When I picked up the phone, a young voice asked an unexpected question.
The phone rang. The breathless voice of a teenage girl. "Is this Bill Delaney?"
"Well, I think you're my father."
What? Where? When? How? Who?
All I said was: "Are you sure you've got the right person?"
The anxious girl was one of the thousands, or tens of thousands, of orphaned or abandoned young people trying to find themselves by locating one or both of their birth parents. She was obviously from a small town in some landlocked state and thought I was the only man in all of Los Angeles with my name.
I wasn't entirely alarmed by this telephone encounter. The thought that I might have a daughter I had never heard of was intriguing. I wasn't unwilling to accept the responsibility of parenthood, if what she believed turned out to be true. I would have welcomed any kind of change in my life, even if it cost me a lot of money.
The girl listened politely, whether she believed me or not. I told her there were many Bill Delaneys in L.A. The city had four telephone books plus the Yellow Pages. There were also listings for William Delaneys, B. Delaneys, and W. Delaneys. Over the years I had gotten many phone calls and letters for men who shared my name. A motel manager in Las Vegas had once mailed me somebody's expensive bifocals. I often wondered how many men had gotten calls and letters intended for me.
I told the girl truthfully: "I'd be delighted to be your father, honey. But I'm afraid it just isn't so."
I kept thinking about her afterward. I was sorry to disappoint her. I wondered if she could ever find her father in this relentlessly expanding megalopolis. Even if she found my alter ego, would he admit to it? Or would he lie to the poor girl and leave her in ignorance for the rest of her life?
I didn't expect to hear from her again – but a short while later the phone rang and I heard the same guileless, vulnerable young voice.
"I found him. I found my father. I'm just calling to thank you. Thank you so much for your advice."
"I'm glad I could help," I said. "I hope you'll be happy together."
"We will. I know we will."
"Well, thanks for calling back. I was worried about you."
I wondered who he was, that man with my name and my daughter. I envied the guy.