The Harbinger Online

Forming Familiarity

As I sat in the stiff hotel room chair, I picked up my phone, opened my messages and stared at the number my mom sent me.  My thumb hovered over the call button, but my reluctance won out before I could work up the courage to press it.

I was in Nashville for a school trip, the same city my grandpa lives. It was my fifth time that morning debating whether or not to contact him. I had mentally planned text messages I would send, or voicemails I would leave if I could just make up my mind about asking to meet up while I was in town.

Part of me – the part that desired to grow the relationship, be brave, be forgiving – wanted to call desperately. But a larger part of myself that hated uncomfortable situations, that couldn’t quite let go of the past and that was a little bit cynical kept making excuses to not reach out.


When I was little, I never felt like a part of my family was missing. I never found it odd that all I knew about my grandpa was that he and my grandma got divorced in 1976. He had never been present in my life, so I never thought of him.

But as I grew older and more aware, I realized that if I didn’t know where my grandpa was, that meant my mom didn’t know where her dad was. After I had made that not-so-profound connection, I began to wonder. Where was he? What was he like? Why did he leave my mom and uncle?  Did he look like me?

Was he even alive?

The thing was, I didn’t really wonder for myself. It’s hard to miss something you’ve never had. That hollow feeling in my chest that ached from just a little bit of knowledge about my grandpa was ultimately for my mom.

I knew only hearing from her father once since she was 10 years old hurt her in a way I couldn’t even begin to comprehend. It wasn’t like she was broken because of it, if anything it made her a stronger person, but I wanted her to have some sort of closure. Even knowing if he was living or dead that would be better than nothing.

My mom told my brothers and I in early 2012 that she and her dad had been communicating since October. My seventh-grade-self hugged my mom and told her how happy I was. She was finally getting that closure I had always thought she needed.

But underneath my braces-filled smile, I had a new strange feeling in my chest. It wasn’t hollow anymore. Where there used to be nothing it was now constricted and tight and there was a small pit in the bottom of my stomach. I was shocked at my skepticism.  What if this left my mom even more hurt than before?

As time went on, the situation didn’t change. They kept in touch, emailing regularly and having the occasional phone call. I knew there were a lot of difficult conversations that went on. A lot of questions from my mom’s end, and a lot of apologies from her dad’s. It wasn’t perfect but they worked to slowly rebuild what had disintegrated during 20-year void in their relationship

During that time, I never directly spoke with my grandpa and, honestly, I never really had a desire to. Even though it seemed like his relationship with my mom was slowly mending, I felt like I didn’t really need him in my life. I was weary of him. I wasn’t ready to let someone into my life after he had left my mom’s so easily. It was easier for me to stay uninvolved.

I managed to stay as uninvolved as possible until last summer, when my mom told me that my grandpa would be coming to Kansas City to visit. It would be the first time she had seen her father in person since she was 19. He was going to stay in a hotel, and my mom said she wasn’t going to force us to spend time with him – but I knew it would mean a lot to her if we did.

When we first met, it was in passing. I was on my way to a friend’s house and my mom was showing him around. I awkwardly shook his hand, and felt “it was nice to meet you” tumble automatically out of my mouth. Then as I quickly skirted around him and left, I couldn’t help but wonder if it really would be nice to meet him.

After that initial encounter, things, specifically me, got less awkward. As we spent time together chatting over dinners, talking in the living room, walking my dog, I could tell he regretted leaving my mom and brother and not reaching out. His list of mistakes was long, but he owned up to every one of them.

Slowly, I loosened up and let myself enjoy his company and stopped focusing on the past. I laughed at his jokes and listened earnestly to his stories about traveling. I noticed his tendencies and speech patterns that mirrored many of my mom’s. I saw the similarities in their almond shaped eyes and ear-to-ear smiles. I began to consider a second chance.

I realized how unique it was that I was beginning a new relationship with this person I thought would never be in my life. It might be unconventional, but once I began to build trust that he was really ready to make amends, I realized some relationship is better than none.

And that forgiveness is what prompted me to finally press send on my much debated text message. It couldn’t hurt to reach out. I’m ready to move forward and let the relationship grow – or at least give it the opportunity to. And an invite for breakfast was at least a place to start.  

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Claire Pottenger

Claire Pottenger is a senior at Shawnee Mission East. She is the is Co-Editor-in-Chief for print and has been on staff for three years. She is a varsity volleyball player, a SHARE Chairperson, and participates in Kansas DECA. Read Full »

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