The doorbell rang, interrupting the otherwise perfect afternoon.
Eric Albin hastily finished spreading mayonnaise on the bread, so as not to lay an overly-soiled knife on his pristine kitchen counter. The chime of the doorbell had barely finished its echo when he reached the door and swung it open.
There on his porch stood a man who just seemed… off. He smiled a sheepish smile within his five o’clock shadow and extended a beefy hand with no explanation. Eric tentatively took it and gave it a strong shake, despite the strange presentation. “C-can I help you?”
“Hi, sir,” the man said. He gave the slightest pause as if confirming the man he now saw was the one he meant to see. “My name is Tom Bellars.” He gave another pause to see if the revelation of his name made any impression on Eric. It did not.
Eric stepped backward slightly, sure the man was about to try to sell him on some pyramid scheme or overembellished expensive cleaning kit. “What can I do for you, Tom?”
Tom’s eyes grew wide with anticipation before he revealed his objective. “I… am… your son.” He let out a nervous twitter and awaited his father’s response.
Nothing could have prepared Eric for an earth-shattering statement like that. The man standing on his porch was obviously nervous, and he still seemed a little enigmatic in his jitters and overall presentation, but nothing about him seemed insane or malicious. Still, Eric knew that such a statement was false. Impossible, even. He cleared his throat. “N-no… I-I don’t think you are.”
Tom’s smile dampened, but didn’t disappear entirely. “I’m pretty sure I am,” he said with confidence. He leaned slightly to one side, awaiting an admission of fatherhood from Eric. It never came. The two stood there staring at each other for a few moments before Tom decided to break the silence again. “Your name is Eric, right? Eric Albin?”
“It, um… Yes. It is.”
“You’ve lived here for fifteen years? You work at Tandy Machining?”
Eric raised an eyebrow. He wasn’t sure how much information he should be confirming with this stranger, but he was sure it was all available publicly in some form or another. “Y-yes, that’s true.”
Tom returned to his wider smile. “Well, I truly believe I am your son. I’ve been searching for years. I’ve spent so much time at different libraries around the country, and poured through genealogical records online… It’s all led me here.”
Eric blinked. “W-well, I’m sorry to disappoint you. T-truly, I-I am. But I’m just not your father.” He felt bad, especially as he watched a pang of sadness flush over this strange man’s face. He almost wished he was the man’s father.
Tom looked down at the “Home Sweet Home” welcome mat. When he came to this door just four minutes ago, the mat seemed welcoming. Now it mocked him. “How are you so certain you’re not my father?” he asked.
Eric again cleared his throat. “I suppose I could ask you how you’re so certain I am.”
“I told you. A lot of research has gone into this.”
“B-but I don’t understand how that research could have possibly led you to me.”
Tom was hoping that they could go inside to discuss this further. The arthritis in his hip was acting up again. But he didn’t want to impose on Eric, especially since it seemed he was unwanted by his father a second time over. “There’s a lot of moving parts. But I was left on the doorstep of an orphanage at four weeks old with a birth certificate and a letter. Those were the only clues as to who I was. The orphanage made an attempt to figure out who left me there and where I came from, but their resources and time were limited. So, once I got old enough to understand my situation, I decided to figure out who I really am. I devoted hours every day for weeks… Months… Years. And all my research has led me here.”
Eric was touched. Sympathetic, even. This strange man was certainly earnest and seemed genuinely convinced he had finally received the answers to his life’s search. He looked Tom up and down. He was nearly as tall as Eric, though Eric was above average in height. The two men both had short brown hair, Eric’s neatly combed back and Tom’s frazzled in most directions. But this was where the similarities ended in Eric’s mind.
“How old are you, Tom?”
Eric let out a small gasp. “Y-you can’t possibly be thirty, Tom.” The man looked like he was in his mid-twenties. He had young, wrinkle-less skin, and bright youthful eyes that belied his tragic past.
“Well, I am.”
“O-okay, well that should prove it right there. I’m thirty-seven. I can’t be your father if there’s only seven years separating us.”
Tom swallowed hard. “Well…” He paused. “I wish you had asked some other question.”
“I don’t actually know how old I am.”
Eric was puzzled. “Why did you so confidently tell me you were thirty then?”
“That’s the number I usually go with. That’s the number on my driver’s license. But I’m, like, ninety-five percent sure it’s inaccurate.”
Tom’s credibility took a hit with that response, but Eric decided to entertain him further. “Didn’t you say you had a birth certificate? Why not use that?”
“It was doctored,” said Tom. “Most of it was blank, but my birthdate was listed as August 12, 1882, which of course makes no sense.” He took off his backpack, which Eric hadn’t noticed him wearing, and knelt on the concrete as he rummaged through it. He pulled out a laminated document and offered it to Eric.
‘BIRTH – NAISSANCE.’ Eric read at the top of the paper. ‘NEW BRUNSWICK – NOUVEAU-BRUNSWICK.’ “You’re Canadian?” he asked.
“I believe I’m American, actually. But I was left at an orphanage in New Brunswick and that is where I lived a good portion of my life, yes.”
Eric scanned the rest of the document. His mother and father’s name and place of birth were indeed blank, and the date of his birth was listed as 12 AUG 1882. Ironically, the date of issuance was listed at the bottom as 05 MAR 2012. “Was this the same copy that you had with you as a baby?”
“No. I got a new copy to see what was officially on file. This—” he handed another birth certificate to Eric, “was the one I had at birth. And you can see that the information is the same.”
Eric quickly corroborated the two documents. The older certificate had a different format and the paper was yellowed and worn, but the information certainly matched. He handed the papers back to Tom. “Y-you know, I’ve never been to Canada.”
“That doesn’t mean you’re not my father.”
Eric was taken aback. “I suppose you’re technically c-correct, b-but I’m n-not.”
“Okay. How are you so certain?” Tom challenged.
Eric swallowed. He was uncomfortable sharing personal information with a complete stranger, but it was harder to justify that qualm when he had just seen the man’s birth certificate, doctored though it may be. “Tom, I, um… I just am.”
“Can’t you give me a reason why?”
Eric nearly closed the door then and there. He was venturing into territory he didn’t even enjoy confronting by himself. “T-Tom… Um…”
Tom waited, seemingly unfazed by Eric’s obvious discomfort.
Eric knew that his problem was not as big a deal as he made it out to be in his mind. And he was certain that this would be the last time he’d ever see Tom. He cleared his throat, and said quietly, “I’m sterile, Tom.”
Tom blinked. “You… You have no children?”
“I can’t have children.” That was all the detail he wanted to offer.
Tom was unsure of what to say. “Are you sure of this?”
“I wish I could’ve been your father. But I’m just not.”
Tom zipped his backpack up and threw it over a shoulder again. “This morning I thought I was going to meet my dad. And now I feel so lost again.”
The door opened slightly more, pulled by a young girl in pajamas. “Daddy, I thought you were making me a sandwich.”
Tom looked down at the girl, and back at Eric.
Eric’s face grew wide with embarrassment. “How many times have I told you to stop calling me that?”
“Excuse me?” Tom shouted. “What kind of man are you? You give up a son to the system in Canada, denying any sort of responsibility for him. Then when he shows up at your doorstep years later, you deny him again, and then lie to his face about not being able to have kids? And then when your own daughter exposes you, you deny her too? You know what? I’m glad—”
The little girl began to cry, unsure of what she walked into. Eric quickly scooped her up in his arms before turning back to Tom. “Th-this is not my child, Tom! Y-you can’t just assume that because a little girl called me daddy that she’s telling the truth!” He paused, realizing how crazy he sounded, but he was flustered. He started bouncing up and down to calm the girl.
“So the girl is lying? Why is she even here if she’s not your child?”
“She’s my neighbor’s kid. This is Melody.” He looked at the girl. “Melody, this is Tom.”
The girl looked at Tom, but didn’t say anything.
“Melody,” Eric continued. “You know I’m not your daddy. Your daddy is—” He wasn’t sure how to end the sentence. Instead he just lowered her back to the floor. “Go play, okay? I’ll give you that sandwich in just a moment.”
She ran off to the living room, feet pounding hard on the linoleum for such a small creature.
“Melody’s father left his family about two years ago. One of those ‘going-out-for-cigarettes’ scenarios. She’s five years old. She has memories of her father, but doesn’t understand that he isn’t coming back. So she calls a bunch of men in her life Daddy. I think it’s a way to cope.”
“I see,” said Tom.
“But her mom is trying to get her to stop calling everyone daddy and I’m trying to respect her wishes. I watch Melody often when her mom has to run out for this or that, so she sees me a lot. I wish I could—” he caught himself from saying the words out loud, before ultimately deciding he could trust this strange man who called him the same thing. “I wish I could be her daddy. B-but I can’t. And I’m not yours. I g-guess I’m just not supposed to have kids.” He could fell a lump in his throat.
Tom sighed in sympathy. He felt tears start to form. Tears for a man he wished was his father. Tears for himself who was suddenly fatherless again. And tears for Melody. He knew the pain she was going through.
…To be continued…