I have to be honest. I haven’t always understood the people who spend countless hours in the activity of digging up information on their ancestors. It wasn’t that I didn’t understand the importance of providing a written heritage to future generations—my sister and I grew up in my grandparents’ home and we heard the “stories.” It was that I didn’t see the point, for me.
Unlike many of our contemporaries, my sister and I were actually interested in hearing the stories when we were kids. Our father abandoned us when I was just an infant and we knew very little about his side of the family except that he was the youngest of ten. On top of that, he died in 1975, essentially closing the door to our knowing anything beyond the folklore, the few family “legends” which still persisted. In many ways, it was okay with us—we weren’t honestly sure if we wanted to know. Yet, at the same time, not knowing left both of us unable to find a sense of wholeness—to not know your father is like having half your DNA missing.
On my computer last night, I watched the episode of “Who Do You Think You Are?” that featured country music star Tim McGraw. Early in the show, he talked about when he saw his birth certificate at about age 11 and learned not only that the man he’d thought was his father wasn’t, but that his “real” father was major league pitcher “Tug” McGraw. He talked about contacting Tug when he was a teenager, and being rebuffed, and then after turning 18, being invited to Tug’s home. He’d summoned up the courage to ask Tug if he thought he was, in fact, his son.
This giant of country music stopped at this point in the story, unable for a moment to hold back the emotion he obviously still feels. As you might imagine, Tug’s answer, as those who watched the program or know anything about Tim McGraw can tell you, was yes. It is unlikely that Tug knew the impact his answer would have—he’d never wondered whose child he was, had never been faced with the black hole of emptiness of not knowing who he belonged to.
“It changed who I thought that I could be,” said Tim. “There was this light that I could hold onto…something in me that I discovered that I didn’t know was there.”
By accident of fate, I was denied the opportunity to hear those words of connection from my father. To this day, even in my mid 50’s, I’m not sure how to refer to Rob Lee Sharpe when I talk about him to someone else. I have no memories, no stories to tell, so I can’t contribute to conversations about fathers, even to the extent that my sister, who was seven when he left, can. I have no visceral sense of his spirit, whatever it was.
Just three years ago now, in the midst of grief over the loss of a close friend to whom I had once “belonged,” I returned to involvement in the organized church after 30 years, and as a part of the celebration of my confirmation, I sang a song, backed up by a bunch of wonderful teenagers who were also being confirmed that day. I first heard the song when another dear friend sent me the link to a video, and knew that I had to sing it, that I had to say its words out loud. And if you know me, you know I can’t sing a song if I don’t believe what I’m singing. It will come as no surprise that the name of the song was “Who Am I?” Nor will it give you any pause that the climactic line of the song is, “You told me who I am…I am yours.”
Even at 50, it changed who I thought that I could be. There was this light that I could hold onto…something in me that I had forgotten for a long, long time.
You can see that video by clicking here. Turn up the sound. And remember, that, no matter what you’re going through…earthquakes, tsunamis, you name it…
You’re God’s too.