Thursday, September 1, 2016

A Year In Review: Part II

Note to Readers: This is a narrative. To start at the beginning, click on the "Blog Archive" to the right and click on the last entry, which is the first written, on 18 February 2014. Or simply click here: Hoosier Daddy?: Beginnings

Nothing jolts you into wakefulness more than the realization that your life's work, your collection of rare books, and countless irreplaceable photographs are likely underwater.

Nate had calmly announced the watery disaster and walked out the door. He had left his bathroom toilet overflowing overnight, and eight hours worth of water had been cascading downward into my home office. Although I was standing in a significant amount of water at the door of the bathroom and in the hallway, I knew that the basement was probably far worse. Before sprinting down the steps to the office, I grabbed towels from the hall closet.

Yes, panic is not rational. A handful of towels was likely not going to absorb a deluge, but it's where my mind went at that moment.

I was met with ankle-deep water in the northeast corner of my basement, and the water rapidly rising. I also had an amazing waterfall feature coming from the ceiling air ducts, and the surrounding plasterwork from the finished textured ceiling had collapsed and was floating in front of my bookshelves as if to offer a life raft for any who would like to jump to safety. Ironically, the toilet lies directly above the unfinished part of my basement directly over a drain. Although admittedly there was a significant amount of water on that side of the finished wall, Mother Nature decided the path of least resistance was not directly down, but along the duct system and directly into my office.

There is really nothing to do at a moment like this. Even I was deeply torn and confused as to whether I should weep uncontrollably, scream with anger at the top of my lungs, or scurry about in some vain attempt of looking like I could actually accomplish something.

I did the latter.

I threw the towels down. They floated briefly before becoming saturated and sinking to the floor. I ran upstairs and grabbed more.

In those panic-stricken moments, Kirk had silently left his bedroom upstairs and slipped out of the house. This was obviously all my problem, regardless of who caused it. Assistance was not to be found within the home I shared with two utter morons.

Confession: I am a book whore. I have thousands of books. My genealogy library is arranged in a useful manner, mostly geographically. The books in the lower shelves were in obviously affected by the rising tide, and because of the waterfall and ceiling collapse, many of the books in the upper shelves were also in standing water. Geographically, Ohio and Indiana experienced the worst flooding. Who knew the corn belt would be swept away by a toilet?

The following days and weeks were filled with insurance agents, water remediation people, deafening industrial fans and dehumidifiers, contractors, flooring specialists (since my ranch home is all done in hardwood floors that were now buckled and warped), and the sounds of drilling into every baseboard and wall to dry it out. Finally tally: $30,000 in damage.

I could write several more paragraphs about the shoddy job done by the restoration and remodeling people, and their dogged determination to pocket all the insurance money when only doing a third  of the work of what was estimated by my adjuster. My insistance on paying them for only work they had done lead to months of battling, a lien against my house, and the repetitive use of the phrase, "Dr. Lacopo, you just don't seem to understand how insurance claims work." Uh huh, yeah, I do....

Or I could tell you about how Kirk and Nate complained and whined bitterly about the need to move out of the house for a week when the floors were being replaced, stripped, and stained. They reasoned that since insurance was paying for me (and two cats) to live in a hotel, I should logically pay for the roommates to live somewhere for the week, while deducting a week from their rent. The work was delayed by a couple days, but on the final day of treating the newly-stained floors Kirk and Nate were instructed by me and the flooring crew that they could move back in the following day, and then in   stocking feet only. A sign was posted on the front door not to enter. I went back to my hotel room, but I returned to the house around 2 a.m. to dump some of my belongings in the garage to make moving back into my home the next day with freaked out cats less traumatic. My desire for minimal drama ended as soon as I turned the corner and saw the exterior of my house.

Kirk and Nate had decided that waiting for the floor to cure was unncessary. They were already in the house. The "Keep Out" sign was still firmly attached to the door.

What followed was a string of expletives not fit for this blog, and a complete breakdown of any sort of sanity or decorum. I nearly broke my hand beating the Nate's and Kirk's bedroom doors down. Yelling. Drama. And a not-so-kindly worded verbal invitation for the two of them to leave. Leave now.

Nate tried to argue that he never touched the floor. Apparently he floated down the hall. Kirk was a bit overwhelmed by my insistence that he leave my house and go straight to hell. He got out of bed, put on his clothes and shoes and started into the hallway.

Do. Not. Let. Your. F*cking. Shoes. Touch. This. Floor.

Kirk left. I never saw him again.

Nate left, but he returned minutes later in an attempt to convince me that he crawled through his window. It is a crank window that opens vertically with a screen on it. I called him on his ridiculous lie. He threatened to come back the next day to show me what happens to "pretentious little faggots."

Then the police came. Apparently screaming on your front porch at 4 a.m. alarms your neighbors.

Nate returned in the following days, but only long enough to start packing for a new apartment. He was gone within two weeks, and with him an assortment of my electronics and cable equipment. Left behind in his wake was just the mess that had become one of my bedrooms... and the smell.

So, the water damage is repaired, the roommates are gone, and life can go on, right? I can chart a new course of gleefully living alone in a freshly remodeled home, right? Of course not.

Hours after I kicked out the roommates, I went back to the hotel to attempt an hour or two of sleep. The sun had barely risen above the horizon, before my cell phone was ringing with a call from the owner of the flooring company.

"I'm sorry, Mike. I'm really sorry. This has never happened to us before."

As an aside, this is NOT how any phone call should begin, regardless of the circumstances. Nothing good can follow. 

Hem. Haw. Apologize. Stutter. Stammer. Apologize some more. Delay. Throw out some clichés. Stall. Stammer some more.


In the course of finishing my hardwood floors, the crew had cut through the water line that leads to my refrigerator and freezer. Their sander had severed it, and it had just slipped and fallen back into the basement. As the crew was sanding and staining and finishing my floor for eleven days, my basement was again slowly filling with water.

Destroyed books, photos, heirlooms. Dryers. Dehumidifiers. Mold. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

If you have read this far, you are likely getting a good idea of my 2015.

And I am only to August.

The remainder of the summer and most of the autumn was dedicated to fighting insurance companies, unfreezing salvageable books one at a time and drying them out, remodeling the destroyed bathrooms on my own, gutting the entire basement and deciding what to keep, donate, salvage, store, file, trash, and making lists and lists of books damaged and destroyed from two floods. You see, in the minds of an insurance adjuster any book that cannot be found in Barnes & Noble's present-day inventory is worth $9.58. I have no idea where that number comes from, but additionally, ths value is then depreciated by 50%, thus making every destroyed book worth $4.29.

And guess what? Most of the books you find in a genealogist's library ain't gonna be found in Barnes & Noble's inventory.

So, for example, the original 1913 history of Crawford County, Ohio, that I paid to have restored and rebound, and is obviously not in print, is worth $4.29. After receiving the book inventory from the insurance adjuster, my return email started with "Okay. No. Just no. No. No. No." Oh, and that additional $10,000 home insurance rider I added to my policy years ago to just barely begin to cover my library's worth? Nobody at my insurance company had any idea what I was talking about, nor is there any record of it. The idiot agent I had worked with years ago was long gone. Oh, and you use these books for your work? Your insurance policy doesn't cover as much for work-related items as it does for personal property.

While trying to pull my home together, I still had bills to pay. There were lecture and research trips (and associated travel disasters) to Virginia, Ohio, California, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Kentucky, Texas, and throughout Indiana. Talking to researchers about genealogy gave me great joy, but they always ended with the knowledge that I had to go home to deal with ongoing chaos.

On 5 October 2015 the call came that my father had ended his own life (see Hoosier Daddy?: Phase Two: Life is Messy). Although we had not spoken in over a year, I was still the one people turned to with the hundreds of unanswered questions. "You know how to find things! Find out what happened!" Calls to police detectives, lawyers, medical examiners, crime scene investigators filled my early days of autumn. Much like genealogical research, the more information you discover and process, the more questions it raises without providing any answers.

Two weeks later I received another call much like the one before. Another unexpected death. My best friend from childhood had died unexpectedly at his home at the age of 48. David and I grew up one block away from each other, and our friendship stretched back to the days when I was allowed to ride my bike around the block, but I was forbidden to cross any streets. David lived around the block AND across the street. He too was not allowed to leave the safe confines of the sidewalk. So we would chat from opposite sides of a suburban neighborhood avenue almost always devoid of traffic.

We were inseparable in grade school and junior high, and being the fifth born in a hard-working, busy family of six children, it was easy from David to slip away to spend days with my family, eventually gaining status as my unofficial adopted brother. He joined us on family vacations. We shared secrets. We occassionally fought like brothers, but the bond you make with someone you choose to be your family often runs even deeper than blood.

Our high school paths differed, and he married and started a family shortly thereafter, while I went off to college. Time spent together lessened, but there were always visits, phone calls, emails, texts. The advent of Facebook allowed a closer reacquaintance with each other's lives. He fathered four children: the youngest a mere toddler at his death. I was busy with work, travel, trying to establish myself in a new field while shedding the skin of a veterinarian. The story is familiar. Our lives are busy. We are young. There is always tomorrow. The last message I have from David was a few months before. It was a random Facebook text checking on me: "Hello Brother... you doing OK?"

Now he was dead.

Like the news of my father's death, it initially felt like a cruel joke. I think that was my first response, "you're kidding, right?" Once the information is truly processed, the hope for macabre humor is replaced with numb disbelief. Unlike the news regarding my father, the numbness was replaced with utter despair. One man in an annonymous sea of billions was plucked from this planet far too soon, but he was a special man -- to me, to his children, to his family, and to many others. So many previous opportunities to get together gone and wasted, never to be offered again.

I had the opportunity to go to David's viewing and funeral service. I was not given that chance with my father. I noted the time and the place. I made sure the proper shirt, tie, and jacket were not at the dry cleaners, but in the end, I did not go. I know the funerary rituals we embrace are largely absurd, and I am aware that they are performed for the comfort of the living. Perhaps his father, brothers, sisters, wife, children, mutual friends all would have felt consolation by my presence, and shared stories of David's life would have lessened everyone's grief. In the end, I could not do it. I can give you a million reasons why it was a good decision, but the bottom line is that I am a chicken shit. I did not want the last view of someone young, vibrant, meaningful, and loved to be an artificially recreated rendition in a box. Admittedly, the spectacle of collapsing into a formless blob of tears, wailing, and spewing snot also figured into the picture. I mourned alone, in silence, and cataloged my regrets and missed opportunities without having to wear a tie.

The physical toll of 2015?

I gained 25 pounds. I hate those people who lose weight when they are stressed, at least they can look svelte whilst being distraught. Clothes that fit at all are uncomfortable. The shirts at the back of the closet I rarely wore because they were "billowy" fit well. I am tired and easily overwhelmed. I have probably over-embraced the lack of roommates, and I cling tenaciously to my reclusive ways. Never having been a good phone person, I leave my cell phone mailbox full to avoid people leaving messages. It's a good thing. I rarely checked it anyway.

My hair turned white. No, I do not mean that I began to see white hairs. That happened long before. The smattering of white in my beard is now well beyond the salt of "salt and pepper." My chest hair turned white. Even my arm hair is now turning. The temples of my head hair are predominately white, with the remainder of my once-brown hair replaced by a dingy colorless gray. Spoiler alert: it's all dyed.

Conspicuously missing in this entire assessment of 2105 is the primary focus of this blog. This year of chaos should have been somewhat redeemed by the opportunity to get to know the fascinating man I chased so aggressively during the entirety of 2014. Had I been granted such an opportunity, it might have been. But the biggest blow of 2015 was one I have yet to describe. 

Harold James "Brighton" Daugherty died on 25 March 2015, at the hands of the daughter he never knew existed.

Friday, July 22, 2016

A Year In Review: Part I

Note to Readers: This is a narrative. To start at the beginning, click on the "Blog Archive" to the right and click on the last entry, which is the first written, on 18 February 2014. Or simply click here: Hoosier Daddy?: Beginnings.

Okay. Yes. I am recapping my 2015 nearly eight months after it ended. I get it. I am slow.

Star Wars fans had to wait a decade for The Force Awakens after Revenge of the Sith. I figure by comparison, I am downright speedy. (((pats self on back)))

But how best to end a long silence with a bit of replay? Perhaps I need to jog your memory a bit (as well as mine), and get those literary juices flowing again. There is a lot to cover.

A lot.

Let me begin with some historical context. 2015 was supposed to be THE YEAR. You know... the year it all comes together, regardless of what "it" might be. 2015 was supposed to be the year my career choice as a professional genealogist netted a six-figure income. It was the year I was to find true love, my abs, and the miraculous ability to successfully manage my time while still trolling my Facebook feed and watching strings of meaningless YouTube videos. 2014 ended with all the chessmen in place. I just need to maneuver them into my checkmate.

It didn't quite work out that way.

I left my job as a small-animal veterinarian at a busy multi-doctor practice in January 2013. And by "left" I mean I was told after twenty-two years of practicing that my services were no longer needed and then given a five-minute notice to pack my things and leave. It was not unexpected. Having worked part-time since 2008, I had made myself expendible. I was also not exactly quiet and demure in my vocalization regarding the gross mismanagement of the business, as well as grappling with the wildly growing egos of money-hungry and power-thirsty younger associates. The medicine still excited and intrigued me. The health and well-being of beloved dogs and cats motivated and rewarded me. The people associated with both sides of the exam table were doing none of the above. To quote a blog I rarely read because of the associated anxiety it creates:"From time to time I'd have one of those days when I'd rather be the janitor in a porno theater than to continue this nonsense of being a veterinarian."1 

My contract was to end in July 2013, and I had no expectation of receiving an invite to stay on, nor did I necessarily want to. Being handed my walking papers six months prematurely was not unexpected, but it was traumatic.

Suddenly I was thrust into relying solely on genealogical income for my survival. The first few weeks after my professional life abruptly ended, I battled physical illness, nausea, and anxiety associated with the stress of realizing that years of higher education and nearly a quarter-century of my professional life had just been tossed into a dumpster. Thereafter, I slowly came to the realization how nice it was to sleep in past 6 a.m. and gain a sense of excitement toward channeling my professional energies into this "hobby" that had consumed my life since my pre-teen years.

My newly adopted attitude was along the lines of "Neener Neener Neener, I No Longer Have To Participate In The Rat Race!" I was born and raised poor white trash, so I never bought into the mindset and extravagence of spending money on things I could not afford. I had made a good living as a veterinarian and squirrelled away enough savings for this very moment. Sleeping in even after the alarm clock goes off was a luxury of which I was becoming accustomed, because now it was merely a suggestion, and not a command. Relaxing mornings became the norm, nursing a pot (or two) of coffee whilst reading the news, emails, or the stack of genealogical periodicals that previously were little more than part of the perpetual clutter that was known as my work space. Throw in some required laptime for three cats, random household chores, perpetual snacking, degredation of housecleaning and gym habits, and I was completely and totally embracing the reclusive life of a hermit. 2013 quickly became dominatd by oft-repeated questions, such as "Did I shower this week?" or "Should I shave this month?"  These questions were, of course, directed toward the cats, since human interaction was purely hypothetical.

"Why Working from Home is Both Awesome and Horrible," The Oatmeal,

So let's just say that 2013 was a transition year; a year of much needed rest and a zero-tolerance rule for stress and anxiety. It was a year of increased travel and visiting friends from California to New Jersey. It was a year needed to bring myself to a middle ground where I was putting one professional life behind me, and embarking upon a new one. And hey, I had savings, and I lived alone in a three-bedroom house. If need be, I could rent out those two spare bedrooms and supplement my current non-existent income and unemployment benefits, and life would be peachy! Right?

And it's not as if I was doing NOTHING in 2013. I was still lecturing. I was still chasing the dead people of others for hire. I was still doing the work I was born to do. I just hadn't done much in the way of business planning or honing constructive time management skills before this transition was thrust upon me. Then again, I wasn't entirely embracing the need to do so right away either. When 2013 came to an end, there was the stark realization that I may actually have to work in 2014.

Unfortunately my 2014 began with a lecherous B&B owner sneaking into my rented bedroom and groping my nether regions in my sleep on an early, sunny Palm Springs, California, morning. This was quickly followed by a hasty and obscenely early retreat after some police intervention to catch an Amtrak train with my increasingly melodramatic mother. Sunny California gave way to a ridiculously frigid Midwest and a subsequent eleven-hour delay as we inched our way into Chicago during a polar vortex. With all transportation shut down and a state of emergency declared, I was booted out into the streets of Chicago in forty-below-zero weather by testy Amtrak personnel who had no idea when they could get me home, nor any desire to make it happen.

I really should pay a lot more attention to these New Year harbingers of doom and destruction.

The other thing that 2014 brought me? DNA. I do not need to rehash THAT part of my life here. Those who have read this blog from the beginning know that fact full well. In February 2014, I learned that the man I had regarded as my biological maternal grandfather was not at all correct. While I had long suspected that a reasonable doubt existed, and that my grandmother's first husband could be the man who fathered my mother, I was also shocked to learn that he too was not the man I was looking for. My grandfather was a complete stranger.

It really is a very unkind twist of fate to destroy one-quarter of a genealogist's pedigree after thirty-five years of research.

2014 was supposed to be the year I got my business off the ground. 2014 was the year I was going to finally work on my certification project for the Board for Certification of Genealogists. 2014 was the year I was going to tighten the reigns and make my mark on the world of professional genealogy. 2014 was the year I was going to leave Indiana and start life anew... perhaps in California, in Utah, in Pennsylvania... just somewhere that was not here.

Instead, 2014 became the obsessive year of finding my grandfather. Hours upon hours were spent analyzing even the tiniest autosomal DNA match in hopes of finding some common thread. When the trail began heating up, I would spend days extending pedigrees back several generations on Robinsons, Ryders, and adjacent families that would later be found to be completely unrelated. I stalked countless people on Facebook who might carry DNA that would help me. I made elaborate diagrams and trees. I begged strangers for DNA. Repeatedly. There was no comprehensible thought of leaving Indiana now. Knowing my mother was conceived in the area around Elkhart, Indiana, in the spring of 1946 meant that the likely home of my unknown grandfather and his extended family was also northern Indiana. The dream of starting a new life in a new place was put on hold indefinitely, because I was determined to identify this mystery man before ever leaving the state.

I WAS going to identify this man. I had no question about that.

Business in 2014 was laughable. Little money was coming in, and a whole lot was going out on dozens of autosomal DNA test kits. Client work was minimal and even those projects I took on where grievously delayed and perpetually behind schedule. I spent more time obsessively checking 23andMe's results pages for new matches to my mother instead of writing reports. No new matches at 9 a.m.? How about 10? 10:30? 2? Certainly there would be a new lead at 4 p.m. Over and over and over again like pulling the arm on a damn slot machine waiting for my three cherries to pop up and dump a jackpot into my lap.

It wasn't quite that easy. Obsession, compulsion, determination, fanatacism... whatever you want to call it... paid off. In less than a year I had found my grandfather. 2014 ended with not just a new name on my pedigree chart and new genealogical lines to investigate. It ended with finding a living human being who showed me how and why I ended up being a part of a family with whom I had so little in common - physically, emotionally, intellectually. Finding Harold James "Brighton" Daugherty was the end of a journey I had no idea I was taking. I did not find just a name, nor did I find an unremarkable old man. I unwittingly found myself. An intellectual, analytical, factual, genealogical search became intimately more personal.

This is what life offered me as 2014 drew to a close, and 2015 dawned. Yes, 2015 was going to be THE YEAR. Doors had been opened. A quest had come to a successful fruition. My motivation to work at my chosen profession energized me every day, and I had a wonderful new part of me that I yearned to learn about. Nothing could possibly keep me from attaining new heights of happiness, success, and world domination. Okay, at least the first two were easily within my grasp.

And then I tried to die.

Melodramatic? Maybe. But wandering around Salt Lake City in January 2015 drenched in sweat, confused and disoriented while gasping for oxygen through the audible crackles and wheezes of my diseased lungs certainly qualifies for the trivia list entitled Top 5 Illnesses of My Life. A fantastic weight loss plan, yes, but one I do not highly recommend using on a regular basis. This should have been my sign of things to come.

The ensuing Spring had me traveling to to a number of lecture venues and attempting to jump start my career with new client work and lecture opportunities. With the melting snows also came two new roommates.

Some background: if it does not relate to genealogy or DNA, I am a Scrooge. I can have my desk stacked with six spare autosomal DNA test kits, but I will agonize over the price of gum. Having roommates was a welcome -- and necessary -- addition to my financial well-being. But let's take a broader view here: how many responsible, sane adults need to live in a stranger's spare bedroom? I am near the Notre Dame campus, but not close enough to garner the interest of students. I live in the booming metropolis of Granger, Indiana. How am I going to find renters? And what kind of people would they be?

Craigslist. Yep. That's where I sought life's answers. I advertised for any lost souls who wanted to rent a room. Of course, I had prospective tenants fill out renter's applications. I conducted interviews. I ran credit and background checks. I may be desperate, but I ain't no fool. It wasn't all haphazard. After all, I did manage to avoid the very charming, attractive, and well-spoken man who conspicuously left a large portion of his application blank, and upon research was a convicted felon with a lengthy prison record, and as an additional perks was also on the state sex offenders list. I declined the guy whose occupation was "professional gambler" who upon first meeting proceeded to give me the intimate details of his sex life while on the road playing poker. Then there was the boyfriend-girlfriend duo with the German Shepherd who just wouldn't take "NO" for an answer. No, I don't want two people renting one room. No, I definitely don't want a large dog in my house with my two cats. No, I am not going to consider it. No, I don't want to meet you. No, I am not going to send you an application. No, I am not going to respond to your fifteenth and sixteenth email.

The first to move in was Nate. Forty years old and recently divorced, his ex-wife had moved with his two pre-teen sons from Wisconsin to be closer to her parents in nearby Edwardsburg, Michigan. He was looking to move nearby so he too could participate in his parental responsibilities. He was a bartender of long standing at a Madison brewhouse, and his references were sound. He had the personality of a grown-up child, or perhaps that of a frat boy that never matured passed his late teens. He was funny and relaxed, tousled and unkempt, with a penchant for magic tricks, collecting coins, treasure hunting with his metal detector, and indulging in political conspiracy theories. We were certainly not cut from the same cloth, and it was unlikely that we would be spending our evenings in animated discussion on the history of the German settlement of eighteenth-century Pennsylvania, but he also seemed harmless, financially sound, and possessing a legitimate reason for needing a cheap place to stay relatively quickly. Done deal.

The second roommate was Kirk. He was in his sixties, and his application boasted his professional history of successful investment banking in Chicago, while currently working part-time as a weekend concierge in a Chicago restaurant and as a fitness trainer at a local gym. To me, his nickname immediately became "Skeletor," as he was rail thin and hardly someone I would take fitness advice from. His ultralean frame was topped with unnaturally dark jet-black hair that obviously came from a bottle. He bathed in cheap department store cologne that would let any woman know by smell before sight that a way-past-his-prime-but-doesn't-know-it Lothario was out on the prowl. Kirk's aged father had recently died, and he had moved from Chicago to Michigan to live in the family's lake house and ready it for sale. Its immediate and unexpected sale meant that he needed a place to live while his estate in Florida was being built, where he would be moving with his steady girlfriend, who would likely soon become his wife. As it turned out, the Florida home was never again referenced, and the girlfriend was never seen.

Although his story reeked of bullshit, he seemed harmless enough. His background checked out, and he moved in with nary a pot to piss in (but enough dietery supplements to choke a horse). He had a daily routine that kept him away from the house for most the time other than night-time sleeping. It seemed perfect.

Perfection it was not.

I have learned to embrace being a recluse, and I did not rent rooms to hire friends. Nate loved to tell me about his day, his kids, his job, his magic, his everything. Fine. Okay. He wasn't a bad guy. I can do this. My office and library is in my fully-furnised basement. It is my sanctum sanctorum. Being an open concept house, there are few doors, so there was never an obvious physical barrier distinctly telling people to "Keep Out!" Nate loved to come downstairs to chat. Often. Then he decided since his laptop was broken, he could take over one of my desktop workstations when I was not at home. This led to his divine realization that he was destined to quit his job and become an eBay god, spending his days at auctions and garage sales and his nights listing various pieces of junk online. My house rapidly became a storage space for tchotchkes best relegated for a dumpster; each one of which he showed me, described its acquisition in detail, and to which he ascribed some sort of rare and expensive value. Soon he had commandeered by computer, my printer, my packaging material and tape, and most of all - my space. Rummage sale refuse was stacked in my living room, my kitchen, my basement, my garage.

Oh, yes, it was in his room too. But then again, so was everything else. His wordly possessions were mounded on top of each other in a disorganized heap, and he only just kept added to it. I thought eventually it would reach the ceiling, and he would not longer have headroom to stand up. This growing mound also incorporated within it a random assortment of unwashed clothes, food, and eating utensils.

The other thing housed in Nate's bedroom, but regrettably not contained within, was the smell. Not a terrible fan of showering, and even then, deodorizing, Nate was often quite ripe to the discriminating nostrils. When I spied a pizza box with uneaten pizza within lying on his bed for the fifth consecutive day, the law was laid down. If I can smell it, it needs cleaned. And I gave him fair warning that I would enter his room often to reclaim dishes, silverware, cups, and glasses that never seemed to make it back to the kitchen once they entered his odiferous abyss.  Truthfully, I think he found it all rather amusing. It was only when I also demanded the removal of his inventory from all living areas that he started getting defensive. When I declined his offer for increased rental payment in exchange for "work space" in my basement office, he countered aggressively and out of character with a string of expletives about how self-absorbed and greedy I was. It was apparent that frat boy Nate had the potential for significant anger.

Strangely, Kirk and Nate got along well, largely I am sure because of a shared dislike for me. I learned to be perpetually in tune with the sound of their cars, so that I could run and hide in my office or my bedroom. Kirk was odd. Nate was annoying. I was a prisoner in my own home avoiding any possible chance necessary interaction with either of them. Kirk was the polar opposite of Nate: a neat freak who had to keep his wardrobe perpetually clean. Nate would only wash the one pair of black pants and the one black shirt he needed to bartend. Of course he did this repeatedly, as his work place had commented on his sloppy appearance. Combined, my washer and dryer never stopped. My electric bill skyrocketed, and I rarely kept up with the depleting salt demands of my water softener.

This increased level of tension culminated in the events of the morning of 07 May 2015.

Since I have cats that demand complete and total access to my bedroom, I sleep with my door open enough for them to come and go as they please. On that particular morning I was awakened by increasingly louder repetitions of my name from the cracked door. "Mike. Mike. Mike. MIKE."

It was Nate. Once he recieved my acknowledgment, he stated with an obvious tone of amusement, "Dude. You're gonna be pissed when you see the basement." Then he left.

I struggled a minute with conprehending the meaning of his statement while coming to full wakefulness. He was already out the front door when I jumped out of bed and ran through standing water in my hallway.

This was an immediate invite for "Hysterics. Party of One."

My mind raced. My body struggled to follow the dozens of directives simultaenously issued by my brain. Where is the water coming from? Is the valve turned off? Do I grab a million towels? Do I assess the source and path of the water flow....

...Oh Jesus Christ, Mary, Joseph, and all the Angels and Saints on High, the path of least resistance for all this water is DOWN! THE BASEMENT!!!

Hell is not fire and brimstone. Hell is water. Lots and lots and lots of water.

1 "Veterinarians Behaving Badly," blog post, 2 May 2015,

Friday, November 6, 2015

Phase Two: Life is Messy

Michael Dean Lacopo and Dean William Lacopo, Jr.
South Bend, Indiana, 1998

On the evening of 04 October 2015, in Colorado Springs, Colorado, my father put a 9mm handgun to his left temple and pulled the trigger. The intended result was not instantaneous. The short and speedy path of the bullet fractured the base of his skull and exited his upper right eyelid, sparing any structures that would have caused his immediate demise. He was still breathing when emergency personnel arrived.

He died shortly after his hospital arrival. He was 69 years old.

I was informed of his death the following afternoon by his half-sister who heard it from his sister who heard it from his brother who heard it from his wife. None of his three sons were directly notified; apparently this was not a priority. It is not entirely surprising. None of his three sons had a functional relationship with the man.

Dean William Lacopo, Jr., was born in South Bend, Indiana, on 25 February 1946, to an alcoholic father, and a mother who would abandon him and his siblings just three years later. While his father worked as a shoe repairer between drinking binges, Dino (as everyone but my mother called him) and his siblings were largely raised by his paternal grandparents. Three generations of Lacopos lived under one roof in the small house at 727 North Eddy Street in South Bend. His grandfather, Domenico Salvatore "Dominick" Lacopo, was an Italian immigrant who taught his grandson the power of a strong work ethic. He regrettably also instilled into him the Italian machismo that involved keeping a woman in her place while freely pursuing sexual conquests. Male superiority was a common theme to my father, forever expressing his prowess at producing three male heirs, while berating his youngest son for only siring daughters.

Briefly, these are the circumstances surrounding my father's upbringing. He mimicked all the negative traits and interpersonal skills learned from his parents and grandparents and brought them into his adult relationships with others. 

As a high school student, Dean was repeatedly expelled from South Bend schools for his aggressive behavior -- a trait that was magnified exponentially when he drank, which was often and continual. He moved in with his father's sister in Mishawaka in 1964 so that he could attend Penn High School in that city. 

It was here that Dean met my mother, Carol Sue DePrato. She was the good Catholic girl who had been adopted and spoiled by the parents who could have no children of their own. He was the bad boy from the wrong side of the tracks. The attraction was obvious, plucked from every clichéd good-girl-bad-boy B-movie plot line. 

When Dean quit high school to join the Marines, he left Carol behind. She took up with her previous boyfriend who bored her, but who offered stability and took her to her High School Senior Prom. When Dean returned home for the holidays from Marine Corps Base Quantico in Virginia in 1965, the attraction was still strong. Being a good Catholic girl, Carol resisted his persistent physical advances. He asked her to marry him. That worked wonders.

Two months later, Carol's disappointed father and morally-outraged mother promptly put their pregnant teenage daughter on a train to San Diego, California, where she met up with Dean, now stationed at Camp Pendleton, and they were hurriedly married on 25 February 1966. Their eldest son was born there seven months later.

My mother was not the only woman calling my father with shocking news. The girl he dated while stationed in Quantico had done so at nearly the exact time. She too was pregnant with his child. The girl born in Washington, D.C., just forty days before my brother's birth, was given up for adoption. This perpetual string of women and juggling relationships would continue until my father's death. At no time during his marriages would Dean adhere to monogamy, having numerous dalliances that a marriage certificate was powerless to prevent. But in 1966, having just turned twenty years old, he was suddenly saddled with a lonely bride living in cockroach-infested base housing caring for a newborn son far away from home. He was ill-prepared for the inconvenient burdens of fatherhood. Her options were limited, more so after discovering almost immediately that she was pregnant again by her already unfaithful husband. They returned to the South Bend area after my father's discharge from the Marines, where I was born nine months and four days after my brother.

The house I grew up in was located on the north side of Mishawaka, Indiana. It was a post-war prefab two-bedroom, one-bathroom ranch on a concrete slab. Purchased for $9,000 in 1967, we moved into it when I was just two months old. Shortly thereafter, my father gained employment with the Mishawaka Police Department. These two things would remain constant until I left home for college in 1985.

I have no positive memories of my father during this time. In the wake of his death, I tried to search my mind for them, but I came up empty. I know he was present at a handful of family events and holidays, but I know this only by looking at photographs. School events were largely attended by my mother and my maternal grandparents. I do not recall his attendance at any of them. For many years, my father worked the night shift, so his presence often was precluded by the need to report to work, or to sleep during the day. It was 1970s, an era of very hands-off parenting. The hovering and catering and nurturing techniques of child-rearing experienced later by the Millennials would have seemed ludicrous to my parents a generation prior.

But it is not my father's parenting techniques or work absences that causes my lack of memories. There are plenty of memories, just none of them are pleasant.

At the most benign, the smell of a man drunk on bourbon, mixed with the stench of cigarette smoke, immediately reminds me of my father and takes me back to my childhood.

At the worst, the memories include the time we had to throw out all of the toys we loved, because my father had come home drunk and urinated in our toy box, thinking it was the toilet. 

Or the time he came home after work with a strange man following in a pick up truck. Without notice to anyone in his family, he packed up the dog house from the back yard and gave this man my beloved dog, a Doberman named Caesar. Mother and children just cried in stunned disbelief. I was devastated.

Or the wrath that would ensue if you didn't clean your room when told. This would usually result in a fit of cursing anger followed by the furiously crazed dismantling and destruction of shelves, dressers, and closets; the breaking of toys, lamps, and knick-knacks, and the final statement "NOW you have a room to clean! Clean it!" You didn't dare cry at the destruction left in his wake. If you did, you were taken from the room to really be "given something to cry about."

And the beatings. The cursing. The fighting. The violence. The fear. The snapping of his belt when you knew he meant business, or the feel of it against your bare lower back or upper thighs that invariably came from bad aim meant for your buttocks. The level of my father's anger and drunkenness was usually measurable by whether the welts he left behind from his beatings bled or not.

I ran into an old neighbor from my childhood when I was in my 30s. He marveled at how successful I had become: a college graduate with a doctorate and working at a thriving veterinary practice. He just stared at me silently with a wistful teary-eyed smile. After an uncomfortable silence, I asked him what was wrong.

"Nobody in the neighborhood expected you to live through your childhood. Your father's alcohol-fueled temper was notorious. And he carried a gun for a living. We all waited for it to reach its eventual climax."

My father would beat my mother into unconsciousness, while we would usually run to the back yard or the neighbor's house shrieking in abject terror. This played out numerous times for the neighborhood to see, so it was no deep, dark family secret. My mother called the police once. They laughed at her. They were certainly not going to send out a squad car on one of their own. Sorry. Not our problem. Deal with it.

Like most police officers, my father supplemented his income by working security at other businesses. He started at First National Bank, then for many years at the local K-Mart, and then as head of security at University Park Mall - all in Mishawaka, Indiana. More than two decades have passed since his retirement from the Mishawaka Police Department, yet I still hear his name used as the illustration for "the bad cop." The cop that would confiscate drugs or other illegal goods from a perpetrator, then pocket them. The cop that would let a female prisoner go in exchange for sexual favors. The cop that once cut a prisoner's finger off by slamming a jail door onto it, then laughed when the man screamed and writhed in pain, all the while taunting him on the other side of the locked cell with his dismembered digit.

Still, when people hear my name and ask, "Are you Dino's son?" my response is never an immediate "Yes." It is usually a wary "Why?"

To my father, these were the things that defined a man: strength, power, violence, control, money, sex.

Once I reached an age of rationality and reasoning, I became well aware of the dysfunction around me. Unlike my father, I did not allow my childhood upbringing to define me and doom me to the repetition of the same faults and behaviors. I was all the things my father was not, and did not understand, and for that, I was spared most of the physical violence doled out upon my mother and brothers.

My father wanted three strapping, lady-killing, smooth-talking jocks for sons. By that measuring stick, I failed miserably. I was well-behaved and quiet. I rarely defied my father's authority, or that of my teachers or anyone who held power over me. I was a sickly child with a host of orthopedic, gastrointestinal, and ocular problems. I was not the jock my father wanted, but somehow health issues beyond my control gave me an excuse. It wasn't an entirely acceptable one, but it was futile to try to make me be something I physically could not. And I was smart and bookish. Somewhere this must have registered with my father as a positive trait, but again, it was unfamiliar territory.

So I was largely ignored.

When I started my genealogical research and made my first foray into the civil court records at the St. Joseph County Clerk's office, I was surprisingly shocked to see that my father filed for divorce in almost every year beginning in 1968. The court filing, moving out to shack up with the girlfriend du jour, and the moving back in once his fling lost its appeal, had finally taken its toll on my mother. Seventeen years into their marriage, she was done. She was determined  to make my father's divorce filing in June 1983 his last.

My father would show up at the house frequently after the divorce, asking my mother to remarry him. I think he missed the control more than the marriage. When she steadfastly refused his final offer, he angrily told her that she would be sorry. He married his second wife the following week as his revenge.

I left for college. There were no letters from my father. There were no cards or gifts at the holidays or my birthday.  He did not congratulate me when I made Dean's List. He did not attend my graduation from veterinary school. As I entered into adulthood, the father who terrorized my childhood became the father who just didn't care.

And as I write that, I am terribly saddened by it. There were many reasons for me to hate my father. I did not. I craved his approval, and I longed for his attention. These are things I would never get. His death means that they are no longer options.

For Christmas, 1979, my father bought all three of his sons sterling silver St. Christopher medals on long chains. I am sitting her with mine in front of me, encased in the blue velvet box in which it was presented. On the back is engraved, "Mike from Dad 12-25-79." My father never played a role in birthday or holiday gift buying, and I recall even my mother being perplexed by the purchasing and presenting of these gifts. I wore it continuously for years, and it is exposed and visible in my 8th grade school pictures, worn outside my faux-silk disco shirt. I meticulously preserved the medal and its casing, because it showed me that on some level my father loved me.

After my father retired from the Mishawaka Police Department, he took on a full-time position as a regional loss prevention and security manager for K-Mart stores. This required a move to New Mexico, and then to Colorado. His physical absence from the state made any meaningful attempt at connection nearly impossible. If I failed to call my father within what he deemed to be an appropriate amount of time, I could usually expect a drunken, profanity-laden message on my answering machine reminding me how undeserving I was to carry the surname Lacopo. The rants would usually last for several minutes.

It was seldom an incentive to call back.

And still, I waited for some moment of clarity or reflection when my father would grow up and realize that he needed to connect with the son he failed to raise. I recall one birthday afternoon sometime in the late 1990s when I was working as a veterinarian. I was paged by one of our receptionists:

"Your father is on Line 1."

I was shocked and ecstatic at the same time. My father really remembered my birthday? Maybe he really did care after all!

When I picked up the phone, there was no small talk, just a simple question.

"Hey, do you have Greg's number? I think today is his birthday."

Right day, wrong son. 

Crestfallen, I corrected him. He did not offer me any birthday wishes. He just apologized for the error and hung up.

For all the preaching I do about learning the stories of our ancestors and of our families, I failed to learn my father's story. I tried intermittently over the years to really talk to the man and understand him. As I learned more from other family members and through my research about his upbringing and the dysfunctional generations that preceded him, I had a better sense of how he was started down the path he had chosen. As I got older, I realized how terribly difficult it would be for me to have three children by the age of twenty-three, and how his selfish, narcissistic mentality would be most incompatible to raising them. I don't excuse the errors people choose to make, but at least I try to understand the origins of them. Somewhat.

I visited Colorado a couple times. Time with my father was not horrible, but it was not comfortable either. I always expected more. I got less. When he returned to Indiana for visits, he rarely stayed with his children, and more often he stayed with his stepdaughter. When he asked to stay with me in the summer of 2008, I was, again, overjoyed. While he had other options to choose from, he chose me. Maybe on the cusp of my 41st birthday, I would finally begin to have a relationship with my father... or at least some adult facsimile thereof.

As it turned out, he had arranged to stay with me, because he had also arranged to have an Indiana fling -- something you cannot do when you are staying with your wife's daughter. I was livid, equal parts at him, as to myself, for being a grown man still seeking his Daddy's approval. And for being so gullible to think he would supply it.

His defense? "It's okay. I cheated on your mother with her too."

Dean W. Lacopo, Jr.,  rarely did anything that did not directly benefit Dean W. Lacopo, Jr.

An occasional email or phone call followed in 2009, but after my computer account was hacked and phantom messages were repeatedly sent from to my entire address book selling Viagra and other such nonsense, it was met with this response from my father, ironically delivered on Father's Day, 2010.

"Michael, Take me off your email address book, I do not need the garbage you're sending to everyone. I fully understand you have no love for me, and trust me, I really don't care. You are a looser [sic]. You think you are so much better than everyone else, trust me you are not, so forget about me because I have forgot about you. Maybe if you ask, your mother might tell you who your real father is, because I know I'm not."

I quit trying after this email.

And then came DNA.

On 25 August 2013, I sent my father an email asking if he would be willing to spit in a tube for my genealogical research. It was met with as much venom as the 2010 email. His willingness to submit to a DNA test was based on a list of requirements I would have to meet before he would do so.

I declined the offer.

Several days later, my father contacted me and told me he was coming to Indiana. He would do my DNA test. He wanted to call a truce.

And still, the little boy in me basked in the tiniest ray of attention bestowed upon him by his father.

The last time I saw my father was on the day he spit into a 23andMe autosomal DNA test kit. He took me to brunch. We chatted about work, the weather, the house... safe topics. When he left, I again felt the same familiar pangs of sadness and emptiness that accompanied his visits. I didn't know my father, and he didn't know me. He said he wanted to take me to dinner before he returned to Colorado. He never called me back to arrange such a thing. He left without a word.

But while he was spitting in a tube, he spied a program I had lying on my desk from a recent "VIP FamilySearch Breakfast" I had attended in Fort Wayne, Indiana, during a national genealogical conference. He read my biography within, and he flipped through the remainder of the program.

"You're a VIP, huh?"
"Yeah, I guess so."
"So you're really good at this? People recognize this? That's impressive."

After 46 years, this is the most praise I had ever received from my father.

A haphazard exchange of emails occurred after that. I sent him a synopsis of his DNA results on 24 November 2013. I jokingly told him that, "like it or not, it does confirm you are my father."

His response on 28 November 2013:

"Thanks for the information, and yes, I'm happy you are my son. I love you."

As I write that, I am crying for the first time since my father's death. 

That was our last communication. I do not know why. He came back to Indiana a number of times, yet I only knew about it after he had come and gone. My father loved me in whatever way he was capable of loving a son, but paired with the "I love you" in the email were reports of him ridiculing his "faggot" of a son to others when it behooved him to play the macho card. Perhaps I should have accepted what little I received and been happy with it. Perhaps I wanted him to try harder. Perhaps I wanted him to fall to his knees and beg forgiveness for being a shitty husband and father. Perhaps I was just weary of being perpetually disappointed and feeling used when I did try harder. 

He didn't understand me, nor could I understand him.

The one thing we both recognized was that the singular, and most powerful, trait we held in common was our obstinacy and stubbornness. I failed to succumb to his charm and wit like so many others did, and I never hesitated to call him out on his bullshit. He did the same. When you place two identical poles of powerful magnets next to each other, they repel each other violently. Among a million other variables that I haven't the space to detail, I accept my share of blame in failing to truly know my father. Many time I was just trying to out-stubborn his stubbornness. 

Now I will never have that chance.

And it makes me terribly sad.

So why post this long, personal, soul-bearing assessment of my father's role in my life after his unexpected suicide? It has nothing at all to do with DNA or Harold James "Brighton" Daugherty or flooded office basements or tearful reunions of missing fathers and grandfathers.

Or does it?

So much has happened since my last blog post. Life has been challenging in 2015. The title of this post, and the content therein, is an indication of things to come. I call it "Phase Two," because it is no longer a story about DNA analysis and computation. It is no longer a genealogical journey.

It is a personal journey.

And much like the contents of this blog post, it is messy. It will be difficult to read. It will tickle you and make you smile. It will make you angry. It will make you cry. It may even disgust you to the point of no longer reading. But it is MY story, and I will tell it. For over a year you have read about the "dirty laundry" I have revealed about those in my past and in my research. In fairness, you get to hear some of mine.

And much like the story of my father, I can only tell this story from my own point of view. I can only tell the story of the things I know and how they affected me. I do not know what motivated my father. I do not know his joys, his loves, his regrets, his feelings, his thoughts, his reminisces. He never shared those with me. The story of the life of Dean W. Lacopo, Jr., told by his brother, or his ex-wife, his wife, or his nieces, or his coworkers, or his fellow police officers, would be markedly different from each other. Many would extoll his virtues. After all, it is not polite to speak ill of the dead, right? 

Everyone that comes into our lives knows only the smallest facet of who we are and what we think and what makes us tick. Likewise, we know only the tiniest fragment of the lives of those we encounter. Some of us are blessed with loved ones, spouses, family, or good friends who truly know us quite well. But can a spouse really know you as a parent? Can your best friend know you as a child? Can your parents fathom you as a romantic interest?


Our stories are complex and multifaceted, and they are uniquely our own. This is my story. Nobody will know it unless I write it. 

Likewise, I do not claim to know the story of Harold James "Brighton" Daugherty, the man who surprisingly became my grandfather at the age of eighty-seven. When I found a living, breathing human being, rather than a name to enter onto my pedigree chart, the story was no longer genealogical. It became intensely personal.

This, then, will be my story; the story about the grandfather who helped me understand where I fit into this crazy, dysfunctional family.

This will be the story of Brighton Daugherty as I perceive it.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Unforeseen Circumstances, i.e. Life

Some of you may already know that I have recently sustained significant damage to my home. A toilet was left to overflow for approximately eight hours before it was detected and the flow of water stopped. This happened in a first-floor bathroom. This is, of course, devastating enough news, but more so when you know that my well-equipped office and enviable library of several thousand books lies in the basement.

I had not planned for a water feature in my basement office... definitely not a roaring waterfall.

So much like my pleas for patience earlier this year while I tried to die from pneumonia, I have to beg for your mercy once again. My battle with the insurance company has just begun, and every piece of furniture in my home is serving as a book press to salvage what I can of my library. Damage to main level wood floors is significant; the basement ceilings are even worse. There are so many dehumidifiers going simultaneously in this house - some old, some borrowed, some newly purchased - that you would likely turn to dust if you entered my front door. I am perpetually thirsty.

If you have taken just one lesson from my blog, it is this: Life is Messy.

While I tend to insurance woes and home repairs, I am also learning a great deal more about the man that is Harold James "Brighton" Daugherty, my grandfather. The man fascinates me in ways no other relative or ancestor has done before. His existence finally has allowed me to realize my place in my extended family. Traits and characteristics that set me apart from those who surrounded me in nearly five decades of life suddenly make sense because of finding this man.

There is an amazing story to tell. The tale I have spun thus far regarding my search for this man pales in comparison.

Indulge me with a little more patience, and I promise to take you places you have never thought possible when you started this journey with me. You will experience romance, adventure, intrigue, and awe. But you will also join me in some very, very dark places.

I will be back as quickly as I possibly can.

I promise.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Brighton's New Family Revealed

Introduction are made...

On the 28th of October, 2014, Harold James "Brighton" Daugherty learned about a family he never knew existed. His family.

When is the "right time" to tell an 87-year-old man with health problems that he has a daughter he never knew existed? Waiting for it when nobody knew what it was supposed to look like was pointless. Even a man in the best condition might be a bit shocked with having a cigar thrust into his mouth as he approaches his ninth decade on this planet with the exclamation, "Congratulations! It's a girl!" 

Oh, and she's 67 years old.

Although Brighton had settled into his new life at the assisted living center on the outskirts of Denver, Colorado, he had moments where he bemoaned the end of his adventures and his avenues of new discovery. There is very little to stimulate one's sense of wonder when surrounded by a sea of walkers and regularly scheduled cafeteria food. Brighton was still quite mobile, but he relied on the support of his wheeled walker to maintain his balance. Even though this facility that was mow his new home was modern and well-maintained and decorated, the surrounding neighborhood had little to offer within walking distance. Adventure was in short supply.

So when handed a mysterious card and asked, "Would you like to go on a voyage of discovery?" he responded with excited wide-eyes and eager anticipation.

Within the card were four photos: Helen (Timmons) Miller when she was 29-years-old, the age at which their paths crossed; a high school graduation photo of his as-yet-unknown daughter Carol; a picture of me, his grandson; and finally a recent photo of my mother and me together. In addition to the photos was a printed biography of me from my genealogy website and a copy of his AncestryDNA connections page.

I have mentioned Brighton's dementia in previous blogs, especially as it became more problematic following his near-death experience from a previous surgery and the more recent prolonged recovery from his last surgery and hospitalizations. Dementia comes in many shapes, sizes, colors, and costumes. So it is necessary to illustrate Brighton's state of mind when receiving this news. When a layperson hears "dementia," it can easily conjure up the image of a man in a persistent state of confusion, displaying erratic behavior, unable to function in society. This was far from Brighton's reality. Simply, Brighton's problems were primarily focused on the present-day: the here and the now. He was always quite cognizant of who he was and the identities of the people in his life. He was quite aware of the stories of his past and recognized them as the past. He had no delusions of people present who had long since died. He was capable of being incredibly charming, as well as being surly and unmanageable, in other words, he was his normal self. His present mental problems were primarily associated with grasping complex issues in the present and holding on to them within his short-term memory. He could remember a face or a person once he met them. That was not a problem. But if they were new, recalling immediately how they fit into the picture of his life was. Shaking up Brighton's world with a barrage of newness was like an electrical storm within his brain, and thus the worry of thrusting a complex relationship issue upon him while he was just growing accustomed to his new place of residence.

But as mentioned before, when is the "right time"?

Brighton was mentally walked step-by-step through the events that led up to this sunny autumn afternoon's adventure. He was reminded of the test he had taken through AncestryDNA the previous year (a test that comically miffed him when it showed he was a Daugherty with minimal Irish ethnicity). He was told that people with matching segments of DNA would contact his account occasionally to see if they were related, but recently there was a surprising contact from a "very close relative."

His eyes widened further.

With that, he was handed the photograph of eighteen-year-old Carol DePrato.

"This is your daughter."

Brighton's wide-eyed expression of surprise softened, and a smile appeared. He looked hard and long at the photo. His first response, "how pretty she is!" He continue to examine the photograph closely with his fingers, outlining the cheeks, the eyes, the chin line. He commented on the uncanny family resemblance, and marveled at her resemblance to his sister, Lillian, who was known as a beauty in her day.

He was shown a picture of me and introduced to the grandson that doggedly brought this all together. He bolted upright at the mention of my name. "Michael! I've always loved that name!" Brighton - the adventurer, the writer, the thinker, the artist, the philosopher - was intrigued with my travel, my profession, and my writing.

The topic was discussed giddily over a celebratory lunch. He was fascinated by the whole tale. He was, of course, intermittently confused. Digesting the fact that he had a baby born in 1946 while being shown photos of long-aged adults had to be sorted in his mind repeatedly. And the discussion of DNA was rehashed several times when he wondered aloud how any of this could be true. Brighton laughs at the modern-day vernacular of "OMG!" In his words, he was "over the moon!"

He returned to his room after lunch, mentally exhausted. As he reclined on his bed for a nap, he gazed at the new photos, all labeled with names and relationships: "Carol - Daughter," "Michael - Grandson."

But quickly on the heels of the joy and excitement of this new discovery came doubts and uncertainty.

"Why would they be interested in such an ordinary person?"

When reminded of how his life had followed a trajectory decidedly unordinary and how his joy for life made him remarkably special, he smiled in agreement. Still, he responded with a touch of melancholy, "they aren't going to find that person." Additionally, the man who seldom reflected upon his past with wistful nostalgia, matter-of-factly stated, "Why would I want to know them after nearly sixty-eight years of not knowing them? There is no value in it. And certainly no inheritance!"

In the emails and phone calls that preceded this day of revelation, I had begun to learn of the man who was my biological grandfather. A journey that began as a research challenge and a deep desire to resolve the academic dilemma of my unaccountable and useless DNA matches had rapidly become far more personal for me. The man I had found contributed nearly 30% of his DNA to my genetic being - more so than any other of my grandparents. I carry an exact copy of his genome on the entirety of my maternally-derived Chromosome 11 and Chromosome 19, both passed unchanged and uncombined from him, to my mother, and to me. My X-Chromosome given to me by my mother, and therefore a blend of the two X-Chromosomes given to her by Brighton and Helen, is nearly 80% Brighton.

More so than just the mathematic computations of my DNA profile, the man I had located finally gave ME a sense of belonging. For nearly five decades I have been surrounded by a family significantly flawed, but loved nonetheless. When asked about my brothers, my response typically is, "find the three most dissimilar people on this planet, and put them in the same room. That would be my two brothers and me." I had spent the better part of thirty-five years questioning relatives and researching my ancestry. And while I have extolled the importance of telling our family stories, I have always felt somewhat wedged into the wrong one; the singular puzzle piece that needs to be forced into place or that is off-colored and somehow not cut from the same die compared to its adjacent companions. I look little like my parents, and I have often been referred to as the "milkman's child." My behaviors, my thought patterns, my drive, my personality, my inquisitiveness, my sense of adventure have never jibed with my immediate family. I have listened and learned and empathized with the generations that preceded me, but I never saw myself in those that I tortured with my incessant queries. Perhaps my endless desire for anecdotes of past events and stories of those who came long before my living relatives reflected the search for my my own antecedents on a more personal level.

With the discovery of Harold James "Brighton" Daugherty, I found the puzzle piece that I connected to seamlessly. I could see myself in this man. Descriptions of his behaviors, his attitudes, and his exploits read via email to my mother would evoke gasps of surprise from her, "that sounds like you, Michael!" Or "can't you see yourself in that description, Michael?"

So when Brighton expressed doubts toward the value of pursuing a relationship with his new family, he was reminded that we were not looking for anything tangibly extraordinary. We were looking for pieces of ourselves within him; and perhaps he might make a similar discovery.

Brighton seemed appeased by that answer... or at least it gave him fodder for contemplation. He awoke from his nap later that afternoon still laughing and disbelieving of the day's events, and he called friends to share the information.

But Brighton had spent his lifetime distancing himself from a family he deemed wholly dysfunctional, and had been forever running from the responsibilities of starting his own. There were still doubts he would presently embrace the concept of "family," as it was a concept decidedly foreign to him.

The next move was still undecided. For good or for bad, the flood gates had been opened. And much like an unrestrained flooding, the sudden rush of waters would unearth many secrets long buried. Like water rushing into places long drought-stricken, it would serve as cooling, massaging, nourishing sustenance, while simultaneously creating dangerous eddies and deceptively strong currents.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Ship Has Sailed

Brighton is brought on board for a new adventure.

October 17, 2014, marked the beginning of a dizzying number of back-and-forth emails resultant from the poorly defined, but significant, genetic connection between myself and Harold James "Brighton" Daugherty as indicated by AncestryDNA.

It couldn't have come at a worse time. 

While I was finally putting the pieces of my puzzle together, and coming tantalizing close to solving the mystery presented to me the previous February, Brighton's puzzle pieces were still scattered, missing, and not fitting together very nicely.

Bright had moved into an assisted living center in Denver, Colorado, on the very same day I had made contact with the Donna, his friend and his staunch supporter for three decades, and as of late, his primary caregiver and watchdog. After a fourth surgery for spinal stenosis on 20 March 2014, Brighton had suffered through significant post-surgical dementia, hospitalization, seven weeks of rehabilitation at a skilled nursing facility, and another repeat hospitalization. He had finally been moved into a beautiful, modern, well-equipped assisted living center on the western suburbs of Denver. While I spent most of 2014 chasing down his far-flung Daugherty relatives, he was fighting for his life. And winning.

Unfortunately, the hard-earned victory Brighton has finally achieved tasted bittersweet. He had gained the freedom to live independently after a grueling physical battle that his physicians and surgeons had deemed impossible. Brighton Daugherty's lust for life was evident. He has a large personality and a charming, yet commanding, presence. He had spent over eight decades repeatedly reinventing himself, not just in name, but as well as in deed. The path he had chosen to take was paved with passion, adventure, creativity, and wonder. This path was not neatly paved, nor was it dotted with street signs and traffic signals. Brighton's chosen way of living was burdened by very few rules.

Assisted living facilities have rules.

Additionally, since his earlier 2011 spinal stenosis surgery, and its subsequent respiratory arrest and near-death experience, Brighton had been the victim of worsening degrees of dementia. The brain injury resultant of this surgery marked a significant decline in his mental health, and it was hoped by his doctors that perhaps he would improve with familiarity and routine. Having recently been bounced from hospital to medical facility, his apartment condemned due to a black mold infestation, and his personal belongings confiscated for cleaning, the bulk of Brighton's 2014 was hardly the epitome of "familiarity and routine." Now that he was settled into a new facility and the bulk of his belongings finally delivered to him by the foot-dragging, legal-wrangling corporate entity that owned his apartment building, it was hoped that stability would be forthcoming.

But for Brighton, the transition was accompanied by confusion, agitation, and a dislike for the gnawing realization that he was being marginalized by society as a bothersome old man with mental and physical limitations. For a man who had sailed the Pacific Ocean in a boat of his own construction, an afternoon of Yahtzee with a bunch of "living dead people" was not his idea of an adventure. He was barely in residence for five days before the staff called his contacts frantically looking for him, as he had left the building without notifying anyone. He had returned safely later in the afternoon, but one of his visitors that night indicated that on that particular evening he was in a foul mood.

This was not an ideal time to reveal to him that he had a daughter in Indiana, and a grandson who had been doggedly pursuing his trail.

Truthfully, the week Brighton was struggling to adapt to his new situation, I was largely unaware that he was even the grandfather I had been so tenaciously seeking. With the combined AncestryDNA results indicating that Brighton and I were nebulously, yet closely, related, the working hypothesis was that Brighton's brother, Thomas Richard Daugherty, who had died seven years earlier, was my mother's father. Thomas was older and closer to my grandmother's age. He was not yet married, and was presumably living in South Bend, Indiana. His younger brother, then known as Jim Daugherty, was only nineteen years old and was thought to have been still at sea on the U.S.S. Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Regardless, Donna's love for Brighton  and her interest in genealogy compelled her to tell me all about my presumed new great-uncle and tidbits of information she had learned of the Daugherty family throughout her years of acquaintance with Brighton. The emails flew back and forth by the dozens. And today, when I look at the timeline of events, I am amazed at how quickly everything fell into place. When the events were actively unfolding, I was lecturing throughout Ohio, away from home, and the process seemed painfully and frustratingly slow. As quickly as I was being fed details, I was asking more questions.

Within twenty-four hours of initial contact, Brighton's raw data from AncestryDNA was uploaded to to solidly identify his relationship to me that AncestryDNA would not reveal. Four days later I was already purchasing a Y-DNA test kit from FamilyTreeDNA. My previous months of research had indicated that Brighton was the last male Daugherty of his line. His only brother had no sons, and even if Thomas Daugherty was my grandfather, my mother did not carry his Y-DNA. It died with him. Tom and Bright's father, Ira Daugherty (1886-1943), was the only one of three brothers to have children. His great-grandfather, John Henry Daugherty (1852-1939), was the only son to live to adulthood. So even before I knew which of the two Daugherty brothers was my grandfather, I knew that Brighton was the only living male descendant of Daniel Daugherty (1803-1880). Being on the cusp of revealing my grandfather's identity hadn't curbed my thirst for DNA. Without it, I would have never found him. Hell, without it, I would have still presumed Frank Strukel was my grandfather. But this marriage of my genealogical and scientific backgrounds is a potent drug. It will forever yield to me amazing gems of knowledge, clues for further research, as well as keep me woefully impoverished.

Thomas Richard Daugherty
South Bend Central High School, 1942

Since I had already been chasing Daugherty descendants, I knew a great deal about the family. I had located the high school graduation photo of Thomas Daugherty, and I gazed upon it trying to see the similarities between my mother and myself. I had already been prepared not to see a lot of resemblance between my mother and her father, as she seemed in some photos to be a carbon copy of her mother, Helen. Truthfully, I was hoping to find traits that skipped a generation and explained why I looked more like the mailman than my own parents. I regrettably did not see it in the face of Thomas Daugherty.

I had sent a copy of Tom's photo to Donna with several other charts and graphics and information about the Daugherty family. Brighton and his siblings were not close as adults. Their mother had died in 1980, and since that time the two younger boys and two older girls had settled in vastly different parts of the country. Tom and Jim were as different as two brothers could be, but of the whole lot of siblings, they still had a mutual love and respect for each other that was not seen between any of the others. Whereas Brighton had gone to visit his brother Tom in Florida, and they had sailed the Caribbean together, he had no present knowledge of his sisters, and was unaware if they were even still living. He presumed not. When he was shown pictures of the brother of his youth and photos of the old South Bend, Indiana, Central High School, Brighton was pleasantly surprised and talkative of his family and his past. This is something that Brighton rarely did. The past was the past, and he distanced himself from his family for a reason. This attitude was worrisome to me. With his intermittent confusion and often hostile dismissal of useless trivia and conversations about days gone by, what would he be willing to tell an unseen, unknown relative pestering him for information? Would attempting to dissect his family detail by detail be an exercise in futility? And would he even care to meet newcomers so late in his life? Would he embrace a new family, or wave it away as he had done the old?

This nagging worry was compounded with shock and joy when Brighton's DNA data was processed and available from on 22 October 2014. I would no longer be grilling a presumed great-uncle for disembodied memories of a dead brother or far-flung facts regarding the Daugherty family in general. I was now handed the possible opportunity to meet my grandfather. The endpoint to my journey was not just the academic knowledge of an appropriate family name to which to marry my DNA. It was now embodied by a fascinating, living, breathing, larger-than-life man battling with the demons of old age. My grandfather. I had to know everything about this man!

But still, Brighton knew nothing of the situation.

I was suddenly tasked with trying to figure out how a nineteen-year-old presumably at sea with the United States Navy met my twenty-nine-year old married grandmother and mother of three living in Elkhart, Indiana. And Donna was taking on the responsibility for determining the right time, the right place, and the right way to tell Brighton he had fathered a daughter sixty-eight years previously.

Reminiscing about the past after seeing Tom's 1942 photograph was a good sign. Perhaps it was time to test the waters. Stir the pot. There were now plenty of theoretical discussions swirling about regarding what may have transpired in the spring of 1946. Could Brighton possibly remember a woman who factored so briefly in his long life and distant past?

Two days after confirming Brighton as my grandfather, my mother's AncestryDNA results were posted. Her two closest matches were Brighton and me. We were both "Parent, Child - immediate family member." The connection was plain, and not just the "Close Family" that I had received with my results. On the same day, Brighton was shown a picture of Helen Marie (Timmons) Miller taken in 1946. He again looked upon the face of the woman who somehow, somewhere caught his eye that fateful spring long, long ago.
Before handed the photo of my grandmother, Brighton was prefaced with a vague statement that this photo had cropped up in some ancestry work for him, much like the photo he saw of his brother days before. His eyes lit up instantly, and he said, "she looks familiar!" When told that the photo was from 1946 and the woman in it was 29 years old, he responded immediately with, "Oh no, she is too young to be 29. She's more like 22!"

Could he really have a memory of one woman who played such a tiny role in his life? Or did she just possess the general traits of every other pretty girl of the postwar Midwest that caught his eye? Perhaps Helen's gap-toothed smile inherited by both her daughter and her grandson struck a chord of remembrance in Brighton's oft-confused mind. It was evident nonetheless that the awkward decade age difference between the two was probably not perceived by the then 19-year-old Jim Daugherty, much as it was recently dismissed by the 87-year-old Brighton. He did not push further regarding the woman's identity in the photo.

By October 26th, just four days after our DNA confirmation, the snowball rolling downhill was gaining too much momentum and becoming far too large and cumbersome. It was a secret that could not be contained for much longer. A good portion of Brighton's belongings had finally been returned from his previous apartment, and he was able to surround himself with items he had not seen in nearly a year. Although there were still days of impatience and confusion, he was learning to accept the comforts  along with the inconveniences of his new home. It was decided that Brighton should be told immediately about his new family. On the first day that he was largely his charming, witty self without too much confusion, he would be told. But it had to be on a day that the friends who already knew of the impending reveal could be available to help him absorb the information. If left alone immediately after receiving such mind-blowing news, his confusion might be intensified. All that could be done now was to wait for such an opportunity.

On the same day, I had emailed Donna many photos of my mother from her infancy to the present, with many photos of myself as well. I had already been sent a few photos of Brighton, but there was not a good sense of his features over the span of his lifetime. I could not really see a strong family resemblance, but I could not discount it either. Perhaps if he saw pictures of his daughter and grandson, he might see familial features I was unable to perceive.

On October 28th, Donna took several printed photographs and enclosed them in the greeting card illustrated at the beginning of this blog. Each photo was labeled plainly with a black Sharpee. Brighton could refer to them when he was alone, and he could absorb the identities of his new family. The card, with its nautical theme and subtle Asian artistic influences, perfectly embodied the things Brighton loved. Beyond all other things, Brighton loved a good story, both hearing them and telling them. His lifetime adventures had been the source of many, and to Brighton, living in an assisted living center in Denver, Colorado, signaled the end of his exploits.

The card and its booty were tucked away for Donna's Tuesday visit. She was ready to tell him about a daughter he never knew existed. If he was surly and stubborn, or confused and disoriented, Tuesday was not going to be the day. But she could now keep the information at her fingertips, ready for the perfect moment to surprise Brighton with a new adventure. A new story. A new beginning.

At 7:41 p.m. that evening, I received an email.

"The Ship Has Sailed."