Traces of My Birth Dad | Marion Ruybalid
I was sitting in my living room with my husband Tim, and both of his parents Mark and Lynne watching Jim Gaffigan tell his joke called Four Kids. A section of the joke stood out to me. When he talked about the male contribution to babies he said, “I helped too for like five seconds doing the one thing I think about twenty-four hours a day.” Mark and Tim chuckled.
My husband Tim and his parents all looked clearly related. When I met Tim’s mother Lynne, I was picking her up from the airport and driving her to a class she was taking. We had never met. She and I planned the entire thing over the internet.
How will I know who you are?
I look a lot like Timothy, but I have strawberry blonde shoulder length hair.
I could not imagine picking out a woman from a crowd by a few familiar facial features.
I am not sure why I had not made a sign with her name on it like limo drivers, but I hoped her description would be enough. The airport baggage claim was packed. About three flights had arrived at around the same time and I looked at all the signs to find a flight from Ontario, CA to Seattle, WA. There was a woman with blonde hair waiting for her bags, but Lynne had said strawberry blonde.
When I turned my head, another woman was walking towards me. She smiled and I recognized the dimple in her cheek. It was identical to Tim’s.
“Marion,” she said.
“Yes,” I said.
We made our way to the car.
A few months after I picked up Lynne from the airport, Tim’s dad came to visit him at college. I imagined that because Tim and his mom looked so much alike, his dad might not look like him at all. Tim had told me his dad was part Basque and he had dark brown hair.
I was walking downtown with one of my friends when I noticed Tim and his dad eating lunch at a table outside one of the restaurants. I saw the back of his dad’s head first. The swirl at the crown of his head was identical to Tim’s and where his dark brown hair hit his neck matched Tim as well. His profile surprised me even more because even though he did not have the dimple, the side of Tim’s face was the same as his.
When I watched Tim’s parents on my living room couch, I compared notes of what parts of each of them gave Tim his look. I had done this several times with our own children. My son Joel had Tim’s grandmother’s nose. My daughter Charis’ face looked like Tim’s cousin’s daughter. Isaiah and Arthur were mini versions of Tim. Bria looked like Tim’s sister Julia. Levi’s little face looked like Great Grandfather Levi, Tim’s father’s father.
It was not that I didn’t see parts of me in my kids, but I saw much less. Arthur and Ellianna had a double swirl like me at the crown of their heads. Charis seemed to have my build. Dominic’s eye shape was similar to mine and he was born with wispy hair like me. Sometimes when Arthur looked down, I caught a glimpse of my own infant face that I have seen in my baby pictures.
My whole life, I looked in the mirror and only imagined my birth mother. I wanted to think that I had her hair, eyes, and the same chin. People would know I was her daughter because I looked like her as a kid. I had been told when I was around four-years-old that my birth mother was around fifteen-years-old. She was a village girl who had worked in a home for a wealthier family in Dhaka. At times, I felt like something bad had happened to her, but it was not until I was eighteen that I would know the more.
When I was four, I used to cry, curled up in my adopted mother’s arms.
“Why did my mother leave me?” I asked.
“She loved you so much that she wanted you to have the best life possible,” my mom said.
“What did she look like?”
“The place where you were born had a photo of her and I saw her once,” my mom told me, “She looked a lot like you.”
I thought about this conversation often and fantasised about one day bumping into a woman who looked like an older version of me on an airplane or at a restaurant.
I knew logically I had a birth father, but I did not think of myself as looking like him. I did not cry for my birth father or even ask about him. Even as a small child, I sensed he was absent. My birth father might have been Bangladeshi or maybe he was white. One of my sons had hazel eyes and another had gray ones. I knew that was rare amongst most people in Bangladeshi and I wondered if I could be part white.
I could not remember how old I was, but I had this weird dream about my birth father that really felt like it was a true memory. My mother was cleaning in the foyer of a home near a stairway. My mother and father were in a fight when I was in the womb. He kneed her in the stomach and I felt my small body curl up. In the dream, he was dark and blurred. I never saw his face, but I knew he was angry.
I had not asked my parents about how to locate the home where I was born or my information about my birth mother’s village, but they knew I was curious. During a meal with my parents, my mom mentioned casually that my birth mother told the home where I was born she was taken advantage of a man in a house where she worked. The conversation was brief. In Bangladesh, it was legal for a father to murder his daughter for such a disgrace. Being pregnant was not just far from ideal, but a way of losing one’s family. It did not seem like rape was an exception. I wondered if she was still alive or if giving birth to me had ended her life.
Could an unborn child know that her mother was raped? The dream I once had about my birth father was before I knew more details about her story. I questioned my own ability to have subconscious thoughts in the womb. Babies were supposed to be able to recognize their father’s voices, but I sensed his rejection. Had she even told him about me? Was this why I did not long to know my birth father or try to figure out if I looked like him? Even after I saw so much of my own husband in my babies, I still could not think about the possibility that I might look more like my birth father.
I thought of my kids and their resemblance to people on their dad’s side of the family. I thought of my own father’s side of the family. People who may or may not have known I ever existed. It would be impossible to think that I did not look like some of them. I carried traces of a family that was not united and could not be tidily written onto the branches of a family tree. I had a record of my birth mother’s name on my birth certificate and there were nine months when I knew her the best I could from inside the womb. None of this was enough to know who I looked like, but it was all probably why I decided a long time ago that I looked like her.
Marion Ruybalid is a mother of eight mix-raced children (3 girls and 5 boys). She was adopted from Dhaka, Bangladesh by British parents when she was five months old. She has an MFA in creative writing from UCR Palm Desert and her work has appeared in Mutha, PANK, Portrait of an Adoption-ChicagoNow, BLUNTmoms, and The Manifestation.
Raising Mothers is a free online literary magazine for BIWOC and non-binary parents of color. As little as $1 a month goes a long way towards supporting our editorial staff and contributors while keeping us ad-free. Help us reach our first goal before June 21! Become a patron today.