Yesterday I was told that over 20 years ago I had fathered a son I was never told about and, then, I was told that two years ago he had died.
And as a brief outline of my son’s life was being described to me, I slowly started to understand that this unknown son of mine had somehow discovered I had fathered him and, without ever saying he was my son, he had begun an email relationship with me starting when he was 17 that lasted until his death.
And suddenly all those first questions he had asked me about my cowboy days - which began when I too was 17, came rushing back to me. For months, there hadn't been a detail he did not want to know about my horse Mr. D and Lance and Tom and all the others.
But over the years, his questions became more personal - such as asking my advice on how to tell his parents he loved so much, how he could never last four years in college, how he could never get a degree and how he could never get a regular job when he knew he could never live a life like that. Or when he wanted to find the way to tell one special girl why he wasn’t yet able to make a lifelong commitment with her or anyone – and that he didn’t know if he ever was going to be able to do that.
And in all those cases, I did as I always did; I explained how much I understood his situation and then reinforced the advice of his parents and usually ignored the examples of my own very different life to his amused befuddlement. But then, a little later, after I finally gave in and emailed him a long requested copy of my novel, The Long Rider, he replied he finally understood everything. And when I asked him what he meant by that, he responded with a smiley face icon.
Then, by the end of his first year at college, his emails had become less about advice – or permission to live his life the way he wanted, but were mostly about the excitement of his many new lives – and many new loves – during college and after college and how he wanted to tell me about them all until one day the emails stopped and I never heard from him again.
And since I never knew his real name or address, I was never able to find out who he really was- or why we were so much alike in so many unexpected ways – and I just imagined he had grown out of the need for our chats.
So as unimaginably sad as this time is for me, there is already one spark of joy in that I am only now starting to understand what an amazing young man our collective son turned out to be. And I will always be grateful to him that he found a way he and I could have our own private and meaningful relationship whenever he needed to talk to someone who understood some of what he was going through, and that he did so in a way that that never once interfered with his primary relationship with his real father, the man who had raised him and who was able to quietly pass away never having to know about me.