Adopted man stumbles upon his past

Published 3:49 pm Saturday, December 27, 2014

Doug Prince, center, meets with his sisters, from left, Danielle, Rhonda and Diana in Florida. -- SUBMITTED

Doug Prince, center, meets with his sisters, from left, Danielle, Rhonda and Diana in Florida. — SUBMITTED

Doug Prince’s father was a collector of many personal treasures. He kept everything — from insignificant gas receipts to family heirlooms —locked away in a safe in his garage, and when he passed away in 1998, the younger Prince inherited his father’s rusty, broken-down vault. Without a key, Prince never thought that he’d see what was inside, that is, until the day that he and his wife decided to clean out their garage this past fall.

“We were making room in the garage and we came across my father’s safe,” Prince said. “I could see a bunch of old paperwork inside through the broken keyhole. I never imaged that we’d find anything significant, but I was hoping that maybe we’d find an old life insurance policy or something.”

Moving the safe, easily a couple hundred pounds by Prince’s estimation, would be quite the feat, so he threw some chains around it, hooked them to his pickup truck and pulled it into the yard. Cracking the safe was even more difficult, as it took several hours to finally break through the steel frame and reveal the secrets inside.

“I didn’t find anything worthwhile,” he said,” but when Lisa got to the adoption papers, her jaw dropped.”

Prince, 55, said that his parents told him that he was adopted when he was 10- or 11-years-old. However, he never had the desire to find his birth parents.

“There are laws in Virginia that prevent you from finding out that kind of information, anyways, but I had great adoptive parents. That’s probably the reason I never pursued finding them in the past.”

“I never really cared to know, either, other than maybe for medical reasons.”

Lisa, however, was fully aware of what this document could bring to light, as she often spends her spare time researching the ancestry of her own family. With the help of a family member who is an attorney in Florida, Prince’s place of adoption, they were able to locate his birth mother’s brother, Bob.

“I didn’t know if I should call,” Prince said. “What are they going to think when a long, lost family member calls? They’re going to wonder what you’re after.”

When Prince finally mustered up the courage to call who would amount to be his uncle, he said that Bob didn’t know anything about his sister having a son, but he would talk with the rest of his family to see if they knew anything about it.

Just as Prince was about to give up hope, Bob returned his phone call and told him that his brother Jack knew all about it.

“He was the only one who knew. It was a family secret between my mom and her parents, and the only reason Jack even knew was because he saw his sister crying one day just after she gave me up and asked what was the matter.”

Jack explained that his sister was only 17-years-old when she got pregnant after a one-night stand, and their parents forced her to give Prince up for adoption.

“Back in the day, if you had a child out of wedlock, you were blacklisted,” he said. “They didn’t want other people to know that she did that, so she had to give me up.”

“It was very hush, hush, and was prearranged before I was even born.”

Unfortunately for him, Prince was also informed that his birth mother passed away in 2003.

“I wish I would have found the papers 10 years ago, and I’m sure she would have wanted the same.”

His search wasn’t all for naught, however, as he also found out that he had four sisters — Diana, Rhonda, Sandy and Danielle — who all wanted to meet him, too.

“That’s something you only see on TV. It’s like something out of Jerry Springer,” he said. “Suddenly, my Christmas list got a whole lot bigger.”

His sisters, who range from one year to 17 years younger than Prince, didn’t know about him, either.

“Danielle called and asked, ‘I guess I’m supposed to be your sister,’” he recalled.

In late October, Prince drove down to Florida to meet his sisters for the first time, who were taking part in their annual vacation to Walt Disney World and Universal Studios. Danielle and Rhonda flew in from Colorado and Texas, respectively, and Sandy and Diana took a short trip from their homes in the Sunshine State.

“I just can’t put into words how it feels. It’s like you cut on the light switch to a new part of your life,” he said. “We just hit it off.”

Prince understands the difficulties of starting this new chapter of his life, but more than welcomes the fact that he now has a larger family.

“It’s fantastic to find out you have siblings. We’re going to stay in touch and we’re going to have a relationship, even though we didn’t have the opportunity to before this.”

One thing that Prince does regret, though, is not pursing this earlier in his life.

“I’d tell people that if they have the opportunity to find out, then they should find out. You just never know.”