What’s your name?
Who’s your daddy?
Is he rich like me?
Has he taken any time
To show you what you need to live?
~ Time of the Season, by The Zombies


When I was 20 and working as an ingenue legal secretary in the big city, one of the lawyers used to give me his dictation tapes with an embedded quiz.  “Name this tune,” his voice said one day, at the close of his Chapter 13 bankruptcy letters.  I heard the above song and could not place it.  I had never heard of The Zombies.  Mr. Lawyer thought this was a hoot.

Mr. Lawyer, who eventually became my first husband.  (but I digress)

That's him, my birth father, on the far right.

That’s him, my birth father, on the far right. I think I recognize my big smile?


I’ve often said I met my daddy, my birth father, at my mother’s funeral.  This is a half truth.  I have a small memory of meeting him right after I turned 18.  I remember feeling bold.  I remember calling my Grandma Wilma — with whom I’d had a little contact over the years — and requesting a meeting.  I remember being painfully nervous to meet him, for days and days before.  I remember walking into Grandma Wilma’s living room and seeing him sitting on the couch.  Like a ghost.  My ghost as shocked to lay eyes on me, as I was to lay eyes on him.  I have no idea what we said.  I don’t remember what he looked like, don’t recall his voice, his smell, his touch.  Did I hug him?  Him, me?  I can’t recall.  All I remember is standing in the backyard with his wife while she told me how much he wanted to know me.

After that meeting, I never heard from him again.

Until he showed up at my mother’s funeral.  I was 36 years old.  “That’s your dad!” Aunt Mary had said of the strange man pacing in the back of the room, between the aisles of metal folding chairs.  My dad, who bravely walked toward me and my mother’s casket and handed me his business card after writing his home phone number in blue ink on the back, and said, “I’m so sorry about your mom.  Call us next time you’re in town.”

I never called.  Never heard from him again.

He remains.  A stranger.  A recognizable, smiling stranger.  To me.

My memoir is mostly about mothers.  All of my mothers while growing up, real and step and grand and otherwise.  But the fathers are (interestingly?) absent.

Do you know your father?

Fast forward to Facebook times ….

Here's my dad at some Christmas, with some child.

Here’s my dad at some Christmas, with some child.


My father’s youngest brother (with whom I’m FB “friends”) recently posted some old photos, many of which are of my dad.  I frantically (not even remotely an exaggeration) downloaded every photo and  clicked on these photos (obsessively, you could say) and enlarged them, zeroed in on them, dying to find something, something, something, mygodcomeonsomething, anything, to find a resemblance.  To find myself?

What’s your name?  Who’s your daddy?  Tell me your story.

23 thoughts on “Zombie

  1. Pamela

    Something about this post really got to me. I’m doing everything in my power not to have a good cry while I’m watching the freaking Golden Globes. I should have waited to read this.

    Sheesh, Teri.

  2. amyg

    oh my oh my, you are diggin deep deep deep here. i love this, all of this. the start, the style (great writing, seriously great), the courage, THE HONESTLY. it’s post like this that make me crazy excited to gulp down your memoir.

    well done.

    what’s my name? amy gesenhues
    who’s my daddy? Norman Louis Gesenhues (born August 21, 1950, deceased May 14, 1977)
    tell me your story? Dad drowned two months before my fourth birthday, my story has been zig-zagging ever since.

    1. Teri Post author

      I’m imagining the constant wondering of what your life would have been, could have been, if Norman Louis Gesenhues had lived. Where would he be, where would you be, at ages 5 and 10 and 20 and 30 and …. How would your dad’s presence in the world have changed you?

      1. amyg

        I used to wonder this a lot. Not that I don’t now, but many transitions have happened during the last year that have made me so, so happy about where and who I am.

        I like to think that maybe we all know each other in an alternative universe, soul-to-soul, and maybe I told my dad…and my mom…and maybe even my stepdad: “hey guys, I really, really want to try the writing thing this time around–can you guys help me out? maybe show up and make sure i have plenty of good material to use?”

        if so, i’m so very thankful to all of them for doing exactly as i asked (i mean, they really, really came through for me, yes?) actually, even if that’s not the way it worked, i’m still thankful. i’m kind of gleeful today, and am sure it is a result of every single day that came before this one.

      2. Teri Post author

        I’m reminded of Mary Karr’s mother saying to her: Look at it this way… maybe you’ll make your fortune on me.

  3. Catherine

    I have a feeling this is how it’s going to be with my youngest son and his father. He is a well known photographer who once, on a short jagged visit, put a photo on the table in of us. This is my new child, he said. And some unpronounceable pretentious name (they are no longer together, she was fair with red hair).
    Lately, this father has sent our son two crates of beautiful photographs from an exhibition in Paris. He said, I wanted my son to have these.
    The boy is fifteen, needs a new coat, has pimples, likes girls, has cropped off his lovely fro. He chose a photo of an old Ghanaian man for his wall.
    And though he is in Europe now, still no father.

    Lovely post Teri.

    1. Teri Post author

      I love that he sends his work, his photography, possibly with the idea that he’s sending a part of himself? That he’s sharing what’s most important to him with your son. And here is is traveling in Europe now, but not making an effort to connect.

  4. Paul Lamb

    Because my mother worked in the evenings, my father was something like a single parent for our large brood. He was ever present. Even so, I never had a close relationship with him, and when he died I was sad that I didn’t feel sad about it. I think this is why I’m so obsessed with my Fathers and Sons stories – to create a fictional relationship to replace the one I never had.

    1. Teri Post author

      And probably why you’re such an engaged father, Paul. I remember hearing a poet talk about his present (but really absent) father —- he said that when he became a father himself, when he wasn’t sure what to do with his infant/toddler/teen son, he would imagine what his own father would do and then to the opposite.

  5. Lyra

    It’s ever present, the looking for resemblance, the same hands, the tone of laugh, the fear of having the worst of it seated too deeply to pull it out and toss it far, far away.

  6. Pamela

    I held my breath until I was 25, waiting to be sure that I could get past the average age of onset for Schizophrenia. My dad has it and I kept waiting to be struck by it. I’m almost 44, so I think I made it….but it hasn’t kept me from looking for similarities. Maybe I’ll inherit his cheerful resilience instead.

    1. Teri Post author

      A very good reason for holding your breath, Pamela. You’re safe now. You made it. I love that fact that you can now relax enough to look for other similarities, positive aspects of your dad that have been passed on in you. Who among us couldn’t use cheerful resilience? What a wonderful trait !!

  7. Averil Dean

    Beautiful, deep, painful words, Teri. Who indeed.

    Much of who my father was got washed away by alcohol and mental illness. I knew some of him, the essence of him. I knew who he wanted to be better than who he actually was.

    1. Teri Post author

      I wonder if that’s even sadder, Averil, to have a father so physically present (like Paul’s above, and even like my stepfather) but disconnected in one way or another. I bet your dad would be so very proud of you and your writing.

  8. independentclause

    Today I hugged my uncle goodbye and realized that I was holding on to him because he was all I had left of my father, and he was holding on to me because I was all he had left of his brother.

    1. Teri Post author

      That’s exactly how I felt when I left Aunt Mary for the last time. Though she was dying, and I knew I’d never see her again. My last link to my mother.

  9. joplingirl

    Moving and very thoughtful post.

    For me the thing about looking at photos of my biological father, especially those in which he is holding me,as an infant and then when a small child, is not being able to remember him or myself in that place or that pose. Or that life. It makes me feel unreal, almost like a ghost.

    1. Teri

      It makes me feel unreal. I so get this. How could I have been so non-present (un-present? nonexistent?) that he could just leave and go on with another life?

      Growing up, I was led to believe he lived far far away. But now I can see from his FB posts/commentary that he was often (if not always) living within a few miles of me and my mother. A very strange feeling.

  10. Suzy Vitello

    Haunting. The unanswered questions you must have, the bottomless pit of inquiry.

    I just had chills looking at those pictures.

    Does anyone have an easy relationship with a father or mother? It seems that writers do not- and I am not an exception.

    1. Teri Post author

      Does anyone have an easy relationship with father or mother? Oy, that question… Doesn’t it make you wonder what our children think of us, or what they will think of us in the future, and how easy or difficult we are?

  11. Downith

    Oh God, I so get the photos thing. That was me, poring through the bags of photos after the funeral. Who were all those people? Who was THAT MAN? Who am I?

    Beautiful post Teri.

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