The Mother and Child
Even now, nearly two weeks later, tears still form in the corners of my eyes as I think about my husband hugging his biological mother for the first time. Then I pause and wonder if I had truly witnessed the emotional moment or if I imagined it. I pinch myself, look at the photos and videos saved on my phone, and realize that it wasn’t a dream. It really happened. That embrace was more than a mother-and-child reunion, 59 years in the making. It was a Christmas miracle, of sorts.
On December 8, my husband, Gene, and I boarded a Delta flight from Atlanta to Houston, Texas. As we buckled our seat belts, I noticed his knee nervously bouncing up and down.
“Are you okay?” I asked him. “Well, I’m exhausted because I haven’t slept in forever, but I’m all right,” he said.
I took his hand in mine and said, “Today’s the day. In just a few hours, you will meet your mother.”
Gene had actually met his mother once before. He was a tiny newborn when his young mother held him in her arms that first time in 1963. She rocked him lovingly and gazed down at his face before the nuns came and whisked continued from page
him away. Like all mothers who bring life into the world, she committed every detail of his face to her memory. Gene, of course, does not remember those first moments shared with his biological mom.
These are the thoughts and visions that filled our heads as the jet hurtled into the wild blue yonder. The nonstop flight lasted two hours and twenty minutes, and upon landing, we sprinted off the plane and toward the baggage claim. We rented a car and took I-45 south from Houston to his mother’s subdivision.
Gene slowed the car as I called out house numbers — our hearts pounding out of our chests.
“I see them!” he said. “My mom and my sister are out on the curb!”
I saw two women in a front yard jumping up and down. Somehow, Gene had the sense to pull into the driveway before leaping from the car. In one fluid motion, he pulled his mother into his arms. She hugged his neck like she was never going to let go.
A second later, I found my way to the rear of the car to see the embrace — the moment that marked the resolution of years of my husband’s wondering about his biological mother. Who was she? What did she look like? Was she still alive? Would she want to meet him? Would she want to know him?
There we were in the driveway that Thursday evening — Gene; his mother, Margaret; his halfsister, Kim; and me — all four of us drowning in a sea of emotions. We cried a few happy tears. We laughed at the craziness of it all. We stood facing one another in disbelief and shock. They were strangers to us, but then again, they were not strangers at all. They were familiar. They were family.
And in that magical moment, I witnessed a beautiful and profound beginning.
You may wonder what led us to travel to Houston last week… I’ll start from the beginning of the story. A GENETIC MATCH
In June of 1963, a young couple adopted a two-day-old baby boy from the Home of the Holy Infancy — a Catholic home for unwed mothers in Austin, Texas. The couple raised him, loved him, gave him a sister and a family, taught him right from wrong, protected him, provided for him and gave him a good life. The boy, who always knew he had been adopted, grew into a man who often wondered about his origins and his biological family. That boy — that man — is my husband, Gene, who is 59 years old this year.
A few years ago, I convinced Gene to spit into a vial, upload his unique DNA to the Internet, and register with 23andme.com and Ancestry.com. Every month or so, these DNA registries sent him a notification saying they had found matches suggesting a third cousin, a fourth cousin and other distant relatives.
In 2021, Ancestry.com reported a first cousin, once removed. We reached out to the family member, and though she tried to help us, we didn’t have enough data to determine the identity of Gene’s biological mother or father. Still, we knew we were getting closer to unraveling the mystery.
Then in late October, it happened. Ancestry noted that a man in Texas shared 24 percent of his DNA with Gene (suggesting a half sibling), and moreover, there was a photo attached. We both stared at the face that resembled my husband’s.
Excitement swelled in our house like a tsunami. Gene sent the biological stranger an email using the first line from a Doobie Brothers song, “You don’t know me, but I’m your brother…” And then we waited. Days later, my husband checked his inbox and found a response from “Chris” in Texas providing a cell phone number and asking Gene to contact him immediately. A few minutes later, Gene placed the call and put his brother on speakerphone. There were tears and moments when neither man knew what to say.
Chris, 53, was in shock. He had no idea he had a brother out there in the world, so he was understandably confused and emotional, but DNA doesn’t lie. DNA exposes truths that were once sealed for a lifetime. DNA answers questions and sets people free.
As the two grown men began tackling their new relationship, I was amused at how similar the get-toknow- your-biological- sibling process is to dating. They hurled basic questions to one another.
“How tall are you and how much do you weigh?”
Chris is a little taller and a little lighter than older brother, Gene.
“What do you do for a living?”
Chris is an optometrist, and Gene lives in the world of software applications.
“What do you like to do in your spare time?”
Chris spends time with his family and is very involved with church and with his son’s band. Gene enjoys riding his road bike on the weekends and takes on woodworking projects here and there.
“How did you end up in Georgia?”
“My family moved several times after we left Texas,” Gene said. “My parents settled in Chattanooga, and I went to Georgia Tech. I met Amber, and we have stayed in Georgia.”
After that, whenever my husband’s phone rang, I watched him race to answer it in case it was his newfound brother. Gene, who is shy and short on words, talked on the phone more in those first weeks than the entire 35 years I’ve known him.
And Gene has never been a big texter. “I don’t mind texting a little bit, but if there’s a lot to say, I prefer to just talk on the phone,” he has remarked in the past.
But with the discovery of his half-sibling, Gene has become a texting machine; and since Texas is an hour behind Georgia, the texts really crank up around 9 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. We read the texts together some evenings and watch the little dots wave up and down on the phone’s screen as Chris is composing another text message from his end.
Shared genetics translates into more than physical resemblances. Gene and Chris soon learned that they have similar personalities and other commonalities. Both are quiet and shy. Both men approach problems and situations by analyzing each element and outcome before acting or commenting. Both share a love of basketball. Our families have vacationed in the same locations — Gene and I have even posed in the exact same places as Chris and his family members.
“It’s as if we’ve lived somewhat parallel lives, but we didn’t know each other, and we were separated by distance,” Gene said.
Chris helped Gene understand more about his German roots. They run deep, though his German ancestors made Texas their home generations ago.
A few days into their new relationship, Chris and his wife, Leslie, asked the two of us to FaceTime (video call) with them. Wanting to make a good first impression on these new family members, Gene and I rushed into the bathroom and spiffed up a bit. My husband combed his hair and put on a clean shirt. I brushed my teeth and applied lipstick. And then we FaceTimed with Gene’s new brother and sister-inlaw, who are just lovely, lovely people.
“We haven’t told the kids yet,” Chris said, referring to their four beautiful children and son-in-law. “I’ve been hiding in the closet during our phone conversations so they couldn’t hear me talking to you, but we are calling a family meeting this Sunday to tell them all at the same time. No more secrets.”
The following Sunday, the Texas brother told his four children that they have an uncle in Georgia, and through marriage, they also have an aunt.
“It got kind of complicated, so we illustrated the family tree on a white board and talked through it,” Chris said later.
They sent us photos of the children — Mikah, Grace, Luke and Eli — looking at a photo of Gene.
An hour or two later, we FaceTimed with the entire clan. Each niece and nephew told us a little about themselves. They stared at Gene through the computer screen, and Gene stared back — all of them considering the strong family resemblance.
Gene and Chris share a mother, who has carried this secret on her shoulders for six decades. And we learned that Gene has a half-sister, too.
Chris gave Gene their mother’s email address. The following day, my husband sat down and penned a short letter to his biological mother. He wrote that he has no hard feelings or animus for her — only love and gratitude for giving him life. He asked her to call him or respond via email. He hit “send.”
We hoped that she would find it in her heart to connect to him, but we braced for the possibility that she may not be able to. We both know adopted children who reached out as adults to their biological parents and did not get a warm, welcoming reception. We understood that Gene was opening himself up to deep pain and rejection.
“If it doesn’t work out, it’s okay,” he said to me that night. “I have a brother now. If my mother and sister don’t want to know me, I’m still in a better place than I was a few weeks ago.”
With the revelation of his mother’s name, we also learned the identity of Gene’s biological father, and we’ve found photos of him, too (and two other potential half-siblings). Again, the resemblance between the strangers and my husband is quite remarkable. All of this has been a lot to take in, and for that reason, Gene has decided to wait until after the first of the year to reach out to his paternal family. THE BEST THANKSGIVING EVER In the days after Gene sent his mother the email message, he held his breath and obsessively checked his inbox dozens of times.
A few evenings later, as Gene and I settled in to watch some television, he reflexively opened his laptop and checked his email for new messages.
“She replied!” he yelled in my direction.
I flew across the room like a bird and read the message alongside my husband. She said that she had been looking for some type of contact for the past 60 years, and she was happy he had found her. She suggested they talk over the weekend and wished him love and peace. She signed her message, “Love, Margaret/ Mom.”
My usually stoic husband was shaken and emotional. He couldn’t form words. I sat beside him and rubbed his arm.
We read the note again. Then again. Gene wrote back immediately agreeing to a phone conversation, but he didn’t hear back from her about setting a precise time.
Fast forward to the Sunday before Thanksgiving… Gene and I stood in the kitchen attempting to make a multi-layer coconut cake to take to my family’s Thanksgiving gathering at my sister’s house. I offered to wash the dishes so he could check his email once more before we left the house. A minute later, he stormed down the stairs and into the kitchen.
“She wants to Face-Time with me at 1,” he said.
Gene looked like a man who was on the verge of a stroke, a heart attack or a nervous breakdown. He raced into the closet and changed his clothes — putting on an even nicer pullover. He combed his hair again and put more styling goo in it.
At 1, he answered the video call, and there she was — his 80-year-old biological mother, Margaret, and his half-sister, Kim. I stood in the other room and tried to prevent tears from destroying my eye makeup.
With a charming Lone Star State accent, his mom asked him about his life, and Gene told her that he has had a good life and is happy and healthy. I heard her breathe a sigh of relief.
Then, she asked about me, and Gene called me into the room. I sat beside him and met his biological mother for the first time.
We exchanged greetings, and she asked, “Well, what do you want to know?”
Margaret was an open book, and though he didn’t say it that day, I know my husband well enough to know that he wanted to say, “Everything. I want to know everything.”
There was a pause, and then she said, “I remember that day. They let me hold you that morning until about noon, but they said that your new parents had arrived to take you home, and I had to let you go. The nuns took you away. And now here you are — almost 60 years later.”
She smiled at Gene. “I found out I was pregnant…” she added. “My family was as poor as a country church mouse. There wasn’t enough money to feed all our mouths. There was no way I could raise you myself and my continued from page
family couldn’t help, so I gave you up. I never considered aborting you.”
She told us that she only told two people her secret — her mother and her boyfriend (my husband’s birth father). She and her mother talked to the family’s priest, who helped make arrangements in nearby Austin for Margaret to live in a Catholic charities home in the weeks leading up to her due date.
“The nuns there were wonderful and treated me with kindness and love,” she said. “They gave us fictitious names to protect our real identities. I was Naomi Bey.”
Gene — Margaret’s first-born son — was born in secret on a June morning in 1963. And though she knew that the couple adopting her son would change his name, she named him, “Michael Joseph,” a revelation that gave me chills. Since I’ve known my husband, he’s said on many occasions, “I’ve never liked my name. I wish my mother had named me, ‘Michael.’” Gene’s half-sister, Kim, dabbed tears a few times during the video call, but noted that she was thrilled to learn that she has an older brother.
“I can’t believe this,” she said. “I can’t believe Mom never told any of us. All this time, we thought she couldn’t keep a secret, but wow, what a secret she has kept from us all these years! We are still in shock.”
Kim introduced us to her husband, Randy, and told us about their two daughters (Rylee and Kamri), their sons-in-law (Dylan and Jules), and their granddaughter (Isla) and grandson (Cal), both just months old.
At the end of the Face-Time session, Gene’s newly found mom and sister said, “We want to know you.”
And just like that, my husband and I became part of another family — his biological family. Though a lot to process, it was, without a doubt, the most beautiful Thanksgiving ever — a true example of love, gratitude, answered prayers, blessings and most of all, family.
In the days that followed that initial video call with Margaret, Kim and Randy, my husband’s phone blew up with more text messages, photos, and greetings from his Texas family.
But nothing prepared him for the text message he got from his mother a few days later.
A HOLLY, JOLLY CHRISTMAS Gene stared at his phone and then looked at me.
“Texas Mom has invited us to attend their family’s Christmas party on December 10th near Houston,” he said, rotating the front of his phone so I could see the image of the invitation. “It’s next Satur-day… I want to go.”
And that’s how it came to pass that Gene and I dropped everything and journeyed to Houston.
“Wow, that’s fast,” a few friends and family members said, voicing a little concern about our sudden travel plans.
“Not really,” I replied. “Gene’s been waiting for this for 59 years. That’s a long time to wait to meet your biological family. He wants to go, and I’m going with him.”
It was quite a homecoming for Gene. They all but rolled out a red carpet for him. They brought out a bottle of champagne, and we toasted the reunion. They had prepared a grand spread of delicious food items for us. After dinner, they presented Gene with three very special gifts from under Margaret’s Christmas tree. First, they gave him an electronic photo frame that they plan to fill with family photos and videos.
Second, his mother gave him a whimsical snow globe replica of Frosty the Snowman. Lights in the snowman’s hat project snowflakes onto the ceiling.
They also gave him glass ornaments that once hung on his grandmother’s Christmas tree.
“Keepsakes from your biological grandmother,” I whispered to my overwhelmed husband.
“I love this so much,” my husband replied, his voice low and cracking a bit.
Before we left that evening, we presented Texas Mom with copies of all of Gene’s school photos from his kindergarten year to the day he graduated from high school — each marking the milestones from childhood to adulthood.
On Friday, we spent the day with his mother and sister looking at old family photos, learning about the family, and getting to know one another.
On Friday evening, we met my husband’s brother, Chris, and his wife in person for the first time — another emotional moment.
“You’re real,” Chris said after their first hug. “You’re real, and you’re here. I have a brother!”
We shared a meal together. We shared stories. We are slowly getting to know these wonderful people, and we like them very much — all of them!
On Saturday, we traveled with his mother, his sister and brother-in-law to Kingwood and attended the family Christmas party at the home of one of Gene’s bubbly first cousins, Kelly. She and her husband, Greg, prepared red beans and rice and gumbo for the crowd. We met Gene’s Uncle Mike and Aunt Phyllis, Uncle Bill and Aunt Cindy, Aunt Judy, and Aunt Claire. We met other cousins, as well. We took photos. We laughed. We had a hoot that day.
“These people are great,” I said to Gene at one point. “They are a lot like our family back in Georgia.”
“They all seem so familiar to me,” he said. “I don’t know why…” “Gene, this is your tribe. You finally found your tribe,” I said. “These are your people.”
Before we left the party, Gene overheard his mother sharing a story with a relative.
“Every year, I drew a heart on June 8th on my calendar, but no one ever asked me what the heart meant,” she said.
“When I heard her say that, I realized she never forgot about me, and that she loved me for all those years,” he told me. “I always wondered. Now I know. My mom never stopped loving me.”
Like the other nights, Gene and I retreated to the hotel and attempted to get some much-needed rest, but we couldn’t calm our minds enough to drift off into a good, solid sleep.
“Will we ever sleep again?” I asked him the following morning. “I’m exhausted.”
On Sunday, we drove to Katy, Texas and visited with Chris and Leslie’s family — another spectacular day. We shared a marvelous meal together and conversation. Chris showed us his milkweed plants and passion vines and talked about the life cycles of Monarch and Gulf Fritillary butterflies. We took family photos in their backyard. Their younger daughter, Grace, gave us an impromptu piano concert that brought tears to our eyes. We popped into a nearby grocery store to say “Hello,” to their youngest son, Eli, who had to work that afternoon.
Every single day spent in Houston was full of firsts and the meaningful moments meant to be cherished and treasured forever. Leaving was hard, but we are already making plans for upcoming visits with family members.
“I think this was the best weekend of my life,” Gene said upon our return to the Peach State. “It was so much better than I ever imagined. I like everyone so much.”
His cup runneth over. Gene’s in a better place than he was before all of this started. It’s changed him forever.
There’s a line from a song by The Chicks that states, “Who do we become, without knowing where we started from?” Thanks to the magic of DNA, my husband’s story is finally being told to him. He has finally seen faces that look like his. He’s finally able to fill in some gaps and understand the biological links and connections that most of us take for granted. And he has experienced a sense of belonging that he says has been missing in his life.
As I write this in mid-December and the world slows down to observe the birth of the Savior born in Bethlehem to a young, unwed peasant girl from Nazareth, I am filled with feelings of deep love, wonder, belief, hope, salvation, and celebration. For my entire life, I’ve been drawn to nativity scenes — depictions of the birth of Jesus — because they not only chronicle the modest setting and circumstances in which Christ was brought into our world, but also because the nativity celebrates a mother’s everlasting love for her child. I’m reminded of Mary’s love of Jesus, and the precious nature of relationships between mothers and their children — inherent, eternal connections. This year, I have witnessed such an enduring love firsthand, and it has cracked my heart wide open.
As I gaze at our multicolor Christmas tree this year and see the glittery presents underneath its branches, I understand that nothing purchased from a store can ever compare to the warm, open-armed, hospitable welcome Gene’s biological family members have extended to him, and to me. They have received us with great love and offered us a seat at their tables, and for that, we are grateful.
May the same joy we have experienced these last few weeks fill your hearts and homes this season. Merry Christmas!