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Finding my half brother
After Anne Bokma turned 50, she decided it was time to track down the half brother she'd never met. Here's the story of their first visit.
By Anne Bokma
Meeting my half brother Photography courtesy of Anne Bokma
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I am nervous when I get off the plane at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. I'm here to greet a man I've never met before. I've seen his picture so, as I scan the crowd, I know who I'm looking for: a tall blond in his 40s with a goatee.
I'm not sure what my first words will be or whether I should hug him. And I am worried about just how awkward this whole encounter might be. After all, we are complete strangers; a measly strand of DNA is all that unites us.
Over the past few months, we've talked on the phone a couple of times and exchanged a few emails. Then we decided to meet. We are linked by biology because we share the same father, but there is much that separates us. For starters, he is a card-carrying member of the Republican Party and I'm a bleeding-heart NDPer. He's a Seventh-day Adventist who keeps a dry house; I'm a Unitarian who has wine every night with dinner. He likes to fish and hunt; I'm a vegetarian who feels guilty about indulging in the occasional egg.
There are plenty of reasons to think we might not hit it off. That's why I've kept the visit to a short three days. Still, I am hopeful for some kind of connection, as well as answers about the mystery man who was our father, a man who sired us but did not raise us, a man who left a hole in both of our hearts.
I spot him in the airport. He is flanked by his wife and fair-haired son. "Tim?" I ask, my heart pounding. We stand there for a brief moment, taking each other in. "You two look so much alike," says his wife, Branndan, breaking the ice. It's true. There are a lot of familiar features in his face that I recognize from old black-and-white photos of my father.
In a flash, I am comforted by the sense that this visit is going to be much easier than I thought. It helps that Tim's grin is wide, and so are his arms, as he stretches them out to embrace the sister he never knew he had.
The backstory: In 1965, my father, Henk, left my mother, baby brother and me. I was three years old. Except for one visit when I was seven, I never saw him again. He died of a heart attack at 45. Years later, I sought out information about him by talking to members of his family and discovered that he suffered from manic depression. He had never held down a job – or a relationship – for very long, and he had another son, Tim, now 44, who lives in Georgia.
My father had left him too. Tim had a son who had been experiencing some health issues and he had gotten in touch with one of my father's siblings to find out if there was a genetic component to his son's illness (there wasn't, and his son's health issues have now been resolved).
Word filtered down to me about my brother, who had been a baseball player in the big leagues. (He was a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox before retiring due to an injury. He has now settled into a successful career in sales.) I was also told that Tim didn't want further contact with anyone from Henk's family. Clearly there was hurt there.
I knew that hurt. For years I wondered why my father never made the effort to reach out to me. As children do, I internalized this loss and, in some unspoken part of me, felt there must be something wrong with me. Why else would a father leave his daughter? Finding out about Tim's existence freed me from this kind of thinking. Here was someone else who had been left behind.
Our father had made a habit of departures, so it was he who had to take the blame – even if his actions were mitigated by mental illness, drinking and his inability to cope. I didn't know if Tim even knew about me, but I respected his wish to be left alone.
But last summer I turned 50 and considered all the things I still wanted to do in my life. I knew that meeting Tim was one of them. I Googled him, then sent him a long, somewhat apologetic email.
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