In the winter of 1993, my dad and I were in Florida. This trip had been an annual excursion for us during middle and high school. Each winter, we would venture down to Deerfield Beach to meet up with my snow-bird grandparents and my great-aunt who resided there full time. We would spend most of our time fishing with a bit of beach time thrown in. Once I got to college, the trips fell off. In 1993, while I was in graduate school, we decided to rekindle the old tradition and headed south. We stayed with my friends Jeff and Sondra for a few days. One evening, Jeff and Sondra’s friend was hosting a party. My dad and I were invited. Even though the party was full of twenty-somethings, my dad (in his forties at that time) could certainly hold his own with the younger crowd. He was the eternal kid, refusing to grow up.
As the night wore on and we got caught up in the festivities, several of the party goers kept joking that one of the young women at the party looked like she could be my father’s daughter and my sister. I couldn’t disagree. She had the classic Goldsmith curls and blue eyes. At some point, after the joke had been repeated to us again…”She looks like she could be your daughter…”, my father turned to me and said “Could be.” I just laughed. He said, “No, really.” Confused, I asked what he meant. This is the story he told me that night in 1993.
Back in 1965, my dad was in Fort Lauderdale on winter break from college. Always trying to be a ladies man, he got together with a local girl. They had one night together and he returned to college at SUNY Plattsburgh a few days later. Several months after that, the college administration received a phone call from a lawyer in Fort Lauderdale asking to be connected to my father’s parents (my grandparents). The lawyer informed my grandparents that my dad had impregnated a sixteen-year-old girl in Fort Lauderdale and that the family was requesting that they sign papers that they would never try to take custody of the child and send $500 for her care. So, they did as they were asked. The papers were signed, the money was sent and that was the end of the story.
As the only child of my father and only grandchild of my grandparents on that side of the family, my head swirled as I considered the implications. “So, you mean I might have a sibling?”
“You might,” he responded. “I really don’t know what happened after that. She may have had an abortion or maybe she was never pregnant in the first place.”
“Do you recall the girl’s name?”
He wasn’t totally sure but gave me a few options. I asked if he minded if I tried to find her. He said he didn’t. And so, my search began.
At that time, there was no internet to make things easier. Over the next several years, I tracked down the person my father told me about. I didn’t find the right person. Over time, the whole situation drifted to the back of my mind. I became somewhat resigned to the fact that I would never find her or a possible sibling.
Fast-forward to January 4th, 2018. I got a friend request on Facebook from someone I didn’t know. The face, a young boy with a fake mustache, didn’t ring a bell and the name was not familiar. I sometimes get requests from people based on my book or conferences and workshops where I present, but this didn’t even seem like it was that. So, I deleted the request.
Skip to January 7th, 2018. I open my messenger app to see a message from the same person whose request I had declined and deleted. If the person is not already your friend, you can choose to accept the message or not. I was about to delete it when I saw that it was quite long. Something told me I should read it. So, I opened the message. This is how it began…
“You know that whole “long-lost brother” cliché? Well, even clichés have to be occasionally accurate.” I dropped the phone and screamed for Deirdre (my wife) to come downstairs. No one else was home. She raced down the steps, mirroring my panic.
“Do you remember that story about my dad and the girl in Florida and the maybe sibling I might have?”
“Yes,” she responded.
“Well,” I began, breathless, feeling dizzy. “I think they found me.” The rest of the message was essentially the same story my father told me from the other side. The writer noted that he was not 100% sure that he was right but was hoping I could help solve the puzzle. Barely able to breathe, I responded to the message:
“100% sure. Here’s my phone number….”
Fifteen minutes later, I was talking to my brother who, before that day, I never knew existed. I cannot possible explain how surreal that moment was for me. Between his message and our first conversation, my newly found brother, John Schweig, explained his side of the story. The money sent to the family went to put his mother into something called a “Maternity House.” This was a home that teenage mothers could live during the final few months of their pregnancy, since teen pregnancies were frowned on back in those days, especially in the south. When he was born, John was immediately given up for adoption and his mother returned to her family. He was adopted by a couple (a blended Christian and Jewish marriage). The woman was a teacher and the man was a doctor. He was raised as their child with no knowledge of being adopted. It was only in his twenties, years after his adopted father had passed away, that John was told that he was adopted. Upon hearing this news, John found his biological mother fairly quickly. When he indicated that he wanted to find his father, he had few clues. His mother couldn’t recall the exact name…either Ted Goldsmith or Ted Goldstien from some college in the northeast. She also told him that he had been in Fort Lauderdale for a collegiate swim meet at the Swimming Hall of Fame. From that time forward, he attempted half-heartedly to find his father, not knowing that the information he had would never lead him down the correct path. Our father’s actual name is Michael. Theodore is his middle name but he went by “Ted.” The swim meet? Well, that was a pick-up line. He wasn’t a swimmer. So, while searching for a collegiate swimmer named Ted, he should have been looking for a regular college dude named Michael.
In late 2017, John’s girlfriend Sharon bought him a membership which came with a DNA test from Ancestry.com. When he took the test, the results had a hit for a “First or Second Cousin” named Thomas Goldsmith. Recognizing that the last name was one of the options his mother had given him, John pursued this lead. Thomas had little information in his Ancestry profile, however, after weeks of searching and piecing information together, John discovered that Thomas had a first cousin named Michael Theodore Goldsmith who’s birthdate would make him the right age to be the man who spent one night with his mother in December 1965. After some more research, he discovered that Michael Theodore Goldsmith had passed away in 2010. In the obituary, I was listed as his son. John took to Facebook and searched through all the Scott Goldsmiths until he found one connected to a Thomas Goldsmith. Then, he wrote the note. John informed me that not only did I have a brother, but a twelve-year-old nephew named Vince.
As I said earlier, I will never be able to put into words the surreal feelings I had that day. And those feelings have still not fully subsided. After our first forty-five minute conversation, I realized that I had some phone calls to make. I called my mother who had known the story but thought she recalled being told by my grandmother that the girl had an abortion. My step-mother knew nothing of the story. I had to inform my sister that she was no longer my only biological sibling and had to inform my daughters about their grandfather’s transgressions. Everyone had positive, supportive responses. My girls were thrilled to learn that they had another cousin!
For the next several months, John and I kept up an ongoing dialogue through phone calls, emails, Facebook messages and texts. I sent pictures and tried to fill in the details about our father and our family. We knew we would have to meet. John told me that he lived in Sarasota Florida with his girlfriend. Vince divided his time between his mother’s house and John’s house. He told me that I had a place in Sarasota any time I wanted! We decided that I would come down to meet him and his family on my April vacation.
On April 7th, 2018, four months to the day that we had first connected, I was headed to Tampa International Airport. It was a warm, sunny evening when I exited the plane, my heart racing as I headed through the crowded terminal towards the gates. I wasn’t exactly sure where I was going to meet John but I had seen pictures so knew who to be looking for. A few minutes later, our eyes met for the first time. I had thought about that first encounter countless times over the previous few weeks but still had absolutely no idea how either one of us was going to react.
We were both smiling as I approached. Then, we hugged and both said “Hey brother!” We stepped back and simply stared at each other for a long moment, still smiling and shaking our heads in disbelief. As we began walking and chatting about the flight, we kept looking at each other. I told him he better get his looking in now since he was driving and that I would be staring at him the whole way to his house!
Over the next few days, my brother and I got to know each other. I was absolutely floored at how many things we had in common, like our taste in music, the fact that we both went to college for journalism (though I eventually opted for psychology) and we were both educators. But what was even crazier was the mannerisms we shared and those that he had that were clearly from our father. Facial expressions, ways of sitting, the “hand thing” my dad and I both did where we clapped and rubbed our palms together when telling stories. It was uncanny. Clearly, we were a living study of nature versus nurture and nature was winning.
We had a truly amazing week. We hit it off immediately and I felt a connection with John that I have never really felt with anyone else. I know it sounds crazy but I believe there is definitely a connection you can have with a blood brother even if you grew up worlds apart. There was a part of me that I never really knew was missing that was now found.
John and Vince came up north in June. They met the rest of my family and the extended family he never knew he had on Long Island. We spent time with my step-mother Ellen at her home, the place where she and my dad lived and where he died. I took him to places that were important to our father and I (like the Brightwaters Canal, where I learned to fish from our father and grandfather) and the house where our dad and my grandparents lived. Essentially, John walked through his father’s life path without ever meeting him. I have no doubt that it was a bitter-sweet experience.
We still keep in touch on a regular basis and I’ll be seeing him again in April. As cliché as it may be, I am so blessed to have found (or been found by) my long-lost brother!
This was the very first picture we took together…in the car at the airport, only about 10 minutes after we met!