The family I never knew

A few weeks back I wrote about finding a sister through DNA testing. We share an unknown father; she was adopted at birth, I grew up with my single mother.

A photo was emailed to me last week.

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My sister told me over the phone to brace as she pressed the send button.

But she couldn't keep the secret: "We found him."

And then again, as if in relief: "We found him."

It was the father we had never met, never knew, never even seen.

Until that picture.

I wasn't possibly prepared for the likeness.

The chin, the jawline, the hairline, the forehead and deep-set eyes - even, if I could speculate, the stern inscrutability conferred on a son he had never met, never knew, never even seen.

Here, finally, for me to see was the tree I had fallen from, no telling how far.

And I looked and looked and looked at it, angles and elements and everything I could obsessively surmise from two dimensions.

In a matter of months, thanks to science and sleuthing, my family's deepest mystery has morphed into learning its history: relatives, names, places, dates, moves, jobs, ups and downs.

I have lost track as details flood in amid the numbing, deadening realization of a life missed as six decades of the biggest questions of identity produce the mightiest of answers.

I grew up without him, with not much more information than his name - and as it turns out, only his surname, not even his given name - and so many false and frustrating trails of the wrong cities, states and professions.

My mother's recollections of a weekend affair in the late winter of 1957 yielded tidbits that would prove helpful: his birth in America, an ailing sister he had to return to care for and of course that never-kept promise he would see her again.

Oh, and a full head of hair and a resemblance.

Now I have more, thanks to distant cousins found with my sister through the popular Ancestry and 23andme DNA tests: a full name, details of his life back and forth across the U.S. border into Ontario and an eerily coincidental setting for his final two decades.

He is long gone now, so we cannot ever know each other, and it is left to me to understand us.

But with that I am reminded that for reasons I will never properly justify, I did not move quickly enough to find him when he never knew to find me.

I next found his obituary from 1988 - in Vancouver's daily newspaper, a decade and a half before I would move here to help manage that paper's newsroom - and it of course only whetted the journey for more.

A wife passed, two sisters also believed passed, but a son easily found on social media who is my younger brother.

A nearby brother of new possibilities.

Only months ago, I understood none of this - nor of a sister, adopted at birth, for whom these tests yielded the first blood relative she would meet.

Her doggedness with discovered relatives has created bridges I need to determine how to cross - even if I should cross - and how to move from research to real search, from fact-finding to family-finding.

I am setting out to discover me.

If nothing prepares me for them, I can only imagine how nothing prepares them for me. I at least knew there was another family out there.

They didn't, and this revelation could jar their memories of the man they loved and the life he led.

As I've told the story of finding a sister, I've heard many say we cannot compensate for what we missed, for the disappointment and dysfunction and even the anger, but we need to set it aside to learn all we can in the time we have left.

The journalist in me naturally seizes this new data but also edits the tell-all urge - so sharing a few dates and places, but no names, out of a professional practice to anticipate and minimize harm, something that carries a new, more personal obligation.

But one irony is too rich not to disclose from what I learned in my first park-bench talk this week with my brother.

My father moved here from Ontario, four decades before I would.

My four-decade career has drawn me to a business publication.

He was a Howe Street stock promoter.

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