Melvin and Jessica: Courtesy of Jessica Gordon
Jessica Gordon was in her junior year of college when her mother tearfully told her that there was a chance another man was her father.
All growing up, I thought one guy was my dad, Albert. That guy was hit or miss. He wasn’t emotionally involved or had too much presence. I’m my mom’s only child and that’s what it felt like. I have a dad that I can call every now and then or see every now and then.
When I went to college--and girl, this is still a mystery to this day. I just still can’t figure out why Albert never responded to my phone calls or talked to me after I went to college. Just out the blue. That fucked me up. I’m still dealing with repercussions from the pattern that I had when it comes to dating and relationships from [his disappearance.] I noticed after that happened to me, the way I would hold on to relationships that I needed to let go of. It just became so loud and clear, like damn that literally started happening right when I noticed my dad wouldn’t return my phone calls.
The summer before going into my junior year--so two years of not hearing from my dad--my mom reveals to me that she believes that Melvin is my dad.
Now, I know who Melvin is because I know that my mom and him dated. I remember him coming around. I even have a very strong memory of him dumping change in front of me-- I was probably two or three-- and playing with the change.
So she says, ‘I think Melvin is your dad.’
Girl, we end up getting the DNA test and not even a week later, we learned that Melvin was my father. And after seventeen years of my dad (Melvin) and my mom not talking, they got back together. My dad was in a serious relationship with another woman, left that woman and everything.
Yaasss… And this is another side piece, I feel like my dad’s (Melvin’s) family was like, ‘What the hell is going on?!’ And some of them, still to this day, I feel the energy. Some of them are welcoming but that was a big piece that I had to adjust to, the shadiness, starting from the matriarch. The grandmother lived to be 96. When I first came and introduced myself to her--she lived in Mississippi and I went to Jackson State so I just traveled an hour and a half to go see my “grandmother.” She had all this shade, was talking shit about my momma. Basically like, ‘Who don’t know they baby daddy?’ Girl, yes! She was like 92 back then. And I was like, ‘What the fuck?!’ I ended up leaving. I was shitty.
And this is a really big part of my story after I found out everything. It’s so crazy how you feel like you’re being attacked or you’re being blamed or you’re the victim, when I didn’t ask to be brought here by my momma and daddy. It’s just so crazy how people projected everything onto me instead of the people who created me.
So, to go back. Melvin and my mom ended up getting married two years into their relationship. They just had their third or fourth wedding anniversary.
And girl, I love my daddy so much. I believe that everything happens for a reason. So I don’t get too hung up on ‘I wish I would have known him.’ Now, I’ve definitely wondered what would life be like if I always knew that was my dad but I can’t go back.
Another thing that stands out to me too is that I was very forgiving of my mom. If it were earlier in my life, I would have held more resentment but at the stage when she told me, I was going through my own shit. And that’s when I figured out, ‘Damn, life can be hard.’ I remember having a light bulb moment at Jackson State like, ‘This is life? What the fuck?!’ So I got that and I didn’t take it out on my mom because I was like, ‘You never know what she was going through.’ I never held any resentment toward her.
Fast forward to this day, my parents are still together. They sold the house that I grew up in since third grade. And I miss them but I’m so happy for them. It actually brought me and my mom a lot closer. I didn’t resent my mom for that reason, there were other reasons--not resentment but there could be a lot of mini tension. We definitely had a good relationship but because I was her only child, she could be really overbearing. Especially after--I don’t know if you remember when I got into my car accident in high school--she just turned up with the overbearing stuff after that.
NSNC: I don’t remember that.
Yes, I had a neck brace.
NSNC: Oh! I do remember you in the neck brace.
So my mom was really overbearing after that and the more she wanted to come to me, the more I wanted to push away. But I’m so grateful. I feel like everything happens in perfect timing. Now, we are so close even though we’re so far away from each other right now.
NSNC: Do you think Albert had an inclination that he wasn’t your biological father? Why do you think he stopped communicating with you?
Well, when I asked him… I don’t know why people want to put the blame on me--I could not believe that his grown ass was trying to blame me. He said, ‘Well, you know the phone works both ways.’ This was a couple of years after, when I was attempting to get closure. And I’m glad that I did that but I’m like, ‘Ok, I’m over it now.’
And to be honest, I don’t know. The only reason I want to say yes is because other people had inclinations. Like my crazy cousin was like, ‘I always knew you looked like Melvin.’
Then girl, come to find out, my older cousin dated a man who worked with my dad. My dad would have him sneak pictures of me at family functions. So clearly, there were inclinations everywhere. So I’m saying yes from that standpoint. But in my heart of hearts, I don’t know if Albert believed that or not.
NSNC: Can you just speak to the idea of placing the blame on a child, how that makes you feel and why that’s not the right thing to do?
Umph! Girl, yes I can! Well, first of all, I feel like it’s double, probably triple the impact because kids already innately believe that everything is their fault when things like this happen. So if you already believe that and you are directly told that, then it can really impact you.
I work with children whose parents have abandoned them, literally they’re in Foster Care so I talk to them about this same thing, ‘This isn’t your fault.’ It’s just a human development thing because kids are egocentric.
And for me personally, this shit done prolonged my healing journey. I believe in divine timing and I am so grateful but now I have to put in more work because this shit fucked me up. You have to do a lot of undoing. The more blame that was placed, the more unlearning you have to do.
NSNC:Do you think your mom may have known that there was a possibility that you were Melvin’s daughter?
Yeah, she definitely did. She reminded me--I was probably eight-years-old and I asked, ‘How do you and Daddy (Albert) have curly hair and I don’t?’ I wasn’t thinking that nigga wasn’t my daddy, I was just asking a question. They both had a curly texture and my texture is wavy and fine. And at eight, I was thinking, ‘If this nigga got curly hair, where the fuck my curls at?’
And my mom said, ‘I don’t know Jessica, people just come out different sometimes.’ She just gave a generic answer. And I just said, ‘Okay’ and went on about my business. But as adults, she brought that moment back up. And she said she thought about Melvin then. Definitely. She knew. And this is where my forgiveness comes in with my mom.
I always assumed that she wanted Albert to be my dad because she liked him the most. She wanted to build a family with him. And I know how women are. That’s the ultimate... You have my baby. Now, when I talk to her about that, she says that ain’t the case. But that’s what I feel. And I’m getting better but I have my own history with men and relationship. So if that’s how you were back then, I get it.
Oh my bad! I left out a really important part, Veronica!
My biological dad was married at the time. So, I think maybe that’s why she didn’t want that to come out.
NSNC: You said that people are always confronting you, instead of your mom, why do you think they’re always coming to you?
I honestly don’t know.
NSNC: Do they perceive you as more sensitive than your mom or like a pushover?
I think it’s damn near the opposite. I feel like I’m intimidating and I feel like they have something against that. And hell, I don’t want to be conceited but I am! Like my coach said, ‘We’re all stars but there are some stars that shine a little bit brighter than others.’ And I know that I’m that brighter star.
NSNC: Like you said, because you were older when you found out, people almost treated you like you were an adult the whole time.
Yup! I think that has something to do with it too. But I don’t think they’re putting together, ‘If Jessica is 31, they [Melvin and his first wife] were still married back then. It could be a combination of things. But I had to learn I cannot take it personally. And up until recently, I wanted to make Facebook statuses that said, ‘For anybody that got a problem with me or my momma…’ I have to learn to not let that control me or get me down.
But you expect that when you have a new family, especially me, I’m so open, loving, excited and joyful, when I found out I had a new family, I wanted to be in.
NSNC: Especially as an only child.
And then you have a whole matriarch to set the tone. And she did set the tone. ‘Don’t come around here.’ ‘Who are you?’ ‘I don’t believe in that.’
NSNC: Going back to when you took the DNA test, when your mom first told you, that Melvin could possibly be your father, how did that conversation go? How was she emotionally?
Girl, I thought somebody died. I really thought my grandmother died because she came in the room crying. Crying. She felt so bad. Hopefully, she doesn’t have any more guilt but for a long time, she carried a lot of guilt and shame for feeling like she took something away from me. Because I know I would have had a more present dad if Melvin would have been my dad from the jump. I know it would have felt different.
And then, she asked how would I feel if we get back together and he moves in? So she was taking my feelings into consideration. But I also feel like she couldn’t do that fully because the shame, embarrassment, and the guilt stopped her from fully engaging in things that we could have talked about more. I could have asked more questions about the past but I felt shame because I was sensing my mom’s energy too. And I didn’t want to challenge her in a moment when she was dealing with so much guilt. But really, I did have the right to ask her and have that vulnerable conversation.
If this was now and I had the tools that I have now, that would happen but I was 21 when I found out.
NSNC: How did you and Melvin go about establishing a relationship with one another?
I ask a lot of questions so I would just ask random questions like, ‘What did y’all do when you were growing up?’ or ‘How was it having 13 brothers and sisters?’ And I still do that now. I was also intentional about sharing activities with him. He loves to go fishing or I would encourage movie dates or going out to eat.
I feel like my dad is the normal older, Black man who can’t have that emotional expressiveness. Their thing is they work and want to provide. There’s not really an emotional side to most older, Black men. And he’s definitely that, girl. He’s probably a little bit worse than the average. So I felt like there really wasn’t a lot of emotional talks and emotional closeness. And me, I’m a therapist, shit. Let’s go deep. Let’s talk. What happened? How do you feel? How do you want to feel? But he really couldn’t do that.
There have been times where I’ve gotten vulnerable with him and he’s gotten vulnerable with me. But if it was up to me, I would have wanted like ‘let’s lay in the bed, pop some popcorn, watch a movie and talk it out.’ You know what I’m saying?
NSNC: So when you found out he was your father, did you immediately start calling him dad? At what point in your relationship did you start calling him dad?
Girl, I do not call him dad. I introduce him as my dad and I refer to him as my dad when I talk to friends but addressing him--it’s almost like I want to, like ‘Am I going to work my way up to that soon?’ His name is Melvin so I call him Mel. ‘Hey Mel!’ Don’t nobody else call him that but me.
NSNC: I know you said he was a little reserved but from what you could see, how do you think he took the news--well not news because I guess he always knew…
He gave me a jewelry box and it winds and makes a ballerina noise. But it’s something that says, ‘I have always loved you and I will always love you.’ And I love that so much because I felt that shit. That nigga always knew that I was his daughter and he always had a really deep love for me. He just knew. And I felt that he knew. That’s why he was asking Shorty to sneak and get pictures of me.
That moment was so special to me and that’s why that thing is sitting on my altar now.
NSNC: Do you think he felt any shame or embarrassment about the whole situation?
I do. And I really feel like I can’t say more than that but I sense that he did. But I also feel like he wasn’t going to be no absent father. I feel like if my mom--he would have been right there. He couldn’t help but to be absent but despite, there was still some shame there.
NSNC: I think this theme of family secrets, especially in Black families, is really common. We let so much shame keep us from talking about things that we need to express. And I think the older Black people get, they realize ‘If I had talked about this earlier, it might have been hard at the time but it could have been better than holding it for so long.’ So could you speak about your thoughts on family secrets?
It’s interesting because I’m a marriage and family therapist so my program looks a lot different than the average counselor because we’re talking about how systems impact one another. And we used to always bring up the topics of family secrets and how negatively impactful family secrets are. You can die and not know something but it still carries this energy in your family.
Every time we talked about family secrets, I would be like ‘Damn, I was part of one of the biggest family secrets ever.’ And thinking of how that really served as a negative.
My mom deals with mental health issues. She has lots of anxiety, sometimes she’s depressed--she was out of work for a while. And I honestly say, my mom wasn’t always like that. My heart of heart tells me that when you don’t deal with your shame, that shit will start showing up. It’s like cancer. It will continue to grow. And I feel like my mom is where she’s at right now because she just let shame get to her at her core and it manifested itself in that realm. When you do find out the truth, you’ve got a lot of learning and unpacking to do. You’ve got to unlearn to relearn.
Then, the shame piece. My workshop mainly is on shame. I talk about healing your inner child. But an hour is educating people on shame. Then it’s thirty minutes on healing your inner child. Because if you don’t understand your shame...it’s deep. If you look at it on the frequency of emotions, shame is one of the lowest emotions that anyone can experience. It is the breeding ground of addiction, depression, anxiety, anger, rage. You cannot go lower than shame. That’s where everything starts. I don’t have a big ideology but it’s just messed up how shame can allow families not to operate optimally. We did pretty well but think about if things were uncovered? We’d be out here!
And when you think about it, that’s still a function of your family, keeping that secret helped your family function in some way.
NSNC: You said that you were very forgiving of your mom because of what you had experienced by that point in your own life. But can you think of some other things that helped you forgive her for keeping this secret...Were you always at that place or did it take some time to process?
Yes. I definitely had to process. But during the processing time, I never was mad. Never. But in my mind, I didn’t have time to think about my mom’s impact on me. I just was like, ‘Damn, I got a new daddy.’ That was all my mind could hold at that time. It was, ‘I got a new daddy. This is who he is. Damn, the nigga moving in.’ I still didn’t even have room in my mind to think about my mom and how all of this came about.
I didn't have time to think about it because my mind was so overwhelmed.
NSNC: How did you feel about your dad moving in?
Girl, I was like, ‘Y’all are not playing!’ I wouldn’t say it was too soon but it did happen fast. But not in a way like, “Ugh Momma, why would you move him in?’ It wasn’t that feeling. I was like my dad is so bomb! He cooks, he cleans. And I just see how much of a good heart that he has. I fucks with my daddy.
NSNC: Do you think your parents were waiting their whole lives to be together?
No, I don’t. I think it was in the cards for them but I don’t think that they saw that at all. But girl, my momma always claims, ‘I fell in love with your daddy the first time I laid eyes on him. I believe in love at first sight because I did it with Melvin.’ She swears she loved that nigga from day one. What’s really interesting is that my mom, she’s never been married. She never went on dates. She really was all about me and working and just coming home and chilling. She wouldn’t go out or nothing. So for her to be in a relationship, that’s brand new. I’ve ain't never seen that my whole life.
You can learn more about Jessica’s Healing Your Inner Child Workshop here.