2018-08-23 / Life in Leelanau

Dad, I am your son

Glen Arbor man connects with birth son, family
By Jen Murphy
of the Enterprise staff

FATHER AND son smile for a picture during their first-ever visit together. William Giegerich, left, met his son for the first time last week. FATHER AND son smile for a picture during their first-ever visit together. William Giegerich, left, met his son for the first time last week. Father and son share a lot: a love of books and old movies, a loud snore and a happy adoption story.

But neither of them knew their birth families — until now.

Glen Arbor resident William Giegerich couldn’t be more pleased. After years of searching, he met his son, James Caruso, last week.

Caruso traveled from his home state of New York to visit Giegerich last Thursday through Saturday. And they’ve learned quite a bit about each other.

“The whole time we’ve been here, we’ve discovered likes and dislikes — movies and literature, mannerisms. We both love old musicals. And no one in my adoptive family enjoyed those things,” Caruso said.

It’s been a long road to find each other.

DIFFICULT TIMES in the mid-1930s forced the parents of William Giegerich, pictured here in his mother’s arms, to leave their six children with relatives. DIFFICULT TIMES in the mid-1930s forced the parents of William Giegerich, pictured here in his mother’s arms, to leave their six children with relatives. “This was not some ‘whim’ of mine,” Giegerich said. “I really wanted to find him if I could. I didn’t want to invade his life. I didn’t want to say, ‘Hey I’m your birth dad and you’re really going to be glad to know me.’”

But Giegerich had always hoped his son would one day search for him. He wrote the following note to be left on file with the state of New York:

If my son happens to be searching for me, I want him to know that I have left him alone and not tried to influence his life after adoption and by what appear to have been nice people. I like to believe that he has lived a good life and has strong ties to his adoptive family. If he feels that contact with me would help him in any way such as health issues and other things, I am willing to have contact with him if that is his desire.

A father’s story

In April 1958, 22 year-old Giegerich married a 20 year-old college student. Their marriage was not supported by family.

“Her family did not approve, my family did not agree with it, so we eloped,” Giegerich said. “We were going to let her finish her school year and I was going to work in New York City… she was not happy.”

The young couple moved in with Giegerich’s family, then discovered that a baby was on the way. Their relationship did not survive.

“The marriage fell apart,” Giegerich said. “Her family opposed the marriage and did everything they could to break it up, in spite of a grandchild on the way.”

The Giegeriches were divorced in August that year.

Giegerich said he learned he was a father on Jan. 14, 1959, but he never had a chance to meet the baby. In fact, he didn’t know if he had a son or a daughter.

“I was notified there was a baby born to Barbara and me at a hospital in Long Island and custody arrangements had to be made immediately,” he said. “I signed what I thought was a temporary custody arrangement, when in fact it was a formal adoption agreement.”

Giegerich did attempt to seek custody of his child at an adoption hearing. His son was one year-old at the time.

However, after listening to the testimony of the adoptive parents, particularly Caruso’s adoptive mother, Giegerich was touched. “His adoptive mother was testifying about what it was like to raise him for the first year of his life,” he said.

So Giegerich had a decision to make: Continue pursuing custody or back off.

He chose to say goodbye.

“It made all the difference in the world listening to her. That’s when we dropped it right then and there.”

A son’s story

“At seven or eight, my mom told me I was adopted,” Caruso said. “My reaction was, ‘You’re still my parents? I’m still staying here, right?’”

He explained his response. “As an only child, the TV was mine, Christmas was mine. I had it pretty good,” he said.

“I never had any of those ill-feelings I’ve heard people have about their birth parents. I have no frame of reference for those.”

Now as an adult, Caruso said he understands the decisions made by his birth parents.

“One of the things I innately understood was that, in those times, as a divorced woman with a child, you may as well put a red ‘A’ on your chest ... I always imagined I understood how she felt…

“I completely understand why I was given up for adoption,” he said.

“All of the opportunities - just having a childhood - I will be eternally grateful to him (birth father Giegerich) and Barbara (birth mother) for having them adopt me,” he added.

But Caruso’s thoughts about finding his birth parents changed recently.

“I began to see people I knew passing away,” he said. “By 2005, everyone (in my family) was gone. I began to do the Facebook thing holding the sign saying ‘I am the son of Barbara and William,’ and people would tell me other sites to look at but they were confusing … Then I heard about this ‘ancestry’ thing.”

Caruso decided “on a whim” to get a DNA kit. He said he had purchased one for his wife as a present and thought he might as well try it.

It worked. A match on ancestry.com happened almost immediately.

“The first thing I see is this gentleman (Giegerich), who came up 100 percent as my father,” Caruso said.

And then a first cousin reached out to encourage him to reach out to his father.

“You always think you know how you’re going to react with these things and you don’t,” Caruso said. “People are reticent because you don’t know if other people want to talk to you. Or why. But then my wife said, ‘Here’s your choice. Either you’re just going to know, or you can call and close the circle.’”

After a few days, Caruso closed the circle. And it was a good fit from the first phone call, which lasted five hours.

Fifty-nine years later, Giegerich met the son he never held in his arms. A son who is now an accomplished martial arts instructor, a retired New York City police officer and a 9/11 first responder.

There were more connections

Born in 1936 at the heart of the Depression, Giegerich compares his experience to the major works of Steinbeck when, at one point, a large family was living in their car.

“Anyone who has read ‘Grapes of Wrath’ or ‘In Dubious Battle’ can understand living in a huge touring car with seven children and two adults,” Giegerich said.

At the age of one year, the desperate family turned to relatives for help. But it was not a happy situation. Giegerich suffered substantial abuse at the hands of his aunt and uncle in whose home they were living.

“It was a horrible situation caused by the times,” he said. “My older brother came home and found me … I was forcibly removed from the place I was living because I was beaten on a regular basis and suffering injuries as a 14 month-old, so the police came and took me away. I ended up in an orphanage.”

Giegerich was later adopted in 1938 by a couple in New York. He grew up “in a very loving and caring family,” he said.

Giegerich never knew his birth family, but like his son he had the opportunity to reconnect with them.

“I had been told (by my adoptive parents) I had brothers and sisters, but had no details,” he said. “In January of 1995, I was contacted by a brother who had been searching for me for awhile.”

Two months later, in March 1995, Giegerich met all of his living brothers and sisters at a reunion in Indiana.

He has been in touch with them ever since.

The reunions for Giegerich with his siblings, cousins and now his son, have brought much joy to the 82 year-old.

Caruso said he is glad to have met his birth father after all these years. “I’m not sorry,” he said. “I’m extremely happy to reconnect with this gentleman… I’ve always just wanted to say thank you.”

Giegerich, now connected with a new slate of family members, simply smiled and agreed.

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