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My Dad Saved My Life

Photograph by Twenty20

I've previously shared that I hated Mother's Day because I didn't have a mother growing up. Father's Day is a totally different story.

Yes, my husband also gets major props on this day, too—but when you know just what my dad did, it's easy to see why he gets a big chunk of the admiration.

My dad was 18 when I was born. It's important to note that my dad is my mom's little brother. OK, I can picture the confused look on your face. No, my dad isn't really "my dad" in biological terms. He is my dad because he raised me, loved me and took care of me, which, when you think about it, is exactly what a father should do.

But that's not all my dad did. He also rescued me from a dire situation and made one of the most difficult choices anyone could make: to become a parent to two children who were not his own.

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Many parents actively chose to become such (even if there is a surprise pregnancy), but it's different when you're not a parent, not even planning on being a parent and not doing anything that would result in you becoming a parent—and yet, you decide to parent nonetheless.

I was born to a woman who battled with drug addiction, and my prospects for survival weren't so great. There was a lot of neglect, in ways that are still hard for me to talk about.

As an infant, I suffered due to my mother's inability to care for me, as well as my older brother. Food was scarce, attention even more so. My mother kept me in a dark room, on a urine-soaked mattress, in a dirty diaper, with an occasional bottle propped near my face. While initially she had been a more caring mother to my brother, by the time I came around he wasn't faring much better.

The worst happened when I was just 11 months old. Our mother packed her things, took my brother, and abandoned me. No one knows how long I was alone in her apartment before being found. My dad was the one to get the phone call, and while he knew things had been bad, he never believed his sister was capable of walking away from her children.

For me, this is where my dad took on more than he had to. Not only had he been visiting regularly to make sure my brother and I were OK while our mom was still there, but when he discovered that I had been left behind, he swooped in and took me home with him.

The first nights were hard, he told me. I cried often, was not used to being held, had difficulty keeping food down since I'd never been fed regularly, and had one of the worst diaper rashes he had ever seen. To this day, the back of my head has a permanent indentation, the last remaining evidence that my soft skull was left in one unmoved position for far too long.

Slowly, I came around. The wounds healed, my belly grew, and my attachment to a safe, stable adult finally formed. I had been saved.

Not long after my dad took me in, he learned that my mother had come back to town. When he went to confront her, he found her sitting in the back of a van, high on heroin, while my older brother, just 3 years old at the time, dug through a dumpster looking for something to eat.

That was the night he became a father to us both.

Because of our dad, we had birthdays with cake and candles, presents and laughter. Because of our dad, we had Christmases that shimmered and spoiled us rotten, and Easters with bountiful baskets and creamy deviled eggs. We had chores, allowance, expectations, discipline, adventures and most of all, we had a family.

My brother and I weren't separated by the foster care system and we weren't forced to live with an unfit mother that couldn't (and wouldn't) care for us properly. Although we lived with our dad, we were allowed to see our mother, to spend time with her and to make up our own minds about our relationships with her. I chose to stop seeing her at 10 years old, but my brother carried on his relationship with her until she died.

When I was 15 and my brother 18, our mother was murdered. We will never know if she could have turned her life around, or if she regretted the mistakes she'd made. What we do know is that however imperfect our lives were, because of our dad, we had a chance at normal.

I didn't understand it then, the kind of sacrifice it takes to pick two children up from the rubble and claim them as your own. I couldn't have appreciated the weight of his decision to step in and give up every plan he'd ever had so that he could be a parent to two children who weren't even his.

As a mother with two sons, one who isn't much younger than my dad was when I was born, I finally get it. The truth is, I don't know if I have the kind of courage or commitment to do what he did—that's just not human. It's super-human.

I am one of the lucky ones. I see that now.

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