Clippings by John Flowers: Chance encounter boosts family

I had kept abreast of his life during the past three years very impersonally and from afar, through Facebook. I didn’t know how to break the ice, because the last time I saw Charlie, he was in diapers making mayhem. Now in his mid-20s, I learned that Charlie was still making some mayhem — though thankfully not of the law-breaking variety, just through his rock band and other youthful pursuits.
Charlie is my half-brother, with whom I lost contact two decades ago after our dad died. Never got to know him much as a child. He and his brother, Donny, left the region with their mom soon after dad’s death. Wondered if I’d ever see Charlie and Donny again, though we briefly saw Donny about six years ago, in Maine. Donny has since relocated to California to pursue a career as a martial arts fighter and instructor.
But Charlie had remained a mystery. He had accepted my “friend” request on Facebook, but there never seemed to be an appropriate conversation-starter. Soooo, what have you been up to since you stopped using a pacifier? Remember me?
Of course there was no way he would remember me, and at 51, I’m old enough to be his dad. Figured he might look upon me as a comparative fossil with whom he had little in common. I wasn’t naïve enough to think he would welcome me with open arms as the proverbial brother-from-another-mother.
Still, I decided to make an initial overture last year, e-mailing him some photos of our dad, whom he never got to know. He politely accepted the photos, but the gesture failed to produce an entrée into a more meaningful rapport.
Was I coming on too strong? Was his polite-but-brief response an indication that he’d like to maintain the status quo? Perhaps he wasn’t ready, at this point in his life, to climb the branches of a family tree that had heretofore remained hidden to him.
Fair enough. I decided to continue to give Charlie his distance — until this past May. My wife Dottie and I planned an anniversary sojourn to the Kennebunk area of Maine, not too far from where my dad lived during the final years of his too-short life. As we considered activities and spots to visit in the area, we dared to imagine an impromptu face-to-face with Charlie. So we looked up his workplace, a Portland restaurant, and popped the address in our GPS on a Saturday night. Didn’t even know if he was on duty that night. We left it all to chance.
I was a ball of sweaty nerves as I sauntered into the restaurant, Dottie in front of me.
And there he was. There was no mistaking it from the Facebook photos. Handsome young man, tanned skin, Asian features from his mom, unmistakable facial contours from our dad.
As I gathered my wits, Dottie asked him the rhetorical question: “Are you Charlie?”
“Yeah,” he replied cheerfully, clearly surprised to be recognized by some strangers.
“Well, this guy is your brother,” she said, pointing to me.
We stared at each other briefly, a moment frozen in time. A generational déjà vu.
Then the smiles appeared simultaneously on our faces, followed by some hearty handshakes. We looked each other over, searching for clues that might confirm our shared bloodline. And there were few clues of course. In one corner: older, very white guy with no hair, blue eyes, thin face and slight build. In the other corner: young guy, mop of black hair, brown thin eyes with wider face. Both of us around the same height.
We engaged in some brief small talk, as we did not want to get him in trouble with his bosses. But we clearly made a connection. I passed him another photo of our dad, which we were able to view this time together. He wrote down his contact information — with his left hand.
“You’re a lefty, like dad,” I blurted, a common trait he had never been told.
The Celtics were squaring off against the Knicks in a basketball playoff game on the TV above us. He said he liked basketball; I had been a Celtics fan since 1980, way before he was born. A common interest we could share.
Dottie and I ate our food and shared more friendly glances with Charlie as he worked his shift. We parted ways, promising to stay in touch and further the serendipitous connection we had made.
So it was a great trip. Dottie and I were able to fete our 23rd, and the family just got bigger.

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