This Book is Dedicated to:
The Lost, the Orphaned, the Abandoned, & the Adopted…
Before LoveJoy : Odd Choices
Is James Herndon my father?
This story has it’s roots in post war Germany 10 years after the war to end all wars. My mother was a student at Heidelberg, my adaptive father was an Army translator, and my biological father a (as told to me by my mother) was the author, James Herndon.
What makes this complicated is that I have never met him, spoke on the phone once with him where he acknowledged that fact, have tried to meet his ex-wife Fran Herndon, and have two half brothers that don’t believe my story.
I would have a hard time believing the story if I hadn’t called his home in San Francisco and listened to his halting, nervous voice once he recognized my mother’s unforgettable name, Ingeborg Hinderschiedt, and realized I wasn’t just a fan.
That phone call happened in 1976. He has died since, and I never got the chance to meet him.
The following is the beginning of this tale…
Right before High School:
My mother came home from a cocktail party – buzzed yeah, a little plowed under. I was 14, pretty much a colt, so it was a beginning of a story here. Not a moment of clarity or otherwise, no song to refer to. There isn’t a single thing that you see in the movies traditionally that sets you up for the conversation we had. I don’t think it was the buzz- maybe the moment or the need to man-up. I don’t know what she was thinking to be honest. And honesty wasn’t really part of the mix here, it just came up as a simple statement, perhaps a catharsis on her part…
“What would you say if I told you that ‘Daddy’ wasn’t really your Daddy”.
I know there should be a question mark after the last sentence, but it was so unreal to me at the time, grammar became as absent a consideration at that moment as the last 14 years of my home life that had just now simply slipped away.
So in that sinfully unaltered moment of un-earth shattering delivery, my life was inexorably altered. The planet moved not. The market didn’t crash. What was left was me standing there, a juvenile hulking frame- taking it in.
It was a large statement. Maybe a little consideration should have been put into the mix, and that particular message not so casually disseminated after an afternoon of drinking.
It altered everything for me. It called back to my first impression that was now to be forever burned into my mind- of my father Max. Yeah, that moment of a 6 year old boy just delivered from a foreign country (Germany), having flown a 12 hour transatlantic plane flight midwinter in December, to arrive at Chicago O’Hare airport, disembarked and following my mothers pointing arm to the man suggested as my father.
The man who’s namesake I carry, ultimately the name of the man that my daughter and wife carry as their last names. And he held a teddy-bear from the second tier of O’Hare. My first instinct was surprise, when viewing him. He didn’t look like who he should be based on my child eyes. It was brief, but never forgotten. An instance of childhood surprise and perhaps more so- intuition from the soul.
And then became the responsibility. I heard the words, “Daddy isn’t really your Daddy”, some other skinny guy- not a professor at Purdue, but a guy who wrote novels was “That Guy” my father. His name: James Herndon.
A litany of books were written and subsequently read: “The Way It’s Spozed to Be”, How to Survive in Your Native Land”… I read all of them.
And then you make a decision- I think any child does that in terms of who he will in his heart of hearts- consider his father. It was done immediately. There was no option. As swift as an arrow- my choice was never a choice. Circumstance overrules blood.
There is no recipe for how to absorb that. In a seconds notice, so many thoughts go through your mind. A moment before, life was what it was- transient yet secure. 14 years or so of whatever- whatever happens with your parents, but they were still your parents. And now it became an afterthought of an alcohol mediated “fess up” ?
All of a sudden I had lost my father, and at the same time had to prepare myself for having a conversation with the man that I thought was my father for the last 14 years, and protect him as well as myself from the fact that “it really didn’t matter” but it really did- especially because it had been a lie for a long time. Totally lost on that one. I was totally lost on that one.