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Padma Lakshmi's Heartbreaking Reunion With Her Dad: 'Why Didn't You Want Me?'

Padma Lakshmi's Heartbreaking Reunion With Her Dad: 'Why Didn't You Want Me?'
Padma Lakshmi
D Dipasupil/Getty Images for Extra

03/12/2016 AT 10:50 AM EST

While Padma Lakshmi's dishy new memoir Love, Loss, And What We Ate excerpted in this week's PEOPLE, includes many surprising revelations, one of the most heartbreaking is the story of how she did not see her father for over twenty years after her parents divorced when she was two years old.

After the divorce due to her father infidelity, her mother moved to the U.S. where she worked as a nurse to start a new life. Several years later, Padma immigrated to the U.S. to join her.

It would be over two decades until she saw her father again. "Until I was in my twenties, I didn't even know what he looked like," she writes.

"My mother made a better life for us in America." she explains. "So for my whole family, he was sort of a personal non grata so there weren't even pictures of him. They were all torn up."

"And one time, I think maybe I was eleven, I stumbled on a wedding picture of theirs that somebody had somehow forgot to rip up," she recalls. "But when I saw him and saw his hand on the table, it looked like an older weathered version of my hand. And he has the same gait that I do. But I didn't get to see any of those things growing up and so I think for me, there were layers of an identity crisis."

"There was first being an immigrant, and then moving around a lot and then not knowing one whole side of my family," she notes. "And it was just one big black hole."

Still her large family, including her maternal grandparents and many cousins, she says "more than made up for it."

When she was 25 years old, she saw her father again. "I took the train to Bangolore and met him at the Taj Hotel in the lobby café, and I just said to him the thing I had always wondered, which is okay, 'I'm sure you have your side [regarding] whatever happened between my mom and you but why didn’t you want me?'"

"And he said something like 'I thought it would be better for you if it was a clean break and you weren't torn.'"

Asked if it's something she still grapples with, she says, "You can't miss something you never had. However, I do think not knowing one half of my family did delay me figuring out who I was, because I didn't know where I came from. And I didn't want my daughter to ever feel like that."
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