Thank You

My Father was born 50 years ago and was immediately put up for adoption in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He was adopted by Harold and Helen Hodges who raised him in Englewood, Florida. He was raised in an amazing family and went on to start an amazing family of his own, if I do say so myself. Harold and Helen didn’t keep it a secret that he was adopted. 

I remember as a little girl always wanting to pick my father’s brain about how he felt and his thoughts of being adopted. He would tell me of all the times he had sat and thought about who they could be and what they would be like. Throughout his life, in his mind, he had created different scenarios of meeting them in person and what they would be like. He admitted that he wondered about his roots quite often but would always end the conversation with, “But, I know who my mother and father are, and I am thankful for the amazing life they gave me”.

When my father turned 18, my grandma Hodges gave my dad all of the information and adoption papers she had and encouraged my dad to try and find his birth parents and was open to the idea of maybe meeting them herself one day.

At one point in time we hired a specialty company that concentrated on finding and reuniting families to try to gain some more information about who his parents could be. The only information we were given was called “non-identifying information”. This information stated that it was thought that his birth father was of Polish descent. Since it was a closed adoption and 50 years had gone by, we didn’t come up with much new information with the help of the investigative company. The search went stale after that.

For my Father and Mothers birthdays back in May and June of this year, my parents received DNA kits from my Grandma and Grandpa Harvey as their gifts. My parents had talked about doing the DNA kits for a long time to discover their true heritage but had never gone through with it. They had the slight idea that this could lead us to some of my dad’s biological family but we reminded ourselves again not to get our hopes up. My parents sent in their DNA and we patiently waited for the results for what felt like an eternity. Roughly 6 weeks later the results were in and confirmed that my dad was of German, Irish and Polish descent. This didn’t come as a huge surprise due to my dad’s lily white skin and the reddish tint to his now greying hair. However, what was a surprise to us was that his DNA was a match to a man named Mark Ballard and he was believed to be a 2nd or 3rd cousin to my father.

My whole family was filled with excitement that quickly turned to curiosity. My dad reached out to him through and informed him of his story to simply find out information on health history and possibly about his birth parents. We were hopeful that Mark would be willing to help us out and provide information but we were prepared to get shut down. We knew this kind of situation could possibly cause much havoc within their family. My Dad and Mark exchanged multiple emails about themselves and my Dad’s situation. After asking a few qualifying questions as to my dad’s DNA makeup, Mark informed us that he had no idea who his birth mother could be but had a good idea as to who his birth father could be.  We waited for new information everyday and answered all the new questions Mark had come up with that he believed would help narrow down who my dad belonged to.  Mark was piecing the puzzle together and had narrowed it down to one specific part of the family. Things had come to a bit of a stand still because Mark was trying to decide the best way to share this information so my dad decided to share a few pictures of himself and my family.

Once Mark saw the undeniable resemblance in the pictures, he then contacted Elaine Owen, who is the sister of the suspected birth father and shared the new information that he’d gained in the passing weeks with her. Mark then passed the reigns to Elaine and shared my dad’s contact information with her. Mark actually contacted Elaine a month earlier letting her know that he believed her brother may have been my father’s father but didn’t mention that my dad was of Polish descent. Elaine shrugged it off and thought that there was no way her brother could have a child that the family didn’t know about. Once Elaine got my dad’s information, she immediately contacted him and believed there may be some sort of tie to her family based on my father’s Polish descent. They spoke on the phone for quite some time discussing themselves and their families as well as the best way to deal with this situation. They hadn’t come up with the best plan yet but knew they weren’t going to let this go. Elaine sent my mother a friend request on Facebook and that’s when she realized that my father could truly be related to her in some way. The pictures she saw were like looking at pictures of her brother as a young man. She was completely shocked to see the resemblance, as were we when pictures of both Fred and my dad were put side by side of them at similar ages.

Once these pictures were exchanged, there wasn’t much doubt that my father had close ties to this family. Elaine decided it was time to bring this to her brother Fred’s attention but wanted to wait until they were back in order after Hurricane Irma came through. She called him after they were settled and shared the news. Elaine was faced with an extremely normal and expected response. Fred didn’t believe it. Elaine decided to back off and let the news digest.  In the meantime, she was sending him pictures of my father and my family. Due to the undeniable resemblances in the photos Fred began to give this crazy idea some thought. It took him some time but he, Elaine and my dad all agreed to have their DNA sent off again to find out if they were actually related. The DNA results came in on Fred’s 75th Birthday and there was over a 99% match that Elaine was my dad’s aunt and that Fred was my dad’s birth father.

After 50 years, in a two and a half month time period we had located my dad’s birth father, something that we’d been interested in doing for years. After it was confirmed that we were related to Fred and Elaine their family embraced us immediately. Fred and my Dad were both traveling the next weekend and planned to meet up on the way. My dad and my grandparents all stopped to have lunch with and meet Elaine for the first time on the way to FL. Shortly after getting back on the road, they were able to meet up with Fred and his wife of 50 years, Toni, at a gas station just off of the highway. Fred and Toni were able to meet my mother’s parents and my dad’s mother who were traveling together back to Florida. My dad’s mother who had always encouraged him to seek out his birth family got to meet the man who gave her her son. It was a short meeting due to their travel plans.

Since the initial meeting of Elaine and then Fred and Toni, my dad was able to meet his half brother and his nieces as well as his Aunt Elaine’s son Peter. My Mother and I were in NY City a couple weeks ago and found out that one of my dad’s cousins, Terri was there too. We were able to meet up with Terri and have lunch with her as well. Our family just quadrupled in size and we have so many amazing people yet to meet. Everyone has been so welcoming to myself and my family and I will be forever thankful. My dad has wondered about this experience his whole life and it couldn’t have panned out any better. We hit the jackpot with the Jankowski clan and I speak for the whole Hodges Family when I say we are extremely anxious to meet the rest of them. We are going to meet nearly all of the rest of the family the week between Christmas and New Year. Although we may have missed out on some years making memories together, we have to remember that the best years together are yet to come. Thank you for welcoming us into an amazing family we didn’t know we had.