“...in his beloved children, our Father works a most kind good through our most grievous losses...In the testing ground of evils, your faith becomes deep and real, and your love becomes purposeful and wise.” David Powlison
Part 2 of 3
You hold my right hand, you guide me with your counsel
I was fourteen years old when mother told me that she had been adopted. Rumor always had it, she said, that her father was an attorney in the small midwest town where she grew up. Many years later and shortly after she died, I petitioned the court to have her adoption file unsealed. It was empty. Or that’s what I was told. The Mystery of the Emptied Case File.
I lost my father when I was three; my parents were divorced and he was gone. Raised by a loving mother but cared for by an unloving aunt, there was never a day in my young life that I didn’t long for “daddy” to find us. I would spend hours hiding under my aunt’s fig tree hopeful that wishes would work magic and he would come back. But he didn’t. The Mystery of the Absent Father.
Knowing one’s begetter and tribe can be profoundly compelling so after I turned 49 I finished with mystery, or at least the acceptance of it. Mother had died; my kind stepfather had remarried. It was time to find what answers I could to the secrets of my own history. Above all I wanted to find him, the “daddy” I still wanted to know. I wanted to discover for myself if ugly family whispers and hints were true. But here is what I learned along the way:
Caution One: Finding “daddy” can be a dangerous business and one I do not necessarily recommend. Before setting out, it is important to have grown beyond a child’s vulnerability - an emotional neediness of an absent parent.
Caution Two: Growing beyond an emotional neediness of an absent parent can be difficult. As long as I carried in my adult being a hurting child’s heart, I was more vulnerable that I wanted to admit. No matter what I told myself that I wanted to know, no matter how I intellectualized my pursuit with thoughts about wanting health history and truth, what I really wanted to discover was that “daddy” would have come back if he could and, in spite of what anyone said or thought, he had loved his child more than himself.
Caution Three: It was important that I did not do this alone. “Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.” (Proverbs 11:14) I was profoundly helped by the prayers, counsel and protection of my husband and another very wise friend.
Rather than continuing to call him “daddy,” I will pitch the annoying quotation marks and call him Evan. Evan Thomas. It’s a name I have made up, pulled clean out of the air. If it is the name of someone you know, it’s a coincidence. Courtesy, if nothing else, requires that names be changed.
Finding Evan Thomas was surprisingly easy. Living with what I found proved more difficult. Several times that Monday morning I called upon the power and wisdom of God to direct my steps. Sometimes we pray that way while fully intending to run headlong into whatever it is we want and inviting God, like a cosmic Father Christmas, to come along for the ride and bless our determinations. But while I do not doubt that a large part of my motive grew out of a life-long yearning to know the absent Evan, I also believe that God was leading me that day.
I had been putting freshly laundered towels away in our linen closet, reviewing the few facts that I did have and wondering how I was going to get this done. I had made other small forays into hopeful discovery years before with no success. Other than a formal picture of a handsome young sailor in his uniform, all I knew about Evan Thomas was what mother felt she could tell me:
they had been high school sweethearts;
they graduated and were married just before America’s entry into WW II;
he had a gentle mother with a flower name.
Later I would remember that he also had an older brother, Gene. I did not know how important that information would prove to be.
As I put the last towel away in its place, I suddenly had a plan. So simple. After checking that their high school still existed, I called the school office and asked for help. “Try contacting our city newspaper,” the school secretary said. “There are lots of readers from that generation who have moved all over the country and still have our hometown paper delivered to them. If you run a personal ad, someone might recognize him.” A long shot. But long shots are not closed doors. I called the paper.
A beat reporter answered the phone and after hearing what I was looking for began to piece together what he called “A Personal.” Reviewing what he had written he said,“It would be better if you had more information - like the name of some other relative, anything - you know, to help readers remember.”
I had almost forgotten. “Oh, hey, I do remember someone else. I think he had a brother named Gene who may have played a trumpet and taught school."
“OK. That might help. We’ll get this going and...wait a minute, did you say ‘Gene?’ Would that be Gene Thomas? Judge Gene Thomas?” his voice rising with new interest. The upbeat change in his tone travelled through the telephone receiver, up my arm, into my brain pan and deep into my soul.
“No, it couldn’t be,” I said hoping I was wrong. “This Gene Thomas was a school teacher. He may have taught orchestra or something.”
“So did Judge Thomas! Many years ago. Oh yeah, if it’s the same Gene Thomas, you’ll like knowing he was a great guy. Everyone loved him.”
“He was a great guy? As in past tense?” How could I even speak with my heart in my throat.
“Yeah, well, if this isn’t a coincidence. You’re lucky I answered the phone today - I’m usually not here at lunch time. I wrote the Judge’s obituary. They buried him just a few months ago. ” My stunned silence followed by the tiniest “oh” caught his attention.
“Sorry,” he said. “But his widow still lives in their home in the next county over. I can’t give you their phone number, but I’m pretty sure you could get it through information. If not, call me back - I’ll see what I can do. In the meantime, shall I run the ad anyway?”
“Yes. And thanks.” I gave him my billing information and quickly hung up.
My hands had suddenly developed a mind of their own and were unwilling to obey my “stop shaking” directive. I had to dial long distance information twice.
“Yes, hello,” I managed to say. “ I need the number of a Judge Gene Thomas, please.” I half expected the operator to scold and ask me just what I thought I would be wanting with that number but she didn’t. She simply read it to me. I repeated it back and hung up. I sat staring at my tablet. Ten digits. Ten numbers which together formed a connection that after nearly 50 years was the only thing between me and someone who might know Evan Thomas and if he was alive or where he lived. It had all taken less than an hour.
To be continued...