This blog is normally about comics, particularly classic comics of the Bronze Age that I grew up reading, but every once in a while I’ll take things in a more personal direction (though always with some comics content, however small). Today I’ll be getting personal in the extremis. When I started this new bloghome five years back, one of my earliest (and most personal) posts was about my adopted father. This one is (mostly) about my biological father—the father I never knew.
“I Am Your Father”
Let’s start in the spring of 1980, when I first saw The Empire Strikes Back. A quick jump into the wikimobile and I can probably give you an exact date because I’m pretty sure we went to see this on the opening weekend… ah, okay, so it had its wide release on May 21, 1980, a Wednesday, so we must have went on Friday, the 23rd, around the same time of year as right now. Synchronicity.
For whatever reason, my parents took me and my friend Ed to Menlo Park to see it. Or at least it was down that way; I know we got off the same exit on the GSP we used to visit my grandparents in Metuchen. Why down there and not some place closer to us? I have no clue. I can’t even ask my parents about it now, as I’m sure they couldn’t possibly recall after all these years, but I think I’m remembering this much right—it was the movie theater attached to the Menlo Park Mall. We went down almost immediately after school let out and stood in a line that circled the entire mall (or so it felt) for a good couple of hours to buy tickets. Then we went to McDonald’s to eat before returning to the theater to see the movie in the evening.
For the last couple of decades, I remembered being stunned and amazed by that I-am-your-father reveal as I sat in my seat in that theater. But at a high school reunion a few years back, my friend Ed reminded me that I actually spoiled the reveal for both of us. How was this even possible on the film’s opening night, you ask? It was made possible by my purchasing the comic adaptation at the theater at the same time we had bought our tickets. When Ed told me this, I knew he was right because I definitely bought the magazine (Marvel Super Special Magazine #16) at the theater. I’m dead certain of this because I have a talent for remembering such useless information, particularly so when it comes to comics I either bought or had gifted to me during my youth. But somehow I had forgotten that I had leafed through it while we were at McDonald’s and discovered the big reveal before even seeing the film.
I swear I remember being shocked when it happened on screen. As I tried to piece it all together, it struck me that it’s possible when I first read it that didn’t believe it was accurate; that Marvel must have screwed it up somehow. When Marvel adapted the original Star Wars three years earlier, there were scenes they put in the comics that weren’t actually in the film, so maybe I was thinking the same thing had happened again. For example, there are several scenes early in Marvel’s Star Wars #1 (July 1977) featuring Luke Skywalker’s best friend, Biggs Darklighter, that were not in the movie.
In the second issue (Aug. 1977), we also get a scene with Jabba the Hutt catching up to Han in the Space Port, right before he’s going to take off in the Millennium Falcon with Chewie, Luke, Ben, and the droids. Again, there was no such scene in the film.
In the movies, while we hear Jabba’s name get dropped early and often from the first film on, we never actually see him on screen until Return of the Jedi in 1983. If you’ve seen the film then I don’t have to tell you he looked very different from how he was depicted in the comic!
There were also scenes that felt jumbled or out of order, like when the Empire’s Star Destroyer catches up with Leia’s ship and they violently board it, they intercut with scenes of Luke down on Tatooine watching the skies with “macrobinoculars.”
So why all the differences and seeming mistakes the first time around? Well, as we know, comic book pub months are post-dated, which is to say they came out on the newsstands (Google it, kids) about three months earlier than the cover’s pub date. This practice began as a way to prolong their newsstand life, as they figured the stand owners wouldn’t take a magazine off the racks as long as their cover date looked fresh. (I doubt this was all that effective, but that was the idea.) Ergo, that first issue of Star Wars, with its July cover date, likely came out on the stands in April. Checking on Mike’s Amazing World, we find the exact date is April 12, and the second issue (with its August cover date) came out on May 10. So the first two issues of the comic actually came out before the film was even released on May 25. At this point in history, I don’t think George Lucas was concerned about the comic spoiling the movie; he probably wanted the comic out earlier as a means of promoting the movie to help ensure its success—which was considered far from a sure thing at that time, incredible as that might seem to us today.
ALL OF WHICH MEANS… Marvel was working from an earlier draft of the script that was a bit unlike the final, fully-edited film that the public saw on the screen beginning on May 25, 1977. In fact, I’m betting Marvel started working on their adaptation in late 1976 at the absolute latest. That’s significant lag time. Today we know (thanks to film restorations, re-edits, DVD and Blu-ray extras, and Star Wars scholarship) that all these scenes, and even the confusing cross-cuts early on, were very much a part of an early cut of the film. This probably would have made for awkward viewing had the film not been “saved in the edit,” as this Youtube video demonstrates:
Fascinating stuff, huh?
Where Was I Again? Oh Yeah…
So anyway, it’s possible the astonishment and awe I remember feeling in that theater may be a true memory because I doubted what I saw in the comic. It’s also possible, I guess, that the reveal was just so powerful that I was still stunned to actually experience it on screen, even though I knew about it beforehand.
In any case, it was a magical night. Kind of strange and bewildering that I forgot I purchased the comic adaptation the same night (and spoiled the movie for both me and Ed), but can still recall other minutiae with crystal clarity. For example, I can remember several songs that we heard in the car on the way there and then on the way back again. Among them were:
Robbie Dupree and George Benson kinda stick together in my memory because of the lyrical similarities—“steal away into the night” and “gimme the night” in both choruses, respectively. And the Christopher Cross song was one of my favorites of 1980. Because of the weakness of the AM radio signal, it was often hard to make out the words of songs, and the elementary-school kids living in our area listened to two (and only two) pop radio stations in those days, both of them AM stations: WNBC on 660 and WABC on 770. (High school kids listened to FM stations like 95.5 WPLJ and 102.7 WNEW, but they were way ahead of us at that point.) I remember having a discussion with Ed one time over whether that Christopher Cross song was “Ride Like the Wind” or “I Like to Win”—such was the sound quality of AM radio.
Ah, you kids today, with your perfect digital quality radio broadcasts and online ticket vendors, you’ll never understand the pain & joy of standing in line for tickets to a movie or concert, or suffer the primitive clatter of AM radio. You’ll never know what it was like for us to wait for our favorite TV show to come on, how you didn’t dare miss it or even blink while it was on, because we didn’t even have VCRs yet, let alone DVRs or on-demand or streaming. This is all so alien to you that it may as well have been the Stone Age, I’m guessing.
But I digress.
The primary reason my memory of these little things is so clear is because it remains one of the most joyous nights of my life. I remember during the car ride home that, at one point, Ed & I were laughing so hard together that my adopted father ordered us to calm down because he legitimately feared we were on the verge of suffocating ourselves. I don’t remember what we found so funny, but I will never forget our laughter. I guess this is because whatever joke set us off isn’t important; what was important was that I was with my best friend and I was happy. The world was young and anything and everything still felt possible.
Even so, beneath the surface, there were things that were probably weighing on me. Things I wasn’t even conscious of at the time.
Fast forward seven to eight months.
I still have the letter from the adoption agency, dated December 18, 1980—one week before Christmas. I don’t think my adopted parents gave this to me when they first got it; I’m guessing they waited until some time after the holidays. But at some point in late 1980 or early 1981, they came to me with this letter containing what was called “non-identifying information” about my birthfamily.
Some context is clearly required here. As I’ve noted many times on this blog, I’m adopted. And when you’re adopted, they take your original birth certificate and seal it up in the state capital—which, in my case, would be Trenton, New Jersey. Then they create another birth certificate (a fake one, essentially) that lists your adopted parents as your biological parents. This is done to keep your adoption secret from the world; and most importantly, secret from you. So with me, for example, my legal birth certificate lists my actual birth date and birthplace, the time and place where my biological mother gave biological birth to me, but shows my adopted mother as my mother and my adopted father as father. So if my adopted parents had chosen to keep the truth from me and I went and requested my birth certificate, I would be none the wiser; it would not reveal my true parentage.
Now thankfully, my adopted parents didn’t do this to me. For as long as I can remember, I have always known I was adopted because they told me from day one. But that original birth certificate (or OBC, as we refer to it in the adoptee community) remained legally sealed nonetheless.
The one thing you can do (at least with most adoption agencies) is request “non-identifying information.” As I was still a kid at the time, I could not request it for myself, my adopted parents had to make the request and they did so. Non-identifying information is exactly what it sounds like: information about your birth family that does not identify them. It will not reveal who they are or where they might be—in fact it won’t offer even the slightest clue.
At the time my parents presented me with this (whenever they did so, precisely), I couldn’t understand why. They told me I had been asking them a lot of questions recently, and I honestly didn’t think I had been asking any more questions than usual—but maybe I was wrong. Maybe I had gotten more inquisitive in the weeks and months prior. Maybe that big reveal in Empire had been the impetus… I’m honestly not sure.
However it happened, the letter was there in my hands. It was both fascinating and surreal to read its contents. Here’s what it said about my birthfather:
David’s biological father was 17 years old at the time of his birth. He was 6’ tall, weighed 175 lbs., and had hazel eyes, brown hair, and light olive skin. He was of Italian and German heritage and of the Catholic faith. He had completed his junior year of high school. He was in good health. His interests were football, track and wrestling, and he was also mechanical minded.
It listed similar information for my birthmother and both of their families. My father had two brothers, one older and one younger, and an older sister. My mother had an older sister and younger brother. My father’s father (my grandfather) had died in his fifties—but they didn’t offer any more specific details about when, of course, as this could have been a clue to his identity. They also said my mother’s mother (my grandmother) had died of cancer—but again, no further details beyond this.
It went on to say that my biological parents were “young and not equipped, emotionally or financially, to raise a child,” and that my mother “felt she couldn’t offer him the good home and family he deserved.” It also noted that my mother called the agency a few weeks after my birth to see how my placement had gone. A few months after that, she called to request a picture of me.
If the idea had been to quell my curiosity, I don’t think it worked. As I recall, the letter only seemed to present more questions. Just to show you how cynical I was even at that young age, I didn’t feel all that certain that the information they had given me was correct. How could I be sure? Someone could have just made it all up. Or maybe they had grabbed information from someone else’s file by mistake.
My cynicism may have just been a defense mechanism, however. I think on some level I knew that all this information was correct; that this was them, this was my birthfamily. In fact, there was probably a lot more that I was repressing or covering up or rationalizing back then; a lot of stuff that I wasn’t ready to face.
It couldn’t have been more than a month or so later when my teacher announced an autobiography project for the class. I don’t remember exactly what the length requirements were, but it had to be 2-3 pages minimum, and my initial reaction was, “Great! I just got all this information from the adoption agency, plus all the info I can include about my adopted family and I’ll get those pages filled up quick and easy!” I remember I even wound up doing a couple pages more than the assignment required. I showed it to my adopted parents and to Ed—I don’t think Ed actually read through it, but he saw the hand-written pages; he knew I had put in the work. I had even completed the assignment ahead of schedule, so I kept it in my desk until it was time to turn it in.
Then, when the day came to hand it in, I searched my desk to find it and came up empty. My desk was a mess, so it was understandable that something could get lost in there, but after a couple minutes I started to panic and began tearing that desk apart. I did everything short of turning it upside down and shaking it, but found nothing. So when our teacher came around and the other kids all handed in their work, I didn’t hand in anything. I waited in anticipation for that moment when my teacher would ask me where my assignment was… but that moment never came. He never said a word to me about it; never inquired about it once.
Now I should have been shitting my pants over this, right? But I wasn’t. After a few days of him not saying anything about it, I just figured I was off the hook—however, whatever, who cares? Just a year or two later, I would devolve into a neurotic mess, always living in terror of when the other shoe might drop, but back then? I was the most emotionally strong and secure a person I would ever be. I was more Zen than Kwai Chang Caine. Or so it appeared.
Eventually, we had to get up and read some (if not all) of our autobiography aloud to the class. I was somehow embarrassed, relieved, and frustrated all at once. Embarrassed because I was the only kid in class not participating in this activity; relieved because I had somehow managed to get out of this assignment, which might have been the only thing potentially more embarrassing; and frustrated because there was this part of me that actually wanted to share who I was with my teacher and classmates.
But I said nothing. Near the end of the school year, there were parent-teacher conferences, and my parents asked my teacher about the assignment. He told them I never handed anything in, which left my parents extremely confused. They told him about all the pages I had written and all the details of my birthfamily that I’d put in there. My teacher, who knew I was adopted, told them that he figured that this assignment had upset me somehow (because of my being adopted, that is), and he assumed I couldn’t bring myself to do the assignment or otherwise refused to, and he had decided not to push me on it. My parents told him that I was never upset by it and had actually worked really hard on it. Everyone was stumped.
When my parents got home, they asked for an explanation. I sheepishly told them I lost my work and that when my teacher didn’t say anything, I just sorta forgot about it. My parents couldn’t figure out if this was a punishable offense or not, but ultimately, since my teacher let it drop, they did the same. (And maybe they were also wondering if my teacher’s first instincts had been correct—that it had upset me.)
When the school year ended we had to clean out our desks completely. Guess what I found in mine.
Yep. There it was—my autobiography assignment. I showed it to Ed and laughed about it at the time, but years later I began to wonder… was my teacher right? Did the assignment upset me on some level? Had it raised feelings I wasn’t ready to face? Is that why I managed to “lose” it in my desk? Had I wanted to lose it?
Perhaps my being upset started with getting that non-identifying info. By its nature, it was almost entirely impersonal, and thus couldn’t reveal anything of true value to me—my parents, my biological family, they still remained strangers to me, really. The only way I could ever truly know them was to meet them and talk to them, myself. And there was no guarantee that this would ever happen.
And going back to The Empire Strikes Back… how much did that really affect me? The more I think about it, how could it not? The whole thing was rife with Freudian shit: the father-son conflict; Luke’s hand getting chopped off, evoking castration… and even more personally, didn’t that big reveal have to provoke thoughts of the mystery father I had in my own past? And potential future? If I ever went looking for my biological father someday, might I find a Darth Vader waiting for me?
The more thought I gave it as an adult, I could see it went back a lot further than Empire. It went back to the original Star Wars and even further still.
Who Are You?
My older sister and her boyfriend took me & the two kids I was friends with next door to see Star Wars with them sometime (I believe) in September, maybe early October, of 1977, several months after it first came out. Naturally, all us kids flipped for it. While some of the guys liked Han Solo, or Chewie, or the droids, I developed a particular attachment to Luke Skywalker. It appears pretty obvious now why I would identify with him so closely: both the character and I were being raised by people other than our biological parents and had no knowledge of our true roots. And maybe, just maybe, there was a part of me that wanted to escape my circumstances as badly as Luke did Tatooine.
As I’ve observed on this blog so many times before, the same could even be said about my identification with a lot of those comic book superheroes I followed so fervently. It’s funny, really, how so many of their stories begin with being orphaned and/or adopted. Superman is the first, most obvious one. His biological parents died on Krypton when it exploded and he was adopted and raised by two Earth parents. Then there’s Batman, whose parents were murdered in front of him when he was a young boy (which, of course is what motivated him to put on a mask and become a dark avenger of the night). And Spider-Man, he wasn’t raised by his biological parents, either—he was brought up by his Aunt and Uncle.
Even the ancient mythology I had started to get into heavily around the third or fourth grade (courtesy of those picture books by D’Aulaires on Greek and Norse myths in our school library) is full of heroes who are either orphans or are abandoned by one parent or another (or both). Heracles (aka Hercules) and Perseus didn’t have the old man around to play catch with them when they were growing up; he was too busy on Mount Olympus throwing thunderbolts or whatever, never putting in any quality time with them. Thor was not raised by his biological mother. Oedipus had it even worse—his father ordered him killed as a newborn, then he wound up coming back later and unknowingly killed his father and married his own mother!
In any case, getting back to Star Wars: I loved Luke Skywalker and identified with him so deeply that my admiration crossed over to the actor portraying him, Mark Hamill. So when Mark Hamill did another movie called Corvette Summer the year after Star Wars came out, I begged my adopted parents to take me to see it—which, shockingly, they did. I say “shockingly” because the movie was rated “R” and I was eight years old. As it turned out, the movie wasn’t that bad—just some salty language (and I had certainly heard all the naughty words by then), and the fact that at one point in the movie Hamill gets picked up by a wannabe prostitute (the significance of which went over my head at that age).
Little Red Corvette
Our protagonist is a California high school kid named Kenny Dantley (Hamill), who’s actually got a lot in common with Luke Skywalker (and therefore me). His father is nowhere to be found in this story, and one gets the impression he hasn’t been around for a long, long time—like maybe Kenny’s entire life. He lives in a trailer park with his mom, who appears to have little use for him. In fact she seems to treat him like he’s some kind of speed bump on the highway that is her social life.
With his home life a disaster and his romantic life non-existent, Kenny throws himself into his senior shop project: building a custom Corvette. When I saw this car on the screen, it felt like I was looking at a magical machine.
For the record, that’s a custom 1973 Corvette, candy-apple red, right-hand drive, metal flake, superior mags, 350-cubic-inch V-8 engine, Mercury tubes, Gabriel shocks, Holley Carburetor 650 cfm under the scoop, Holley dominator manifold, Mercury side-pipes, Superior Dynamo wheels, Goodrich TA tires (eight inches on the front, ten on the rear), with a Vega GT steering wheel.
Fun Fact: Why the right-hand drive, you might wonder? To make it easier to pick up chicks when you’re out cruising. You can just look out the window and talk to someone on the sidewalk right next to you.
Now over at the Internet Movie Cars Database (IMCDB), the consensus is that this car is really ugly. In fact they really ripped into it with comments like “one of UGLIEST customs,” “Poor car…Terrible,” “as tacky as tacky gets,” and nearly everyone hated the flames that were painted on it. To all these people I’d just like to say: Could you please stop shitting on my childhood?
Getting back to the plot: After building his dream car (which wasn’t really his, it belonged to the school, which was supposed to auction it off later), Kenny and his fellow shop students get to take the car out and enjoy it for one night, under the supervision of their teacher, Mr. McGrath. Of course the car ends up getting stolen, which leads Kenny on a summer-long mission to recover it. He quickly discovers the car is in Las Vegas and hitches out there to find it. This is when he gets discovered on the road by Vanessa (aka Eleanor, aka Rosalind, and played by Annie Potts—she’s the wannabe prostitute mentioned earlier).
During his early days in Vegas, Kenny spots the car several times but it eludes him. This leads the thieves to re-paint the car GOLD.
Kenny does finally find the car (there’s no painting over that right-side drive, after all, nor all the other custom features), only to discover that the body-shop owner who stole it is a former student of McGrath’s named Wayne Lowry and that McGrath was in on the heist. Not wanting to rat out McGrath, Kenny plays along and works in Lowry’s shop for a while before ultimately stealing the car back (after he’s restored the candy-apple red paint job, complete with flames). Naturally, there’s a big showdown at the end between Kenny in the ‘vette and Wayne, in his custom 1971 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am, black, with a Formula hood cut for the shaker scoop.
…Now growing up, I was never a big automobile enthusiast and never thought much about cars (my head was so full of comic books that there really wasn’t much room left for anything else), but if you asked me as a kid what my favorite car was, I’d tell you a Corvette, thanks to this movie. I loved the look of the car and it was the automobile of choice for Luke Skywalker/Kenny Dantley/Mark Hamill, all of whom were (at least deep in my own unconscious) fictional stand-ins for myself.
Into my teenage years and even up to the present day, the ‘vette remains my dream machine.
Many years later, I’d purchase the novelization of Corvette Summer written by Wayland Drew. The book got a lot deeper into Kenny’s past, particularly his missing father, and lent a Grand Canyon of depth to a story that was otherwise your standard, summertime-fun flick. Here’s the text, straight out of the opening chapter:
Of Kenneth W. Dantley, Sr., his father, he knew only one fact for certain: That in 1960, when he had abandoned his wife and son, he had been nineteen. Dantley’s mother had some yellowing, out-of-focus snapshots that showed him as a crew-cut kid, grinning, clowning, leaning against a gleaming white front fender that was itself so beautiful that sometimes when his mother wasn’t home Kenny took the photos out to look at that one snapshot—his father and his father’s car. “He was fun-loving,” his mother had told him once when she was drunk. Then she hadn’t spoken for several minutes; she had just sat on the edge of her bed and moved in a way that Kenny had seen Australian aborigines move in a film about funerals—rocking very gently, gripping their knees.
“Don’t cry,” he said.
“I’m not crying,” she said. “I wouldn’t cry for that sonuvabitch.”
He noticed creases in her neck that he had never seen before. “Tell me more,” he said.
“More? What more? He liked good times. He liked to travel. Jeez, the man was made to travel. So, for a little while, we traveled together, that’s all.”
“Then I came.”
“Yeah. Then you came and we couldn’t move so easy anymore. So he left.”
“You hear from him?”
She shook her head slowly, shoulder to shoulder. “Nope. Not a word. Eighteen years, and not a single goddamn word!”
“It was a Corvette, wasn’t it, that you moved around in.”
“Yeah. Get me a drink, Kenny, and I’ll tell you something.”
He had gone and poured the drink for her and brought it back. She had fallen backward onto the bed. “You were going to tell me something,” he said. “Here.”
She propped herself up, reaching. “That car,” she said. “That was one helluva gorgeous car.”
“Yeah.” He was thinking about it. A 1959. He knew every detail of the cockpit—red vinyl, it would have been, and red broadloom. He knew every detail of the engine also, because General Motors was still sending The Corvette News to Kenneth W. Dantley, and he had been careful, whenever they had moved, to send the change of address. He had sent changes of address often over the last few years. He was wondering what such a car would cost now, meticulously restored at the Dantley shop. He was grinning.
“But that’s not it,” his mother was saying. “That’s not what I wanted to tell you. What I wanted to tell you was that I was jealous of that car.” She began to laugh, and then she covered her face so that Kenny could not tell whether she was laughing or crying. Then, little by little, dabbling with a kleenex at her eyes and nose, she got control of herself. “Can you imagine that? But it was so beautiful, and when we drove through a town people would stop and look. And they never did that to me. Um-um. Never. He loved that bloody car. And in the end it was the car that took him away, wasn’t it, so I was right to be afraid of it.”
There’s one scene in the film where Kenny is explaining to Vanessa the importance of the car to him, that a Corvette is a “man’s” car, clearly indicating that his masculine identity is tied to the ‘vette somehow. By itself, it’s an innocuous line, but the book just revealed the deeper side of it to us: it’s not just any “man’s car,” it was his father’s car—the father he never knew. So the Corvette Kenny built represented the only real connection he had to his father. Kenny’s devotion to that car is no longer superficial or childish or silly, it’s important. It has a deep, personal significance.
As this is an autobiographical post, you’re probably wondering at this point how it all ties back to me, right? Well, I’m about to get to that.
I had always known where the adoption agency was that handled my placement—even if I hadn’t, I would have seen it on the letterhead atop the first page of my non-identifying info—so at age sixteen I called them up and inquired about finding my birthfamily. Their response was, “call us back when you’re eighteen.” Personal struggles and work and college got in the way, so I was nineteen by the time I tried again. They asked for $100 to conduct a search for me, which I paid. I didn’t even have my own checking account at this point; I had to pay them with a money order. A couple months later, they assigned me a caseworker, and mere weeks after this the work was done.
This is how, at a couple months shy of twenty years old, I would find myself reunited with my birthfamily.
I feel guilty relating how ridiculously simple this proved to be, especially when I think of all the horror stories I’ve heard from fellow adoptees about how hard it was for them, what they went through and how long it took. For all the non-adoptees out there reading this, trust me when I tell you, my reunion process was/is an outlier. It is almost never this easy for an adoptee to find their birthfamily, short of an open adoption. As I have often joked, I was just too young, naïve, and stupid at the time to know how hard it was supposed to be.
My caseworker contacted me by mail, as I didn’t want her calling on the phone—my adopted parents didn’t know I had begun the search and I still wasn’t sure when (or even if) I would tell them. When I got her letter telling me the news, I remember calling her back on the extension in the basement. She informed me that she had spoken to my birthmother over the phone and she was anxious to meet. When I asked about my birthfather, she told me rather matter-of-factly that he had died in a car accident in 1972, just a short time after I was born.
He was already nine years dead when I got that non-identifying information from the agency back in ‘81. They didn’t tell me this then because they likely hadn’t known. I’m not sure they would have told me if they had known, anyway. The news left me feeling strangely empty. He was my father but also a stranger to me, so I wasn’t really sad, I just felt… nothing. Then I felt guilty for not feeling more. Then I got depressed when I realized that after waiting my whole life to learn about my blood parents, the most I would ever get now was only half the story. I’d never get my father’s side; I would never speak to him, never know the sound of his voice, never truly know him.
When I met my birthmother for the very first time it was a bit surprising for both of us. I went to the agency to meet her, walked through the wrong door and there she was.
“Are you my mother?” I asked.
“I think so,” she responded as she stood up from her chair, sounding more scared than anything else.
“Happy Mother’s Day,” I told her, as Mother’s Day was just three days away, and then I kissed her on the cheek and gave her a single red rose. I was a couple of minutes late to our meeting because I had stopped to get it for her. Then she looked up at me, eyes wet with tears, and the next words she spoke are words I will never forget:
“You look like your father.”
I spent the next several weeks getting to know my birthmother, my younger half-sisters, and the rest of Mom’s larger, extended family. Then I looked up my birthfather’s family. Slowly but surely, I learned the history of my biological parents, their families, and the details of my father’s untimely death at age nineteen were revealed to me. He died driving his car—it wasn’t a custom job, it wasn’t a ’73, and it wasn’t candy-apple red. But it was a Corvette (a 1970, I’m pretty sure) and it was GOLD.
And I’d swear there have been several times over the past three decades that my birthmom has spoken those same words to me (or something damn close) as Kenny Dantley’s mom: It was the car that took him away.
My identification with Mark Hamill, the journey he took me on as Luke Skywalker over the course of six years of Star Wars films, along with his role in Corvette Summer and how that car mesmerized me… all little coincidences, utterly random and meaningless. But somehow when you put them all together, it doesn’t feel so little, it doesn’t feel random, and it doesn’t feel meaningless. Just the opposite, in fact—it feels very meaningful. It feels like the universe had been whispering in my ear that whole time, telling me who I was and where I came from. I think the universe speaks to all of us like this. Sometimes we fail to hear it; other times we hear it but fail to listen.
More synchronicity: Nine days ago (May 4) was Star Wars Day. Ten days from now it will be the thirty-ninth anniversary of the night I first saw The Empire Strikes Back with Ed (and spoiled the film for both of us). Twelve days from now will be the forty-second anniversary of the premiere of Star Wars. Two days ago was the thirtieth anniversary of the day I was reunited with my birthmom. And today is my birthfather’s birthday. He would have been sixty-seven years old had he lived. Instead he died a couple months shy of twenty, and thus remains a teenager forever—and a mystery to me for all time.