All I wanted was a photo!
Since childhood, I only knew a few facts about my biological father. When my mother told him she was pregnant, he informed her he was already married.
When I joined Ancestry.com, I began to research him. I found his name, wife, parents, in-laws and siblings. I found his death certificate, burial site and a photo of his gravestone. At this point, I figured I would never see his face.
In 2019, LNP | LancasterOnline opened up its archives. I had nothing to lose, so I entered his name in the search field. What populated my screen was multiple pages of information on him that had been published in the Lancaster newspapers.
I came across his enlistment in the Army, and there it was — a photo of him, around the age of 21. Then the unflattering items appeared. At the age of 16 he was sent away to a Catholic boy’s school outside the area because of his participation in multiple robberies.
He enlisted in the Army after he left that facility. After his discharge from the Army, he was arrested multiple times for assault and battery. These facts forced me to accept the death of the father whom I had romanticized. He was not the man I had always hoped — he was someone very different.
When his landlord found him dead in his rented room, he was separated from his wife and living alone. His obituary listed a surviving daughter who was 3 1/2 years older than me. I have a half-sister!
In October, I received an email from my half-sister, who had opened an Ancestry account and saw my name listing her dad as my own. We began emailing each other and exchanging photographs.
She told me of a half-brother, whose name or whereabouts are unknown. While I learned even more about our father, little of it was good.
He was an alcoholic who emotionally and verbally abused his family. His wife fled their home with her daughter and went to California. But he contacted them and convinced them he had stopped drinking, so she bought plane tickets that would bring them back. Before they left, he collapsed and died.
My sister assured me that my childhood was better without him. Otherwise, I would have been subjected to the abuse she endured for years.
But she also provided critically important insight. She told me that while in that Catholic boy’s school, meant to reform and rehabilitate him, he was sexually abused by multiple priests. He never told his parents, only confiding in two older brothers who kept his secret until much later in life when they shared it with their younger sister, who then told my sister when she was 66.
She now understood why he was filled with such anger. A young boy struggling to understand if God loved him and why the men of God who promised to protect him ended up hurting him so severely.
He spent the bulk of his life tormented by demons put upon him by the actions of priests who tainted his youth. The anger you might expect him to feel was visited upon others —especially his wife and child. They, too, were innocent victims — collateral damage.
I have learned that getting what you hope for is not as good as getting what you need. I needed answers and some sort of closure. Instead I found a sister, who helped me see that my childhood was better off without my father.
She has been gracious, welcoming and loving. It’s been an amazing roller coaster of emotions, when all I wanted was a photo!
The author lives in Lancaster.
If you are a print subscriber to LNP or a digital subscriber to LancasterOnline.com, and have registered for a local account online, you can access the archives of Lancaster newspapers, through newspapers.com, for free. It’s a searchable database of local newspapers going back to the late 18th century.