Today is Father’s Day. It’s a time when those who have one remember and (ideally) honor their fathers, those who had one remember their fathers, and those who had none mourn their losses. In my work with juvenile delinquents, it’s common to talk to kids who’ve never met their fathers. Sometimes, their moms don’t know who or which one he was. Other moms, like mine, deliberately cut contact between the child and father. Such a shame. Everyone needs a father.
My first father experience was my mother’s final husband. He appeared in my life when I was two or three years old and didn’t technically leave until I was finishing high school. I say technically because never fully there. Many years younger than my mother, uneducated, and a hard drinker, this father inflicted a lot of harm. I’m pretty sure he didn’t mean to, but he couldn’t ever seem to stop himself. He wasn’t cut out to be a role model, but he did provide financially, and I’m confident he loved me. And because of his greatly negative impact, I made up my mind to never expose my kids to out of control men with good intentions once my marriage collapsed. So that was good.
When I was twenty, I met my real father, Kova Meredith. He was seventy by then, and didn’t say too much. But when he did speak, it was worthwhile. “No one has the right to hit another person,” he once told me. That was a stunning departure from how I’d grown up, and this simple sentence later inspired a lot of change for me. My father wasn’t perfect, but he was transparent and accountable. He was a hard-working, plain-spoken man, happily playing with his kids long before it was chic for fathers to do so. He had to work at being a patient parent because it wasn’t modeled to him by his own dad. To that end, he was a successful man, and I admired him for it.
Several years later, I met Hank, or Charles Henry Rosenthal.
Then, deep in my twenties and already a single parent, I hadn’t realized truly wonderful life could be. I met him through his wife. Hank had been a prolific writer and successful oil lobbyist, and I met him just as he was about to retire. There was something about being around him. I felt safe and at peace. Hank was ornery, greeting me regularly with , “Hi, Guy! That extra weight you’ve put on looks great!” Ouch.
But he shared more comforting messages, too. “Never worry,” he’d tell me. “My mother always told me worrying is just borrowing tomorrow’s trouble.” Or perhaps my favorite, “Never miss an opportunity to keep your mouth shut,” which appeared at the top of Anchorage Daily News’ Finance section two years after his death. Hank had great impact on a lot of people.
But so do all fathers. To my daughters, I wish for you a borrowed father like Hank. To those who haven’t met their fathers, I sure hope you can find yours. And to all dads, Happy Father’s Day. Your importance can never be overestimated.
In late May of 1985, I received the gift of a lifetime when my dear friend, attorney Ira Uhrig, located my biological father. Kova Meredith was living on a farm in rural Kentucky, and had recently rented a home in Louisville. I was twenty. My father was seventy.
Thanks to Ira, I gained a father, siblings, aunts, and uncles that I’d never known. Now a judge in Washington, Ira Uhrig tells about the experience that changed our lives, and restored my birth name, changing me from Libby Ponder to Lizbeth Meredith.
Q. How did you become interested in reuniting families?
While in my second year of college, I had the opportunity to hear of an organization that was forming for the purpose of helping adopted parents and children reunite. They were originally called “Birthright”, but they changed their name when they learned that a pro-life group already used that name. They became W.A.R.M., for Washington Adoption Reunion Movement. I knew my roommate and his sister were both adopted, so I convinced him to attend the meetings.
Within a short while, through the considerable efforts of many people (and I am honored to have played a small role), he was able to locate his father. When he and his father reunited and I had a chance to spend time with them, I was struck with awe as to how much they were alike – not just in physical resemblance, but in posture, speech, mannerisms, and in every way imaginable, yet they had never had any contact whatsoever or spent one moment of time together before the reunification. I then took it upon myself as a mission of sorts to do whatever I could to help facilitate this type of reunification whenever possible.
What were the first steps back then in finding a missing family member?
Back in the ’70s and ’80’s, it involved a good bit of detective work…numerous phone calls, searching out newspaper articles, mailing letters to possible relatives or even past business contacts. It sometimes took many months to even come up with a clue.
Of course, things like the WARM Confidential Intermediary System make this all much easier, but I dealt with many cases as an attorney where the adoptee or the parent did not want to use the services of any organization, perhaps because these organizations were still relatively new back then and there was still a large degree of societal opposition to reunifications. Fortunately, these organizations are much better-known these days there is less hesitance for the parties to seek out their parents or children, and society is recognizing these reunifications as something that can be very important to the birth parent, to the child, and to the adoptive parents as well.
When my friend Libby told me she had been adopted, I asked her if I could help her search for her father. She had very little information about him …only his name and her city of birth. Libby was one of my best friends in the world, and I would have done anything for her, so though this seemed a daunting task with so little information, I set out to find her dad, thinking all the while that I might meet with failure, but not accepting failure as an option.
I’d like to say that it was my brilliant investigative techniques that led me to finding Libby’s dad, but it was simply luck and/or divine intervention. The very first thing I did was to call directory assistance in the town where I expected he might be living (thinking I might find some relatives who could help me), but I was completely surprised to find that he had a listed phone number. Imagine further the joy I felt when I called that number, spoke to him, and told him that his daughter would like to meet him. He told me he had been looking for her for 20 years.
Oh…about the divine intervention part, I should add that had I made my call to directory assistance just an hour earlier, I would have come up with nothing, as he just had his phone service connected that day and it was a brand new listing. In fact, my call was the very first call to that number, and he had assumed it was the phone company calling to see if the phone was working properly.
I have done many reunifications that were far more difficult, but I can tell you that reuniting Libby and her dad was quite probably the most rewarding thing that I have ever done in my life. To this day I keep in my desk a copy of Libby’s Name Change Order that was entered on June 7, 1985 (exactly 27 years ago to the day as I type this) which allowed her to once again bear her birth name.
First reunion with my father and some of my siblings, June, 1985.
How has technology changed the location process?
In the years that have passed, the Internet makes these type of searches much easier…I suppose that is obvious. And the widespread use of the Confidential Intermediary System in my State is a great help as well. When I was sworn-in as a Superior Court Judge (coincidentally, in the same courtroom where I got the name change for Libby), I became the Judge in my county who is primarily responsible for all of the Confidential Intermediaryrequests. And each time I sign one, I am able to re-live to some extent the joy I shared with my college roommate, with numerous friends and clients, and, most of all, with my friend Libby, in reuniting parent and child — sometimes for the first time ever.
I recently returned from working a week in Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost city in the United States. I’m so fortunate to have a job that pays a slim salary, but offers benefits like generous leave, medical insurance, and an alternate workweek. My work also offers occasional junkets to different parts of the state, or once in a while, a trip to another state entirely.
As a single mom for more than 20 years now, it’s been up to me to pay all the bills on my own. So I know there’s been a whisper or two when I’ve booked an international flight for my vacation. The truth is, traveling is my drug of choice, my best anti-depressant, and the finest education I’ll ever receive. Looking forward to a big trip every few years has kept my hope afloat.
To do it, I’ve had to be intentional in my spending habits. Here are five tips that have helped me travel far and wide.
Shop for used clothing. Someday, I’ll buy a pair of fancy jeans for $100 or more just to say I did. But until then, I’m content grabbing them up after someone else has had their way with them. Fashion just isn’t that important to me, and I love getting a good deal.
Avoid overeating whenever possible. It’s expensive to eat more than what you need. The side effects ratchet up your healthcare costs. Plus, when you avoid overeating, you’ll likely forgo restaurant eating. Me, I go out to lunch maybe once a month during the weekday. Some of my coworkers happily spend $5-$15 a day on lunches, averaging up to $200 monthly. That’s $2400 a year, a trip or at least airfare and part of a trip for me.
Save creatively. I personally pack food from home for work trips, and use my per diem to pay towards travel or other exciting expenses. The Barrow trip will pay towards my daughter’s graduation gift.
Two Barrow apples = one night’s stay in Laos
Side note: I didn’t pack quite enough food for Barrow, and dashed into the store to pick up three apples and two zero waters for $20! I realized too late I paid $4 per apple. So two apples equaled one night’s stay in Laos at the eco lodge. Ouch!
I also pack food from home for my recreational trips. Protein bars and the like. Then I enjoy one restaurant meal daily. Yes, it means I don’t get to experience all of the joy and culture of the local food. But it also means that I neither starve nor put off going on trips due to the cost of food.
Let travel cost help you choose your destination. Without question, France is on my bucket list. England, too. I breezed through London once, and would adore taking my time and spending a week or so. But right now, with my kids still needing some support, and the economy in the crapper, these destinations are out of the question for me now, and will be until circumstances change or I join one of the house swap companies. Southeast Asia? This year, with the average cost of a room in Vietnam and Laos running between $ 8 and $20 a night, it was a perfect match for me.
Embrace rugged travel. I’ve never stayed at a Hilton when traveling overseas. I favor youth hostels (which, fortunately, aren’t age-driven) or eco resort lodges when possible. That may mean sleeping in the same room with strangers, or being lulled to bed by the screeches of a rat in the ceiling, but it saves infinite amounts of cash.
Mother’s Day last weekend was especially terrific.
My youngest daughter graduated from college in New Mexico the day before, so I was there to spend it with her. It’s been at least five years since we were together for Mother’s Day, and she went to great lengths to make it special. We agreed it would be more convenient to celebrate in advance of the actual day, when restaurants and the like are over-crowded.
The morning began with coffee. Then pedicures. We got a massage together, followed by an ionic cleanse, and lunch at a Turkish restaurant. Such fun.
On the actual Mother’s Day, we drove to my sister’s gorgeous farm in a nearby town and relaxed with her and her husband. Again, so special.
That night, back at the dorms, I caught up on emails and blog links. I read about the R.O.S.E. Fund’s success in helping Crusita Martinez reconstruct her entire face after a former boyfriend threw battery acid on her face as a punishment for leaving her when she was just 18 years old. Now, seven years later, she is mother to a little girl who understands that her mother’s strength is her beauty.
I’m partial to the R.O.S.E. Fund. They helped me reconstruct my life, and, as their acronym indicates, they’ve helped scores of survivors in Regaining One’s Self Esteem.
Founded it 1992, the New England-based non-profit has directed resources to helping survivors of domestic violence while raising public awareness about the issue. In the 90’s, the R.O.S.E. Fund gave awards to a few nominated women a year, and in 1998, I was one of those lucky few.
At the time, I worked as a domestic violence advocate full-time, but couldn’t afford medical insurance for my daughters. I hoped to complete a graduate degree in psychology and write a book about my experiences.
Then came the call. I had won a $10,000 R.O.S.E. Award. The girls and I were flown to Boston, where we were presented with the award at a banquet. I gave a talk in front of 500 attendants, including the entire team of the New England Patriots. It was a dream come true.
Thanks to the award, I finished my degree in psychology, which allowed me to get a job that provided medical benefits for my daughters. That allowed me to give up my paper route and focus on writing. Which allowed me to complete my book.
Today, the R.O.S.E. Fund focuses on helping victims of domestic violence who need reconstructive surgery, and assists educators with tools they can use in high schools to prevent and/or address teen dating violence.
To me, their gift was enough to give me a leg up without promoting any kind of dependency upon them.
Thanks to the R.O.S.E. Fund, I had the courage to chase a dream. And watching that transformation helped my daughters chase theirs.
Would you like more information on how you can help? Feel free to peruse the link below.
Did you have the chance to watch young Sean Goldman on television Friday night on NBC? He’s the adorable little boy who was snatched from the states by his Brazilian mother in 2005. She died four years later. Still, her family refused to return Sean home to his heartbroken father, who’d been fighting all along to have his son returned to his place of habitual residence.
Through legal means, the Brazilian courts ordered the return of Sean Goldman in 2009, and NBC kindly chartered a plane that skirted them both out of Brazil and safely home. He wrote A Father’s Love, and has a website, http://bringseanhome.org/
He wrote newly released Chasing the Cyclone, a work of fiction based largely on his own experience of parental international child abduction. Again, after a long struggle, international law supports the single father whose son is safely returned home.
And I couldn’t help but wonder, Did I do it all wrong? What dramatic changes have occurred since the mid-nineties, when I sought the legal return of my abducted daughters, only to go for broke, have my legal custody overturned, get arrested, and sneak out of Greece like a thief in the night with my girls.
I spent the weekend inventorying the factors that may have contributed to their success
Gender Had I been an American man seeking custody of my stolen daughters in Greece, would that have helped? It horrible to think about, but I wonder.
Class I didn’t have any. These gentlemen both appear to be well-bred.
Wealth I had even less cash than class.
Internet In the mid-nineties, information was much less accessible. Other countries didn’t have internet available in their homes, and search engines were useless for a layperson’s investigation. Now, it’s so much easier to get instant information, rally supporters, and lobby for change.
Passage of time Each parent’s experience of international parental child abduction paved the way for the next hopeful searching parent. Legal precedents are set. Attorneys build their new cases on old ones. My failing may have been a tiny bit of help for these current happy endings sixteen years later.
If you had to guess, which factor would you give the most weight?
Take a look at their websites and books if you get a chance. I’m impressed with their stories of survival, but the greater systems changes that both Mr. Goldman and Mr. Senese have made for other victims of international parental child abduction.
The connections I’ve maintained with my childhood friends taught me how a lot about how family could be, and equipped me to find my missing family. I met Susan Sommer when we were in grade school, and am so pleased to have her as my first guest blogger.
By Susan Sommer
I’ve done battle with my share of remote controls, new TV set-up instructions, and computer software glitches, but I have to say, technology is my friend—especially the internet. Yep, I’m Googley-eyed and face Facebook daily, I’m LinkedIn and loving it, I cheer along other “losers” on LoseIt!, I read blogs from A to Z, and my comments are scattered across the globe.
Now, I’m not some loner dork who sits all day at the keyboard and doesn’t know how to converse at
parties. I have plenty of real-world friends and do get out enough to know, for example, whether it’s still winter or not.
Seriously, though, the internet is a thing of beauty, IMHO (and just a few short years ago I didn’t
know what that stood for). I’ve reconnected with people from my past who I thought I’d never see or
hear from again. And not just old boyfriends either, but true friends—people I’d traveled with, a
childhood pen pal, high school classmates who are now as (gulp) middle-aged as I.
I treasure my family and friends who live near enough to see on a regular basis—these are the people
who know me best and who I know I can always rely on no matter what. They are the base of my days, weeks, months, and years. Without them, I would be the loner dork. But getting reacquainted with old friends online—as well as making new ones who I might never meet, but could, if one of us happens to be passing through the other’s town or attending the same conference, and you never know who is destined to become your next old friend—has broadened my world.
I grew up in Alaska, sometimes in the far reaches of the Alaskan bush. I always felt sheltered. I remedied that by traveling as a young woman, but now that I’m married and stable and I work from home, I’ve once again become somewhat cut off from new experiences. The internet offers me the web of friendship outside my immediate sphere of existence. I trade thoughts on editing with LinkedIn members; I learn fascinating tidbits about farming from a Facebook group (like the best way to kill a chicken before plucking and processing, and that you can use goat placenta in a facial mask); I receive encouragement to keep shedding those extra pounds from my LoseIt! friends, only one of whom I actually know in person; and as a member of our 30-year high school reunion planning committee (which I sucked myself into by being the first to open my mouth online about the upcoming event), I can’t imagine trying to find old classmates by perusing the telephone book (you now, that big heavy paper tome plopped unceremoniously at the end of our driveways each spring?).
Despite the fact that for some reason my husband seems to think I’m just goofing around on Facebook all day (not ALL day, I tell him when I stagger down from my office and open the fridge and think hmmm, what am I going to make for dinner?), social media and search engines have changed my life for the better in unique ways. Our rural-ish neighborhood has drawn closer through use of a handful of closed Facebook groups—one for wildlife sightings, one for bartering, and another for general ramblings. I recently, finally, found my old pen pal from when I was ten years old. We’d met once, traded a few holiday cards over the years, then lost touch; turns out we’re leading very similar lifestyles, right down to how many and what type of pets we have. And just this week when I was doing research online for a freelance article, I “met” a woman who had visited Alaska several years ago and was familiar with my parents’ old trapping cabin from the 1950s.
It’s a small world out there. I don’t panic when I go off-grid for a few days like some people do. My
phone is dumb so I can’t check email. But if the internet ever disappeared, for whatever reason, I would surely miss its power to connect.
Susan Sommer is a freelance writer and editor who lives in Alaska. She holds a Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing & Literary Arts. Visit her at www.akwriter.com
Exactly twenty three years ago, after nearly 70 hours of labor, my youngest daughter Meredith was born. At home. The only attendants were her toddler-sister and her alarmed father.
The midwife set to deliver her had left to refill the oxygen tank and was side-tracked by a lunch offer. I waited for her as long as I could, until the pain in my back took a sudden turn, and very quickly, Meredith was born. The eight pound, bruised and battered baby looked up at me, and it was love.
Other mothers assured me that I wouldn’t ever remember the pain of labor.
I remember. Like it were yesterday.
But what I remember more was how quickly my squalling baby turned into a feisty toddler that turned into a rebellious teenager that turned into a kind, ambitious, and gracious young woman.
Motherhood (parenthood) is a gift. There’s nothing I’ve ever wanted more, or been less prepared to do. No job I have worked harder at, and still fumbled. And there is absolutely nothing that has given me greater joy. I’m so fortunate to have been a part of this child’s life.
Did you get a chance to watch the television show The Locator on We TV before it went off the air? The one where investigator Troy Dunn found missing loved ones and filmed the reunions? His tagline was You can’t find peace until you find all the pieces.
That was true for me. One of the best decisions I ever made in my youth was to find my missing father. I was still young enough that I didn’t fully realize how much growing up without him hurt me. Or how growing up hearing scary stories about him shaped not just the way I felt about him, but how I felt about myself.
Of course, when I located my father (thanks to my attorney friend Ira) in May of 1985, I found out I had a whole passel of siblings I hadn’t known about; five brothers and one sister. I had more aunts and uncles than I’d ever imagined, and cousins galore. And I learned that much of what I’d heard about my father and why my parents split simply weren’t true. I also learned that despite what my mother told me, my father had wanted me, and didn’t know where I’d disappeared to the day he went to exercise his visitation and I’d gone missing.
Years later, I met a brother on my mom’s side I hadn’t seen since I was a toddler. Again, it was magic. I followed up by contacting family I’d lost contact with for one reason or another. Each reunion was a gift all its own.Twenty-seven years after my first family reunion, the connections I’ve made with family continue to add color and dimension to my life, and I often tell others with missing family members, “Look him (or her, or them) up! What are you worried about?”
In truth, locating missing family comes with inherent risks of rejection, disappointment, and the likelihood that unsavory family secrets get revealed. But the reasons for finding missing family trump those, in my experience.
Three Reasons to Find Your Missing Family
Because you want answers- to your family history, health history, and to know what part of you is due to nature vs. nurture. For me, getting to know my whole family helped me know and accept myself easier.
Because we all need connection. Without them, we become prickly, weird, and depressed. You might unearth more weirdness by finding your missing family. But you may very well expand your capacity to love.
Because you’re dying. Not to put too fine a point on it, but we all are, beginning the process as soon as we’re born. With your days being numbered, don’t you want to know who’s out there with your DNA?
When my oldest daughter began dating Vince, an old friend of hers from high school, I learned two things about him. He had cancer. And he grew up in a splintered family like I had. He told me his mom had been a young Filipina immigrant when she married his father, a tall and rough American soldier.
Vince had vivid memories of his father terrorizing his mother after they separated. He remembered her not being allowed to exercise her custody rights, and remembered her moving out of state. “I want to know my family,” he told me. “I want to know them all, the Filipino side, my siblings, all of them. Can you help me?” I was thrilled to be asked.
But before I got very far, Vince’s health took a sharp turn for the worse. In February of 2010, he told me he thought he was dying. Within the next eight weeks, his body was ravaged by tumors. He lay in the middle of his family’s living room while they smoked cigarettes and played the television loudly. Unable to eat or speak, his face hallowed and his eyes sunk. He was in much pain, and I privately wondered why he fought the inevitable for so long.
It turned out that his mother had been granted permission by his father to see him one last time. A dozen years had passed since she had seen him. Vince’s mother hadn’t been permitted access to Vince was a small boy, and though she called and sent packages irregularly, it wasn’t the same.
Vince’s mother arrived in Alaska on May 14th and was given an hour or more to visit. Though he could no longer communicate verbally, Vince relaxed into his mother’s embrace. He died many hours later, on May 15, 2010.
If Vince had some assurance he’d get to meet his Filipino family, be they good, bad or indifferent, would he have lived longer? Lived happier? We’ll never know. I do know that finding mine changed everything, and like Troy Dunn promised, I found peace.
Do you have stories of finding missing family members that you’d like to share? Or have family that you’re thinking about finding? Leave a comment below.
Tonight, I went to the University of Alaska, Anchorage’s (UAA) screening of Telling Amy’s Story, a documentary sponsored by Verizon Wireless after their long-time Pennsylvania employee was shot at point blank range in her home by her husband while her parents and her children waited for her outside in an idling vehicle.
Long before Amy’s murder ten years ago, Verizon invested in employee trainings on family violence, teaching their managers the three R’s:
1) Recognize the signs of domestic violence.
2) Respond in a manner that promoted respect to the victim and safety to coworkers.
3) Refer the victim to a local domestic abuse agency.
That’s more than most companies do, but it wasn’t enough to save thirty-three year-old Amy Homan McGee. After her life ended abruptly, her safe and sheltered Pennsylvania community was stunned. It wasn’t until police completed a fatality review in 2005 that family, friends, and coworkers interviews pieced together the pattern of control and intimidation she had been subjected to by her husband.
It’s surprised me that the film attracted more than fifty people in the Anchorage showing. It started at 5:30 at night, after work or school for most of us. But in Alaska, the prevalence of domestic violence is high in a state with otherwise relatively low crime rate.
Nationally, 1 of every 4 women in the United States has or will experience domestic violence, according to the Center for Disease Control’s 2008 data.
In Alaska, it’s 1 out of 2 women, according to UAA’s Justice Center figures from 2010.
Of all the women murdered in America, 50% were killed by their current or former husband or lover, according to the Department of Justice in 2007.
For murdered men, that figure is 5%.
Telling Amy’s Storygives those in her life who outlived her a chance to process their devastation as they struggle to find where missed points for intervention occurred.
Most of us will have a friend, a daughter, a mother, or sister who will experience interpersonal violence within their lifetimes. Do you know what local resources in your community can help?
Pennsylvania Detective Deirdri Fishel said it best; “If you can’t be safe in your own home, does it matter if your community is safe?”