Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A Journal Entry

Odd news this past weekend. An aunt I’ve not seen in twenty years called to tell me my biological father, who I haven’t spoken with in thirteen years, died. I’m not exactly sure when he died, frankly. Perhaps I’ll refrain from actually knowing the date, “Father died today, or yesterday maybe. I can’t remember.”

My aunt wanted me to make an appearance in the probate proceedings. Apparently, I’m the only child sired by my father, though it seems he adopted one or two stepchildren, whose mother he married and later divorced. I understood very quickly that my aunt and her mother are not fans of my former stepmother, who I was told actually ran over my father with her car… twice.

One of my favorite classes in law school was Wills & Trusts. The common law that developed regarding wills is fascinating, and most of it has been codified to one degree or another in the various states. I remember one case we read actually involved a man who scrawled his dying wishes on a wall just before death.

Two hundred years ago I, as the eldest son, would have taken all of my father’s property under the doctrine of primogeniture. This is essentially what Esau gave up when he sold his birthright to Jacob for some pea soup. There was good reason for such a rule in an agrarian society, as it preserved large estates and kept families tied together to work the land.

Back to my narrative. Monday came and I called the probate court in Sebastian County, Arkansas, and a very nice lady told me who the attorney was for the executrix of the estate. I called and spoke with his legal assistant, who was very sweet to me. She informed me that I was not listed as an heir. This really didn’t surprise me, as my aunt had indicated as much on the phone. Then she told me there was a will, and I asked whether she’d fax a copy to me, which she kindly did.

“I have two children,” it read, “Phillip McGuire and Christian McGuire.” I read that sentence a few times. Checked the signature page. I can’t say I was shocked, or overwhelmingly hurt. It was expected based on my conversation with the legal assistant. But it was surreal.

When presented with a new experience that inherently provokes emotion one can quickly switch from just thinking to thinking about what one should be thinking. This, in turn, can devolve into a bathetic display of crafted emotionalism rather than actual expression. For those who wonder, I felt sad. I thought I should feel some sense of anger, as the poison of old memories was dredged up through the telephone, and I tried to gin up some truculence for good measure. It didn’t really work. Then I thought I should feel some great sense of loss. But I hadn’t really lost anything other than an unexercised expiring option, that is, the perceived option to “reconnect.” Options are not worthless, however, and it is the loss of the option that leaves the hole. But it is mishandled filial duty that caused my sadness. Christ commanded that it is the aggrieved party that has the responsibility reconcile, not the instigator. There is no doubt but that I have sin in that regard: sin that I had pride in, actually. Is that two separate sins, or just one? So if the sadness is over the lost option, and the option is lost due to my own sin, then perhaps my sadness is a mourning of sin, which would ironically be in accordance with the implied command to mourn our sin contained in the Sermon on the Mount. Hopefully, there’s truth to that, as the mere knowledge of that would be comforting.

He owed me nothing. Whatever obligations nature imposes on a biological father were long ago transferred to my stepfather, whom I affectionately call “Dad” and “Pop.” He’s the one who taught me to ride a bicycle, throw a football, and make funny noises with my hand in my armpit. Nevertheless, it is difficult to read that “Michael Shane McGuire” doesn’t acknowledge a son by his same name. I would understand a provision stating, “I intentionally make no provision for my son, Michael Shane McGuire, whom I have not seen since 1993.” That would at least have averred to my existence and proffered a reasonable explanation for the will’s contents.

Well, that didn’t happen. For those interested, Arkansas law actually presumes my father forgot to mention me. There’s a statute pertaining to “pretermitted children.” Historically, such statutes are derived from the common law which provided for children who are born subsequent to the execution of a will. The Arkansas statute is quite broad, and states that any child omitted from a will takes under the estate as though the decedent passed without a will. So in a goofy turn of events, I am legally entitled to more money having been omitted from the will than I would be had he written, “I hereby bequeath $10.00 to Michael Shane McGuire.” Somebody in the Arkansas legislature must have had a father who left him out of a will.

I suppose I could try to spiritualize this little story, make a comparison to not being found in the Lamb’s Book of Life or something to that effect. But I haven’t been struck by any great spiritual revelations yet, so any efforts to spiritualize would turn out forced and stilted.

I would be remiss if I didn’t note several things for which I’m thankful, though (perhaps thankfulness is a spiritual revelation in and of itself). The estrangement of my father gave me a very early admiration for my Uncle Hal (who I distinctly remember wishing was my father when I was four years old) and especially my grandfather, who served as my first male role models. From a very early age I was emotionally antagonistic toward my father, and the biological imperative to aspire to be a particular person was quickly focused on my grandfather. I doubt there’s a finer man such affection could be directed toward: a Bible-quoting marine. (And there’s certainly no finer man than the bigger than life, perfect version of my grandfather I maintain in mind.) That is a very real, tangible blessing conferred to me through having a wayward father. And I am thankful for that blessing. I am also thankful for my very loving Dad, who has always treated me as a son, not only in affection and discipline, but also in the effusive pride a parent naturally displays for his child’s achievements. That’s special, as is his selfless love for my mother. These are great and profound blessings.