Manitoba·First Person

How I met my father and solved the mystery of who I am

My mother died long before we could meet. She was 19 when she had me, scared and living in a society that shamed her for being pregnant. My adoption was an expectation rather than a choice. 

'He was open to the idea that he might be my birth father'

Leanne Ellard with her birth father Ralph: 'The first time we met felt like getting together after spending a long time apart.' (Submitted by Leanne Ellard)

This First Person article is from Leanne Ellard, a Winnipeg adoptee who was in search of her birth father. For more information about CBC's First Person stories, please see the FAQ.

My mother died long before we could meet.

She was 19 when she had me, scared and living in a society that shamed her for being pregnant. My adoption was an expectation rather than a choice. 

In 1991, I learned of her death when I found her parents and siblings. They brought me into their life with open arms.

Although they were strangers during our first gathering, their faces had familiar features and our mannerisms aligned. It felt natural to be with them.

The information they provided about my birth father matched the non-identifying information on my adoption documents. For 26 years, I made attempts to connect with him without reciprocation.

Knowing he was alive, but disinterested, left me with feelings of inadequacy, abandonment and frustration. 

As I aged, I took another step toward knowing my truth. In 2017, I took a DNA test.

One Sunday morning in December 2017, I got my DNA results, but there was no information that linked me to the person believed to be my birth father. 

A new mystery unfolded. Who were these people connected to me through DNA?

I emailed three of the cousins listed to try to find some clues. It took clever sleuthing on their part, but on a Sunday afternoon in January 2018, I was given Ralph's name and phone number. He had been in Saskatchewan around the time of my conception.

Leanne Ellard, front centre, with her newfound family: father, Ralph, niece Abby, left, and sister Marianne. (Submitted by Leanne Ellard)

That Sunday evening, Ralph and I spoke for the first time. Anxiety creeped into my thoughts. I didn't want to repeat the disappointment I had felt in the past, the feelings of inadequacy and rejection. Yet I yearned to know more. 

Ralph was open to the idea that he might be my birth father. He was willing to take a DNA test. 

He told me about his family: His wife of 44 years, two sons and two daughters (one had passed away). He encouraged me to call his daughter Marianne, so I did. She let me know that the DNA tests were ordered. 

He moved on to another town, unaware of her pregnancy- Leanne Ellard

For the next few months, while we waited for his DNA test results, Ralph would call and text a few times a week. I loved the bond we were creating, but I had an overwhelming fear that the DNA test would not confirm our relationship.

On a Sunday in March, Ralph called.

"Well, I'm your father," he said with excitement in his voice. 

Wow. I was so happy and even more relieved. This man — who had no idea I existed prior to that Sunday in January — was happy to know we have a biological relationship. 

I spent the rest of the evening processing the news. Happy news. Great news. Life-altering news.

The following day, I received a call from my sister, Marianne. It was the first time I could say that my sister is calling. I'm going to talk to my sister. I have a sister. 

1st meeting

The first time we met felt like getting together after spending a long time apart. We shared so many characteristics that we were able to pick up at that point in our lives and weave our families into one. 

I learned that, as a young man, Ralph had a wandering spirit.

He met my mother while working on grain elevators, moving from town to town every few weeks. They spent time together before he moved on to another town, unaware of her pregnancy. They never saw each other again. 

Ralph built the foundation for many more memories- Leanne Ellard

Throughout each week, Ralph and I would text and call, but Sunday nights we set aside an hour or so to catch up. We shared life experiences and perspectives on current events, and made plans for getting together.

We were going to go camping. We were going to meet my kids and grandkids for skating at the Altemont arena, where he played hockey in his youth. We were going to explore Saskatchewan's Big Muddy Valley. 

We had plans. 

In December 2021, Ralph was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. We were all optimistic that he could come through it. 

On Sunday, Dec. 26, I drove to Saskatchewan to spend time with him. Our visits were short as he was tired. 

On Sunday, Jan. 16, four years and two days after our first call, Ralph passed away.

I grieve for the loss of my incredibly kind, empathetic, caring and accepting birth father. I grieve for the memories we didn't have time to make. 

But Ralph built the foundation for many more memories to make with my sister, two brothers and their families, his wonderful wife and all the extended family and friends that were blessed to have him in their lives. 

Knowing my birth father became a transformative experience and it will continue to guide me into the future, because now I know my truth.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Leanne Ellard is an adoptee with amazing birth and adoptive family members. She lives in Winnipeg with her husband and a couple of spoiled shelties.

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