Saturday, June 17, 2017

My three fathers - How a little spit can change everything.

I sat there looking at my phone in disbelief.

No way. Wow... No way.....
This cannot be happening.......

I guess I should start with a little background. I have had three fathers in my life, let me start with the one I am named after, Walter Joseph Lucas.

My father was 50 when I was born, so you could say he was late to the game when it came to having children. My sister Lisa is two years older that I am. I knew he had been married twice before, but the few times he did talk about it were very brief, just saying his previous wife did not want to have children and he did. It seemed reasonable enough.

Even into adulthood, I never pushed him to tell me more. He had a very complicated relationship with his own family. He was born in 1915 on a ranch near Lockeford Ca. His father died when he was 18 or 19 and he had to take over the responsibilities of running the family ranch. I'm sure he did all he could for his mom, but there was definitely some bad blood between he and his siblings. I only know the little he told me about his family, and I don't know their side of the story, so I cannot judge what really happened.

My father was two generations older than me. He rode a horse to school, and milked thirty cows by hand before and after school. His life was work, money and family, but mostly work. He could not get into the Army during WWII because he was deaf in one ear. He worked in the shipyards at Mare Island, building PT boats during the war years.

By the time I came into the world my father was a successful rancher, real estate broker and owned a land leveling business. He had an extraordinary work ethic and drive. I can best describe him as a combination between John Wayne and Donald Trump. Just imagine that for a moment.

Starting off on our ranch in Clements, our family seemed to be on the move most of my early years. We moved to a ranch on the John Day River near Mitchell Oregon when I was a toddler.

He tied me onto my first horse when I was two years old, and sent me off down the dirt road to the bunkhouse where the cowboys lived. My mom said the snowfall that winter was the biggest in decades and you could ride a snowmobile over the corrals without touching a post. That was enough for her. Somehow, we ended up back in California in Orland. That's the first house I can remember, but we were soon on the move again to the tiny town of Oak Run, north east of Redding.

I loved Oak Run. My father had wheeled and dealed his way into a big ranch there. It was several thousand acres of red dirt, lava rock and oak trees, but it also had a few hundred acres of good bottom-land where we could raise hay.

The ranch at Oak Run was a giant playground for me. There was a lot of work, but my father never seemed to drive me like I'm sure his father drove him in his youth. Those were different times. That drive came out of sheer necessity.

I learned to drive the ranch trucks and tractors when I was old enough to reach the pedals. I fed cows, cut hay, and helped irrigate the fields, but only when I was asked or I wanted to. It was not forced labor to be sure, but there wasn't a lot of laying around the house either.

I was turned loose much of the time. In the summers, I would leave the house after breakfast and sometimes not come back until evening. We always had dogs on the ranch. They were my constant companions since I didn't have any bothers. Lisa didn't see the enjoyment in damming up streams, throwing rocks, or chasing frogs down at the creek all day.

As I grew older, I was given more responsibility, and expected to do more. By twelve I was gathering cattle in the summer heat, driving Caterpillars clearing brush or driving logging skidders. Most of these things were semi-dangerous for a twelve-year-old kid but I survived.

My father had a way of teaching that could be summed up by the old Nike slogan: Just do it. He never took the time to patiently teach me how to do anything, he just put me in the seat and told me to do it. Drive this D-8 Caterpillar, clear this brush off these hills, I'll be back when you're finished. For a kid, it was equal parts excitement and terror, but that is just the way he was.

He would also let me skip school to go to the Shasta Livestock Auction in Cottonwood on Fridays. I would spend the day running around the sorting pens, while he was in Ellington Peek's office doing business. He would also let me go on business trips with him. I would sit quietly at a table full of businessmen and listen to million dollar deals be made. It was a unique experience for a young man. However, some of favorite days I would just take off with my father in his old blue Jeep Cherokee and we would go 'check the cows'.

I loved my father, like most sons do, even though mine was very flawed, like all fathers are.

My father was an alcoholic. Ever since I can remember, my father drank; a lot. He was a maintenance drinker. He was never falling-down drunk, and he was never hung-over. He would always get up at 6:00 the next day ready to work. Back before computers and cell phones, business was done by telephone. After dinner, my father would start making his business calls. Every night, as he sat at the kitchen table, he would have several large 'hi-balls'.

We went through stretches where things would be fine for a time. Then, if the cattle prices or real estate market would go down, the stresses and pressures he put on himself would start to boil over. It was very volatile around our house, but then again, my father seemed to live in a constant state of chaos.

In the late 70's my father's ranching business started to take off. I remember the bankers from Bank of California sitting at our dinner table asking my father how large of a credit line did he want? They were just giving money away, and taking my father's word he had the cattle to cover that amount of credit. All with a wink and nod.

He bought a new ranch in Lakeview Oregon, new pickups and trailers, semi-trucks, hired more cowboys and a mechanic and we built a pool and a new addition to the house. It was a good time for our family. Well, until it all came crashing down a few years later.

My father made and lost several fortunes in his life. There never seemed to be a balance he could reach. He always wanted more, he always wanted to move forward, never content with where he was.

He was always in conflict with the neighboring ranches, including one actual range war complete with sheriff's deputies, a helicopter and me standing in front of a gate with a lever action rifle to make sure the neighbors didn't push their cattle out of that gate onto the road.

My father was a complicated man.

He loved us kids, but he couldn't stop drinking. He had my life planned out and expected me to take over his 'empire' when the time came. But he spent almost no time teaching me how to do it. He was hard working, but had a soft heart. He could also bend a rule, or outright break it if stood between him and his business success. He never talked about his own feelings, and rarely how he felt about you, unless he has been drinking. Even then it was 50-50 proposition. You were either the best kid in world, or a huge disappointment.

Much like I described him as a combination of John Wayne and Donald Trump, many people loved my father and thought he was a great guy. Others thought he was a son of bitch. I think, in the end, they were both right.

After another lost fortune, our family ended up here in Yolo County. He bought a house with 20 acres after the bank took back the ranch in Oak Run, and he went to work leasing ranches and running steers and heifers for other ranchers.

He stayed in the real estate business, and never letting well enough alone, he took my mom and my sister's interest in cutting hair and turned that into a business. He opened a beauty salon in Vacaville for my mom and sister to run while he had his real estate office next door.

I was in college and was discovering the world outside of ranching and cattle. In other words, I was have a great time.

It wasn't until I met my future wife that my interest turned back to the ranch. She loved it there. Being a city girl, she couldn't understand why I didn't want to ride horses if I had the opportunity. To me horses meant work, and 14 hour days gathering cattle in the brush from sun up till sundown. Why would you want to ride them for fun?

Once married, she was switched her major to animal science and transferred to UC Davis after graduating from American River College.  We both were going to school, but I was still a year from getting my associates degree in business so I went to work for my father. We lived on a ranch my father leased in Dunningan. I think I made $600 a month plus the nine hundred square foot house we lived in. Those were good times.

However, like all things cyclical, the good times are always followed by tough times, and that came in 1991. My father was again overextending, and planning as if the good times would always be good. He hated paying taxes, so for every dollar he made in the cattle business or real estate business, he leased a new ranch, or built new corrals or helped my wife and I buy a place of our own. Our house was just about complete, and with my father's help, we had just made our first annual balloon payment on the new place.

One day he was in Sacramento at a deposition, not surprisingly, he was being sued by one of our neighbors for some semi-shady way he sold their ranch, when he felt sick. He came home and stayed there for a while before my mother convinced him he had to go to the hospital.

I was irrigating the alfalfa at my place when I got the word he was headed to the hospital. He sat in the ER at Woodland Hospital for three or four hours while the doctors tried to figure out what was wrong with him. By the time a new doctor came on and decided he was bleeding internally, it was too late. He had an aneurysm of his aorta and they air lifted him to UC Davis. They performed surgery to repair the tear in the aorta, but he had lost too much blood and died the next day.

Not that there is ever a good time to loose a parent, but it could not have come at a worse time for our family. The cattle market was heading into a decline along with the real estate market. Loosing not only my father, but also my employer and the person who had engineered my life, was a huge hit. Even though I had my real estate salesman's license and was working on my father's ranch, I had let him make almost all my decisions for me. He was running the show, and now he was gone.

I was very immature for someone in my position. At twenty-five I should have been ready for this day, but I wasn't. Not by a long shot. I went through the motions of gathering the cattle, and trying to help my mom figure out if we should keep the leases on the ranches. In the end, with all my father's bills and past due taxes, we had to sell everything, my house included, and start over.

At the time, all you see are the problems, all you feel is the pain, all you want is to have things put back the way they were. That isn't going to happen. You have to move, you have to go forward, you have to grow.

15 years later, I was working in the technology field, something I really liked, we had two children, and I was making a good living. My mom and sister were living in North Idaho and my mom had a met a man.

This is where I met my second father, Paul.

Paul is a so much different from Walt Sr.

He is soft spoken and kind. He's a patient, caring man, and he is very happy with the life he has. He is content, or at least at peace with his place in the world. Paul is a contractor, although he's retired now. He's a hard worker, but doesn't chase the almighty dollar at all costs. He likes to read, and loves working on his classic cars. He is interested in the world around him. He is self-aware in a way my father never was.

I could not have picked a better person for my mother to marry. He loves her dearly, and she has found someone to love without having to deal with the whirlwind of chaos and volatility.

Living sixteen hours away, I don't get to see them as often as I would like, but I have never worried a moment about my mother since he entered her life. He is wonderful, and I owe him more than I can say. He is the perfect second father.

So wait, I thought you said this was a story about three fathers? Yes, I'm getting to that.

Shortly after my father passed away, my mother told Lisa and I that dad had two sons with his first wife, long ago. He had told her not to tell us kids, but now that he was gone, she thought the time was right. She didn't have any names, just the little my father had told her.

This was fascinating to me and it started me on a long journey to find my lost relatives. Ancestry was a new service, and I signed up looking see if I could find my lost half brothers. I had no luck. I tried to find his first wife, but without her maiden name, you cannot find birth records and such with the counties involved.

I think I solved the mystery a few years back when I found a census record of my father living in Stockton with his first wife Zelda, her mother, and two small children with different last names. So, I think those kids were my father's step sons, and would be no relation to me. A bit anticlimactic, but the mystery was solved.

Enter the new DNA registry 23andMe.

I had always heard from my father that he was mostly Irish with some French from my grandmother. My mom is full Portuguese, half from the Azores and the other half from Portugal by way of Brazil.

I wanted to see how true that was and signed up. A week or so later a package arrived. I followed the instructions and spit into the little tube, sealed it up and mailed it back. They said it would take about 6 weeks to get the results.

I didn't think I would find too many surprises, but being a huge history buff, I thought it would be cool to be able trace my heritage. I received an email saying my results were in and I logged on and looked at my DNA make up. Nothing too startling. I was 28% British/Irish, 25% Broadly Northwest European, and 35% Iberian, (Spain/Portugal) with the rest a mashup of mostly European make up.

This tracked almost exactly the way I though it would. Oh well. I had traced my father's family back to Prince Charles County Maryland in 1731 through Ancestry, and I thought there may have been an American melting pot, genetic wildcard thrown in there somewhere. But it turned out I'm just a plain old American white guy.

I had told my mom about the 23andMe findings and she wanted to know why I was so interested in it? I said I found it fascinating to know for sure where you come from. Knowing what part of the world you came from, tracing your history and such.

I thought that was the end of the story.

A few days later I received an email from 23andMe asking if I wanted to search for my DNA relatives. Sure, why not. I clicked the link.....Oh boy....

I looked at the page for a minute and reread it a few times just to make sure.

I have two half sisters.

No way. No. Way.

I clicked on their names and looked at their profiles.

No way.

How could this be? They must belong to dad, but when were they born? I found a link to send them a message. What do you say? Hi, I'm your long lost half brother, where did you come from?

I sent each one a message and asked if this was true and did they know my father, or did they know about my sister and I?

Pam was the first to respond:
 "....Tracy and I now know how we are half sisters through information told to us by our mothers when we were young adults. I'd be happy to connect if you want to solve this mystery for yourself. It is just because our parents really wanted us to be born, and all they did to arrange for our arrivals. I was born in 1961. Tracy in 1967. It will benefit us all to know the health and genetic data. So glad to find you. :)"

Wait? What?

I was a little slow on the uptake here just because it seemed so strange. With Pam being born in 61, that was before my mom and dad were married, so no foul there, but Tracy was born in 67, two years after me. Why would our all our parents really want us to be born? I could see my dad having a bit of fun, but I'm pretty sure my mom would not have been okay with my father out populating the planet.

Like I said, it was staring me in the face, but I had not put it together.

I sent both a message saying it looked like my father was a bit of a scoundrel. I think Pam and Tracy had a correspondence between each other and decided to have Pam spill the beans:

"Well, not a scoundrel actually. I don't want to shock you, but since you are over 50, I think you can handle it. When I was 14, I found out that my father (my legal father) was not my biological father. Before my parents married, he had a vasectomy. It couldn't be reversed. My parents really wanted me, so they went to a specialist in San Francisco who arranged for a sperm donor. All they knew was he was a medical student who was healthy and had a great health history and already had a family and children. I was never to have known. Back then, the secrecy was thought best for the child being conceived. At 14 when I chose to sever my ties to my father, my mother told me the truth of my paternal creation. I didn't know about any of you, but always thought that this medical student may have made several donations. Lol. I met Tracy last year through her daughter making a connection to me. We were both stunned. Tracy found out from her mom about the medical student on her 22nd birthday. She is still very close to her legal father, so she is cautious about making it known because she doesn't want him to feel bad. So was your legal father a medical student? Tracy and I don't know if you were from donation like us or if our parents donor was both your legal and genetic dad. Sorry for the shock if you didn't know." 

Wow..... No way.

I was shocked.

So the only man I ever knew as my father was not my biological father.

No flippin' way.

As I sat there staring at my phone, I felt a rush of different feelings.

This changes everything. Then again, it changes nothing.

My father will always be my father. He raised me, for better or worse. It was surreal to me that a man from my father's generation would use a donor to have children. He was nothing if not a man's man. With all his success, all that money, there must have been something missing. A huge hole in his life that he needed to fill with children. It made me wonder about those two step sons he had with his first wife, and how it must have hurt to lose them when they were divorced.

My head was swimming, but it was late and I went to bed with lots of different thoughts rattling around. What was I going to say to my mom? Should I even bring this up? I had to. It was just too much to let go. Besides, my mom did nothing wrong. She did something extraordinary to bring me into this world. The doctors had instructed her not to tell us about our biological father. She kept the secret for over 50 years. She did it out of love, and that is a great reason.

The next day I called my mom in the morning. We spoke for a while and then I told her the story that Pam told me. The story of Children's Hospital in San Francisco and the donor and the instruction not to tell us kids. When I finished, I asked, "So, do you have anything you want to tell me?" There was a bit of a pause, "Well, I would say that my story is the same story you just told me."

We talked about dad and her not being able to have children, and the special clinic at Children's hospital was the cutting edge for the 1960s. It was very expensive, but it was their only hope of having children. My sister was conceived the same way. Mom said she never really thought about it about it after a few years, and didn’t think it was important to tell us after dad died. We were going through enough turmoil at the time.

The fact that I signed up for the DNA tests out of pure curiosity was something they couldn't have even imagined back in the 1960s. If I had not spit in that little tube, I would have never known about my biological father.

So, the real question is: Now what?

What does it change? Like I said before; it changes everything and it changes nothing.

Walt Sr. will always be my father. He raised me, he showed what it was to work hard, and he showed me you can do more than you think is possible. I will always love that man.

So what about my biological father? Do I want to know more about him? Yeah, I guess so. I would like to see a picture of him, and see if I look anything like him. I would like to know something about his personality, his temperament. Those kinds of things.

I'm sure he never imagined DNA testing, and that three strangers would someday find each other through an ounce of saliva. I wonder if he would want to know how we turned out?

So many questions.

In the end, I am glad I know. I am also glad my mother and father went to that specialist in San Francisco. I am here.

I have a wonderful family, a wonderful life, and memories to last me a few lifetimes. I am hoping to get together one day with my half sisters; that would be cool. Hey, 23andMe is a new company, not many people have signed up, there maybe more of us half siblings out there. I always wanted a brother. (Sorry Lisa, love ya)