared more comforting messages, too.  “Never worry,” he’d tell me. “My mother always told me worrying is just borrowing tomorrow’s trouble.”  Or perhaps my favorite, “Never miss an opportunity to keep your mouth shut,” which appeared at the top of Anchorage Daily News’ Finance section two years after his death.  Hank had great impact on a lot of people. 

But so do all fathers.

To my daughters, I wish for you a borrowed father like Hank.

To those who haven’t met their fathers, I sure hope you can find yours. 

And to all dads, Happy Father’s Day.

Your importance can never be overestimated.

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Finding My Family/ Interview With My Favorite Locator

In late May of 1985, I received the gift of a lifetime when my dear friend, attorney Ira Uhrig, located my biological father. Kova Meredith was living on a farm in rural Kentucky, and had recently rented a home in Louisville. I was twenty. My father was seventy.
 
 Thanks to Ira, I gained a father, siblings, aunts, and uncles that I’d never known.  Now a judge in Washington, Ira Uhrig tells about the experience that changed our lives, and restored my birth name, changing me from Libby Ponder to Lizbeth Meredith.
 
Q. How did you become interested in reuniting families?
While in my second year of college, I had the opportunity to hear of an organization that was forming for the purpose of helping adopted parents and children reunite.  They were originally called “Birthright”, but they changed their name when they learned that a pro-life group already used that name.  They became W.A.R.M., for Washington Adoption Reunion Movement.  I knew my roommate and his sister were both adopted, so I convinced him to attend the meetings.  

Within a short while, through the considerable efforts of many people (and I am honored to have played a small role), he was able to locate his father.  When he and his father reunited and I had a chance to spend time with them, I was struck with awe as to how much they were alike – not just in physical resemblance, but in posture, speech, mannerisms, and in every way imaginable, yet they had never had any contact whatsoever or spent one moment of time together before the reunification. I then took it upon myself as a mission of sorts to do whatever I could to help facilitate this type of reunification whenever possible.

What were the first steps back then in finding a missing family member?

Back in the ’70s and ’80’s, it involved a good bit of detective work…numerous phone calls, searching out newspaper articles, mailing letters to possible relatives or even past business contacts.  It sometimes took many months to even come up with a clue.

Of course, things like the WARM Confidential Intermediary System make this all much easier, but I dealt with many cases as an attorney where the adoptee or the parent did not want to use the services of any organization, perhaps because these organizations were still relatively new back then and there was still a large degree of societal opposition to reunifications.  Fortunately, these organizations are much better-known these days there is less hesitance for the parties to seek out their parents or children, and society is recognizing these reunifications as something that can be very important to the birth parent, to the child, and to the adoptive parents as well.

When my friend Libby told me she had been adopted, I asked her if I could help her search for her father.  She had very little information about him …only his name and her city of birth.  Libby was one of my best friends in the world, and I would have done anything for her, so though this seemed a daunting task with so little information, I set out to find her dad, thinking all the while that I might meet with failure, but not accepting failure as an option.

I’d like to say that it was my brilliant investigative techniques that led me to finding Libby’s dad, but it was simply luck and/or divine intervention.  The very first thing I did was to call directory assistance in the town where I expected he might be living (thinking I might find some relatives who could help me), but I was completely surprised to find that he had a listed phone number.  Imagine further the joy I felt when I called that number, spoke to him, and told him that his daughter would like to meet him.  He told me he had been looking for her for 20 years.

Oh…about the divine intervention part, I should add that had I made my call to directory assistance just an hour earlier, I would have come up with nothing, as he just had his phone service connected that day and it was a brand new listing.   In fact, my call was the very first call to that number, and he had assumed it was the phone company calling to see if the phone was working properly.

I have done many reunifications that were far more difficult, but I can tell you that reuniting Libby and her dad was quite probably the most rewarding thing that I have ever done in my life.  To this day I keep in my desk a copy of Libby’s Name Change Order that was entered on June 7, 1985 (exactly 27 years ago to the day as I type this) which allowed her to once again bear her birth name.

First reunion with my father and some of my siblings, June, 1985.

















How has technology changed the location process?

In the years that have passed, the Internet makes these type of searches much easier…I suppose that is obvious.  And the  widespread use of the Confidential Intermediary System in my State is a great help as well. 

When I was sworn-in as a Superior Court Judge (coincidentally, in the same courtroom where I got the name change for Libby), I became the Judge in my county who is primarily responsible for all of the Confidential Intermediary requests.  And each time I sign one, I am able to re-live to some extent the joy I shared with my college roommate, with numerous friends and clients, and, most of all, with my friend Libby, in reuniting parent and child — sometimes for the first time ever.

The Honorable Judge Ira Uhrig
The Meredith Family Reunion, June, 2011.


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A Mother’s Day Thank You to the ROSE Fund

Mother’s Day last weekend was especially terrific.

My youngest daughter graduated from college in New Mexico the day before, so I was there to spend it with her.  It’s been at least five years since we were together for Mother’s Day, and she went to great lengths to make it special. We agreed it would be more convenient to celebrate in advance of the actual day, when restaurants and the like are over-crowded.

The morning began with coffee. Then pedicures. We got a massage together, followed by an ionic cleanse, and lunch at a Turkish restaurant. Such fun.

On the actual Mother’s Day, we drove to my sister’s gorgeous farm in a nearby town and relaxed with her and her husband. Again, so special.

That night, back at the dorms, I caught up on emails and blog links. I read about the R.O.S.E. Fund’s success in helping Crusita Martinez reconstruct her entire face after a former boyfriend threw battery acid on her face as a punishment for leaving her when she was just 18 years old. Now, seven years later, she is mother to a little girl who understands that her mother’s strength is her beauty.

http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/lifestyle/2012/05/13/mother-day-mom-fights-back-against-domestic-violence/

What a wonderful story of survival.

I’m partial to the R.O.S.E. Fund.  They helped me reconstruct my life, and, as their acronym indicates, they’ve helped scores of survivors in Regaining One’s Self Esteem.

Founded it 1992,  the New England-based  non-profit has directed resources to helping survivors of domestic violence while raising public awareness about the issue. In the 90’s, the R.O.S.E. Fund gave awards to a few nominated women a year, and in 1998, I was one of those lucky few.

At the time, I worked as a domestic violence advocate full-time, but couldn’t afford  medical insurance for my daughters. I hoped to complete a graduate degree in psychology and write a book about my experiences.

Then came the call. I had won a $10,000 R.O.S.E. Award. The girls and I were flown to Boston, where we were presented with the award at a banquet. I gave a talk in front of 500 attendants, including the entire team of the New England Patriots. It was a dream come true.

Thanks to the award, I finished my degree in psychology, which allowed me to get a job that provided medical benefits for my daughters. That allowed me to give up my paper route and focus on writing. Which allowed me to complete my book.

Today, the R.O.S.E. Fund focuses on helping victims of domestic violence who need reconstructive surgery,    and assists educators with tools they can use in high schools to prevent and/or address teen dating violence.

To me, their gift was enough to give me a leg up without promoting any kind of dependency upon them.

Thanks to the R.O.S.E. Fund, I had the courage to chase a dream. And watching that transformation  helped my daughters chase theirs.

Would you like more information on how you can help?  Feel free to peruse the link below.

http://www.rosefund.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=7&Itemid=18

Happy Mother’s Day and Father’s Day to all.

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Celebrating a Gift

Today is cause for a celebration.
Exactly twenty three years ago, after nearly 70 hours of labor, my youngest daughter Meredith was born. At home.  The only attendants were her toddler-sister and her alarmed father.

 

The midwife set to deliver her had left to refill the oxygen tank and was side-tracked by a lunch offer.  I waited for her as long as I could, until the pain in my back took a sudden turn, and very quickly, Meredith was born.  The eight pound, bruised and battered baby looked up at me, and it was love.
Other mothers assured me that I wouldn’t ever remember the pain of labor.

I remember.  Like it were yesterday.     

But what I remember more was how quickly my squalling baby turned into a feisty toddler that turned into a rebellious teenager that turned into a kind, ambitious,  and gracious young woman.

Motherhood (parenthood) is a gift. There’s nothing I’ve ever wanted more, or been less prepared to do.  No job I have worked harder at, and still fumbled. And there is absolutely nothing that has given me greater joy.  I’m so fortunate to have been a part of this child’s life.
Happy Birthday, Meredith Eleni.
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Three Reasons to Locate Your Missing Family Members

Did you get a chance to watch the television show The Locator on We TV before it went off the air?  The one where investigator Troy Dunn found missing loved ones and filmed the reunions?  His tagline was You can’t find peace until you find all the pieces.

That was true for me. One of the best decisions I ever made in my youth was to find my missing father.  I was still young enough that I didn’t fully realize how much growing up without him hurt me. Or how growing up hearing scary stories about him shaped not just the way I felt about him, but how I felt about myself.

Of course, when I located my father (thanks to my attorney friend Ira) in May of 1985, I found out I had a whole passel of siblings I hadn’t known about; five brothers and one sister.  I had more aunts and uncles than I’d ever imagined, and cousins galore. And I learned that much of what I’d heard about my father and why my parents split simply weren’t true. I also learned that despite what my mother told me, my father had wanted me,  and didn’t know where I’d disappeared to the day he went to exercise his visitation and I’d gone missing.

Years later, I met a brother on my mom’s side I hadn’t seen since I was a toddler. Again, it was magic. I followed up by contacting family I’d lost contact with for one reason or another.  Each reunion was a gift all its own.Twenty-seven years after my first family reunion, the connections I’ve made with family continue to add color and dimension to my life, and I often tell others with missing family members, “Look him (or her, or them) up! What are you worried about?”

In truth, locating missing family comes with inherent risks of rejection, disappointment, and the likelihood that unsavory family secrets get revealed. But the reasons for finding missing family trump those, in my experience.
Wanda and Me 003
Sister Wanda in Anchorage
Aunts and Uncles, Kentucky
074

Vincent, David, LauraGrace, Gardnar, and Danny Meredith
Tana and Mere 024
Sister Maddy, brother Harold, and daughter Meredith

Three Reasons to Find Your Missing Family

  1. Because you want answers- to your family history, health history, and to know what part of you is due to nature vs. nurture.  For me, getting to know my whole family helped me know and accept myself easier.
  2. Because we all need connection. Without them, we become prickly, weird, and depressed. You might unearth more weirdness by finding your missing family. But you may very well expand your capacity to love.
  3. Because you’re dying. Not to put too fine a point on it, but we all are, beginning the process as soon as we’re born.  With your days being numbered, don’t you want to know who’s out there with your DNA?

When my oldest daughter began dating Vince, an old friend of hers from high school, I learned two things about him. He had cancer. And he grew up in a splintered family like I had. He told me his mom had been a young Filipina immigrant when she married his father, a tall and rough American soldier.

Vince had vivid memories of his father terrorizing his mother after they separated. He remembered her not being allowed to exercise her custody rights, and remembered her moving out of state.
“I want to know my family,” he told me. “I want to know them all, the Filipino side, my siblings, all of them. Can you help me?”
I was thrilled to be asked.

But before I got very far, Vince’s health took a sharp turn for the worse. In February of 2010, he told me he thought he was dying.  Within the next eight weeks,   his body was ravaged by tumors.  He lay in the middle of his family’s living room while they smoked cigarettes and played the television loudly. Unable to eat or speak, his face hallowed and his eyes sunk.  He was in much pain, and I privately wondered why he fought the inevitable for so long.

It turned out that his mother had been granted permission by his father to see him one last time. A dozen years had passed since she had seen him. Vince’s mother hadn’t been permitted access to Vince was a small boy, and though she called and sent packages irregularly, it wasn’t the same.

vinceandcass
Vince’s mother arrived in Alaska on May 14th and was given an hour or more to visit. Though he could no longer communicate verbally, Vince relaxed into his mother’s embrace. He died many hours later, on May 15, 2010.

http://main.acsevents.org/site/TR/RelayForLife/RFLCY16GW?pg=entry&fr_id=75351

If Vince had some assurance he’d get to meet his Filipino family, be they good, bad or indifferent, would he have lived longer?  Lived happier?  We’ll never know.  I do know that finding mine changed everything, and like Troy Dunn promised, I found peace.

Do you have stories of finding missing family members that you’d like to share?  Or have family that you’re thinking about finding? Leave a comment below.

Holiday Joy




This holiday season passed by much better than I’d ever hoped.
Every year since I can remember, I’ve dreaded the holidays. By October, I’m praying I could wake up and it be January 2nd. Forget Halloween, Thanksgiving. Really forget Christmas, and skip the Happy New Year. Please.
But at the end of 2011, not only was I looking forward to traveling to Vietnam and Laos, I was in the thick of planning an in-service for some of the kids at the youth detention center I work at who would be spending their own holidays in custody.
Some of them come from loving families with rich traditions. Most do not.
On any given day in our detention center, we house juveniles who are orphaned, abused, and/or neglected. A good percentage of them don’t know who their father is, or haven’t seen him for years.
So getting some local artists to give workshops to motivate our detained kids and teach them a new skill seemed like an easy way to make a positive difference in their lives, and remind them that one day they would be released to a community that cared. After meeting with detention staff, we titled mini-conference for kids Bring the Outside In.
Did I say it would be easy? Not so much.
It turns out, a lot of people are busy or traveling on holidays. Who knew? So although I know many talented writers, artists, and musicians, it looked as though my hope would never materialize due to scheduling challenges.
But in the end, several amazing and generous volunteers came forward. Restaurateur Barry Yabyabin from KLT Diner showed the kids how to cook a healthy and inexpensive Filipino dish, pancit. My dear friend and comic genius Lee Post taught drawing. Amber Rose and her assistant Anne Freitag led the kids in Scottish Country Dancing. And Trey Josey and Kima Hamilton from Brave New Alaskan Voices mesmerized the kids with the art of the spoken word.
The kids were thrilled. But what I loved most was watching the volunteers, tentative at the beginning of their workshops, get energized teaching the kids a skill that might very well contribute to the staff’s rehabilitative efforts.
We all have some gift to offer the people around us. The trick is finding it and connecting it with the person(s) who need it.
Christmas of 2010 helped me turn a corner. Gifts versus presents. Memories versus madness.
I’m already planning Christmas of 2012.
Much appreciation to the volunteers.
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