As I approach 35, I still have many unanswered questions about my biological father and the reasons it took me nearly 30 years to realize that I had to forgive him and move forward. I had questions like: ‘What really happened? What man would have a son and not want to be a part of his life? Do we look alike? Did I inherit some of his mannerisms or personality traits?

I am sad to say that I am uncertain what discovering the answers to these questions would accomplish. Nevertheless, I must admit that I wrestle with these questions, a lot. Deep inside, I’d always hoped that one day my father would call or stop by — sometimes (even as grown man) I still do.

Growing up in the south suburbs of Chicago (in a small city called Harvey, IL), everyone knew one another. I was blessed to have grandparents to raise me like their own. My grandmother and grandfather, Norman and Jane Mitchell, had seven children and worked tirelessly to move from the projects of Chicago to the once calm and developing neighborhood of Harvey in order to give them a better education and a better life.

I was often called “the 8th child” because I was sort of tied to of my grandmother’s hip. I can even recall going to work with her when she didn’t have a sitter. Although my grandfather was very much a part of my life, I still had a desire to know my biological father and for him to want to know me.

In the ’80s, most of the other kids in school had a father and mother in their home, or at least a father that they saw on occasion, but not me. I even recall a Christmas, long ago, when I was taken to my father’s home to meet his parents, where I overheard his mother say in a very loud voice, “That child don’t belong to my son!”

I was very young, but remember it like it was yesterday.

After that, I began my search to replace my father with other father figures. I looked to my uncles, preachers, and any men in the neighborhood who looked like they were doing something or going somewhere. Sadly, my quest brought the good with the bad. As a result of having that void in my life, I spent years searching for self-worth and a sense of belonging. I found myself in church, singing in the choir, but trying to sell drugs, going to clubs, partying with the best…trying to fit in.

With no father around, it was hard to figure out who I was. I even went to jail a few times. Throughout the ’90s, the area that once was filled with middle class working Blacks trying to make a better life rapidly turned into the ghetto of my day — mainly because of the absence of fathers in the community.

Many of them were becoming either pushers or addicts. I was able to see the change in the neighborhood around me, and I thank God for covering me during that time. It was predicted that the average teenage African-American male from my area would either end up incarcerated, shot due to gang violence, or addicted to drugs by age 21.

Shorty after my 21st birthday, I found out that my biological father (it’s still hard for me to even type the word father) had been in and out of jail for drugs and other issues. I chuckle a little at the thought of that, because I was going to church, but secretly headed in the same direction. The last time I went to county jail, I was locked up for seven days for driving on suspended license. It was there that I began to pray to God for deliverance and clarity in my life. The day I walked out of there, I vowed to get my life on track for good.

I began the process of not only rebuilding my relationship with God and getting my career on course, but of forgiving a father that I had never met. The journey toward finding VaShawn Mitchell began, and it was not easy! It was almost like going to a party… alone. For the first time in my life, I started embracing who I was and who I was going to be, instead of copying or imitating my surroundings. I was often misunderstood and made many mistakes along the way, but I never gave up on finding me. I was no longer disappointed at not having a father around.

Instead, I used that energy to forgive and move forward. Even when I was laughed at and ridiculed, I never stopped pressing forward to find myself. Sometimes I look at how far God has brought me and reminisce about the fact that people I thought were there for me encouraged me to quit along the way. They said that I couldn’t sing. They often overlooked me and took me for a joke, but I’m so glad that I didn’t give up.

I didn’t give up because I knew what God had said. I didn’t give up because I needed to prove that I could be fatherless and still be triumphant! Don’t get me wrong, I would welcome the opportunity to meet and talk with my father, maybe even get some of my questions answered, but I’m grateful that I was able to overcome.

VaShawn Mitchell was recently nominated for 10 Stellar Awards