Terry Sue Harms was on a quest. That quest, for answers concerning her paternity, ultimately encompassed most of her life. The Strongbox: Searching for My Absent Father is a compelling read. Family history mysteries are one of my favorite genres and this one is an excellent story.
Harms was deprived of a stable home life. Her parents abused alcohol and provided no emotional support. After losing her mother when she was 16, Harms made her own way in the world. The only clues to her biological father were documents she retrieved from her mother’s strongbox. She mined information on numerous occasions while sleuthing for answers.
I admired the author’s tenacity and gumption on her search. While her biological father remained elusive she was able to communicate with a few family members, through her own sheer perseverance. Ultimately, after forty years of searching, hiring private detectives, and researching historical documents, Harms gleaned a more complete pictures of the relationship between her biological father and mother. Many gaps remained and the author recognized and reconciled with the fact that much of the information she sought would remain unknown.
While her quest for the truth about her father formed a parameter of her life, Harms also searched for her own self worth. She struggled with alcohol, which appears to be a hereditary trait. Estranged from her siblings, she created her own family with good friends and her husband’s family. Writing her memoir served as a catharsis, expunging some of the hurt, frustration, disappointment, and angst associated with her search. Harms’ memoir is a good lesson in not allowing family lineage and history to define a person, but to determine one’s own path in spite of voids from the past.