I sat on the terse and unfriendly response from my birth father for three months. His clear hope was that I would just go away. He had indicated in no uncertain terms that he wasn’t the guy I was looking for. I knew better. If I had truly reached the wrong person, the response most likely would have been a friendly phone call or letter pointing out the lack of a connection to the facts I had provided. If I had been wrong, there would have been no reason for an angry or defensive response. That’s why I knew I was right.

Still, I wanted to proceed cautiously and respectfully. I had no desire to disturb the man’s family by carelessly disclosing a key nugget of information that he almost certainly never would have disclosed on his own. But at the same time, I felt strongly that I had every right to try to uncover the truth of my existence, and I was not willing to compromise on that. Over the course of those three months, I processed the course of events and formulated a careful plan. I would write a third and final letter in one last attempt to at least engage him in a conversation before reaching out directly to my half-siblings.

It was July 2011, and I had crafted my letter. I indicated that I knew my first two letters probably came as quite a shock and that I wasn’t surprised about his response. I said that I understood his desire to avoid the issue, but that as an adoptee, I was determined to continue to seek the lifelong questions I had about my background and roots. I elaborated on the facts I had collected, and included a photo of the person I was looking for from the 1968 Westchester Community College yearbook.

I went on to say that I didn’t want to cause a disturbance in his life and I wasn’t interested in his money. It had been clear from my search that he was a fairly wealthy man, and I wanted to make clear that my motivation was not about money. I indicated that by reaching out, I wasn’t saying that I wanted a relationship with him, and that I understood he might need some time and breathing room. Once again, I promised to respect his desire for whatever method of communication he chose and that I was really just looking for a chance to speak with him in a discreet manner. I looked the letter over and over several times, and I was finally comfortable with it. I put it in the mail, and hoped for the best.

A week went by, and then two. And then one day I noticed a strange number coming up on my cell phone. It was a 212 number–New York City. I couldn’t answer the phone at the time because I was in the middle of something at work. Thankfully, they left a voicemail. I couldn’t wait to listen. My heart was pounding. Finally, when I found a free moment, I was able to listen to the voicemail. “I am responding to the letters you sent. I am an attorney in New York City and also the cousin of the person who you’ve sent your letters to. Please call me at your earliest convenience.”

Thoughts immediately started racing across my mind. Was this guy going to try to say I’ve been harassing him? Was the response more benign than that? I had no idea what to think or what to expect when I made that call. And I was very nervous. This was my chance to make an impression. I thought I had one shot. And I didn’t want to screw it up. I went home that night and started thinking about how I wanted to respond. I didn’t want to let much time go by, but I also wanted to make sure I had my script down when I dialed those numbers.