Frank Verges, my birth father, died on Monday, February 12. He was living in a nursing home in Davis, in Northern California, near his daughter, my biological half-sister Samantha. The last six or seven years of his life he’d become cognitively impaired. The man who through most of his life had been so introverted and unresponsive became even more introverted and unresponsive in his last years.
I did what I could to help take care of him here in Southern California, up until 2013, when Samantha took over and escorted him—along with her generous inheritance—to a life of solitude and neglect in her house and eventually in an institution. When that happened, I realized he was really gone. When that happened, I began the biggest project in my life, my memoir now called Fallen David. I got a dog, too. Both events were indirectly a result of his departure—and virtual death—in 2013. An era was over. I no longer had a birth father.
I first made contact with my birth father in 1990. I was 29. After the first phone calls and letters to and from him, Frank managed to track down my birth mother easily. Her name was Marcia. In 1990 both of them were divorced from other partners and living in different parts of the country. We had our reunion at the end of 1990, Christmastime. It was fun and strange and awkward. From the beginning, Marcia’s attitude toward me was, “Yes, I would like to see you again, why not?” And Frank’s attitude was, “I hope and pray we become loving friends!”
Not long after our reunion, the two of them began long-distance dating. They fell in love and got married. They lived together unhappily for fifteen years until her premature death in 2007. After that, Frank—a heavy smoker, drug-user, couch potato, and consumer of junk food—gradually went downhill. I remember the day of Marcia’s “celebration of life” event in their rose garden, months after her death. He made an appearance for some small part of it, but spent most of the time in bed watching C-Span and sports.
Whereas Marcia (even though she married Frank) never wanted much of a relationship with her long-lost love child, Frank appeared much more outgoing, open-minded, affectionate, and friendly. But that was true only up to a point. Compared to Marcia, anyone would appear affectionate and friendly. In reality, he had a habit of keeping people at arm’s length—and this included everyone. In fact the problem between him and Marcia was that he wanted to keep to himself most of the time, and was more interested in TV than in her. She noticed this, and didn’t like it. And friends of his noticed, and former wives and girlfriends, too. He once told me how he enraged women in his youth by his sullenness and indifference after sex was over.
And with me it was no different. Yes, we bonded. Yes, compared to Marcia, he was a caring, considerate birth father. But deep down the two weren’t so different. They were both very introverted, standoffish people. Whenever I saw Frank, he had a habit of cutting off our conversations abruptly, extending his hand, and declaring, “I am now going to bring this visit to an end.”
He once told me, “Of course I’d like to leave you a little something after I pass, but just a token amount—you come from a rich family.”
After my adoptive father died, Frank drove to the house in San Francisco and visited for a few days. “I’m doing you such a big favor, you have no idea!” he said. And he took me to task for grieving for my father so much. “I can’t sit here and listen to you whine about your predicament, I just can’t!” And so I had to apologize for grieving. The last day of that visit, I came home expecting to go out to dinner. His dog dropped a tennis ball out of its mouth in a playful gesture as I walked up the stairs. Frank himself stood in the kitchen. “No, I do NOT want to go out for dinner with you. I am tired and have a long drive ahead of me tomorrow. Good-night.” The next morning I woke up alone in the old house. It was my last day in the family house in San Francisco before it was to be staged and sold. And Frank was gone, unable to share the moment.
It seemed I always wanted to set up our relationship for a cozy fireside pow-wow, for a prolonged tête-à-tête surrounded by pets and tea things and autumnal colors and maybe some string music in the background. That was my fantasy. It never happened. He would appear, and just when things were getting friendly, he would disappear.
That day in 2007, when Frank disappeared on my birthday on my last day in the family house, I said to myself, I said in these words: When it’s his time to go, I will not grieve for him.
I am thinking about him a lot following his death on Monday. I haven’t cried. I am not grieving in any conventional sense. My birth parents were definitely and determinedly my biological parents. A relationship was established. Nothing like parent-child bonds were ever formed.
There was of course no funeral (they are expensive and he wasn’t religious). I will receive no ashes. I will probably never see the meagre $5,000 Frank set aside for me. The bio half-sister will try her best to cheat me out of even that.
And yet his presence over the last twenty-eight years enriched my life. He was a philosophy professor; I majored in philosophy a decade before I even knew of his existence. We could talk—especially back in the 1990s—and it was stimulating and exciting. If I hadn’t met my birth parents, I’m not sure I would ever have left Spain and returned to this country in the mid ’90s. He was cultured and smart and could on occasion be lively, and we had a good rapport. We are very much alike (—ha! I just wrote that in the present tense). My birth mother once said to me, “You and Frank are the two most negative people I’ve ever met.”
Frank Verges and I met twenty-eight years ago—a whole generation ago. He’s now gone. With him I probably had a better relationship than most people do who track down their birth parents and try to make up for what was lost.
In lieu of ashes, I will go to what was once his house in Fullerton, dig up some dirt in the front garden, and in a sort of ceremony scatter it in the sea somewhere near Catalina Island.