I had never met my dad.
When I was 13 I went to the Compton library and pored through a stack of phone books searching for him. I staked out a desk near the reference collection and pulled out four or five phone books from Omaha, Nebraska. I would open to the H’s, run my finger down the page until I found “Hall,” and then scan for “Odell.” With pen in hand, I’d write out a list of suspects, one by one.
I had discussed looking for my birth dad with my foster father to be sure I would not hurt him. He always wanted me to be a Crooms in name as much as I was in spirit. But I felt there was too much invested in my name already. I was not just Anthony. I was Anthony Mays. I couldn’t give that up. My fledgling reputation had been built upon that name—albeit, one without a legacy. There was no history in it. No glory, no baggage. I had determined to start a new heritage under a name that I alone owned. It would be whatever I made of it.
When I returned home with my list of names I went to my room, closed the door, and began making phone calls. I’d sometimes get an intercept message telling me the number “has been disconnected or is no longer in service.” Other times, a white guy’s voice answered and I knew I had reached another dead end. With every phone call, I knew my life might be only seconds away from changing forever.
Exhausting the list, I gave up. I was more relieved by this failure than disappointed. I found comfort in knowing that nothing had changed. I would still be me. Besides, I had done OK so far. I was straight “A” student. I knew how to write computer code and I was learning a lot about this new thing called the internet. I had a future; one that did not depend on me knowing my dad.
But now it’s 2006, and I am staring at the tender face of my newly-born son. Next to my wife, he is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. I can tell he will be handsome. My heart is full. Everything I had accomplished in life had all been about this moment. My son would know who I am, and I would know who he is. I would love and live beside him for as long as the sovereign Lord and God would allow.
At that moment, I realized that I needed to look for my dad once more. The decision was no longer mine alone. The way I saw it, I could not rob my son of the chance to know his grandfather the same way it had been robbed from me. I had to try again.
Why did I have confidence that I might succeed this time around? What would make this search different than the one I had conducted seven years prior?
In a word, Google. I had Google.
By 2006, the company’s brand had become a ubiquitous household name. It’s search engine was so popular and effective that, when people needed to learn anything, they would “Google” it. I had never tried Googling my dad. That was about to change.
Being older and wiser, I did my homework this time. I first searched for information on how to properly conduct my nationwide manhunt. My dad was a complete stranger to me. I knew only his name. I would need more information.
For this I interviewed my birth mom. She told me she remembered him growing up at Offutt Air Force Base near Omaha. He was also arrested as a teen over some drinking incident around the time I was born. His mother—my grandmother, that is—had bailed him out. My mom remembered her name. It was Sara.
Armed with these new facts, I Googled state records to find documentation on my dad’s arrest. Sure enough, I found my grandmother’s full name and an old home address. From there, I began using people finder sites like Intellius or Pipl, to name a couple. These sites were far better than the thousands of yellow pages in the library I had flipped through. With the internet, I had power at my fingertips. I never had to leave home.
I narrowed my search down to Oklahoma City and finally arrived at a list of fifty or so phone numbers and addresses. One by one I began calling each, this time looking for both my grandmother and dad. Memories from my first search attempt seven years prior began flooding back to mind. As before, I ran into disconnected numbers and old white guys named Odell. About halfway through the list, I got to chat with a black man. I asked him about my grandmother, but he told me she no longer lived at the address. I hung up and continued down the list.
Reaching the end, I resigned myself to the reality that this search would end the same way as the first. Nothing would change, and my life would go on. I would continue building a strong legacy of my own for my son and for my future posterity.
It suddenly occurred to me that I had not asked the one black man about my dad. I don’t know why it had come into my mind to think this. It just happened. Rescanning the list, I found his number again and called back.
“Hello?” the deep, masculine voice answered.
“Sorry to call you again,” I said. “I spoke to you earlier looking for Sara. I forgot to ask you if you might know an Odell Hall.”
“I’m Odell,” he replied. “I’m Sara’s son.”
My heart stopped. Moments passed. With resolve, I mustered the strength to speak the words I’d waited 23 years to say.
“I’m your son. I think you’re my dad.”
Find out what happened next by reading the follow-up piece entitled “How Playing Chess With My Dad Helped Me Discover Who He Really Is.” This article originally appeared on The Huffington Post.
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Wow. Having information at our fingertips is so powerful. I hope you’ll write about what happened after that. One of my adopted aunts had a very positive experience finding her birth parents, and the other didn’t.
Look for the follow-up piece in another week or so. I’ve been reunited with multiple family members through the years. Each time was nuanced and different in its unique way. Having the right expectations can be challenging and its not something that most people have the opportunity to experience.