One of the more popular topics from past episodes has been the story of Gail Rohde who was adopted as an infant, and her search as an adult for her birth mother. Then several years after finding her, she searched for her birth father – and found him, too. I’ll have links to those episodes at the bottom of the show notes. 

It can be a relational minefield in dealing with the dynamics of adoptees wanting to know where they’ve come from, especially when it’s been hidden from them.

I have a similar story about searching for my birth father that I wrote about in my book, THEM.  Today’s episode is about that search. 

Welcome to You Were Made for This

If you find yourself wanting more from your relationships, you’ve come to the right place. Here you’ll discover practical principles you can use to experience the life-giving relationships you were made for.

I’m your host, John Certalic, award-winning author and relationship coach. I'm here to help you find more joy in the relationships God designed for you.

To access all past and future episodes, go to the bottom of this page to the yellow “Subscribe” button, then enter your name and email address in the fields above it. The episodes are organized chronologically and are also searchable by topics, categories, and keywords.

An invitation from a friend

One day my retired friend Bill told me he was starting to get interested in his family history. He wanted to learn more about where he came from and then pass this information down to his children and grandchildren. To help with this, Bill decided to attend a meeting of the Milwaukee Genealogical Society at the main library downtown. And he wanted to know if I would like to come with him. 

I wanted to know where I came from, too, particularly as it related to my birth father, the man who brought me into this world in a one-night stand with my mother. The man who abandoned us and who made life very difficult for my farm-girl mother from Staples, Minnesota. The man who was having a greater and greater unwelcome influence in my life, though we had never met. Discovering who he was might help me discover who I was.

So with all this in mind, I decided to go with Bill. We went to the first meeting and both of us became hooked on discovering our roots. This was in the early 1990s, before the Internet was widely available. So playing family detective and historian was a bit more challenging than it is today. 

Wondering about my birth father

From the time my mother first told me I was born out of wedlock and later adopted by my father, I wondered a lot about who my biological father was. And a lot about who I was. I always felt different as a kid. I was taller than my siblings, and as a teenager, was much taller than my parents. Maybe the circumstances surrounding my birth explained why I was depressed much of the time growing up. 

“How you came into the world is not how it’s done. You never should have been born” was a feeling that kept repeating itself over and over again in my soul, like a song on a damaged CD that skips because of a scratched track. Maybe if I knew more about my birth father and where I came from, I would be less depressed.

Long before attending the Milwaukee Genealogical Society meetings with Bill, I began the search for the mystery man from my past. One morning, when I was twenty years old and home from college, I sat at the kitchen table of our small house, just with my mother and father, as my brother and sisters were in school. Fighting back my fear of not knowing what would happen next, I summoned all the courage I could muster to continue the conversation my mother started with me ten years earlier.

Picking up a conversation from ten years ago

“Mom, do you remember when I was about ten and you told me Dad was not my natural father? I was wondering whatever happened to my…”

With that, my father quickly jumped up from the table, forcefully cutting me off and pounding his fist on the kitchen table next to his coffee cup, blurting out, “He was a truck driver and was killed in an accident. That’s all we’re ever going to talk about this!”

Something inside told me he was not telling the truth as he stormed out of the room.

For the next twenty years, I wondered about that conversation. Especially around the time of my birthday. I could never enjoy my birthday, for it would once again bring up the “how you came into the world is not how it’s done; you never should have been born” theme from the basement of my heart. It would start a cycle of depression that would last for several days. I felt like crawling in a hole and just sleeping until the depression lifted, as it always did with time.

Wanting to be like everyone else

I felt so different from the rest of the world. Why can’t I be just like everyone else? Yet part of me was glad I was not like everyone else. But that part, the missing legitimacy to my birth part, was where I wanted to be like everyone else. The mystery about my origins troubled me deeply. 

I read with rapt attention newspaper articles about people reuniting with their birth parents. I intently watched TV shows and movies about children discovering as adults siblings they never knew they had. There’d be scenes in the airport with middle-aged people hugging their newly found brothers and sisters as they got off the plane. Maybe there’s someone out there like that for me. Maybe my biological father had always wondered about me and was trying to track me down. 

In the genealogy classes Bill and I attended, we learned how to find valuable information from public records, like birth certificates filed in courthouses. The copy of my birth certificate shows my last name is Certalic and my father is Harry Certalic. Nothing unusual about this, except if I had been adopted by Harry Certalic, why did his name appear on my birth certificate? My mother told me they married a year and a half after I was born and that he didn’t adopt me until I was five. Were my parents lying to me? It made me angry to think about it. What are they not telling me? Why can’t people tell me the truth?

A courthouse cover-up

Things became a bit clearer when I went to our local courthouse to see what they had on me. There I found a large ledger book where births in Milwaukee County were recorded in chronological order. I went to the day I was born and looked for my name with the other births recorded for the day. There was my name, and everything appeared in order, except for one entry—my last name. It clearly showed my last name, “Certalic,” but under the ink appeared some form of White-Out, covering over what had originally been entered. It was obvious someone had erased what was recorded as my surname, and then wrote “Certalic” over the erasure. What is this cover-up all about? 

I learned through the genealogy class that in Wisconsin, as in many states, when a child is adopted, its original birth certificate is impounded and a new one issued with the name of the adopted parent(s) shown. So that explains why my official birth certificate looks normal, but the ledger book at the courthouse has the erasure. All this to protect the confidentiality of the birth parent(s). While I’m all for confidentiality in most areas of life, what about the right of children to know who brought them into the world?

Who really, then, was my birth father? What name was covered over on the court ledger? What did my original birth certificate look like? As I neared my 40th birthday, I became more and more agitated and depressed about the whole thing. Janet kept encouraging me to talk to my mother to get more information. The last conversation I had on the topic hadn’t gone very well, so I was not anxious to open a can of worms with her again.

Finishing a conversation from twenty years ago

One Sunday afternoon while visiting my parents, I summoned the courage to try finishing the conversation of twenty years ago about my origins. It was an attempt to finish the conversation begun ten years before. 

I had been dealing with this whole thing for thirty years, and not dealing with it well. The voices whispering in my heart, “How you came into the world is not how it’s done; you never should have been born,” grew louder and more frequent.

By now, my father had suffered a paralyzing stroke several years after retiring from his factory job. Because of his stroke, he spent most of his time in a wheelchair watching TV. So with him in the living room, and my mother in the kitchen out of earshot, I continued my conversation with my mom from twenty years ago. In the same room, the same conversation.

My mother finally answered my question

“Mom, do you remember when I was ten and you told me Dad was not my real father? Who was my natural father?”

She told me some of what she had said before at that time, that he was a truck driver living in Indiana who would deliver empty beer cans to the breweries in town.

“Did he support us?”

“No, when I asked for money to help us, he said he couldn’t because he had a family of his own in Indiana he had to support.” 

With a tight grimace in her face and shoulders hunched up, she continued, “And that’s the last I ever talked to him, that [expletive].”

“What's his name?”

“Jack Byrd.

“Where in Indiana did he live?

“Fort Wayne.”

“I want to try and track him down, Mom. Do you want to know what I find out?”



You’re probably done walking your dog or washing dishes by now, so we’ll need to stop. But in our next episode I’ll share how I finally tracked down my birth father and what happened the day I met him.

Most importantly I’ll explain what I learned from this process.


As we close for today, I’d love to hear any thoughts you have about today’s episode. I hope your thinking was stimulated by today’s show, to think about your origins. To ask your parents questions, if they are still around.

For when you do, it will help you experience the joy of relationships God desires for you. Because after all, You Were Made for This.

Well, that’s it for today. If there’s someone in your life you think might like to hear what you just heard, please forward this episode on to them. Scroll down to the bottom of the show notes and click on one of the options in the yellow “Share This” bar.

And don’t forget to spread a little relational sunshine around the people you meet this week. Spark some joy for them.  And I’ll see you again next time. Goodbye for now.

Other episodes or resources related to today’s shows

029: An Adoption Relationship Story- Part 1

030: An Adoption Relationship Story – Part 2

124:  Resting In Our Identity Frees Us to Love Well

Prior recent episode

214: People Are Like Houses

All past and future episodes

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