In Spring 2014, Rhymes with Drop Books will publish Evan Allgood’s heartbreaking non-adoption memoir, My Father’s Eyes. The following is an exclusive excerpt.
“Who just dropped you off?” the schoolchildren teased each morning. “Your dad?”
I tried to don a brave face as Papa waved and scooted off in the drab gray Mercedes Mama had got him for Christmas, a car the color and size of a Monopoly thimble. Never let them see you sweat, Papa always said, patting my cheek with a calloused palm. Sweating, crying, wetting my knickers: I suspected any visible expulsion of fluids wasn’t in my best interest. And so, like a stoic nine-year-old ghost, I roamed the halls of St. Stephens & St. Agnes college preparatory school wearing a hard, expressionless façade of my own forging. Like The Man in the Iron Mask (the 1998 film adaptation of which I would later adore and watch ad infinitum for its striking relevance to my own situation), I too had been unfairly jailed simply for being born—not in thirty-four-year solitary confinement across a series of unforgiving French structures, but in a prison far less tangible and infinitely more terrible.
I had and have been caged by the knowledge that my parents—the people who raised me from birth—are nothing more than my genetic predecessors, my immediate progenitors.
At recess, the adopted children would hypothesize that their dads were Supermen, their mothers Wonder Women. (Later, in secondary school, those fantastical heroes evolved into the President of the United States, Princess Diana, Michael Jordan.)
“Where do you think your parents are, Allgood?” they’d ask, tacking on my preposterous last name for bad measure.
“Papa’s at home,” I’d say. “He retired from the Air Force last year as a two-star general. Says he’s making a bundle consulting in the private sector—”
“Two stars!” they’d shout, laughing. “That’s half as many as my dad probably has!”
“And now your bum dad doesn’t even work,” someone would add. “Sounds like a real hobo.”
“More like wino!” they’d say. “I’ve heard a lot of highly successful men drink nearly to excess. To toast their accomplishments.”
“Wino dad, wino dad! Are you gonna whine about your rich war hero wino dad, Allgood?”
I examined a particularly interesting leaf lying sideways on the sidewalk, toed the concrete anxiously.
“Papa drinks in strict moderation,” I muttered, more to myself than my assailants.
“He must not have many accomplishments, then! Ha-ha!”
“What about your mom?” they prodded, unrelenting. “Where’s she?”
“Mama’s in space. NASA’s just launched a new exploratory mission.”
This is when the atomic wedgies would commence, the swirlies would swirl. Oh, how they swirled, a tsunami of fresh humiliation pounding my ears! Papa was a mere fighter pilot; Mother, a humble astronaut. My classmates’ parents could be anything, anywhere. Not back at Allgood Manor, knocking back scotches and golf balls; or up in space, discovering new planets; but anywhere!
How could any child growing up in the stiflingly warm (dare I say, womb-like) care of his biological parents compete with that?
Back at the manor one night—over a meager meal of veal cutlets, stinging nettle soup, and ortolan in the dining hall—I asked Papa if he drank to toast his accomplishments, and if so, why he didn’t drink more.
“I drink to unwind,” he said. “One tumbler of sixty-four-year Macallan a day. More than that could muck up my liver. Cloud my senses. Have to stay sharp, son.” He winked at me, knifing his veal cleanly.
“Do you think… ” I hesitated, having never dared venture across this rocky terrain before. “Do you think my adoptive parents might have accomplished more than you and Mother?”
“Adoptive parents? I don’t understand—”
“The people who might have adopted me, if you and Mama had given me up.”
Papa set his silverware down and looked me straight in the eye. “Son, we never even considered it. Your mother and I have loved you unconditionally from the instant of your conception.”
I nodded, a little sadly I suppose.
“If anyone had even hinted at removing you from our custody, they’d have had an F-16 to answer to. Armed to the teeth and piloted by a righteously furious father. Capiche?”
I nodded again, a little less sadly, perhaps.
“Alright, then.” He tousled my hair and resumed eating. “Finish your ortolan.”
Papa couldn’t know it at the time, but his carefully worded evasions would only toss more tinder onto my burning desire to track down the couple that might have adopted me…
Evan Allgood's work has appeared in McSweeney's, The Millions, LA Review of Books, The Toast, and The Billfold. He lives in Brooklyn and contributes regularly to Paste. Follow and maybe later unfollow him on Twitter @evoooooooooooo.