Three years ago, sometime around Thursday, May 17, 2012, 8:04PM (not that I really keep track of these things), I received an email whose subject line was merely, “Hi Wayne...” Okay. Fine. Could easily be generated from a database. Hey, this ain’t my first rodeo. The sender was not a name with which I was familiar. Well, that is not necessarily a red flag. Yellow, maybe. It did, at least, look like someone’s real name. In fact, it was a very nice name. Not remotely suspect. (I can tell a fake name and email address when I see ‘em.) No attachments or pictures or links, that’s good. Looked relatively short. Well, at least not massively long. Should be able to breeze through it quickly. Okay, one click and I’m going in.
“Hi there. Hope you are well. I don't mean for this to come as a shock, but…” Uh oh.
I got nervous. But only for a few seconds. Maybe, like, let’s say five. Just long enough to finish the first little paragraph. The message was at once a surprise and a revelation. Yet, it read as strangely familiar. Almost as if I had written it to myself. The turn of phrase, the tempo. Very familiar. It was equal parts humor, courtesy, sensitivity, intelligence, and thoughtfulness. It was also earthshaking. (Okay, so maybe “momentous” is a more appropriate.) For both the reader and, no doubt, the writer.
The next 322 words (not that I counted) would be my introduction to my daughter. A daughter I had never met. Okay, wait, nervous again. Zoinks! WTF? Did I read that right? Visions of Maury Povich and Jerry Springer racing through my head. Oh. My. God. Am I one of those guys now? “Hello? Mr. Watkins? I have Dr. Phil on the line for you. Please hold.”
Okay, one more time from the beginning.
“Hi there. Hope you are well. I don't mean for this to come as a shock, but…”
Wow. My heart was racing a little slower now. I did as the email instructed: "Pause. Breathe. Wig out a little." Second time through, however, the words were less shocking. After the third read I was fine. Heart rate normal. I turned to my wife (and best friend and companion for the last 30 years) and said, “Liz, you are not going to believe this.” I then proceeded to read her the email, word for word, with as calm and unaffected voice as I could muster. (Thanks, in no small part, to my drama school vocal training.)
The letter (because the word “email” somehow diminishes it) was surely a huge undertaking for this young woman. Both emotionally and technically. How do you write a letter to a man you know nothing about? How to tell a total stranger that you are his daughter? No really, how do you do that? How do you break the news in a way that won’t cause an immediate mental short-circuit? What if he has a family? How will this news impact that? Will any of this matter to him? The letter mentioned she was married, so her husband had to play into this, too. With one click she set herself, and her husband, on a completely unfathomable and risky adventure into the unknown. That’s a brave woman, right there.
Before she could grapple with all that insanity, of course, she had to find the right guy. No doubt with some help from her mother, but with a name like mine there must have been some degree of detective work to locate the correct contact info. I am pretty ubiquitous on social media, but finding the right email address can be tricky. Let’s face it, there’s a ton of people called Wayne Watkins out there. Most of them are standing in front of a police line up wall and holding a number under their chin, but still…can you imagine? She must have been freaking out to think that her father might be the guy with the mullet and the Fu Manchu. Or worse yet, the shaved-head guy with the prison tats on his neck!
Obviously, she was persistent enough to find the right me. The one whose outward appearance seemed pretty normal. The one without the prison record. The one who looked enough like her to risk the thought of making first contact. Apparently, the dimples gave me away. She has them, too.
Now the next phase had to kick in. I imagine her brain just rolling through a randomly surreal checklist of questions followed by her own hopeful answers. Then again, maybe not so random. Maybe she had been compiling this list for a while now. Maybe years.
- Is he crazy? What if he’s in an asylum or something?
- Is he funny? Not corny or stupid but really witty. That would be great!
- I hope he’s nice. He looks nice. Hey, he has dimples, too.
- Is he married? Wonder what his wife is like?
- Does he have a family? Kids? That could be awkward.
- Where does he live? Wouldn’t that be weird if he lived close by?
- What does he do? Mom said he was an actor. Dimple-guy kinda looks like an actor.
- What does he sound like? Will he have a nice voice or some crazy accent?
- Suits or board shorts?
- What does his laugh sound like?
- Short? Tall?
- I hope he’s smart. Wonder if he went to college?
- Does he like cats? Maybe he’s a dog guy. What if he hates animals?
- What if he doesn’t reply to my email?
It needed, no it deserved, an immediate reply. A little over twelve hours later, I turned on my computer and began my response. I put fingers to keyboard and tapped out 375 words (if memory serves) and with one click I pressed “send” on Thursday, May 18, 2012, 8:53AM (not that I paid any attention).
And so it began. An amazing and wonderful fairy tale set in motion by one simple mouse click.
In the past 36 months, we have shared meals and told stories. Both of us trying to pack all these years of living into each other's memory. Making up for lost time. We first met, face-to-face, over grilled cheese sandwiches in West Hollywood and they met Liz over eggs in Portland. I’ve been converted to liking Brussels sprouts (no mean feat) at a gastro pub in Long Beach and we have celebrated her 30th birthday at a restaurant overlooking the city lights. My daughter has become a mother, her husband a father. I am now a grandfather and my wife a step-mother. Since they moved back to California, meetups for coffee and conversation are ever more common. Emails continue, as do text messages, and Facebook posts. Each one bringing two people a little closer together after being so far apart. More stories. More history. More laughter. More family.
One daughter. One father. One click.