I lived most of my life without knowing who my father was. And, quite frankly, never thought I’d ever need to know him until I became mired in long-term unemployment, bouts of depression, and an uncomfortable period navigating through New York City’s welfare system.
When I was at the weakest point in my life, the man who I thought I would never need or meet became my lifeline, and the thing is, it all happened through this great invention called “Facebook.”
FACEBOOK MESSAGE SUBJECT LINE: Looking For Father?
In the fall of 2009, a good friend of mine in the country of Moldova found her son via Facebook, so that made me curious enough to use the same method to find my father. I wasn’t thinking anyone would reply quite frankly. I mean, how many men in their 50s would respond kindly to a Facebook message suggesting that they had a 29-year-old son he had never met?
I was at the intellectual zenith of my life at 29 years old, living in Ukraine as a Fulbright Scholar, when I decided to type the name “Chris Truesdale” in the search box. Several names appeared. I then wrote a note with all of the details of the circumstances under which my father and my mother met and pressed “send.”
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Almost immediately, one of the ten or so Chris Truesdales I messaged replied back to me, and he was quite receptive. He said he knew my mother and everything I wrote in the message lined up with his recollection of the woman he once dated during his stint in the U.S. Army. He contacted her, and they both concluded that he was, in fact, my father.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Neither my father nor my mother knew she was pregnant when they separated during their army careers and, because technology was not 30-plus years ago what it is now, my mother had no way of contacting him. She didn’t have a contact number or an address for my father, either.
He didn’t know I was alive.
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As fate would have it, my father had only signed up with Facebook just two weeks prior, so the timing couldn’t have been better. The date was Sept. 15, 2009.
Here is a screen shot of that fateful Facebook message (click to enlarge):
We started communicating via Skype almost every day. I was in Ukraine and he was in the Bronx, New York. We were literally an ocean, and then some, apart. But I had never felt so close to a man as I did Chris, the man I would learn to call “Dad,” albeit reluctantly at first.
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Eventually, the excitement of meeting this new man in my life wore thin and our communication became less frequent. Every other day turned into every week and then ever other week. Sometimes it would be because I would be caught up in my life having fun in Ukraine with my friends.
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But there would be other times that our personalities would clash and we took a few weeks off to have a break from each other. Still, we always maintained our communication. I eventually met my grandmother, several of my aunts, and plenty of cousins through Skype conversations for the first time over the year and a half I was in Ukraine.
They took me in as their own.
Being an only child raised by my maternal grandmother on the westside of Detroit, I never had a strong sense of what a traditional family life was like. My grandmother did a great job, and I had plenty of mentors — in fact, I had the best “African village” family one could have. Yet, communicating with my father and his family was a new emotion for me. I truly felt like I had relatives waiting “back home” for me.
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Six months before it was time for me to end my Fulbright Scholarship, my father invited me to stay with him in New York until I found a job. I couldn’t believe it. I really wanted to see him, but I was kind of nervous. What if it didn’t work out and what would I do thereafter? Still, I didn’t really have too many options, since I didn’t have a job lined up. So I swallowed my nerves — and my pride — and booked my ticket “home” to New York City.
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When I arrived at John F. Kennedy Airport on the evening of December 11, 2010, after a year and a half of communicating with my father, I was full of indescribable emotions. The first person I met was my grandmother. She immediately spotted me in the sea of arrivals. My grandmother hugged me and said, “I love you.” We walked to my father’s SUV, where we met him. We both hugged. After 30 years of wondering who my father was, that man was in my embrace.
So, now what?
I thought I’d only be with this man for a few months and then off to a nice job and my own place. Well, things didn’t quite work out that way. I would end up with him much longer than I had anticipated because living abroad for almost two years did not adequately prepare me for a growing recession that awaited me in the United States.
I experienced the worst period in my life during my first year back in America, but my father, a man who embraced me without a blood test or a call to Maury Povich, helped me through that rough first year and lead me on the path toward achieving my dreams.
My Father Helped Me When I Couldn’t Help Myself
I lived with my father in his very tiny Bronx flat while looking for work and freelancing with a New York-based news site. I assumed I would be doing this for a few months. After submitting dozens of job applications and sitting in eight or so unsuccessful interviews, though, a few months turned into six months.
And there was yet another problem: my freelance money wasn’t consistent.
When you’re freelancing, a check comes when the accounting department sends it off — and that can be two weeks or two months, depending on their internal policies.
I had two Masters degrees, a Fulbright Scholarship, and a nice resume, but I had no means to pay my phone bill or my mounting debts.
My phone was the first item to be turned off. When people asked me for my cell number, I’d lie and tell folks that I lost my phone and was saving cash to buy a nice one. I kept that story up for six plus months with a few changes in the narrative here and there.
(One time, my father offered to buy me a phone and put me on his plan, but I refused.)
Then, I was unable to pay my credit card bills. The most I was able to do was buy a monthly Metro subway card and food. Eventually, even doing that became an issue. No matter how hard I tried to find a job — any job — it didn’t work. I even applied for fast food positions in vain, but my father never rushed or criticized me.
“You ain’t got nothing to worry about,” he’d always tell me. “I’ma take care of you.”
He started giving me a $20 bill here or a $100 bill there. Anytime he asked if I needed money, I always said, No. But he’d keep pressing me to take whatever amount of money he had in his hand. I hated accepting it, because my father is certainly no Kennedy. Instead, he is a retired veteran and works as a vendor in the city. I felt bad when he gave me money since I knew I couldn’t give it back, but I desperately needed the pocket change. While he always smiled, knowing that he helped his son, I cringed, knowing that I couldn’t help myself.
When times got really bad, I applied for public assistance. I got a small check every few weeks and a food stamp card. I was still freelancing too. I was so ashamed that I, a 31-year-old man, was relying on a system that I had worked all of my life to pay in to, not take out. At the time, I read an Aug. 31 NY Times article on recent Ivy League grads who were living on food stamps to survive, hoping it would make me feel better about my situation. It didn’t.
When I started working for NewsOne, I began as a temp. The money was consistent, but still not enough. (My father, however, thought I had hit the big time! “It’s the first step to a full-time gig,” he’d say.) I kept the food stamp card, and I never brought it to work for fear of it falling out of my wallet, exposing my poor financial state to my co-workers.
Being broke kills your self-esteem, and makes you kind of insular.
But no matter how rough my day would be or how bad I felt, I’d always arrive home to a Father who believed I was destined for greatness. He always put a smile on my face. My father always believed that everything would be OK with me — even when I didn’t believe in myself. When a job interview didn’t go well, he’d say, “They don’t deserve you,” or, “That’s not the right place for you anyway!” Eventually I was hired full time at NewsOne.
All the while, my father provided a roof over my head and all of the necessities that I truly couldn’t provide myself. It was because of my father’s unrelenting love and patience that I became comfortable with what it means when your family has your back.
I’m at the beginning of my road to greatness: I am writing a number of small projects now, and at the end of the month, I will finally move in to my own place.
Life couldn’t be better for me at this point.
In fact, I am the happiest I have ever been in a city I feel I was destined to live in the remainder of my life, and it is all because a man, Christopher Virgil Truesdale, I didn’t know replied to a Facebook message he could have easily ignored. On Sept. 15, he accepted a friend request. In return, I got a Father. A man whose selfless embrace has made me the man I am today and whose continued support will make me an even better man in the future.
To my father: Thank you for accepting my friend request. Thank you for accepting me as your son. I love you.
Happy Father’s Day!