Joan Larsen’s Life Stories: A Father’s Quest: Finding Debra

Posted on June 14, 2017


By Joan Larsen

So often it is just a single moment in time that will change our lives forever.  Many of us have had such moments as we have traveled the road of life. But a true fairy tale ending as this story has? I would call it rare. I would call it a miracle come true.

The only child of a wealthy Midwestern family, Debra had been my own daughter’s college roommate. When her own mother found that she planned to marry a young man who was not “in their  stratosphere” in life, her mother disowned her, wiping her out of her life and inheritance forever. Long before, we had taken this lovely girl into our hearts. It then seemed pre-ordained that she become part of our family’s life. She became “ours”. Later, her two children became our grandchildren, loved and adored. We do find, don’t we, that hearts can open as wide as needed when real love is involved?

And then – so many years later – the phone rang at the sheep ranch in the Bitterroot Valley in Montana that Debra had moved to less than a week before. She answered, and heard a wonderful voice saying “I have spent the last 27 years looking for you.” And then, slowly and very carefully, he broke it to her that he was her real father – the father she had never been told she had. Once married to her mother, he too found that he wasn’t “good enough” for her mother’s family and her mother. A divorce was arranged – a divorce that her father had fought – when Debra was only two.

Father and daughter talked for hours that night. He told her he lived in a penthouse on Lake Shore Drive near the Drake Hotel in Chicago. The doctors at Northwestern Hospital had told him that he may not live through an operation 10 days hence. Would she like to come and meet him? Her breath was taken  away… but with many tears, she said “yes.”  With no time to spare, he made first-class airline reservations for her to fly to Chicago, saying that if she was not comfortable upon meeting him, she could return home right then. There was no detail he had not thought of to make her feel comfortable.

And so it came to be. They recognized each other at the airport, looking that much alike. They would walk a few steps, stop and talk and hug. And cry. There was much crying on both their parts as Debra heard of her father’s early days of her parents’ marriage in the time before the family stepped in. Her father had legal documents of his quest to get custody of her. Not knowing until then if she was alive, not knowing that he had two wonderful grandchildren, he now had his attorney come to his penthouse home while she was there, making new arrangements for trusts for the best college educations for her boys, leaving all of his fortunes to her. He was determined to make it through the operation that week – for her, for her boys that he had not yet met.

She called me, crying with happiness. Looking out the window high up and overlooking Lake Michigan, I remember her saying: “I feel like I am a princess.  My father and I are so alike that he is my other half.”  She never once left the hospital, staying night and day at his side during his 10-day stay. Under these special circumstances, their love flourished. For the next 10 months, all of their visits back and forth between Montana and Chicago were often. And heartfelt. The circle of love was never so alive and well.

Another call 10 months later. Another flight for her, another run to Northwestern Hospital to bring him back to his apartment for the last time. He passed away with her at his side one day later. His business acumen, his financial help allowed her and his grandchildren to attain goals that would have been otherwise impossible. But, more than that, in a single phone call – a phone call “meant to be”, a loving family was united. Forever after, there is a continual flow of love for this father and grandfather who is always warmly talked about – in this family’s world of moving remembrances that never cease to be spoken. I had always felt that we must never stop believing in miracles.

But this one stands apart.

Writer Joan Larsen, loving “adoptive” mother and grandmother to Debra and her two boys, boys who shower her with love, was there to see this family reunited – from its very beginnings to its untimely early end. The bond between father and daughter had to be seen to be believed. The love between father and daughter – and father and his two perfect grandchildren – still tugs at her heartstrings. A celebration of Debra’s father’s life each year at this time of Thanksgiving is powerful. For each of us it is a weekend filled with joy and laughter . . . and so many remembrances of this special man who had suddenly come into our lives, making us feel more alive than we ever had. If there is such a thing as a love without end, it will always be alive and well in each one of our hearts.