"Women fought for the right to keep their maiden names," the woman at the Social Security Office told me as she took my application for a new card.
"I wanted mine gone long before I ever got married."
She looked at me and sighed. "Hmmm."
I never desired the name on my birth certificate not only because it was a horrible name Pugh which I wanted pronounced Pooh as in in Winnie The but was most often declared to be the letters PU, but also because it tied me to an unknown. When I was a child, I often asked my grandmother to let me share her name but she wouldn't do it.
"That ain't your name," she'd remind me.
"How about I just pick a new name?" I'd grab the telephone book and read them aloud to her. "If you want me to keep my initials, I will." Prescott always won out as a favorite but no matter how much I begged her to release me from my maiden name, she wouldn't hear of it. But the name made her uncomfortable as well. Whenever I had to fill out applications and designate my name, and the status of my parents, my grandmother would inevitably ask if these things were checked.
"What do you mean by checked? I thought you said that my father was dead."
"Yeah, he's dead. But do they check?"
"I don't think so."
"He's definitely dead."
As soon as Aaron and I were married, I immediately took his name. I wanted to be affiliated with a man I knew and loved not some stranger that was merely a name on a birth certificate and nothing more. After all I've learned in the past few months about my mother, it seems likely that this man was my mother's husband at the time of my birth, but not my father. Anyway I could not drop this name fast enough. But I just learned that I am still legally Michelle Pugh not Caplan, at least according to the Social Security Office and IRS. Apparently you must make an official name change and just getting married does not change your status. I only found out because my bank notified me that my social security number did not match my name and they were going to withhold funds for taxes.
"A lot of people were confused about this," the woman continued. "But now with all of the extra security, records are getting checked more thoroughly."
As she typed in my form, I entertained Sasha, who was growing increasingly impatient with confinement. He was struggling to free himself from my carrier when the woman leaned across the counter.
"I said does your father spell his name with two U's?"
My father. So rarely have I ever heard anyone say that phrase your father to me. I was stunned silent for a moment.
"Your father? Does he use two U's in his name?"
"What do you mean two U's?"
"In his name. Is it Arthur with two U's?"
I don't know but say "yes."
She then continued to type as my brain stirred once again with questions about this father of mine. Finally I asked her, "Does it say if he is alive."
A questioning look quickly crossed her face. "You don't know?"
"No I never met him."
"Hmmm. Some day when that generation is dead, they may open up the records to genealogical research."
"But not now?"
"So you can't tell me anything?"
I returned home and searched for the two pieces of evidence I have of this man Arthur Delbert Pugh listed on my birth certificate. I am in possession of a letter from the Selective Service indicating when he was drafted into the Army and an empty envelope addressed to him in care of my grandmother. Though I have come to accept that this man is not my father because he was drafted before I would even have been conceived, he was married to my mother for some period of time. My cousin, Jill, has recently told me that they had a bad marriage, a dangerous and violent one, according to my aunt. Jill also told me that my aunt believes him to still be alive, that his death was something my grandmother manufactured.
I decided to google for contact information to see if I could locate him. After many calls, I found myself on the phone talking with someone in military records for the Army. I was told that as his daughter I am allowed to see his military records if he is dead but that if he is alive, I will need his permission.
"Can you tell me if he is dead?"
"Don't you know?"
Here we go again. "No, he abandoned my mother and I never knew him. I want to locate him but I don't know if he's dead or alive. Can't you tell me anything? I have his selective service ID number."
"Not without his permission or a death certificate."
"Where can I get a death certificate? I was told he died in the war. But I don't know if that's true."
"Sorry about that."
This circular conversation went on for about ten minutes until I accepted that I needed to find another route to tracking down information. I have tried searching on-line for his name and can't come up with anything specific. There are too many people with his name even in the Winchester Virginia area--the return address from the envelope my grandmother kept. I don't know how to chase down this lead and am frustrated to stop now that I've opened up the possiblity in my mind of talking with someone that knew my mother intimately. Perhaps this is the wrong word knowing what I do about her relationships, but there is some potential here and I can't just drop it. And then this opens the door further for me in wondering how in the world I might be able to figure out who my father is.
If any of you are private investigators or read a lot of mysteries and have some suggestions for me, I'm in need of a gal Friday on this new search. Woman Seeking Father.