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Growing up, we always referred to my birth father as “Daddy”. My brother and I never asked where Daddy was, but in 5th grade, I wanted to send my daddy a letter. I showed my mother that I had a letter but my mother said she had to discuss it with a psychologist first. Afterwards, I never brought it up anymore. It wasn’t an issue. That year was hard for my parents. I used to yell at my dad, “You’re not my real dad.”
Not long after I opened my first Facebook account when I was sixteen, I got a message from someone saying, “I know your birth father. I know he hurts.” A whole lot of stuff, giving me information that I clearly didn’t want to know! I showed it to my mom, and I asked her if I should read it or delete it, and she said she would prefer that I delete it. I messaged this lady saying please don’t message me again. But then she messaged me again with even more details that I didn’t read. Who does that to a sixteen year old? It’s not something you message someone about on Facebook! I thought, for a little bit, that maybe it was my birth father, using a fake account, trying to get to me. Then I figured out it wasn’t.
My parents were worried that when I traveled to Belgium, my birth father would find out that I was in Europe and try to contact me and they wanted to be the ones who told me the story. Until then, all my life, my mom always told my brother and me that the reason she got divorced was because my birth father wasn’t fit or ready to be a father.
When they told my younger brother [who is the son of my birth father], the only thing he wanted to know was “What happened to the tallis and tefillin?” I love him.
That night when I learned about Gittel, I needed to get out of the house, to talk and share with my friends. My mom told me not to tell my younger siblings. She told me I could talk about it with a friend, so I went out in my friend’s car, running errands. It was already night, and I told her, “My birth father, he’s a woman.” She said, “You don’t tell me that when I’m driving, M! What’s wrong with you?!”
Then, a few months before the bar mitzvah, they contacted me again, asking if I wanted to come to the simcha (happy event), so all of a sudden it was real. They offered to fly me in to Belgium! I thought a lot about it, for such a long time, discussing it with my mom and my friends, and then I decided that it’s important for me to go and get to know them and decide if I want a relationship with them or not. And I decided to come to Europe, but it was clear to me that if I was coming to the Europe, I would have to go see my grandfather, because he wasn’t doing so well at that point. And also, I didn’t want to spend too much time with my birth-father’s family. I wanted it to be short. I wanted it to be manageable. I had a lot of people telling me, you can come stay with me, take all these telephone numbers, find somewhere else. People were surprised that I would stay at their house. Zahava (Gittel’s partner) actually offered for me to stay elsewhere but it seemed silly to me.