I finally found my birth father only to learn he was dead

Nearly eight years ago, I learned that I was adopted. My world became searching and researching anything that had to do with adoption — all forms and from all vantage points. I learned as much as I could about where I came from while trying to understand why young women relinquish their babies.

I was lost and needed to find myself. Journaling turned into writing my story, which gave me peace and purpose. But there was no end to the pain of being deceived. Yes, there was a beginning, but no ending — just moving forward differently.

To adoptees, adoption is a loss of their own biology, their own flesh and blood. When you have the late-discovery experience, it can be much like the loss of a life, a family member and, at the very least, life as you knew it. You don’t get “over it” — you carry it with you. Sure, you can set it down sometimes, but unknowingly, it’s right back with you, part of you. I can never know the details of how I came to be in this world. I was told a story, a lie, about my own beginning. My perceived self was gone, and I had an identity mountain to climb.

Just a few months after my discovery, I learned who my biological mother was and made contact with much of her family. (She passed away many years prior.) It was wonderful to hear the stories and have photos of a woman I look very much like. It helped beyond measure. But the identity of my biological father remained a mystery. No one remembered who he was. There was only a first name on the paperwork that my mother had filled out, and they couldn’t even tell me what it was without his consent. All I could do was wonder, Was he still living? Did he ever think of me?

Years went by, and I honestly felt that I would never know. I had done 23andme and Family Tree DNA testing and was active in their databases with no luck. I had tried it all, from Classmates.com to Facebook groups. But then one day, someone I knew found their biological father via Ancestry.com (utilizing their DNA database.) Not long after that, another adoptee I knew found his dad. Then, a good friend of mine found her dad and encouraged me to try. It had been almost eight years. Why not?

Christmastime 2015, Hayden (my son) gave me the gift of an Ancestry DNA kit. My hinting to family members worked perfectly. So, after much spit, my sample was sent off and my account activated.

After many weeks, my results were in: one connection. “Dstew,” as a first cousin. Dstew didn’t have a family tree that made sense, and there was no other contact info other than through Ancestry, so I messaged on May 4 and waited. Checked my email and then rechecked Ancestry for any other connections. Dstew and I had a few common connections, so I felt hopeful and emailed some of those folks. Checked my email and waited some more. Then I started clicking on different icons on the page and learned about our shared centimorgans.

“Holy crap,” I said out loud. With over 1700 centimorgans in common, we’re either half-siblings or I’m this person’s grandmother.

May 13, I got an email from Dina. She was “Dstew” and was managing the Ancestry account for her husband, Sean.

“I believe you and Sean may actually be brother and sister,” she wrote and explained that he didn’t grow up with his dad, wasn’t even 100 percent sure who he was, etc. Dina gave me Sean’s number and said that I could call him.

OH. MY. GOD.I read the email on my phone, walked into the kitchen where Mike was and said, “I think I have a half-brother. I have his phone number. I think we have the same dad. Oh my God.” I stood there, shocked. I never thought I’d find who my dad was and never expected a half-brother. I think I said “oh my God” five more times while pacing around.

Mike interrupted the OMG’s by smiling at me and saying, “Call him, just call him right now!”

OK, I’m going to call him right now, whoever he is, whatever he’s like. I’m open, it’ll be fine, calling, and shaking…

“This is Captain Stewart,” the voice on the other end said with authority.

I thought, Oh my God, my brother is a captain. Captain Stewart! I told him who I was and we talked for some time about our supposed father, the man on his birth certificate, how we got connected and how we both received Ancestry kits at Christmas. After sharing email addresses and connecting via Facebook, we hung up.

What a great feeling that was! It is truly amazing how we can be connected to one another and learn who our family members are, all from a vial of spit! I had a brother that was kind, accomplished and interested in helping me find out for sure if his father’s name on his birth certificate was indeed my father as well.

My brain was on fire. I Googled Sean’s father. EEK, he’s probably my father! With newfound confidence via my brother, I wondered what or who I’d find as my father. Is he healthy and happy? And then I found him. It was his name and age as part of a link to an obituary.

It was a very well-put-together memorial page with many photos. I looked at every photo and then sent the link to Sean. I took a deep breath and decided whatever the truth was, and I’d be OK. I honestly felt that it was him and that my birth father was gone. I hoped Sean could find out from his mother.

I was shocked when Sean called back a short time later. He shared the obituary with his mother, and she confirmed that was indeed his father, Tommie Stewart. We were about two years too late in finding him.

Sean never knew him; Tommie and his mother never married. While I thought only of myself — another found biological parent deceased — it finally dawned on me that he just lost the dad he never met. It felt appropriate that we two half-siblings were there to confirm the passing of our father together.

No, I didn’t get to meet my biological father (or mother, for that matter), but now I know who the two young people were who created me: Tommie and Kathleen. I love knowing that, more than I can express. Of course, I hope to know Sean and his wife and maybe other family members one day.

Some have asked how finding dead people helps me. It is priceless! It helps a lot to know where I came from. Besides, we as people continually seek those who reflect us. I’m not identical to anyone, but I see some of me in Sean. We have a great deal in common, even though you wouldn’t think so looking at the surface. I appreciate it all: our opposites and our similarities.

I’m reminded of a movie about Norman Lear. His thoughts and feelings on his life and career really struck a chord with me and maybe they will for you. “We are all just versions of each other,” Norman says. I seek those versions of me that connect me to myself, further building my identity and continuing climbing that mountain.

“My Dad,” chapter 14, in my book, Late Discoveries: An Adoptee’s Quest for Truth, can finally be rewritten. I have the truth, and hopefully one day I can learn more about him through extended family. Who knows, maybe I’ll meet more versions of myself along way.


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