Family, Issue: Secret
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Learning the Truth About My Real Father

Growing up, I never knew my name. I mean, I had a name but I never knew it because I was called “Piggy” since I was born. Story goes, when my mom gave me a bottle, I curled my hands and feet like pig’s hooves around it. How fucking adorable. Just call me bacon why don’t you?!

We lived in Crown Heights, Bedford Stuyvesant, & Prospect Heights, Brooklyn in the late 60s and early 70s. You could say my mom was a rolling stone and wherever she lay her hat was her home. By the age of 25 she had seven kids by six different daddies. Yeah, I know. My mom was rolling more than her hat back in the day. No judgment!

My Dad must have loved my mom because by the time they met, she’d already had three kids by three different men. He still wanted to be with her. I love my Dad for his persistence in getting with my mom but looking back, they broke up mainly because my mother continued her “rolling ways.” My Dad had had enough.

My mother was six feet tall and about 160 pounds of sexy. Gorgeous, with a wicked smile.  It was hard to resist her. In the ‘70s everything was hot pants and hip huggers and my mom wore both. The men kept knocking on her door and knocking her up. 

Even though my Dad was gone, he was still around. I never felt neglected. He would pick me up every other weekend, toting clothes he bought for me and extra cash for my mom. We would go to my cousins’ BBQ’s, or picnics, or just about anything fun. Sometimes I’d feel a tap on my shoulder and get pulled out of church. It was amazing. But it was always a surprise.

One day, when I was nine, he asked me if I wanted to go to Connecticut. I said an enthusiastic, “Yessss!” I knew as long as I was with him, I’d have a great time. I also misheard him and thought he said Coney Island. Connecticut was not Coney Island.

Driving to Connecticut was one of the longest rides I’d ever been on in my life. All I saw were trees and rocks and cars as we whizzed by on the highway. We were both dead silent on that ride. He stopped at Bradlee’s, the equivalent of a Walmart in its day, to buy clothes and incidentals I might need.

I felt like my Dad literally kidnapped me right off a Brooklyn street. No one came looking for me. I mean he didn’t illegally take me but no one asked my opinion.

So now, I guess, I lived in Connecticut.

I cried every night for a year because of the loneliness and isolation I felt. I sensed something was wrong with me.

Turns out I was actually sent to live with my Dad. My Mom was at home raising the other five kids while I was in Danbury, Connecticut, crying. It was clear to me — my mom didn’t want me.

So I learned how to fish and pick worms. I put my efforts into school and achieved a 12th grade reading level in the 7th grade. But what truly got me through was Saturday Night Live, Second City TV, and Laugh-In. I was able to forget my sadness watching John Belushi or Steve Martin be silly or Eugene Levy and John Candy or Jane Curtain. I escaped my loneliness through laughter and comedy.

My Dad was an alcoholic, but only on Fridays and Saturdays. During the week he was a teetotaler and quiet as a church mouse. On the weekends he would get wasted and try to cook; I always had to monitor him to make sure he didn’t burn the house down. I was the only child in the household. He always thought people were out to get him, so when the Jehovah’s Witnesses would show up, I assumed they were those people.

When I turned 20 I got the nerve up to ask my Mom, “Why didn’t you want me?” She was shocked that I felt that way and explained that she felt it was best I stay with my Dad while she dealt with a physically abusive husband. My Dad was supposed to send me back to Brooklyn, she told me, and he chose not to.

Every chance I spoke with her I reminisced about my Dad and she would have a distant look on her face. So I asked her, “Mom, whenever I speak about my father, you look like you’re holding back some information. What’s that about?” She always managed to change the topic.

The damage of feeling abandoned by my Mom was still there, and I knew she wasn’t being truthful with me about something.

Almost two decades later, at the age of 38, I visited my Mom and we had a girls-night-in. We laughed and reminisced about her childhood and if she had any regrets. She said she had none. But I had to ask again, did she cheat on my Dad before I was born or after?

She looked at me and now told me. “Well, I cheated on your Dad with this guy at my Uncle Stoolen’s job.”

My Mom’s admission was devastating but I had a strange sense of relief — my instincts had been correct. I had just started taking acting classes using the Sandford Meisner Acting technique, and using my newfound skills, I was able to release the pain through that moment.

I asked, “Uh, Momma do I look like him?”

I started daydreaming about all the times I’ve been mistaken for another brown-eyed girl with fat cheeks. What if my “real father” had more children and didn’t know about me? What if my real daddy have moneyyyyyy?

My mom snapped me out of my daydream and said, “Well, you kinda look like him!”

My mind was blown and I looked at her with disbelief. Here I am at 38 years old, with a whole new family out in the world and my Mom just gave me the key.

I had so many questions. I wanted to know in which way did I look like my “real daddy?”

I couldn’t wait to hear how I favored the guy who was my real father. I looked at my Mom with so much longing that when she said, “You have his forehead!” I just stared at her. I heard what she said but I couldn’t believe she would shatter my whole entire childhood with a damn “you got his forehead” proclamation.

My Mom was truly a rolling stone. I just couldn’t get the “forehead” imagery out of my mind. The only way you remember a man’s forehead is if he was always below the waist.

I took this scene to my acting class. I used my Mom’s confession to push my dramatic performance to a place I never was able to get to before. We were supposed to cry on command, and when I told this story I wailed so hard in class everyone was like, “What did you do to prepare!?”

I didn’t tell them the truth. And anyway, what is the truth?

I know who my real dad is. My dad lived in Connecticut. He taught me how to drive…ok, drive drunk. But, so what. I was a 7th grader reading at a 12th grade level because my Dad loved to read! I have his sense of humor and I have HIS forehead and no one is taking that away from me.

Filed under: Family, Issue: Secret

by

Joanna Briley

Brooklyn born, Connecticut raised Joanna Briley is a New York City-based actor, stand-up comedian and writer. Joanna manages the Brooklyn House of Comedy & has appeared on Lifetime TV's “Fempire” & a Mother’s Day ad campaign, "Watch What Happens Live" on Bravo TV with Andy Cohen, and several appearances on Wendy Williams “Street Talk” segment. She also created the Black Women in Comedy Festival which premiered during Black History Month & Women’s History Month. Follow her on IG Joanna M. Briley and Twitter @1FunnySistah2

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