For the two men who met for the first time–50 years after one had to give up the other for –the eyes are more than windows to the soul.
They’re like genetic markers, linking father and son.
Warren Woodward noticed it long before he ever met his biological father in person. He was trying to find more information about the teenage couple who put him up for in 1966, and his search led to the Facebook page of of Spotsylvania County.
Woodward looked at a younger version of Fagan–and saw himself. Same blue eyes, same nose and chin, same forehead and haircut.
“I stared at that screen, realizing I was looking at a mirror,” Woodward said. “I never felt that way before in my life. It was like, Oh, my God, I think that’s my dad.”
Woodward, 50, and Fagan, 68, met for the first time on Wednesday, and like their wives and children, embraced each other and the new branch of their family tree.
While Woodward wasn’t sure a few years ago if he should search for his biological parents–because maybe they didn’t want to be found–and Fagan was so nervous the day before their meeting, he was walking into closets, neither man could be happier with how things turned out.
“It’s a warm, gratifying feeling,” Fagan said.
‘SCARED TO DEATH’
There wasn’t such a warm reception more than half a century ago when the parents of Michele Gray found out she was in a family way.
Known as Shelly, she and “Kenny” Fagan were an item at Stafford High School. She was 15, a “dark-haired doll baby,” and he was 17 and a member of the football team. Mutual friends introduced them at the Fredericksburg Fairgrounds.
“It was love at first sight,” he said.
Months later, when her father, an officer in the Marine Corps, found out she was pregnant, he made it clear “this ain’t gonna happen on my watch,” Fagan said. He immediately sent her to live with relatives up north and informed her she would put up the baby for .
“We just did what we were told,” Fagan remembered. “We were scared to death anyway.”
An was arranged through the Barker Foundation in Washington, and Fagan had to sign off on it. His father took him to the agency, three days after the little boy was born on Dec. 16, 1966.
The teenage couple walked down the hall and peered through the window at the baby she had named Robert. They hugged, she cried, and he walked out of the agency.
Snow was falling, and he trudged about five blocks through the mess while his father followed behind him.
“It was kind of heartbreaking,” Fagan said.
LIFE GOES ON
Over the years, he thought about “Robbie,” wondering where he was and what he was doing. But life went on.
“You accept the fact that he’s gone and somebody’s him,” Fagan said.
Fagan got married and had three children. He spent 24 years with the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control and has worked in real estate for the last 16 years. That’s as long as he and his wife, Teresa, have been married.
Likewise, Shelly Gray married, and Fagan heard she had moved to New Orleans. The high school sweethearts were in touch a few times over the years and always spoke highly of each other.
Few people knew about their baby. There was some talk at school when she suddenly disappeared, but no one would have said a bad word about Gray in front of Fagan.
He would have knocked their heads off, he said.
NO ‘BURNING DESIRE’
The little boy nicknamed Robbie was by a well-known pathologist and school teacher and named Warren Woodward. He and his sister lived with their parents in Chevy Chase, Md.
For as long as he can remember, Woodward knew he was . But he never had a “burning desire” to find the people who brought him into the world; he wasn’t even all that curious.
“There was nothing missing in my life,” he said. “I was perfectly complete.”
He and his wife, Alicia, live in Salt Lake City, Utah, where he’s a director for an internet service provider. They have three sons: Greyson, 10; Ethan, 8; and Westley, 4.
He was almost 40 when he and Alicia were expecting Greyson (whose name is interesting considering his biological mother’s maiden name was Gray, but Woodward didn’t know that at the time.)
He’d seen the movie “Philomena,” about an Irish woman who gave up her son and later searched for him. About the same time, he also read a magazine story about people using ancestry.dna to connect with long-lost relatives.
Woodward knew nothing about his medical history or heritage. Was he prone to heart disease or cancer? Scandinavian or Mediterranean? Maybe a test could provide some answers.
He found out he was Irish, and the search identified a first cousin in Fredericksburg. Woodward contacted him but got no response.
He spent another year pondering what to do. He discussed it with his parents because he didn’t want them to be hurt. Likewise, he wanted to let his biological parents, if they were interested in hearing from him, know that all is well.
“I wanted to tell them to rest easy,” he said.
He eventually checked into the agency and learned it had a reunion service. For about $500 to cover court fees and expenses, a staff member would work as an intermediary and reach out to Woodward’s biological parents.
Woodward decided to give it a try.
‘A HOLE IN MY HEART’
That was November 2015. Within three months, Fagan and Woodward were calling and emailing each other.
One weekend night, Fagan texted that he was sitting on his porch, smoking a cigar, drinking Irish whiskey and listening to an Irish rock group, the Pogues.
When Woodward’s wife heard that, she exclaimed there was no doubt that Fagan was his father. The younger man enjoys the same things.
Through Fagan, Woodward learned more about his biological mother and how to reach her. The agency asked her permission to share contact information, just as it did with Fagan, and while Woodward waited to hear from her, he wondered, once more, if he was doing the right thing.
“It quickly became the best decision I ever made,” he said.
The two had an immediate connection and quickly made plans to meet in person. Woodward already has visited her and speaks with her regularly.
The former Shelly Gray didn’t want to be interviewed, but she gave Woodward permission to share her first email to him. Woodward’s blue eyes got a little misty as he reviewed it.
She said how grateful she was to his “amazingly wonderful parents” and stunned by how much he looked like his father. She thanked him for thinking of her, for looking for her. She shared some pertinent medical history, that kidney disease runs rampant on her side of the family.
She tried to explain what it was like for her and Kenny Fagan, all those years ago.
“We really loved each other in high school but we were so young and stupid,” she wrote. “This situation really happened to all three of us, Warren. It left us all broken. … I have had a hole in my heart for longer than I care to remember but can never forget.”
The Woodwards finished their visit to the Fagans with a carriage ride through downtown Fredericksburg on Thursday afternoon. Then, they were off to see some of Alicia Woodward’s relatives in Indiana, then to New Orleans to visit his biological mother.
The family regularly packs up the minivan to spend three weeks on the road during the summer. They cover about 6,000 miles round trip, as they visit relatives on the East Coast.
Before Woodward met his biological parents, he didn’t have much of a family tree beyond his parents and sister. Now, he’s got relatives in several states and his sons have bunches of cousins on their father’s side.
“It feels ridiculously natural,” Woodward said. “We are warmly welcomed everywhere we go.”
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