It seems strange to say now, but 10 years ago I did not know my daughter.
We exchanged emails December, 2007. We talked on the phone the next day. She told me: “I like your laugh.” I had waited 37 years to hear her voice.
Here’s the story, and, it is perhaps the happiest story I have ever told.
When I was seventeen my 16-year-old girlfriend got pregnant. She was the girl I lost my virginity with. She decided to keep the child and put it up for adoption. This was traumatic for everyone concerned — especially her parents, who, like mine, were good Catholic folks. It’s hard to describe the guilt, the fear, the dreadful knowledge that you are not ready to be an adult and raise your own child. That you have bought someone into this world and are handing them off to a stranger. We broke up when she went to live with her aunt and uncle in Denver, where she had the baby in 1971. Her birth name was “Dona Gabriel” — a combination of “gift” and my middle name.
In 1980 the mom called me to say that the adoptive parents had contacted her and wanted us to know what a great gift their daughter was. I learned on that phone call that her adopted name was “Kelly.” I learned she liked horses and played the violin. The adoptive parents wanted to make sure that we the biological parents knew this was a joyous experience for them and how grateful they were. That soothed some of the guilt. Not all.
Over the years, my daughter was never far from my mind. Not a month went by when I didn’t wonder about her, miss her, worry about her. I was haunted by the image of a young girl. I often wondered when I‘d see girls on playgrounds, “Is that her?” The loss was so great that I began to feel as if I might be the father of every girl.
In 1995 I published my first novel, “Door Number Three.” It contains many passages about a father and his missing daughter: for years I harbored the hope that she would stumble upon it in a bookstore and somehow recognize me.
When the Web and search engines arrived I became a regular, some might say, fanatical searcher. Once a month I’d plug the words, “Dona, Gabriel, Kelly, Denver” into the search engine, along with several clues about her biological mom — who I had no contact with and seemed to have fallen off the face of the earth. I haunted adoption websites, and discussion groups, skimming thousands of words for any clue as to the identity and whereabouts of my daughter.
I cannot describe this peculiar aching sadness of missing someone deeply whom you have never met. And may never meet.
December 2007 was just another year. Just another fruitless Google search. But this time I had new clues. I had corresponded with an old high school friend of my ex-girlfriend who told me she had worked overseas, for a soft drink company, and had for a time lived in Russia. I inserted the new clues, pressed search, and boom — I found her. She had a consulting business in Switzerland and had just created her own webpage. I double checked her bio. No doubt it was her.
I dashed off a quick email, mentioning nothing about our daughter but, really, it was the only reason I contacted her.
She replied quickly that she had talked with our daughter recently and would I be open to communicating? I would be overjoyed, I wrote her, and supplied every possible way she could reach me.
Oh, by the way, we had a grand daughter. And she sent me a fuzzy picture of both of them.
She told me my daughter was an actress who also did sign language. Actually, I did lots of acting in school. I even learned sign language once.
Then a final gift. She said there was a link to an audition video she had filmed.
That 90-second clip was how I first saw my daughter’s face and heard her voice.
I don’t remember how long I cried.
The next day my daughter wrote the warmest, most welcoming email. I learned she too had just found me recently and had been on my webpage two days before. And was wondering what to do next. She didn’t want to put a kink in my life. She told me she was happy. And married. And a mother of a four year old. That her adoptive parents were the some of the best people in the world. That really was what I needed to hear. That she had been in good hands. Her father died some time ago. I was her only dad now.
The next night we talked on the phone. It really is almost impossible to describe the depths of joy this reunion gave both of us. I feel as if a great endless longing has been satisfied and a deep scarless wound has been healed.
A month later we met for the first time in Denver.
She was curious that I was a writer and she asked which of my novels should she read first.
“Read my first novel, DOOR NUMBER THREE,” I said. “It’s the one I dedicated to you.”
— Patrick O’Leary