I found out he wasn't my biological father as a teen – he's still the best dad

I love Father’s Day. 

I love skimming past all of the tat the shops want us to buy – ‘No. 1 Dad’ pint glasses, self stirring mugs, socks with golf balls printed onto them – and searching for something my dad won’t expect, but he’ll love.

I’ve never really been into marked day celebrations. Christmas doesn’t move me, I’m unbothered by Easter. But Father’s Day is different, because I get to take all of the love I have for the person that took me in as his daughter when I was three years old, and try to wrap it up in a bow.

I found out that the man I called dad all my life wasn’t my biological father when I was an early teen. The confirmation came after months of wondering about why I felt like a jigsaw with a missing piece. 

I’m a person of colour, and while my mum is too, when I looked at myself I didn’t see both sides of me reflected in my parents’ faces. My brothers bore much more of a resemblance to him. Plus, there were photos of him holding them as babies but not of him and I. 

When I started to put these things together in my head, I remembered getting a letter for my parents to sign in primary school.

Their names were there in black and white above dotted lines. My dad’s name had ‘stepfather’ in brackets next to it. I was too young to question it at the time. 

When all of these things had become impossible to ignore, I sat over a bowl of my mum’s often requested tagliatelle with cream sauce and asked her outright, ‘Is he my real dad?’

She paused for a moment, twirling pasta ribbons around the prongs of her fork. ‘Do you really want to know?’ she replied. That was answer enough. I sat there with my head in my hands, staying that way long after my mum had cleared the table.

My dad had to come home from work to a daughter who knew something I could never unknow. Only now that I’m older do I understand even a fraction of how hard that must have been. He told me he was sorry, and that he loved me. He told me I was his daughter, and nothing, nobody could change that.

After the news was out, I buried it somewhere very deep inside of me. As a family, we carried on. It seemed easy to forget. The first boy I ever invited round to our house remarked, ‘You’re so similar to your dad. You even look alike.’ I didn’t correct him. 

Shortly after finding out that my biological father was, in fact, a man I’d never met, did one of my first ever memories come back to me. I remembered standing in front of my dad and asking ‘What can I call you?’

In my memory, he simply smiles and says, ‘You can call me by my name, you can call me Dad, you can call me whatever you like.’

It’s a lottery I entered without knowing, and won

That sums my dad up quite well. He’s calm, considered, warm and generous. I always knew I was lucky to have him in my life. He seemed to represent everything a ‘good dad’ should be. I heard enough from the people around me to know that my dad was the best. 

‘He’s even cool,’ friends would say when he’d drop us off at the park wearing sunglasses and listening to Oasis, his thick Mancunian accent leaving us with a simple ‘Alright, have a good time you lot,’ and me knowing it meant ‘be safe’.

Over the years, I’ve considered the strength it surely takes to love a child as if they were made from your own DNA. Because really, that’s how it was. Until my parents split up, we lived together in the same house with my siblings, and I never once felt a difference when it came to the treatment we received. 

He was my rock, my personal comedian, my fountain of knowledge, just as much as he was theirs. It’s a lottery I entered without knowing, and won.

After my parents parted ways, we remained as close as we’d ever been. We had a solid foundation. My dad always spoke to me as an adult – so I understood they’d made the right choice for themselves, and by doing that, the best choice for us too.

In my adult life, there have been times where I’ve wondered about my biological father. I have wanted to know each detail of his story. People I confided in about my family life always seemed to urge me to put an end to the mystery. There were also times I yearned for a sense of belonging I felt was missing. 

I was a person of colour feeling adrift, trying to embrace myself while walking round with what felt like a question mark above my head. My mum told me his name, and I typed it into Facebook, into Google, into Linkedin, and got nothing. 

One day, I was scrolling through a website link that told me I could pay over £1,000 to a tracing company when the phone buzzed.

It was a text from my dad, asking how I was. I thought to myself – maybe the question of who I am doesn’t need a bigger answer than this. 

I had belonged all along. I belonged to the man who had chosen to be my father, and hadn’t looked back once. 

He’s the man who reassures me when I cry, helps me pack my belongings into boxes when I move, who I don’t interrupt when he repeats stories from his youth because they still make me laugh. Perhaps one day there’ll be more to the story, but for now, this is enough.

So, I will always make a big deal out of Father’s Day. I will always spend too long choosing a card, knowing it will remain on his fireplace until I have to blow the dust off. I will always grab the chance to show my love and gratitude for the man who chose me as his family, and still chooses that every day.

I used to joke that if I’d made the perfect dad in a lab, it would’ve been him. But I didn’t make him in a lab. Life brought him to my mum and made us family, and I got to learn the inexhaustible magic of it.

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