I was five years old when my parents divorced. By the time I was six, my father was completely out of my life. Their divorce came after more than twelve years of marriage and four children. I won’t go into the reasons of why their marriage unraveled. Neither my mom or my dad are here to tell their side. In the mid-50’s when people divorced, there was no court-mandated child support. In our situation, Mom worked, and until she married again years later, we lived on what she was able to provide.
This is a picture of my father – Guy Anderson Stephens.
It’s the only one I have. In those years, pictures were taken regularly, even in poorer families. So why there are no pictures of my father, I cannot say. My Mom said he was a handsome man, charming. He grew up, one of three siblings, on a sizable farm and his family was well-respected in the community.
My mother, Mildred Jane Byrd, was beautiful and smart. She was the middle child of five. The only girl. Hers was a hard childhood with the Great Depression just one of the factors making her family poor. She had great dignity in the midst of her circumstances and continued so all her life. I love my mama and feel very grateful to be her daughter and friend. When she and my Dad married, she felt confident her hardest days were over. It was not to be so.
When my parents divorced, we became a family of 5. My Mom, my older brother, Robert, me, and my two younger brothers, Dwane and Wade. Wade (not in picture above) was just a baby when we drove away from the house that last day. This picture was taken later, not on that bewildering last day.
The picture above shows us with our grandmother and cousins in our uncle’s convertible. It’s possible he was as poor as we were, except for the car. I’m holding my youngest brother. Our older brother must have felt great responsibility toward us, with Mom working long hours. I think, too, he felt the loss of our father the most acutely.
For reasons we will never know, our father didn’t stay long in our lives. Some months after the divorce, he took us to a county fair. He bought a bear for me at one of the concessions because he wasn’t able to win it. Then there was the Christmas following – that one glorious, magical holiday when he brought presents and it seemed he would always be close. And then he never came back.
He attended our older brother’s high school graduation years later, but I didn’t see him. And that was that.
Once I learned how to write, I would send him letters (at his parents’ farm) – telling him the news of his children. For a couple of decades I wrote, imagining my letters helped him stay connected with us, maybe lessening his loneliness for his children. He never wrote back.
The last letter was to announce the birth of his first grandchild.
It wasn’t a conscious decision, but after that, I didn’t write any more.
Years later, after many more births of grandbabies he would never know, I talked to him once on the phone. Someone told my mom that he was in a nursing home and not well. I called him, thinking we could visit together…one last time. As we talked briefly, he thought I was my mom. Too many years had separated us. I did not make that visit.
The funeral home leaflet said so little. It was sent in a note to my mother after the funeral. We did not go. His death seemed to have happened to some other family. He would be grieved by those who knew him. His parents and siblings and others – these were his family…strangely, we were not.
The longing to know my father and the rest of that family passed with the years apart. As far as we knew, he nor his family (original or remaining) ever tried to communicate with us over these more than 50 years. Until recently.
His last surviving sibling died this Spring. Aunt Pauline. And we have been tracked down, so to speak. Two weeks ago, I spoke for the first time in all these years to a cousin. She is the executor of Aunt Pauline’s estate and we are remembered in her will. I will meet her this week. She remembers meeting my Mom nearly 70 years ago, when my Dad was courting her She commented on how beautiful and tall she was. What a kindness this may turn out to be.
To finally close the gap on all those years of not knowing that family…my other family. It may be that I won’t really learn much about this father, but I am continually learning more about the Father I have in God. He has never left me. This is one of His countless tender mercies.
[From the leaflet from my father’s funeral]:
In the Digital Age, the Family Photo Album Fades Away