Monday, January 5, 2015

Reunion, Part II: Telling My Mother

Part II of my mother's reunion with her birthparents follows thirty-two years after Reunion, Part I. (see Hoosier Daddy?: Reunion).

This part of the reunion was significantly different for a number of reasons.

Although not having personally been in the situation of giving up a child or being adopted (...although my mother often told me I was a foundling...), I think there is often a fundamental difference between the separation of a child from each of his or her birthparents. And that difference is well illustrated in my mother's situation.

Helen Marie (Timmons) Miller was an unhappily married woman with three children caught up in the tumultuous divorce proceedings from her first husband. Their marriage having soured years before, she had found the love she wanted and deserved in Frank Strukel. 

And she was pregnant.

Since the discovery of my mother's surprise mystery paternity in February 2014, I have had friends, relatives, and readers of the blog comment, "Oh, now it makes sense why she gave your mother up!" The flash of doubt obviously had to spark in Helen's head once she realized she was pregnant, but I do not think the answer, nor the situation, is as easily explained as people think it to be.

Perhaps Helen's uncertainty of Carol's paternity factored into her decision, but the fact remains that she very quickly convinced herself that the child was Frank Strukel's. And Frank went to his grave believing his eldest daughter was raised by someone else. Helen's first husband, Eldon Miller, threatened to take custody of the only child he was willing to let her keep, four-year-old Sandy, if she kept her unborn child. Frank Strukel, a recently returned veteran of World War II, still bearing the very fresh emotional scars from months in a German POW camp, was living with his parents rebuilding his life post-war. He loved Helen, and he wanted to marry her, despite the disapproving whispers of his staunchly Catholic family. But he was not in an economic position to take on a wife, a four-year-old stepchild, and a newborn baby. And an illegitimate child would further test the limits of the acceptance of his new wife to his Catholic family.

If there were doubts in Helen's mind, she never spoke of them. But it is unlikely these doubts forced her to make the heart-wrenching decision to relinquish her unborn child. Had circumstances been different, it is almost certain that Carol would have been raised Carol Sue Strukel, never doubting her paternity.

The fact remains that Helen did make that heart-wrenching decision. And she carried a child for nine months that she knew she would have to say good-bye to after its birth. The mother-child bond was already formed with every stirring and every kick of the child she would never watch grow up. And based on my mother's original birth certificate, she bestowed on my mother the first and middle names she carries today. Whether it was a name agreed upon by her adoptive parents is debated. They most likely had a say in it, although while both mothers were still living, they both claimed to have come up with her name. Nonetheless, the baby girl born in Goshen General Hospital that New Year's Eve might, had a name; and with each cry or giggle or coo, had a budding personality. But as Helen told the story, she endured my mother's childbirth with quiet, staunch stoicism, because she felt that she was not allowed the selfish luxury of showing discomfort and garnering pity. This pain she endured silently because she would be forever unable to feel any further intense emotion - joy, sadness, pain, pride, anger, laughter, love - with the daughter that would grow inside her, but be nurtured and flower under the care of someone else.

The mother-daughter reunion in 1982 was a tearful, joyous reconnection of that invisible umbilical cord that is never permanently severed when a mother loses a child.

Conversely, a birthfather's role in bringing a baby into this world can run a gamut of scenarios. There is no doubt that Frank Strukel relinquished the child he thought was his with emotional regret. When discussing baby names when Helen again became pregnant in 1948, he brought up the name Carol as a way to remember his first child. That daughter, Dianne, remembers overhearing a conversation as a child between her parents regarding an adopted baby, fearing that she was the adopted child they were discussing. Memories of the child born on the last day of 1946 was rarely far from either of their minds.

Very soon after discovering my mother's unknown paternity, and at the beginning of my search, I remarked to my cousin Lisa that I would now be blessed with FOUR grandfathers: my father's father, Dean William Lacopo, Sr.; the father of my mother who raised her with devoted love and affection and was the grandfather of my childhood; Raymond Ezio DePrato; the father of my mother who lived his adult life thinking he relinquished his daughter and loved her from afar in his own personal way, Frank Louis Strukel; and as then the yet-unidentified biological father of my mother that gave her life.

That man was Harold James "Brighton" Daugherty.

In 1946, this man was known as Jim Daugherty. Whereas Helen had to carry her child, hold her after her birth, arrange for another couple to raise her, and tell her goodbye; Jim's function in my mother's creation was likely limited to one physically gratifying encounter with my grandmother. He never knew of his child's existence. He didn't even have to sign away paternal rights to her adoption. He lived his life from that pivotal moment in the spring of 1946 blissfully unaware.

That does not make him any less significant in my mother's existence, and therefore in my own. I tend to be prone to deep introspective thought, and I get my mind blown by deep existential reflection of the fate of my very being had that random encounter not occurred. And as a genetic genealogist and a medical professional, I am fascinated by the parts of me, physically and emotionally, that are "Daugherty". In the "nature versus nurture" debate, I firmly believe there is an enormous amount of nature involved. And so who Jim Daugherty was, who he is, where he came from, and what makes him tick are subjects vitally important to me.

And these things I believe are also vitally important to my mother. But early in my search, her interest was primarily academic. By identifying that her paternity was not what she had been told thirty-two years previously, I changed her story. I altered her perception of her creation. And so a new story had to be written, but this time the actors of the original script were gone. Helen could answer no questions. She could confirm no doubts. She could not be asked to recall any stories. And whomever the man was that also entered the stage in 1946 was likely gone too. The story would be mostly conjecture. As a genealogist, I was compelled to refill my emptied family tree of one-quarter of its previous inhabitants. And as a son, I need to answer the questions I had now laid before my mother.

Since the early assumption was that my missing grandfather would be approaching 100 years of age, there was no anticipation of meeting the man who was her father. And even on the infinitely small chance that I would find a living being, my mother was decidedly disinterested in meeting a man who had no emotional ties to her mother and had no knowledge of her existence. The question was mostly raised when discussing the possibility of finding half-siblings, but again, she felt there would be nothing more than a biological connection. She could see no reason to insert herself into anyone else's lives and create the potential for emotional upheaval. But there was curiosity about what this man may have looked like. Where was he from, and what did he do? Questions that were mostly biographical and mostly based on curiosity.

As my DNA research dragged on, my mother's interest waned even more from the beginning mediocre curiosity. She held little interest in hearing my news of autosomal DNA match percentages . She saw more of a failure to identify a man with each test, rather than the pathway it was creating to  confirming the identity of her father. When the path led to a family unwilling to help us in our search, who selfishly responded that they thought the search was "useless and futile," my mother was even less interested in knowing the truth.

Even my excited phone call to my mother while driving to Dayton, Ohio, outlying the surprise discovery of two Daugherty brothers, one of whom was likely her father, met with little outward emotion. I had made numerous phone calls like this before, discussing candidates to test, and how they seemed to be a good match to be her father. All of them ended with no answers. Perhaps the perceived closeness of the AncestryDNA connection didn't really sink into my mother's mind during that phone call. After all, I had been babbling about DNA continually for much of the preceding year.

"Just let me know when you know something."

At 12:59 p.m., on the afternoon of Wednesday, 22 October 2014, I shot a brief, shocked email to Donna, who had been my contact to Brighton Daugherty, informing her that the profile she created revealed that he was my grandfather.

At 1:09 p.m. I called my mother.

In preparing to write this blog, I called my mother and asked her about that fateful afternoon phone call. Frankly, after the exciting culmination of an enormous amount of time, money, and effort, I had no real recollection of it. I can tell you that my phone indicates that we spoke for thirty minutes and twenty-two seconds.

I don't recall shouting, sobbing, wailing, laughter, crying, comforting, or any cork-popping champagne moments. Nor does my mother.

Oh, I was excited. My heart was beating wildly, and my brain was processing rapidly, but still woefully behind on sorting all the miscellaneous data I had accumulated in my head.

The agreed upon consensus between my mother and myself was that the overriding emotion of the phone call was shock.

"Mom, it's me. Remember the AncestryDNA match I told you about the other day? His data just finished processing on the other site I needed to use to understand how he is related." 
"He's your father. Harold James Daugherty is your father."
"And he's alive."

Silence. Shock. Processing.

"I need to meet him. When can I meet him?"


  1. Ah, chapter two! Can't wait to see where it goes..

    1. Wow is good to be back with my ex again, thank you Dr Ekpen for the help, I just want to let you know that is reading this post in case you are having issues with your lover and is leading to divorce and you don’t want the divorce, Dr Ekpen is the answer to your problem. Or you are already divorce and you still want him/her contact Dr Ekpen the spell caster now on ( and you will be glad you did

  2. That is a very fascinating story. It's nice to see that you have those brave and honorable souls across your bloodline. It's true, we do owe a lot to our men and women in arms, and we should acknowledge the details of their struggle in living the best way we can. Thanks for sharing that! All the best!

    Victoria Pierce @ Jan Dils

  3. I wanted you to know that even when there are few comments, your readers are still out there obsessively checking for a new post every day (or is that just me?). I was thinking that the story has now taken on the flavor of the series "How I Met Your Mother." Love every word!

  4. Hi Michael,
    Randy Seaver told me about your blog yesterday as we spoke at a seminar here in San Diego. I have added it to my daily reading list on my own blog
    I also want you to know that I will be sharing your blog information with my brother, John W. Zimmerman, who was born to my mother, who then had to relinquish him at the age of 3 months for adoption. John found us via my posting on Rootsweb. It's a heartwarming story as he had searched for his biological family for 40 years. He and I have been the best of friends for 8 years now and we only live 6 hrs. apart. He has been reunited with our mother.
    Thank you for your post,

  5. Hi Michael,

    My sister, Diane Gould Hall was kind enough to point me to your blog and I have read your reunion writings with extreme pleasure. I applaud you tenacity as a researcher and your writing ability!

    Thank you for sharing your experiences,


  6. A whole week has gone by with no new blog.!! Please continue the story soon !

  7. Georgia, I am also checking for an update here on Michael's blog everyday (even though I subscribe to it by email also !!!) What a fascinating and appealing story. I have my own confusing lost father story arising at the end of World War 2 ( in 1946 as well.) So this story is a comfort to me.

  8. I think there is a lot of us who are waiting. I was pointed to this blog around Christmas from one of the genealogy folks. You could not write a more interesting story. I'm the type of person that if I pick up a good book I will stay up on night to finish. This is so hard to be made to wait!

  9. Waiting, waiting, waiting. I'm trying to be patient but I'm finding it very difficult. Please Michael don't let us wait too much longer.

  10. Regarding "Nature vs Nurture", based on my own experiences as an adoptee who found her biological family, I have to agree with you: Nature plays an enormous role.

  11. MIchael, it is now near the end of April. I have just been introduced to your blog by Judy Russell. It is a fantastic story and one I hope has a happy ending. One way
    or the other, please don't leave us hanging.

  12. Wow is good to be back with my ex again, thank you Dr Ekpen for the help, I just want to let you know that is reading this post in case you are having issues with your lover and is leading to divorce and you don’t want the divorce, Dr Ekpen is the answer to your problem. Or you are already divorce and you still want him/her contact Dr Ekpen the spell caster now on ( and you will be glad you did