A Thrilling Surprise
Dana Folz was eight years old when he learned that he was adopted. Years later, he began to wonder, ‘Who is my mother? What was she like? Why did she give me up for adoption? Do I have brothers or sisters?’ Read Dana’s account of how he finally found his birth mother and of the dramatic surprise that followed.
I WAS born August 1, 1966, in Ketchikan, Alaska, U.S.A. My sister Pam was two years older than I. Our father was a social worker for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and he was transferred often. We moved from place to place in Alaska. Afterward, we lived in Iowa, Oklahoma, Arizona, and Oregon.
While we were visiting relatives in Wisconsin in the summer of 1975, some cousins of mine made unkind remarks about another cousin. “He is adopted,” they said, “and so is not really a Folz.” After we returned home, I asked Mother about this and was surprised by the shocked expression on her face. She explained what adoption is. That night, as tears flowed from her eyes, she told me that I was adopted and that my sister was too.
Adoption did not mean that much to me then, and for a while I gave it little further thought. I had a mom and a dad, and life seemed to be the way it was supposed to be. My parents decided to stop moving and let the family put down roots. When I was nine, we settled in Vancouver, Washington. Dad and I were very close, while Mom and I were less so. I was independent and rebellious at times, and the frustration that this caused Mom may explain why we seemed to drift apart.
Romance and College
When I was in high school, I met Trina, and we hit it off right away. After graduation I accepted an academic scholarship to Oregon State University, in Corvallis, Oregon. I spent my free time traveling back and forth to Vancouver to be with Trina, who had a year left in high school. I did little studying but figured I would do all right in college anyway. My first report card was a shock—it was the worst one I had ever had! I was embarrassed. But I didn’t stop visiting Trina; I just took my books with me so I could study during my visits.
Then, one day, while riding my motorcycle back to school from Vancouver, I was involved in a serious accident. Shortly after that I was injured even more seriously when I was hit by a car while crossing a street at a crosswalk. I began working and lost the desire to return to college.
Interest in Religion
In time, Trina and I began living together. We believed in God and wanted to know him. However, we felt that the churches were hypocritical. So we tried to read the Bible on our own, but we couldn’t make head or tail of it.
One day, on my job in Portland, Oregon, coworkers began teasing a man whom I considered one of the nicest people I had ever met. Randy calmly put up with the harassment. Later that day I asked him: “What’s this I hear about your being a minister?”
“That’s right, I am,” he said.
“With whom?” I asked.
“I’m one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
“Who are Jehovah’s Witnesses?”
“Are you serious?” he asked with a puzzled expression.
“Yes,” I said. “Who are Jehovah’s Witnesses? Should I know?”
“Yes,” he said with a smile, “you should know. What are you doing for lunch?”
That was the first of a number of lunchtime Bible discussions. One night I told Trina about them. “Don’t talk to Jehovah’s Witnesses!” she exclaimed. “They’re weird! They aren’t even Christians. They don’t celebrate Christmas.” And she went on to tell me other things that she had heard about Jehovah’s Witnesses.
“Someone has told you a lot of things that just aren’t true,” I said. After a lengthy conversation, I was able to convince her that she hadn’t heard the whole truth. After that, she began having me ask Randy questions, and I would bring back one clear Scriptural answer after another. Finally, Trina said: “I never knew all of this was in the Bible, but I still think they’re weird. If you want to keep talking to him about the Bible, I don’t care; but just don’t come home and push it on me.”
A Distressful Period
I believed what I was learning from the Bible, but I felt I just couldn’t live up to it. Trina and I seemed to be fighting more and more. So a friend and I decided to leave our girlfriends and start a new life in Oklahoma. I arranged for a leave of absence from work. Soon, my friend and I were settled in an apartment in a small town near the Texas border. It didn’t take me long to realize how much I missed Trina, but I decided I was going to have fun anyway.
I learned that the drinking age in Texas was 19, so when my friend left for a trip, I crossed the border one night to enjoy myself at a well-known rock-’n’-roll bar. I got really drunk, wrecked my car, and was taken off to jail. In time, I was able to contact my dad, and he bailed me out. Also, Trina took me back, for which I was thankful! I returned to my old job and resumed Bible discussions with Randy.
Taking Control of My Life
It had been nearly two years since I had first heard about Jehovah’s Witnesses, and I decided to become more involved in my Bible study. I was now 20 years old, and the questions regarding my adoption that I mentioned at the beginning of this article began to plague me. So I started to make a serious search for my birth mother.
I called the hospital in Alaska where I was born and asked how to proceed. After learning what to do, I obtained a copy of my original birth certificate and I discovered that my mother’s name was Sandra Lee Hirsch; but there was no listing for my father. Sandra was only 19 when I was born, so I assumed that she must have been a scared, single girl who had got into trouble and had made a very tough decision. There was not enough information on my birth certificate for me to locate my mother.
In the meantime, as a result of my Bible study with Randy, I was convinced that I had found the true religion. But I failed time and again to give up the defiling use of tobacco. (2 Corinthians 7:1) I felt that Jehovah had given up on me. Then, a Witness at the Kingdom Hall said something that really helped me. He mentioned that Satan is the one who wants us to fail and that it is sad to see some lose out on everlasting life by giving up. “We need to throw our burdens on Jehovah,” he said, “and rely completely on him to help us through our times of trouble.”—Psalm 55:22.
That was exactly what I needed to hear! I began to apply what he said, praying often for Jehovah’s help. Soon, I quit using tobacco, Trina and I were married, and I became regular in my Bible studies. In time, Trina also began to study. I symbolized my dedication to Jehovah by water baptism on June 9, 1991. Less than two weeks later, our first daughter, Breanna Jean, was born.
My Relationship With Dad
My dad and I were close. He was a very kind person who was always there with encouragement when I was frustrated. Yet, he was firm when I needed discipline. So, it was a difficult time early in 1991 when I learned that Dad had terminal lung cancer. By that time Mom and Dad had moved to Hamilton, Montana. We often traveled there to see him and to try to give support to Mom.
We were able to give Dad the book Is This Life All There Is? He promised to read it and said that he was worried about the welfare of his family. On my last visit, he told me how proud he was to have me as his son and how much he loved me. Then, as tears burst forth, he turned his head toward the window. We hugged several times before I left. Dad read about a third of the book before he died, on November 21, 1991.
After Dad’s death and our subsequent move to Moses Lake, Washington, I had an even deeper desire to learn about my past. But despite all the time that I devoted to the search, we did not neglect spiritual interests. Trina was baptized on June 5, 1993, and six months later she gave birth to our second daughter, Sierra Lynn.
How I Found My Birth Mother
I kept chipping away at Alaska’s legal system, writing letter after letter to various agencies as well as making my own computer searches. It was all to no avail. Then, toward the end of 1995, I had a medical checkup that revealed a heart irregularity. I was only 29, and my doctor wanted to know my medical history.
The doctor wrote a thorough, precise request, emphasizing that information in my adoption files could be vital to my physical welfare. In time, we received a response. It contained a judge’s ruling declaring that he did not feel my medical need was serious enough to open the files. I was devastated. But a few weeks later, a letter arrived from a second judge. A court order had granted me access to my adoption files!
My actual adoption files arrived in early January 1996. They gave my birth mother’s hometown and family background. Immediately, I did a computer search of Sandra’s name along with the name of her hometown and came up with six phone listings. Trina and I decided that it was best that Trina make the phone calls. On the third call, a woman said that Sandra was her niece and provided her phone number.
The Call and the Surprise
When Trina called the number, the woman who answered refused to identify herself. Finally, Trina said point-blank: “My husband was born in Ketchikan, Alaska, on August 1, 1966, and I need to know if you are the person I’m looking for.” There was a long silence, and then, in a shaky voice, the woman asked for Trina’s name and phone number and said she would call back. I didn’t think she would call back right away, so I decided to get some things we needed at the store.
When I returned, Trina was on the phone and was teary eyed. She handed the phone to me. As Mother and I said hellos and exchanged small talk, Trina urgently whispered, “She really wanted to keep you.” My heart went out to Mother as she began telling about herself. “I want to thank you for the life you gave me,” I said. “I have a good life and have had all the things I’ve needed. I have had good parents and lots of love and now have a wonderful wife and two beautiful daughters. I am very happy.”
She began to cry. As we continued to talk, she told me of being raped, becoming pregnant, and receiving pressure to give me up; then she told me that afterward she married and that some time later, while she was in the hospital recovering from surgery, her baby daughter and her mother were killed in a fire. She said that at the time she felt that God had taken these loved ones away in payment for the son she had given up. “No,” I immediately responded, “God doesn’t work that way!” She said she knew that now, for after that tragedy, she had begun “searching for Bible truth” and was now “a Bible student.”
I began thinking, ‘This couldn’t be true,’ as I asked: “Who did you study with?” There was a long silence. Then she said: “Jehovah’s Witnesses.” I was so shaken that I couldn’t speak. In tears, I finally struggled to say, “I am a Witness too.” When I repeated it more clearly, she was beside herself with joy. It was all too wonderful!
Mother became a Witness in 1975, sometime after the death of her baby daughter. When her husband began to progress spiritually, she told him about me. He comforted her and said that they would look for me. But not long afterward, he was killed in a car accident, leaving her with three small children to raise. We talked for hours for several evenings thereafter. Finally, we decided to meet in Phoenix, Arizona, the second week of February 1996. Mother had already planned to visit there with another Christian sister.
A Memorable Reunion
For this trip Trina and I left our children at home. As I walked off the plane, I saw my mother and was finally able to hug her. When we embraced, she said she had waited 29 years to hold me, and she held me for a long time. We had a wonderful visit and shared pictures and stories. The highlight, however, was sitting next to Mother at a Kingdom Hall in Phoenix! We listened to the meeting together and stood next to each other as we sang Kingdom songs. It was a grand feeling that I will remember forever.
In April 1996, my sister Laura came from her home in Iowa to visit us. How wonderful to enjoy warm Christian association with her! I have also talked on the phone with my two newfound brothers. To be united with my family is wonderful, but to be united in love within Jehovah’s organization is a gift that only our great God, Jehovah, could give.—As told by Dana Folz.
[Picture on page 23]
With my birth mother