There are times in life when you need to speak up, voice an opinion or just let it all out. This is one of those moments. I find myself at a crossroad, where the past and the present seem to meet and it is not a place I wish to be. Born in Memphis, Tennessee the illegitimate daughter of married pastor Bill Adkins, my life was nothing but controversy. I grew up in an upper middle class family that happened to be five blocks from my father's church. He never visited, but I always knew he was there. At six years old I received a cease and desist order addressed to my mother for me to stop trying to communicate with him. At eight, he visited my elementary school but never approached me and merely watched from the shadows. By age ten, I was a figment of my own imagination. I didn't exist, my last name was a lie and all records of me were buried in a black hole.
I learned to cope due to a wonderful mother and extended family who always made me smile. I never wanted or went without anything, even a pair of designer Salvatore Ferrragamo heels for my 13th birthday. I had a good childhood, but the lies kept piling upon one after another.
As I reached into my teens my face became the exact image of a man I never knew. I met other illegitimate siblings whose stories were all the same. Rumors spread and I became a topic at dinner parties and for bored housewives. I never wanted the attention, only to be a part of his life. To have a dad like everyone else, and like any child, to have a father's love.
Like any privileged southern girl at 17 I became a debutante. It was the highest and oldest tradition in Memphis. It was something I had always looked forward to and squealed with joy at the mere thought of wearing that huge white ballgown. At our debutante orientation brunch I realized how cruel fate was and that this was another chapter in my story.
I can recall the exact moment when I screamed and fear took ahold of my face. The moment where I turned to my mother and begged, "I don't want to do this, please let's go home." But my mother was firm and stood her ground. A woman who fought five years in court to earn me my last name from a frivolous paternity suit that stated I was 99.9% his child. A woman who endured the mocking grins, laughter and rage from an affair that produced me. But she had waited 17 years for this day, and dare I say, she even knew it was coming.
My stepmother walked into the room holding the hand of my half-sister, Taihia Adkins. Taihia is the same age as me and knew nothing of my existence but at the same time she knew nothing of hers. She was also the daughter of an affair. An act covered up and made to look like an adoption, but that was not the truth. The adoption was due to Bill's first wife, known lovingly as "Big Tai", could never have kids. I felt sadness looking into her eyes because we were in many ways the exact same.
After a few debutante outings, I felt the courage to tell her who I was. Needless to say, it was a disaster. "I've heard about people like you, going around making up these stories," she said. But it wasn't a story, it was a fact and I had proof. Three of the debutantes attended the same elementary school as me, and all recalled a man always visiting me, always watching us. Bill even went so far as to throw my class a pizza party in third grade. That was the catalyst due to they all remembered even in greater detail than myself.
Throughout the months leading up to my debutante cotillion my sister learned of the truth and she hated me for it. My father happily escorted her the night of our cotillion while I was left with a bumbling stepfather. But that is another story. After the cotillion, I've never seen my sister to this day.
I did not see Bill again until 2009. I was 29 and had come to accept my situation. Bill and I have a lot of similarities I hear, from the taste for expensive cognac to the smooth draw of Cuban cigars. And upon one of my visits back to Memphis that is exactly where I met him.
Across the street from the old historic Peabody hotel smoking a cigar with a glass of cognac in hand . At first I was shocked to see him but I had prepared for this moment my entire life and knew that I would never get this chance again. As he walked around the shop and bought his cigar, my hands began to tremble. Words would not leave my mouth and I was at that moment seven all over again. As he began to exit the shop I realized my chance was almost gone and I had to do something quick. I started to run towards him, but his armed bodyguard saw me and reached for his gun. I slid to a halt and knew the only thing I could do was yell, so I did. "I forgive you," I shouted. He nodded. That was my only acknowledgement I have ever received.
As I write this I know people will say I did the right thing. That as a good Christian it is best to forgive and forget. Well, I don't follow those same beliefs anymore. A child should never have to fight for something they have no control over. A fight where the innocent were shunned and mocked.
Am I bitter? Yes. A man of the cloth preaching to his flock how to live and walk the path of God yet having several children outside of marriage and never righting his wrongs is despicable to me. Living day after day full of lies and hiding your past for a manufactured image to appease your followers. I wonder how does he even live with himself sometimes. But as he claims to walk the path of righteousness yet steadily head in the opposite direction. All I can do is let go and move. That is his road, not mine. I can no more make someone love me or be a father. That part of my life is gone. And I have grieved and suffered.
I know that I am blessed to have a loving and beautiful family that has always encouraged me and supports me and hopefully one day I will get over this and be at peace. Maybe one day I'll even wake up and the pain will be gone.
But does Bill still preach? Yes.
Will I ever be acknowledged. No.
So to a man who is a stranger and yet my father I say this: "Go to hell." But, he's already there, isn't he?
Bill Adkins is the founder and pastor of Greater Imani Chruch located in Memphis, TN.
*The statements made here are not from ChicagoNow but by LaShonda Matlock.*