Preparing for a summer digging into Dad #2

On Jan. 10, 2015, my estranged, biological father died. That day, he went on a mountain bike trip with the guys, and he had a heart attack. It was unexpected, to the best of my knowledge. He was only 55.

The last time I saw my father was right before my 10th birthday. I was at my little brother’s baseball game, and we talked about how I was like my mom because I also was also good at math. A few weeks later, for my 10th birthday, he gave me a stuffed animal puppy with pink ears and a birthday card signed, “From, Dad #2.”

Ten years later, he died and his obituary provided more insight into his life than that 20-minute interaction.

His obituary said he and his wife had been married for 29 years. They married in ’86, and they had three sons together.

My birth certificate says I was born in ’94, and my little brother’s says he was born in ‘96.

His obituary said he was known as a family man in the community.

My mom says he refused to pay child support.

His obituary said he was a member of the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe in upstate New York.

My mom says that he never knew what tribe we were affiliated with — he just told us we were “Native.”

This summer, instead of working the routine 9-to-5 internship/fellowship/entry-level job that I’m “expected” to have, I’m working on a serialized podcast about finding the full story of “Dad #2.” With a grant from the UNC Creative Writing Program, I’m spending all summer ’16 piecing together the most accurate image of my father. (Special thanks to two professors in the Creative Writing Program who helped me formulate this idea: Stephanie Elizondo-Griest and Joy Goodwin.)

In June, I’m traveling to the Mohawk Nation at Akwesasne for two weeks to learn more about my father’s membership and our tribal affiliations. During the rest of the summer, I’m conducting interviews and going through records in North Carolina, New York and various other sources to find out who he was in his day-to-day life. Along the way, I’m writing up blog posts about what I find.

The end result will be mapped out and put together at Duke’s Center for Documentary Studies’ week-long audio editing institute in early August. The idea is to produce a “Serial”-style podcast series about the information I find along the way, released every week or every other week (depending on the number of episodes) for all of you to hear.

For the past week, I’ve just been staring blankly at the audio equipment I purchased, too overwhelmed to even touch it. The idea of reporting, producing, hosting and editing my own audio investigation — let alone an entire investigative series into my own personal family history — is daunting but nonetheless exciting.

What I’m hoping is that this story resonates with someone, as any reporter/writer/artist does. That’s the goal.

This post originally ran on Medium on May 11, 2016.