I am adopted.
I’m putting together all the letters from the 2 e-mail threads during the 2 periods in which I made contact with my natural, paternal family. This occurred in my 30s, the first strings happened the week before my wedding, and the second string the week or so before i moved to Europe. If this seems rather far fetched, trust me, it was.
Obviously, I’ve edited names to ensure people’s privacy, as i realize this is very sensitive and personal stuff. However, it’s a remarkable story, and i feel strongly should be out the on the net, particularly for anyone who’s ever been adopted, given a child up, or been involved with the process and wanted to see a rather interesting real life story of how it all came together years and years later.
Once again, all these ‘Parts’ were originally e-mail sent to several of my friends or the parties involved as events were unfolding,
The First Thread
A week and a half ago i called Gaile (my birth mother) for the first
time in 13 years. we talked for 3 hours and in the course of
conversation i found out that my father’s name isn’t in fact Jacques
C-, as i have believed since meeting her 15 years ago, but actually
Jock C-, and he lived in Aspen where he owned a ski shop back in
i google “jock c- aspen” and this is what came up:
My brother Jock was born in N.Vancouver, BC April 28,1936. His last
know address was in Aspen, CO in 1968. He liked to ski, fly and sail.
He was seen in the Mediterranean 1978. Have not heard of any other
Jock sightings since then. If you have any information please contact
me at my e-mail address. Thank you, Patricia S-
Entry #3940 added on March 29, 1997
i e-mailed her. no answer. so i wrote her a letter and sent it 10
minutes before boarding the Super Shuttle to head off to Newark and
Days later, in Barcelona, i checked my e-mail.
I was delighted, shocked, surprised, overcome and most of all grateful for
your letter that arrived in my mail box just a few minutes ago. The sun is
truly shining for me today.
Yes Jock is my brother and I would be happy to share anything I can with you
No I have not been able to find him nor have I had any information on him in
many years. I thought I had found him in Italy once but it turned out to
be a dead end eventually. I am in contact with my nephew (Jock’s son ) We
e-mail and talk on the phone often ..He is now 40 and looks like Jock and
has that same old charm and blarney. He is a wonderful young man and it is
for him that I have looked over the years also for my mother who lived with
us until she died four years ago. She never gave up hope that we would find
him. I had to turn it over to Spirit and accept that if I was ever to know
him or of him it would be in God’s hands….And so it is……..
I thank you for writing to me and look forward to hearing from you anytime.
Blessings love and light,
Patricia S— (Patsy)
so i wrote back.
Thank you so much for writing me back. I’m truly, truly delighted.
I will assemble a long e-mail for you detailing all I know and
explaining why I’ve written you sometime in the next day or so. (I’m
vacationing in Barcelona at the moment with my wife so right this
exact second isn’t the most… uhm… time friendly.)
It’s a shame you wouldn’t have a picture of him you could attach to an
e-mail (him having disappeared quite some time before the advent of
e-mail) You have no idea the impact it would have… alas.
Thank you again so much for responding. Allow me a day or so to find
an appropriate moment when i can sit and write properly to you. Until
then, my warmest wishes for you and your family, and I look forward to
writing you again.
last night, here in Budapest, i checked my mail again.
This picture was taken of Jock in the 60’s I think. I hope it will help.
We are delighted to be in touch and look forward to hearing from you at
Barcelona is a wonder filled city. We spent five days touring before
picking up a cruise ship and heading to Istanbul … Enjoy !!!!
The other picture is of our nephew who looks so much like Jock. I thought
it would help since Jock’s picture is a black and white photo. The coloring
is what I was going for. The eyes and hair and skin tone with freckles are
the same. T- is taller … Jock was around 5 ft. 8 in.
Blessings and light,
Thank you again for contacting me. I do believe in miracles !
In addition, she has tracked me down in MySpace (sent me an invitation)
obviously, these pictures have me reeling.
i wrote her back.
And so i sit here, in Budapest now (tomorrow will be Belgrade. this
seems to be a very ‘B’ themed vacation), cappuccino in one hand, pen
in the other (I’m going to write this out in longhand then type it up
later), having long known that this moment would one day come,
so i guess, finally, there’s nothing to it but to do it.
i wish i could tell you where your brother is. However on that front
you know far more than me. i’ve never met or seen him until the photo
Here’s a story for you:
In 1968 Jock C- was seeing a woman named Gaile S- (according
to her “mostly on weekends”). Their relationship revolved mostly
around having fun, road trips, skiing, thrills and laughs.
This went on for a number of months and Gaile began to develop deeper
feelings for him.
They did not use protection as Gaile had been told by doctors some
years earlier that she was incapable of getting pregnant.
She got pregnant.
Shocked, and not actually wanting to ever have children, she called
Jock to tell him.
The phone call went very badly. He informed her that actually, he was
already married with children, and, in more colorful language, to
never, ever call him again.
Apparently, Gaile hired a private detective who verified that what he
had told her was true.
Stuck with an unwanted pregnancy, she agonized over what to do with
it, and finally decided to have it and give it up for adoption.
The child was born in 1969, a boy, and adopted by a couple in
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where it went on to have a happy and
At this point in the narrative i might as well switch to first person.
There are details a person always wonders about if they are unknowns
in their life. The circumstances of their birth, what their actual
nationality is, and of course, general ponderances about their genes,
traits, and bloodline.
Shortly after i turned 18 Gaile tracked me down, and after some time
of corresponding through letters, we met for the first time.
Several of my more burning questions were answered. (the circumstances
of my birth being the big one. I’d also mention, when one is adopted,
one is basically assured that their birth wasn’t exactly intended or
desired, and one makes peace with this very quickly and, i found at
least, very easily. Mostly, you just want to KNOW.) As to the identity
of my natural father, she could tell me very little, since she had
spent years after my birth desperately trying to forget him and the
I got a few details: originally from Canada, lived in Colorado (i
forgot at the time to ask which city), and his name, which, not
bothering to ask about spelling, i took to be “Jacque” or “Jacques”
C-. (and thus thought i was french for years and years.)
Over the years i have periodically attempted through the computer to
see if i could track down this “Jacques” C-, with no luck
whatsoever, and at times have even debated hiring a detective,
although a major roadblock has always been what on earth i would
actually DO if i found him.
It would put me in a predicament. I am so, SO very curious, but i
don’t want to upset anybody’s life or mess with anybody’s head. It
could really, REALLY screw with someone to have a long forgotten (and
undesired in the first place) son show up decades later, strolling
casually upon their life’s stage, and asking if they could spare a few
hours to chat about themselves and their family history.
I’ve then thought about simply finding and then observing him in some
manner, even coming up with a way to interact with him, however
briefly, without ever telling them who i am.
This has all been mute issue however, as i couldn’t find a “Jacques”
C- who had ever lived in CO. (plus, i needed a city)
About a week and a half ago, a few days before my vacation (which also
doubles as a honeymoon and then wedding…. although i’m remarrying my
wife… if you’ll allow me a brief digression: basically, when my
wife and i married 7 years ago, we were very close friends, and only
married so that she could get a US passport. Heck, we both had a
girlfriend and boyfriend at the time… Some months after already
being married we went on to connect romantically, then fall deeply in
love, and we have remained together since. Within the next year we
will begin trying to have a child, and have decided to get properly
married, in the eyes of Gd essentially, and in a ceremony our families
could actually come to this time. She’s from Belgrade, and so, next
weekend we’ll be married in a church in Belgrade. Then of course we’ll
return to our lives in NY)
ANYWAY, about a week and a half ago, a few days before my vacation, i
called Gaile for the first time in 13 years (time can really tick by
when you’re not looking). We chatted for several hours and along the
way i got 2 crucial pieces of missing data. His name was Jock, not
Jacques, and he lived in Aspen back in ’68, where he owned a ski shop.
The next morning i googled this new info, and voila … your 1997 post
popped up. the few details you gave were spot on, and i believed that
you were his sister, and the first time in my life i have a living
connection to that…. whole….
For better or worse, although very nervous and unsure of how to
proceed, i have just simply not bothered waiting or questioning what
might or might not be that best move, and barreled ahead and written
you. (i got your address from googling you. the only thing i was able
to get WAS your address and the fact that you and your husband play a
whole lot of bridge.)
I wish, of course, that i could be more help to you in your search.
Perhaps the story i’ve told you illuminates some small detail. For my
part, my motivations are harmless and benevolent, although they could
be potentially upsetting or confusing (i certainly hope not, and you
seem to come from a bright and warm inner place, so i’m not so
concerned anymore that i’ll just completely freak you out). I am a
happy, lively (very), and certainly well adjusted person with a decent
heart who simply wonders what makes him who he is.
(truth be told, i’m sitting here for 10 minutes trying to come up with
a proper, sincere, and perfectly appropriate sign-off. I’ve written
this whole letter without pausing, and now, over a simple sign-off,
i’m absolutely stuck.)
Cheers, (i gotta put something, and it’s what i normally say all the time)
i await her reply.
Thank you for your email. I had been checking my Hotmail account countless
times each day in hopes of hearing from you. Your letter touched me deeply
with a combination of joy and sorrow. I was so happy to hear something
about Jock, and saddened to hear of the way he had treated your mother and
indirectly you. Most of all, I was thrilled to know that I have another
nephew. We hope to be able to meet you sometime soon. We have a lot to
catch up on. Of course, we understand that this may not be what you are
seeking, but somehow, I feel that we have a connection that we both need to
explore. When I pulled your original letter from the mailbox, I felt there
was something important inside. I couldn’t wait to open it. As I awaited
your latest reply, I told my husband, Dennis, that I thought you must be in
Europe on your Honeymoon. As this turns out to be true, we would both like
to wish you a wonderful wedding, honeymoon, and a long and happy life
After hearing from you, I have been searching the internet and getting to
know you through your music and stories. I have been looking at your
wonderful face, listening to your music which is beautiful, and reading your
stories. I felt a connection instantly and had already decided that I had
to meet you regardless of the outcome. Your words and music touched my
soul. What a gifted young man you are. I sit in awe and wonder. I knew
from the moment I read your letter on that magical paper that you were an
artist and a communicator. I also strongly suspected that you were Jock’s
I will tell you a bit about our family. Dennis and I have been married for
25 years and each have a daughter from a previous marriage. Shannon is 35
and is in the midst of a divorce in San Diego. M- (44) and her husband,
I- (41), are both marine biologists in Long Beach, Ca. T, your half
brother, and the young man in the picture that I sent, lives in Maui and is
a photographer. His web site is T——.com. He is 40 and has
a similar story to yours. Jock left T and his mother in 1968 and he has
not been seen nor heard from since. His mother had problems of her own
which led to T being moved into a foster home. T grew up in Telluride,
CO and graduated from UC, Boulder. He has followed his dream and has lived
in Maui for at least 12 years or so.
I have much to share with you about your C- genes and us. We will hope
to hear from you after your return to New York. Have a wonderful time, and
know that there are several more people in your life who wish you the very
The Second Thread
So y’all kinda remember that whole business involving tracking down my aunt on my father‘s side 18 months ago just before my wedding?
Well. So a week ago i get an e-mail from my Aunt Patsy:
” hi I found my brother and he is going to send his health history for you.”
A rather short statement that rocked my world.
So i called her. Through a long and involved story, she had tracked down a name, John C-, to Vancouver. She called the number and asked for John C-.
The man on the other end replied that there was no one there with that name. She then asked if his name was John G C-, and explained that he had the same name as her long lost brother who she had been searching for since 1969, for 38 years. Since the full name was a bit rare, she thought that maybe he could be him, but if not, she was sorry to bother him, it’s just that she’d been searching for so long.
There was a long pause. Then he said “Hi Patsy.”
They talked for a bit, but not too long, as it was a bit difficult for each of them. He, as it turned out, had been in the Orient most of this time, Captaining various ships around the region. He had lived in Singapore for a bit, Bahrain, maybe the Phillipines, i myself didn’t catch everything as my brain was a bit overwhelmed. He had in this time been married, for 20 years, although his wife was dead now. He had had Tuberculosis but had beaten it, and recently some kind of liver cancer which he had also beaten. He said the Teberculosis was from smoking insane amounts of cigarettes during the long night hauls on the freighters.
She asked him if he knew he had 2 sons.
He told her he only had one, T, who he of course remembered from long ago.
She asked him if he remembered a woman named Gaile, and told him that he had in fact impregnated this woman, and she had given birth to a son named Paul, who was raised by a family in Pittsburgh and had turned out quite well. (actually Patsy was glowingly kind, but in the interests of humility we’ll leave it at that.)
He told her he lived with a great, great burden of guilt and shame.
She told him maybe it was time to let it go and start healing. They ended the conversation there.
She said she forgot to give him her number, and he hadn’t asked (although whether from forgetfulness or purpose she couldn’t say)
She said she told him that I and my wife were planning on having a child and that we could use a health history. He promised to get her one.
And that was that. We talked for a good long time afterwards and i was left wandering about my apartment, smoking until i collapsed. (not a good trait to keep going. Tuberculosis, huh? Fuck. That is some nasty shit i do not want.)
here it is:
Patsy I got your email,I had the same problem,sleeping I going to send a passport pic. of myself not agood one they never are.As for my health history I will dig up all my old records This is what I have allways hope for. and I thank you . To much about me and nothing about you.How about a family photo. I hope this works .I am not very good typing nor computer skills.I am going to say good by for now Patsy love j
He is of course 71 now.
So i decided to wait and see how this played out.
And then. Yesterday i get an e-mail:
John C- to me
Now, this little unassuming facebook invite (undoubtedly Patsy told him to get an account) is actually quite huge. It means that he is actually willing for contact. I had wondered if contact would be possible, but this is reach out. I was overjoyed and sat down to write him for the first time in my life.
This is Paul Shapera.
Apparently, i am blood of your blood. More to the point, i’m your, uh, son. This is a really strange situation in which to write, but what the hell, this chance doesn’t really come around all that often, so here it goes.
I guess if i’ve always planned, or thought that if i ever got the chance to say anything, it would in a nutshell be THANK YOU.
Which seems a weird thing to say, except that, well, when you’re adopted, you pretty much know from the get go that there were extenuating circumstances surrounding your birth (i was never sat down and “told one day” i was adopted. my mother would tell me as a baby that i was adopted but that she was mother now, before i could even speak or understand language, so i’ve just simply always known). So you also know that it was a bit of an accident that you’re here, but then most things in life are strange “accidents”, but that doesn’t make them any less profound. I was brought up just fine, with a loving family and the usual ups and down, so i’ve never suffered for lack of anything important.
So pretty much i’m just glad to be here. What might have been a whole strange situation back then for the parties involved, to ME is actually the best thing that ever happened to me. It brought me here, and i REALLY, REALLY am glad to be here. So whatever whims of fate brought it to pass are fantastic in my book, and mostly, i’m just extremely thankful. I really love life, all the ups and downs and everything. You, your genes, hell, even the exact moment of conception, all these things are crucial factors that led to me being me, and i’m grateful for it all.
What makes being adopted interesting, is that you know there’s a bit of story, some drama, that surrounds the circumstances of your conception, and of course, the great mystery of who it was who brought you here, and what your blood history is. Stuff like what nationality you are is a great mystery.
I met Gaile when i was about 21, so a lot of stuff got answered then, and i was delighted to know. Any weirdness surrounding the circumstances is to me a wonderful story. Like i said, i’ve always known there had to be some unforseen drama since otherwise i wouldn’t have been adopted. This is something i got used to so long ago, there’s really nothing there left to “deal with”. Any filling in of the story is just a gift. And since i’m really happy with who i am, none of it bothers me in the least.
So… one just wonders who both birth parents were and what their stories are. I know i share some of your traits, both physical and behavioral, i just don’t know exactly what they are yet. You’ve lived a long life and i’m curious as to what all has happened in it. Anything at all is incredible information to me, the good, the bad, the triumphs, the tragedies, the likes, the dislikes, any of it at all, as little or as much is all wonderful to me.
I don’t know how much to share about myself, and one of my biggest worries is that i’m going to scare you off, since this is a very strange situation and could potentially be overwhelming. I don’t know anybody else who has been here to use as a yardstick as to how to do this.
So the biggest thing i would want to get across is that I am just simply grateful as to even have the opportunity to write this e-mail and know that it will be read. And if this is all that occurs, it will have been more then i ever expected or asked for.
I’m a musician. I compose and produce music, as you know. I play piano, and love to sit and play and sing. LOVE to sing. I’m married. My wife is from Serbia. We got married twice. The first time we were friends and got married for a passport. We ended up together, and after about 7 years decided to marry again in a church for real.
I read a LOT. This i got from my adopted mother, who’s a librarian. She would bring home piles of books every day and this gave me a deep love of reading that i never got over.
I was a bit indulgent in my 20s but this faded as i got into my 30s. I have fortunately never developed any truly bad habits or addictions (although i smoke, but only at night. however i do love to smoke a bit more than i want to give it up, but maybe in time…). I have a small tendency for avoidance and can be a little passive aggressive, but also as i’ve gotten older this has become better. (having a serbian wife has also helped a lot)
I move around a LOT, although i ended up in new york for WAY longer than i ever intended. My first few years in new york, from 2002-2004 were really harsh, so i ran off to san francisco for a year (which is my usual method, although i’ve also just simply never found a place i wanted to stay in. during this year my wife stayed in NY, in her PhD program) After the year i came back and things became much better.
I used to travel around the country in an SUV i had during the 90s a whole bunch and i miss that. Being in NY for such a long time hasn’t been fun for me. Once we get to europe we’ll be buying a car and i can’t WAIT. I love to drive and i especially love to travel.
I’m REALLY glad to finally be getting out of NY. I want to be someplace less insanely urban very badly. I miss nature a LOT. We’ll see how eastern europe treats me, but i’m excited to be making another move.
I have some spiritual/religious tendencies, that faded quite a bit from my late 20s into early 30s, but have resurfaced quite a bit in the past 2 years, quite nicely.
I have a LOT of energy and have always had a lot of energy. I REALLY enjoy walking, can keep it up forever, and have a very strong metabolism. I have thus far never looked even close to my age. This despite a bit of overindulgence in my 20s.
That’s about all i think of. This e-mail has gone on for way longer than i intended, but like i said, if i only get one chance….
So i’m going to bring it to a close here. To recap, i’m EXCEPTIONALLY delighted to have this opportunity simply just say hi and thank you for bringing me here. I would love to know any stories you might have about your life, anything at all, but there is no pressure in the slightest. Like i said, i’m just really happy to know that you exist and to have met Patsy, and to just simply know more than i did before.
Ah, bloody hell, might as well just send this off before i start re-examining and over-thinking it.
I wish you nothing but incredible amounts of happiness and peace.
After sending it, later that night, i became absolutely tortured with the idea that i had fucked everything up. Had made fool of myself. Had handled it totally wrong. The truth is i wrote sincerely and honestly, but this of course left me totally exposed and i had a horrendous night.
Today, mid afternoon, i received a reply.
So, after being talked into it by Maja and my Aunt Patsy, but BEFORE ACTUALLY ASKING J, ( it is so hard to do, or even ask, that i’m afraid i won’t ever do it, so i simply decided to set it in motion anyway and hope for the best) i did this:
Paul Shapera has made an online booking at www.cathaypacific.com. Please find following the details:
|Confirmation Number : JMCCW
|>||5 March : New York to Vancouver|
Cathay Pacific : CX889
Economy Restricted Class
departing John F Kennedy Terminal 7 (JFK) USA at 21:45
arriving Vancouver International Terminal M (YVR) Canada at 00:45(6 March)
|>||8 March : Vancouver to New York|
Cathay Pacific : CX888
Economy Restricted Class
departing Vancouver International Terminal M (YVR) Canada at 11:50
arriving John F Kennedy Terminal 7 (JFK) USA at 20:00
Paul Shapera, Indian Vegetarian Meal
And then 2 days have passed while i work up the courage to write Jock and ask if this would be possible. ( and otherwise i’m out $400…)
Hi again. This is a strange thing to bring up so soon, and under other circumstances i wouldn’t broach this subject at all, and in truth am rather nervous and uncomfortable about suggesting it.
However, I’m leaving the country on the 18th of March, and don’t know when i’ll be back. At the very least it will be years.
So while it’s a bit soon, and i’m just calming down from all the emotional intensity, I don’t have time on my side. So even though i’m rather terrified to bring this up, it has to be now or never.
I would like the opportunity to see you, perhaps just once in my life. I would simply like to see you face to face and hear about your life. This could be done in an afternoon, or an evening if you prefer. Say, thurs or friday the 6th or 7th of march? (this is actually the only possible time for me)
I have a friend in vancouver i can visit, so if you were game to spare an afternoon, although bizarre, it could be interesting and i would love to hear you tell a few stories.
Just mull it over. I know it’s a big request, and it’s coming pretty fast, but like i said, i don’t have time so i have to just do it now. Carpe the Diem and all that….
Hope you are well,
-And so now we wait. (and learn to live with terror and butterflies.)
On Sunday i i decided to take a nap before work. It was nice…. mmmmmmm….
I was awakened from my beautiful nap by Maja shouting “Paul! Get up NOW! The building’s on fire! Get UP! We have to go!”
I woozily dragged myself up. Maja was frantically running around the apartment stuffing the laptops in our computer bags continuing to cry out for me to hurry up.
But sure enough, coming the living room window were plumes of smoke, and outside was some woman screaming “Fire! Get out of there! Fire!”
I stuck my head out the window, and surely enough apartment next to us (on the corner for those of your who have been here) was ablaze.
Fortunately, my enitre studio is pretty much packed up and ready to carry, to i grabbed it all, plus my new M-Audio keyboard ( all while Maja is now almost pulling her own hair out trying to get me to move faster. I’ve never seen her bounce around like a kernel of corn about to pop into a piece of popcorn…) and out we went.
4 firetrucks were right outside our door, literally. 30 firemen. They were on those firetruck cranes, breaking the outside windows of the apartment next to us, smoke and glass spattering out.
Up until this point i had not really thought much about this all. After that nap, the trip out had just seemed like a surreal continuation of my dream, but standing there outside my door seeing the fiery chaos erupting around me, i was a bit awestruck.
My first thought of course, was “oh shit, i’m gonna be late for work.”
But the thing about THAT is, before my nap i had JUST e-mailed my boss to tell her i was leaving on the 5th of Wed (as mentioned in the previous 2 e-mails, i bought the ticket to Vancouver, although i was still waiting to here from Jock), and of course told her why.
And i thought, “no one is going to believe this.” I mean come on, first i say “Hey Boss! I, uh, gotta leave ’cause i’ve just discovered my long lost birth father and i need to go to Canada and meet him. Oh, and by the way, I’m also gonna be really late for work because my apartment building is on fire.”
I mean come on, sure it’s true, but it completely stretches credibility.
I call anyway, and then stand there snapping cam photos with maja’s cell, to send to one of our regulars who i KNOW is at the cafe right then (they’re studying for the Bar Exam, and are literally there from when we open to when we close. Obviously they’ve become a good friend…) to show to the staff to prove i’m not making this up.
SO, i snap away, smoke pouring, glass shattering, water showering out the window, ambulance carting some guy off…. whee! I was strangely having a rather good time. (i mean, we ARE leaving our apartment so it’s not the end of the world if it disappears a week or 2 early. I have my studio and my wife with me which is all i have that i REALLY care about)
Eventually it looks like the fire won’t spread to our apartment, and the smoke is no longer coming out, so we decide to go back into the apartment. The first thing i need to do is get into my e-mail to get that regular’s e-mail address so i can send these photos to the store.
Our stairway is covered in glass from the shattered skylight above, but our apartment is thankfully unharmed. I quickly open my laptop and log onto my e-mail and this is what i find:
So i guess that’s set!
Now for the big one. The meeting. Shit…
I sit here now, on the eve of my journey to Vancouver, to meet John-Gwynne Craig, bring a 38 year quest to a conclusion, and see and talk to the man who brought me into this life. (and gave me these nifty anti-aging genes)
Obviously, this e-mail thread will have one last chapter, SFMBF Pt. 10 (or SFX for all you bloody mac nutjobs) to be written at the conclusion of this weekend, which, writing here and now, seems a lifetime away.
I’m terrified, excited, sometimes strangely calm and sometimes on the verge of tears.
But i want to take a preparatory e-mail before the big finale (and hopefully beginning of a new era) and thank you all. Mostly for 2 things.
Writing these threads as this has all been happening has been extremely cathartic and very helpful in helping me to emotionally digest this drama as it’s unfolded.
You are also the people i love most in this world, and i have never felt with such deepness the importance, the almost sublime…. sacredness of these connections as i do now.
i don’t know how i’m going to go through with this, other than i’m just simply going to get up in an hour, get on a train, get on a plane, just simply keep putting one foot in front of the other until i arrive at some cafe in Vancouver where a man will look at me and probably say my name.
After that it’s all a whole new world.
So… i guess thank you for being here for me, i love you so much i could cry, and see you on the other side.
I’m back. I went to Vancouver, I met John, we talked, walked, did the whole weekend and now i’m back, and strangely (and this i didn’t see coming) still a bit of a mess.
Information wise, i got everything i ever wanted. More actually. We’ll get to that in a minute.
Emotionally, however, it was a bit more messy and confusing. I went in with what i thought were no expectations, but i found that i did have an expectation, and that was that after the whole thing was said and done i would have some sense of of…. closure. Of having arrived. Of satisfaction.
But this relationship is difficult, and messy, and human, and overpowering, and i left Vancouver reeling and not sure how to process my emotions.
So here’s the story. and i need to apologize in advance what will be an inSANEly long e-mail length. To make it easier however, i’m not going to bother with a moment to moment play by play of events and what we did, etc. For anyone actually interested, here’s quick run through.
Chapter 1: What We Did
a. Walked around Vancouver.
b. Hung out at his apartment.
Chapter 3: How Awkward?
I have taken the liberty of designing this easy to understand graph which carefully charts the degrees of awkwardness over the course of the operation.
I sat in the Vancouver airport, put The Beatles’ “Blackbird” on my ipod, and cried.
Then i got up, bought a bag of sadness donuts, ate them, felt a little better, and boarded my plane.
I gained all the information i ever wanted and more, both about him and about my lineage in general.
I guess the best way to go about this is to start at the very beginning and work our way up through time.
The Gwynne-Craig Family
1. We come from a long, prestigious lineage in Northern Ireland, and before that, Scotland and Wales.
We have family crest. Seriously. AND on it a family motto. Straight out of George R.R. Martin for those who would catch the reference.
My grandmother still had rings and seals and stuff like that bearing the family crest. This is it:
The words are: “Live In God That You May Live”
2. I am not simply a Craig, (although i come from the Craig dynasty). The proper family name is Gwynne-Craig.
The Craigs arrived in Ireland at the very, very beginning of the 1600s. (Craig comes from a scottish/welsh word for stone or rock. A crag. Craig.
My ancestor John Craig was very close with John Knox, and was instrumental in helping to found the Protestant Church in Scotland in the mid 1500s. They moved to Ireland in the early 1600s, during the protestant Plantation of Ulster. (Not the greatest bit of history to be associated with)
Thus, James Craig, son of John Knox fled with his family to Ireland, specifically to Ulster.
One of the sons married an Irish princess (seriously, this is the family story) from the Gwynne lineage (this family traces back to the Gwyn line from Wales, and goes back before 1000. I need to do research on this line, though.) and the Gwynne-Craig line was born.
Our family manor was seated in County Donegal, and was called Finn View, as it was located on the Finn River. It still exists, and was still in the family in the 20th century. I’m being sent information from some cousins still in the region who i’ll be visiting when i travel to ireland to research my family history in greater detail.
We have long lives. We live in average to the late 90s. My grandmother lived to 95 (and she was an alcoholic for 60 years), her sister, my Aunt Vivian is currently 96 and goes on golfing trips. I had dinner with her while in Vancouver. I expected a frail, old woman who could barely get around, much less talk, but she was perfectly active and mentally sharp as a whistle. My great grandfather lived to 102, and on and on with the late 90s/ early 100s.
2. My great-great grandmother was sainted. And not in a figure of speech, but actually sainted. During the Irish potato famine, she sold all her personal lands and possessions in order to feed the those starving in the surrounding township. She kept hundreds, and it’s rumored to be about 1000 people alive for years during the famines and ended her life penniless (but well respected and well loved.) After her death she was sainted.
3. Years later her grandson, my grandfather William Eric Gwynne-Craig was returning to Finn View by train somewhere around WWI when it was boarded by Catholic soldiers looking for Protestant bastards to shoot. They went to pull my grandfather off of the train, but a bunch of men in the train, who didn’t know him, stopped the soldiers. “Wait, he’s a Craig,” they said, in remembrance of my great-great grandmother.
4. My great grandfather married a Bates whose family was in South Africa, and went there to help set up and develop the infrastructure. This is where my grandfather, Willaim Eric (known as Eric) was born.
Eric’s mother despised the socio-political system then in place, and insisted her son be sent back to Ireland to be educated.
Just after he graduated college WWI broke out, and he joined the royal air force and became a fighter pilot. He survived several nasty crashes, one of which punctured his lungs and led to health troubles After the war he went to Canada, where he roamed the Arctic and Canadian tundra for 10 years, living with the Inuits and other eskimo tribes (who at the time were untouched by euro-american civilization). He amassed a large collection of native art which he later donated to the Ottawa national Museum. There is the Craig Wing of eskimo art in it to this day.
After 10 years in the canadian wilderness he returned to “civilization” and married a Scottish woman named Anne Robertson, and at age 51 began having children. They had 2, John Knox Gwynne Craig, and Patsy Gwynne Craig
John Knox Gwynne Craig
John, my father, took an early interest in flying and was the second youngest Canadian to ever have a pilot’s license (at age 15).
I asked him what his interests were and he said “Speed. Anything fast. Driving, flying, skiing, you name it.”
“When did you graduate high school?”
He shrugs. “well… it took me a long time. I was busy racing around with my friends, and trying to come up with various schemes to make money.”
He also mentioned that he’s dyslexic and doesn’t see letter properly. “I only know words from lots of memorization. That’s how i had to learn everything, lots and lots of memorization.”
“I could do anything i wanted since i had no supervision at all. None, man.”
My grandmother, Anne, was a pretty hard core alcoholic, as was her mother before her, going back several generations. John’s sister Patsy started drinking at age 12.
Patsy too became an alcoholic and a real wild child. In 1959 she got pregnant, and unable to care for the baby, gave it up for adoption. She never saw him again until 6 months after i met her, looking for my father. Her son, Graham, through the hard work and diligence of his wife, tracked her down and called her up. He lives in Vancouver and they met. (while in Vancouver Patsy did try to look for John, but she tried under the name Craig instead of the name Gwynne-Craig.)
Patsy later had another daughter, who she raised, and at age 38 joined AA and quit drinking. I know all these details as history, but knowing her now, she is quite literally a beacon of light, and one of the kindest most beautiful souls i have ever met. She’s married to a great man named Dennis, and although currently in Virginia, they’re building a house near Taos, New Mexico.
Although John loved flying, his sinuses would dry up too much (just like mine do) and he had to stop. He took up skiing and loving the speed, he got really good and became part of the Professional Ski Racing circuit. This led to him traveling around constantly and he eventually got a green card in the US, in California. He continued traveling the ski circuit and eventually met a hotel receptionist name Jeanie. They fell in love.
They hung out in Lake Tahoe their first summer, both working in hotel that the mob was trying to get off the ground, John bartending and Jeanie running the restaurant. It was a blast and they were offered the opportunity to have steady employment setting up more resorts for the ‘Family’. They declined and instead moved to Aspen, Colorado, where John, because of his notoriety from Ski Racing, became a high paid ski instructor to the rich and famous.
They had a son, T, my brother, who lives in Maui.
John has a lot of stories from this time period. He was very good friends with Hunter S Thompson, who got him into more serious partying, particularly coke, which would soon become a very bad habit of John’s.
He was very close with Isabella Rosellini. The day after Janis Joplin got booed out of the Hollywood Bowl for being too messed up to perform, he met her in Mexico City, where she had fled alone, and the 2 of them holed up for 3 days, drinking daiquiris from noon to night. (“Didn’t sleep together, though. Just drank daiquiris. For her, it was cleaning up. Her nose would bleed a lot.)
He was living high and fast. The coke and drinking got out of control, and along with some womanizing, his marriage fell apart. His wife turned into an alcoholic herself.
Around this time he started having an affair with a hot, hippie chick who was a ski-bum in Vail, Colorado.
Since this girl had been told years before that she could never get pregnant, they didn’t ever use protection.
As we all know by now, she damn well did get pregnant (Yay!).
When asked about what he remembered about Gaile, the only thing i got was “She had these really, really bad menstrual cycles. Lots of blood and really bad cramps. She’d collapse on the street when the cramps started and you’ve have to carry her home where she’s hole up for 3 days.
Exactly at this time Jeanie caught him with aNOTHer woman and divorced the crap out of him. The divorce was brutal. He had a lot of money, but she took everything.
“I’ve had 3 nervous breakdowns in my life. I mean totally crazy in the head breakdowns. You gotta watch this.”
I asked when and why. The first one was the divorce from Jeanie. As to why or how:
“The thing is, I’m really, really emotional. I can’t see chick flicks because i get weepy at the drop of a hat. But the thing is, I hold it all in. I just keep it all inside, and eventually i just crack and break apart completely.”
This thing about really, really emotional and holding it all in describes me to a tee, and me and my wife have discussed this on many occasions.
Anyway, totally strung out on a major coke habit, drinking like a fish, marriage crashing and burning, wife taking every penny he had, he fell apart. On night his wife’s divorce attorney crashed his car and died, and the police came looking for John.
He bought a one way ticket to Europe where he grabbed a 3 month eurorail pass and drank his way across europe.
One night, in Antwerp, the police found him blitzed out on the train, an expired ticket taped to his chest, and dragged him off to jail.
A catholic priest came and pulled John Knox out of prison.
The priest took him to a rehab there in Antwerp, where he stayed for months, working as a janitor.
Eventually he left and wet to the Isle Of Wight. he got a job as a dock-boy in a yacht yard. He became friends with some of the wealthy yacht owners, and one of them paid for John to go get his Skipper’s License.
Thus John became a Skipper for various yachts and schooners, becoming very involved in yacht racing, where wealthy men paid him quite handsomely to race their boats.
He also would pilot large yachts around europe for wealthy owners and eventually made his way to the middle east.
He skippered for various wealthy Arabians, wealthy princes, oil barons, and even the Shah of Iran.
“These rich persian girls and princesses would take all their girlfriends and go cruising the european party circuit in their yacht. Them, all their girlfriends, and their Korean bodygaurds. No matter who it was, the bodygaurds were always Korean. As soon as they’d pull out of the Middle East they’d start drinking like whales. The men too, as soon as they took of their durkas they’d go crazy. The west for them was one big debaucherous party zone. The girls, man, they were horny as hell. All of them were circumcised, though. All of them. That’s a tragic thing….”
He would pilot the Shah of Iran’s boat regularly, and in the mid to late 70s was given a briefcase with $18,000 cash to take the Shah’s boat from Iran to Miami with a sealed hull he wasn’t allowed to ever open.
“So i drove it across the Atlantic, to New York, where i’d follow the coast down to Miami. Bu as soon as i got to US waters, the coast guard was sitting waiting for me. I thought, shit, what’s in this hull, i’m going to jail for life… but they just escorted me all the way down to Florida. Must have been some CIA approved plan. I eventually found out that the hull contained 25 million dollars worth of paintings the Shah was fleeing iran with. Then the revolution hit and the Ayatollah came to power.”
“You know, 3 times if my life i had lots of money. And 3 times i had it taken away. The first time was with Jeanie, and the divorce wiped me out. The second time was skippering all the yachts. I had a house in Spain, a house in France….”
Me: “What happened?”
John: “Women happened.”
Me: ” So what, you just gave them the houses?”
John: “Pretty much.”
He started moving further east, into the orient, now mostly piloting science vessels. Teams of scientist from all sorts of companies, corporations and what not would rent vessels to conduct ocean research and he would be the driver.
He spent a lot of time sailing out of India, Singapore, Thailand, Bangkok, etc.
In a hotel in the Philippines, he picked up a Philippino maid. They eventually fell in love.
She turned out to be the daughter of the hotel’s owner, and together they set up a resort on one of the islands. He would spend a few months skippering ships and a few months building the resort. It became quite successful and he was happy on the island with his wife.
“The resort was the 3rd time i had lots of money. We did real well. It was a beautiful, beautiful place. Had it all. Then my wife died. I wasn’t legally allowed to own property so it was all in her name. It reverted to her family who swooped in and took it all. Paid me pennies on the dollar. Just took it.”
“This was when i had my second nervous breakdown. I just fell apart.”
His wife dead, his enterprise taken from him, in 1996, he returned to Vancouver where he had been brought up.
Soon after arriving, he started coughing up blood and finding blood in his stools.
“I went to the hospital. They ran some tests, and the next thing i know i’m in a quarantine chamber, with attending doctors dressed in full body plastic suits drooling over my lab results. It turns out i had Tuberculosis, the same kind as that guy on the airplane had a few months back, worms living in my intestines, i had already been de-wormed once in Bangkok, but i guess it didn’t take, Dingy Fever, Dysentery, Bell’s Hausy Disease….
“I had just been walking around with all this stuff for who knows how long. The doctors were swooning with delight. I was a walking case study and they ran entire medical classes and lectures me. It took awhile, but they they eventually cured it all.”
Me: “Bloody hell! How’d you get all this crap?”
John: “The orient, there’s no hygiene. On the Ganji River, we be anchored in the middle of the river and dead bodies just float past. That’s how they get rid of their dead, just throw them in the river. The mosquitoes and flies, they’re feeding on the corpses then crawling on your food. Plus the drinking water…”
“So i got over all this stuff, and i’m doing all right. I’m going back for checkups and then bam, in 2004 i get diagnosed with liver cancer. A tumor the size of a baseball. They do laser surgery and take it out and i start a year of chemotherapy.
“It was too much. I couldn’t take it. This was third time i had a breakdown. I decided to kill myself. I wanted to die so bad… I got a whole bunch of pills together to do it.
I didn’t though. I don’t know why. I really wanted to. I never looked my age just like you, but after the diseases and the chemo, i suddenly aged very quickly. But the chemo ended and i was okay again. ”
And he is. He darts around at a rapid walking pace, occasionally breaking into full runs when he thinks a light will change.
And then one day, his sister, who he hadn’t seen or spoken to in 38 years, called him out of the blue.
They Skype now every day, talking for hours. He has now met a son he never knew he had, and will soon meet his long lost other son, who he last saw at age 4, 38 years ago.
And there you have it. The conclusion to my journey. I have met my birth father, i have learned of his life, i have discovered my lineage and ancestry.
And i still can’t explain why it just simply makes me sit and weep.
Paul Shapera Gwynne-Craig