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How Finding Family Members Can Be Good And Bad

Updated on September 1, 2012


Find My Family is quite a popular show and of course, the idea behind it is enchanting for anyone who has ever been ‘left behind’ or 'given away.' It is about having that happy ending we all like to dream about.

I was about 2-1/2 when my father exited the picture and although I never knew him or even saw a picture of him during my entire childhood, I felt the gaping chasm that is left when someone decides they simply don’t want to be part of your life.

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Courtesy of Wikicommons (SoLune)courtesy wikicommons (turlin)
Courtesy of Wikicommons (SoLune)
Courtesy of Wikicommons (SoLune)
courtesy wikicommons (turlin)
courtesy wikicommons (turlin)

I think the hardest part as a child you wonder why - why did they leave or why did they give you up? In my case, it was terribly hard to stop wondering why he left. Unfortunately, when you are a child, you think as a child or so the saying goes. It is hard to rationalize when you are that child as to why someone would have chosen to leave you. In my case, I probably had more ‘answers’ than I ever needed. My grandmother made certain that she told me almost on a daily basis that my father left because I was ‘so bad’. It only occurred to me 30-something years later that in fact he did not leave because of me – he simply left because he was who he was. And my grandmother did not have a firm grasp on the 'real world' so things she said were not reliable - again hindsight is always 20/20.

The problem in my case was that I had nothing to go on. I grew up listening to my mother and grandmother call the person who had fathered both my sister and I “WATson”….it was intoned much the way Seinfeld always said “NEWman” – with a sneer and a growl. The fact that they had no pictures of him probably should have clued me into the fact that he was a persona non grata but again, I was young, I was foolish and not schooled in the ways of the world. I grew up hearing he was evil – the devil himself – and I was his spawn. They also instilled in me a very healthy fear of the man I had no recollection of as they recounted over and over his propensity for violence and the fact that he was a very dangerous man.

I remember a time when I was about 10; someone began calling our house in the wee hours of the morning. On asking my mother the next morning who had called, she let me know – only it was perhaps a little ‘too much information’ for me at the time. It was our long-lost deadbeat dad calling in between jobs - (if you call swindling a career) and he probably was hurting for money so had decided to tap my mother yet again. However, this time, there was a new twist. He warned her that she had best keep an eye on me as you never knew how a child could suddenly disappear or be killed. Comforting thought! I think I spent the next year looking over my shoulder and jumping at shadows.

He never did come after me – thankfully so. But that void was always there – where did I come from? My mother had no true information on the man because everything he said was a different lie. All I had ever gleaned from this was that he was at least 20 years older than she was, that he was extremely violent, a liar in every sense of the word, and that he had something wrong with his left eye that left him nearly blind. Not a lot to profile a person with. The name listed on my birth certificate was Leland Watson.

Speeding ahead in life, decades later, when we had our second son and he was born with serious eye birth defects, the idea that this could be hereditary crossed my mind but at the time, I was so involved in caring for him and coping with his legal blindness that I really did not have time to dwell on it – and besides – it was hopeless anyhow because I did not know anything of this man who had fathered me. I was never even sure if his name was real.

As things would go though, in my 30s, somewhere along the way of Patrick developing, his physician made it very clear to me that it would behoove all concerned if we got a ‘fix’ on this genetic defect and that I should try and find out about my father so that we could put a name to this thing and move on. To make a long story short, it turned out my father had left papers with my mother – very few – but she gave them to me. One of them was a certificate from a college in Nebraska. All I basically had was his name – Leland Watson (if that was real) – and Hastings College. I wrote to the school and explained my dilemma and waited.

Surprisingly – unbelievably – someone called me to let me know that in fact they had an address but the name that he had used – Leland Watson – was now being sent to someone with another name – Jahn Kohlert. Puzzling to say the least. Well – at least I had an address – in Oklahoma City and I lived in Washington state – but I had something. I set to the task of writing him a letter hoping this other person who knew my father would deliver it if that even was possible. I wrote him the bare facts of what I needed and just threw it to the hands of fate.

Much to my surprise, I received a letter back shortly which began a 6-week odyssey I will never forget. It started out well and I was truly surprised. This Jahn Kohlert person claimed that he was in fact my father and had changed his name! He began to detail his life since the time he had left us – 30+ years before – and the fact that he had been ‘displaced’ somehow. He was not Leland Watson after all but he was in fact given away by his parents from Czechoslovakia. That seemed a bit far-fetched to me but then I had no reason to flat out doubt the man – and in fact, he had seemed genuinely happy to hear from me! I do believe in retrospect that I was so very desperate to believe that this man could really be a true FATHER to me that I did not see the many discrepancies at the outset and just kept trying to believe the fantasy I had let myself develop.

It did not take long, however, for me to start putting 2 and 2 together and to realize that this man was if not insane, very cruel. Of course, before I came to that conclusion, since I am one of the most open and honest people I know, I had sent him pictures of my children, letter upon letter detailing my life and all that I had done – boxes of homemade goodies and was even making plans to go and meet the man. I had begged my sister to go with me but she had steadfastly refused – she had no desire to meet someone who had abandoned us all those years ago without looking back. While I could understand her feelings, it did not help me much with my own since I was terrified of making such a journey on my own. I had a full-time job, a husband, 3 kids, one of them handicapped, and 4 dogs!

I have to insert here that I am nothing if not a mother – my son, Patrick at the time was about 6 years old and was the cutest thing you would ever want to see – in spite of his legal blindness. To look at him, you fell in love – he was never unhappy – he was always smiling and making us laugh ourselves silly. There was a never-say-die attitude about him that is still present to this day, 31 years later. I had sent my father his pictures by the bucket load and had begged him to please go have his eyes examined so that I could get a confirmatory report on his eyesight – totally at my expense. This after all, was his grandson and we needed to know what this defect was for our children’s sake as well as their children’s, etc.

At about the 6-week mark, things turned rather quickly. I had spoken to him once on the phone and much as I tried to steer him back to ‘normal’ conversation, he would lapse into these embellished stories of his (none of which ever came out the same twice). He seemed to be only interested in talking about himself and could have cared less it seemed about anyone else – least of all a grandson who had a serious birth defect. The letters he sent me became increasingly upsetting as he would refer to my mother in sexual ways or tell me stories about their intimate lives that truthfully made me want to get on a plane and beat the living crap out of him! No one talks about my mother that way!!!

The final straw came right before Christmas when I received a letter from him saying that he had a friend who had a daughter who had a baby that had this exact same birth defect (at the time this defect was so rare they knew nothing of it so I questioned that right off the bat). He told me that sadly, his friend had let him know that the daughter had done drugs and that was what had caused this birth defect. He was just passing on the information because he knew I would receive it in the manner it was intended – simply to help me deal with this.

To say that I was hurt would be putting it mildly – to say that I was furious and wanted a pound of flesh would be more accurate. Since I had smoked ONE joint in my entire life and never done drugs EVER, I found this to be the most insulting way of perhaps ‘dumping’ me yet again. I ended up writing to him again – I had written him countless times begging him to just be honest with me and cut the crap all to no avail, to cease and desist with the ‘sex talk’ about my mother, again to no avail. The last letter I wrote to him I told him that it was not going to work out and that as much as I wanted a father, I had realized that this was obviously a pipedream as it was pretty obvious he could not stand up and assume the role. I did receive back all my pictures (thankfully) and all my letters that I had written him. I never heard from him again.

In the course of this brief ‘relationship’ – I had asked if I had other siblings – I had asked if he would tell me about his parents, the other part of my family, etc. I got back nothing but lies – the more I pressed for the truth, the more convoluted the stories became. I finally looked him up about 10 years later through the Social Security logs and discovered that he had in fact died some years before. I was never notified and as I found out later on researching it some more in Oklahoma, he had claimed to have no children. I never did confirm what his eye problems were even after he had died because the medical personnel refused to release any information because as far as they were concerned, I only claimed to be his daughter. The fact that his name was on my birth certificate was speculative since he was going by an alias!

As it turned out, they had all been duped by him on many different levels as well and had no coherent information on the man – as well as a million unpaid bills (which they had the nerve to ask if I would pay). He had even arranged for his cremation but had not paid for that either!  There was a lovely urn just waiting for a home (once the bill was paid of course) - I decided to pass.  

Summing It Up

You would think after reading all this that I would be vehemently against the concept of ‘Find My Family’ or that I’m putting a bad slant on it. In fact I’m not – I think it is a marvelous thing. I think there are so many people out there with questions that need answering – just as I did! And I think there are people out there that are actually 'normal' and had to do things that they did not foresee or wish to make right. I completely applaud that.

Even though my story turned out so absolutely into the Twilight Zone, it does not matters in the long run. I tend to look at the positives in any situation and what I did get was closure on a particular aspect of my life that I had been worrying about all those 30+ years - why had he left me behind? I realized finally that he left because of HIM. In the long run, he could not help that he was mentally ill or whatever he was. I think after much research that he had some kind of dissociative personality disorder as he could not be himself for 10 minutes or tell truth from fiction. And all things said and done, I was far better off without him in my life. That is sad to say but it became apparent after I got over the initial hurt that this was not going to be a happy ending.

It did hurt at the time because after 30+ years, all I could think of was ‘After all this time and abandoning us without a dime – after taking all the money we had to live on and rent in arrears and stealing off in the night - this is the best you could do?’ As well, when I thought of my beautiful son and what little my father would have had to do – just submit to an exam at my expense – it was unbelievably cruel. I would have and did welcome him sight unseen into my life but it turned out to be a rather terrible joke on me and my trusting nature. BUT – all things happen for a reason and I still see the validity of trying to find where you came from because if you don’t, you will always wonder.

In short, I think that the thing that saved me was my resilience – you can never be certain exactly how you will truly feel when you put yourself out on a limb – or know what kind of situation you will end up with. In this case, without even thinking it through, I knew there were only 2 possible outcomes – it would be a good thing (happy reunion) or it would be a bad thing (disaster). I had to do it, however, for my own peace of mind whereas my sister who had the same background did not care a fig. Of course, I had a child with a serious genetic disorder that was involved and she had no children nor did she want them at the time, so that might explain the differing opinions.

So Panacea or Pandora’s box? I ended up feeling like I got a mix of both to be honest. For a few moments there, I felt what it was to have a father or an IDEAL of a father. It was nice for the few heartbeats that it lasted. Unbelievably still, there was more to come years later that I never could have imagined.

I watch Find My Family in stunned amazement and I am very grateful for the happy endings that other people have because I do know the feeling of always wondering and never finding out – at least I did find out and for that, I will be eternally grateful to my father. It wasn’t quite the happy ending I had hoped for but it was the truth of the matter and an ending is an ending after all. Panacea or Pandora ’s Box – I see both sides and I personally know why people do it. It's worth the gamble.

Deadbeat Dad's Father's Day Song


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