Through Internet search angel, local man and birth mother united

It was just another cryptic e-mail from someone Dave Dunbar had never heard of. He was tempted to delete it, but something made him open the note from a woman he knew only as Mimi.

The letter requested if he was David Dunbar, born in the Los Angeles area on Oct. 12, 1959, to please respond. Intrigued, he responded yes, and enlisted his Internet-savy daughter, Paulette, 20, to find out who Mimi was. They found out Mimi was a Search Angel, a Los Angeles hospital gift shop volunteer who in her spare time, reunites parents with the children they gave up for adoption years ago.

Dunbar didn't know only hours before she had e-mailed him, Mimi had contacted Dee Wright of Clovis, Calif., the woman who gave David up for adoption in 1959. Wright had been searching for her son for 20 years. Mimi had found him in one hour.

"I kind of suspected what it was about, but I thought, 'Oh, she probably doesn't have the right gal,'" said Dunbar, 42, a counselor at China Spring Youth Camp south of Gardnerville.

Dunbar's parents, Dave and Jean, never hid from he or his sister, Debbie, that they were adopted.

"We couldn't have children," said Jean Dunbar of Washoe Valley. "Adoption is just the greatest if two people want children. You can't go out and steal them, so you sign up and hope your name comes up. It took close to five years to qualify. They were both 4-weeks-old when the State of California put those adorable babies in our arms. From then on, we became Mom and Dad. My kids knew they were adopted, but they knew they weren't any different from the kids next door. What we gave them was a home and security."

Dunbar, of Carson City, said he had an idyllic childhood with "a real stable family." His family moved from Los Angeles to Washoe Valley in the early '70s, and Dunbar graduated from Wooster High School in 1978. He worked for a while before becoming a police officer in Idaho. In 1990, he returned to Carson City where he became a Carson City Sheriff's deputy. He said he was very close to his father, who was killed in a plane crash in 1998. He lives in a comfortable home in southeast Carson with his wife of 10 years, Cheri and step-daughters Kirsten Chandler, 13, and Jennifer Robinson, 19.

Dunbar never went through the angst, he said, of needing to know where he came from. When Paulette was born, though, he and his former wife were baffled how two brown-haired, brown- and green-eyed people could have a blonde-haired, blue-eyed daughter. Dunbar joked, "It must have been the milk man," but he often wondered if his mysterious heritage had anything to do with Paulette's appearance.

"Sometimes during my birthday, I wondered what my biological mother was doing," Dunbar said. "What did she look like? Why was I adopted? I was curious, but I wasn't obsessed. Deep down, I always wondered who I looked like."

Wright, too, nearly deleted the e-mail from Mimi that ended up being the path to finding her son. She was deleting junk mail when the e-mail subject -- 10/12/59 -- caught her eye.

"(Mimi) said she thought she might be able to help me to find my son born on that date," Wright, 60, said. "I said, 'Wow.' I hoped, but you keep thinking, 'How could this be?' We e-mailed back and forth. She found him so fast. It all happened one night with e-mail."

In her mind, Wright always called the son she gave away Chris because he was born on Columbus Day. Married at 16, her husband left her when she got pregnant with her first son, Wayne. He returned after the baby's birth and two months later, Wright found herself pregnant and abandoned again.

"Now there was going to be two children I was going to have to care for, and I didn't see how I could do that," she said. "I couldn't see how I could make it not having a high school education. When you're young, you listen to your parents. I was scared. I wasn't emotionally ready to have children. At the time, it was a decision I made that it would be better for the baby to have a mom and a dad who could give it all the things it needed. If I had been a little more mature, I would have never have done it."

Although nurses weren't supposed to let her see her son after his birth, her tears at the viewing window touched one nurse who allowed her to see the baby for a few moments. She never saw him again.

"Everybody assures you at the time that a lot of people are on waiting lists to get a baby," Wright said. "So you knew someone would get the baby who really wanted the baby. I signed the paper and just went on with my life. I had a son to raise. I got a job, and went on."

She married Ken Wright in 1962 and had two daughters, Kelly and Linda. Her daughters didn't know until they were older they had another older brother somewhere. Around the time Dunbar would have been 21, Wright, a bus driver and grandmother of three, submitted her name to reunion registries in hope perhaps Dunbar would be looking, too.

Jean Dunbar volunteers at the local International Soundex Reunion Registry. She always encouraged her children to search for their birth families, especially after years of watching the anger some adopted children face when they begin their search.

"I feel very strongly people should know a bit more about their background," she said. "There's a lot of hope when you register. Lots of people will never hear from everyone. To get a birth parent and an adoptee together is very fulfilling for me and the people I work with."

Dunbar let his mother sign him up.

"She filled out the forms and I told her, 'I do have a birth mom, but you're my Mom," he said. "I could never replace her. She's one in a million. But I just wanted to meet (my birth mother) look into her eyes and ask her why."

Although both Wright and Dunbar were on search registries, they never connected. How Mimi connected the two is a mystery she wouldn't divulge, Dunbar said. Regardless, soon after Mimi confirmed that Wright and Dunbar were mother and son, she acted as a third party to connect them through e-mail.

"Both of us had fears," Dunbar said. "Neither of us wanted to interrupt the other's life. But I was like, 'This is really cool. Gosh, does she really want to meet me?'"

The first e-mails were simple chatter. He found out about his siblings; Wright found out she was not only a grandmother, but a great-grandmother. The first phone call, however, was a little harder.

"I got to the last number and I froze. I was like, 30 seconds, but it seemed like five minutes," he said. "She said hello, and I knew it was her."

Wright knew Dunbar was hers before she heard his voice, identical in pattern to her son, Wayne, because of the hobbies -- hot rods, hunting, dogs -- listed in his e-mail.

"It was amazing. It was like something I wanted all his life, and it was coming true," Wright said. "Your emotions, I can't describe it. It was an emotional drain. Not a downer, but something you never thought would come true."

The two made plans to meet and in August, Dunbar, Paulette and her new daughter, Dyllan, drove to Clovis to meet their new family.

They were greeted by yellow ribbons tied to a white fence beckoning them home. Wright's husband told her to go inside the house so he could photograph the whole event, but she couldn't stand the suspense. She ran from the door and gave him a hug before she ever saw his face.

"I thought he wasn't going to quit squeezing," she said. "There was a piece of my heart missing. A lot of the times I didn't know it, but I sure know it now. My life is filled up. I'm complete."

They discovered they had the same feet. Looking on his blond-haired, blue-eyed mother, Paulette's appearance made sense.

"It's kind of spooky having all those feelings," Dunbar said. "I'm very grateful; I'm lucky. I have two moms. We're building a friendship, and now I understand the whole story. Obviously, we can't make up for 41 years, but we're trying."

Neither Wright or Jean Dunbar have any problem sharing a son.

"He's in my life, and I'm in his," Wright said. "It's just like he's always been with us. I don't know what we he went through exactly, but we can make the best of what time we have left."

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