Shari Jo was born in March 1961 to a 17-year-old mother and her 16-year-old boyfriend. Shari Jo’s strict grandparents intended that her mother would place her for adoption, but when she was born, that changed when they saw her and it was decided they would keep her. Her mother still lived at home, with her older sister and younger brother, so Shari’s first year was spent with a large family who doted on her.
Shari Jo’s mother met the man who raised her when she was about a year old. She refers to him now as her “Growing Up Dad.” Shari Jo and her siblings – a sister and a brother – had an idyllic childhood growing up in a suburb of Minneapolis, MN. But that all changed at 13 when her parents divorced, and her mom had to go to work in order to help support her children. There was a certain stigma attached to women who worked rather than staying home with the children. It was almost worse than any stigma related to receiving food stamps or Christmas gifts from the local Catholic Church, which Shari Jo’s mom also did.
Shari Jo’s world had been rocked and over the next three years, she remained in a constant state of flux. When she was 14, her mother remarried and then announced her new stepfather was moving the entire family to Springfield, Illinois. Her “Growing Up Dad” was not happy about losing access to his children and her mom said, offhandedly “well he really can’t do anything about you.” So, Shari Jo and her family moved to Springfield, where she spent her 10th-grade year. It was a traumatic year for her, leaving the security of her friends and family so far away. A year later, stepfather moved them back to Minnesota, and then the year after that, to Terra Haute, Indiana. She went to 3 different high schools in 3 years.
But it’s her stepfather, John, who has a very important role in this story. Shari’s mother was diagnosed with ALS, more commonly known as Lou Gerhig’s Disease. ALS is always fatal, most patients live 3-5 years after diagnosis, while their bodies slowly make them a prisoner. On the night of her mother’s funeral in 2011, John handed Shari Jo a letter from her mother. Just Shari Jo, not either of her siblings. The letter was dated 2009 and Shari Jo’s mom, ever blunt and to the point said, “you never asked and so I never told you, but your father’s name is Tom.” Also enclosed in the letter were 2 black and white photos of her mother and the man – then a 16-year-old boy she named as her biological father. The second photo was of the boy holding a newborn baby Shari.
So, while she had a name, she didn’t contact him for a while, until a friend of hers said, “What if HE needs to hear from YOU.” Shari Jo looked him up, found him, sent him a letter, and got one back almost immediately. They wrote back and forth several times before agreeing to meet at a local Caribou Coffee shop. Her father told her he never married, had no other children, and wanted to hear about Shari Jo’s mother. Shari Jo suspected that he never quite got over her mother. But as they talked, Shari Jo felt like the whole reason for their meeting was that he was seeking her forgiveness, and while he never outright said he was sorry, he did say it in an indirect way.
They spent about an hour together and then went their separate ways, and he hasn’t responded to her attempt to contact him since.
In 2021, Shari Jo decided that if she wasn’t going to get answers about her family and her heritage from her father, then she would take a DNA test. Her results were due to arrive on Christmas Eve and she and her son planned on reviewing them together. However, a few days before Christmas, she was on the phone with her son when her results came in. She looked… and was stunned. There was a parent/child match! Her father was NOT her mother’s 16-year-old boyfriend. Who was this man? Was her DNA wrong? She looked up the name and found out he was a successful businessman in the Minneapolis area…who went to her mother’s high school and was a year older than her.
She reached out to him, but not to his sister who also tested, and never got a response. She didn’t realize at the time that neither of them had logged into Ancestry for a long time. While talking with one of her close matches, she realized the woman she was speaking with was her half-niece, and that she had a half-brother out there, by the same man. Her brother revealed his mother was a flight attendant and probably met their shared father just after his college graduation. He wasn’t interested in knowing the man that fathered both him and Shari Jo.
Unfortunately, Shari Jo’s biological father passed away in September 2022, without ever having logged in to check his messages and see that he has a daughter out there. It’s possible because of his status within the Minneapolis community, he would have denied knowing Shari Jo’s mother so long ago. Shari Jo believes her mother truly thought her father was her 16-year-old boyfriend.
When I asked Shari Jo about if she had any regrets about her journey, her immediate response was “No” and then added “I’m glad I know for certainty who my biological father is. The truth is important. That the “truth” changed 3 times is crazy. I’m glad I reached out to Tom. It felt like there was a real reason for that to happen. I felt like any guilt he had was removed and that felt like it might have been the reason we met. The reason for learning who was really my biological father is not clear. But, I trust God for the journey even if the purpose is never made clear to me on this side of Heaven. Even though I learned he has passed, perhaps never having ever learned about me (we’ll never know if he did or didn’t), and with no intention of contacting his family, I still wonder if the story is really over. The chapter has closed. I have peace. And time will tell if it’s the last chapter or if there is another. I’ve been surprised enough times that I wouldn’t be surprised if there was another surprise somewhere along the line. Like I told Tom, I’ve had a good life. I’m happy and content. I wouldn’t be where I am today if not for my story, as crazy as it seems. I’m grateful my mom and Grandma decided to keep me. If I understand my story correctly, they had intended to give me up for adoption. Who knows where I would be if that had happened, or if my mom and the real biological would have married? Or my mom and Tom. I have wondered what would have happened if as planned, I had never started down the road of learning more about things. We will never know. But I don’t have any regrets. Life – it’s crazy sometimes.”