There’s a light-headed feeling you get when you realize you’ve been found. I wasn’t looking for my birth family…I’d been raised by loving parents since the age of six weeks. But the phone rang anyway. I could tell almost immediately that it wasn’t an ordinary call. It was an unknown sister, one of three from my birth family. After forty-seven years, I had been found.
Reeling, I drew my wife, Vickie, to my side, and stumbled my way through emotional conversations with my three, new-found sisters. The last call ended at 2 a.m. Just two hours later, still stunned, I was telling my coworkers, “You’ll never believe what happened to me last night.”
In the months to come, I had the surreal experience of actually meeting my alternate family. My mom, the woman who raised me, came with me when I met the two sisters who lived in Ohio. It turned out she knew some of the same people my oldest sister knew. I discovered that I used to work a mile away from my sister in Denver and had driven past the street where my birth mom lived countless times when I lived in Arizona.
Over the next few years, I saw my sisters from time to time, but I don’t think we truly bonded until we took a Caribbean cruise together. This trip was a great way for us to connect; offering diversions when we needed a break, but still keeping us all together.
We picked traditional dining and the family next to us was in for some sightseeing. There we sat, me and four women, night after night, in animated conversation. I noticed curious stares from the other table.
During those meals, we made up on a lifetime of family dinners. We laughed, we cried, we even argued a little, just like family! We talked about our shared family and the lives we’d made on our own. I could tell, if I had grown up with my youngest birth sister, we would have been in trouble – in a good way – all the time. We both enjoy teasing and practical jokes.
We took Caribbean shore excursions together – I’ll never forget how relaxed we all felt lazing under sun umbrellas on the beach at Princess Cays. We’d meet every evening for drinks on the balcony of my and Vickie’s stateroom.
Over the seven-day cruise to the Caribbean, we covered serious business. Our birth mother had died not too long before the cruise, and we reconciled with that. Each of us had different fathers, which tells you what you need to know about the upheaval in my birth mother’s life.
The two older girls were raised by her, in difficult circumstances. Then I came along, one more tiny mouth to feed, and my mother’s parents urged her to give me up. She drove me from Akron, where I was born, to Wooster, Ohio, where a local family adopted me. I still wonder who I would have become if she had placed me in Akron.
Shortly after my birth, she became pregnant again with the youngest, my little sister, who was also promptly given up for adoption.
On our familycruise, it became clear that my youngest sister and I were lucky to have been taken in by more stable families. I could see how life was tougher for my older sisters who had to grow up quickly and fend for themselves.
Yet here we were, four children born of a troubled woman, for sure, but also a woman who, despite the odds, gave life to each of us. I thanked God that I had been able to personally thank this woman for giving me life – a wonderful life I cherish so deeply.
By the end of the cruise, our waiter, the maître d’ and the family dining alongside us, had become part of that extended family you seem to acquire on a cruise vacation.
The maître d’ even spoiled us by having the chef prepare off-menu pasta dishes – a comfort food of our family cruise.
As for the family next to us, on the last night at sea, I apologized for what a pain we were to sit next to. One of the men there, who had eyed us so suspiciously throughout the cruise, said not to worry. We were so riveting to watch, my wife, three sisters and I, that he had wished he could sit there with us!
Who knew such an unusual family reunion cruise could be so much fun.
Bob and Vickie live in Ashland, Ohio and have enjoyed four Princess Cruises.