Gordon Pant was 73, as near as I can tell. He left behind several wives and eleven acknowledged children. (But not all of them on either count. Some of the wives were legal, some were common-law. And I'm definitely not on the 'kid' list. I'm not the only one, either.) He lived in Sparta, MI for some years...Six Lakes, MI for a while...and I'd heard he was in Arizona or Florida for some time. He had emphysema.
To my knowledge, after his brief marriage and divorce, he never made an effort to contact me. Never. In all these years.
Every spring, just before classes let out, Myers Elementary School hosted a hayride out to Long Lake, with a big picnic afterward. One year, Dad was to drive the tractor pulling the haywagon. Boy, was I proud! I bragged to everybody in sight about it. One kid said, "He's not your dad." Snotty-like.
"What?" I yelled back. "Of course, he's my dad!"
Afterward, I marched home and reported to Mom that some stupid kid had...
That was how I found out about Gordon.
For a long time, he lived less than 15 miles from the folks. (If you're wondering about child support, incidentally - not one cent.) In high school, I worked at the local hardware store, where every red-blooded male in the county visited sometime. If Gordon was there, he never revealed himself. Nor did his parents. The only adult relative who ever said anything to me directly was an aunt...who strangely enough, was also the mom of one of my dearest cousins-by-marriage.
Gordon had another daughter, about the same age. I must have looked enough like this 'shadow sister' to be twins. People would occasionally ask if I'd gotten a job at Meijer or elsewhere; invariably, they were talking about her. I wonder what she is doing today.
I was a lucky girl -- I had a father and mother who both loved me and weren't afraid to show it. (And a little brother who was a stinker -- but has grown up into somebody wonderful.) My dad died three years ago back in February. I miss him so much, and look forward to the time I will see him again.
So who is this person - this man with a name I briefly carried, whose genes are in my blood? Without his input, I wouldn't be here. But he is not my father. He never earned that right, nor did he deserve it.
All I have ever seen of him are a few wedding photos, and a letter he wrote my grandparents, asking for their blessing to marry. (The latter turned up unexpectedly in an envelope of things found after my uncle's death. He was the executor for Grandma's estate; the letter was kept all those years.)
There's one more piece of evidence: my profile apparently resembles his. A college roommate knew the Pant family, and said I looked like them. (Shades of the 'shadow sister,' no doubt.)
It has been more than 35 years since I left Sparta -- more than 25 since we moved to Colorado. Did this 'shadow man' ever wonder about me?
UPDATE: This appeared in the Grand Rapids Press March 22. It's the first photo I've seen of him since I was 7 or 8.