(Crystal Proxmire, The Ferndale 115 News, June 17, 2012)
Jason Phillips was the product of a high school romance, but when his grandparents found out that his mother was pregnant some inner-family drama ensued, and the young couple was torn apart. The 15-year-old boy’s parents moved away from Ferndale and neither family would allow them to keep in touch. The 16-year-old girl left school to have the baby. And though she was a part of Jason’s life, he was raised primarily by her parents, his grandparents. They told him that his father wanted nothing to do with him.
It wasn’t until 26 years later that Jason finally tracked down the man who helped make him, with a shot in the dark Facebook post and a group of tight-knit Ferndale alumni providing the critical piece to the puzzle.
Jason had been asking about his dad in earnest since age 9 and when he was a sophomore in high school. Jason’s family had moved back to the Ferndale area when he was in fifth grade. They lived in Oak Park and he attended Ferndale Schools where he met his wife Kimberly.
“Jason and I met in 5th grade when we were 11,” Kimberly said. “We had a fall out and ended up getting together after my father passed from melanoma cancer in October 2005. We got engaged in February of 2006 and married Oct. 13 2007.
“I asked Jason if he would ever be interested in finding his father. He told me he has been looking and asking questions since he was 9. That’s when my search began. Nobody thought we would even find him since his last name just happened to be one of the most popular names ever…Smith! For 4 years I have searched time and time again getting nowhere.
“I ended up making a post on a Ferndale [alumni] Facebook page a year ago when a lady name Cheryl wrote that she found Ken in the year book! She texted me the picture. That is when we finally had something to go off of.
“I searched Facebook when I came across a man who looked just like the junior picture we had from the Ferndale year book. Our luck – he hadn’t been on Facebook for years! I called my mother, Jason’s mother in-law, and she wrote up a letter and together we sent it to all the Smith’s that were on Ken’s Facebook page.
“Two days later not one reply back from the 15 people we sent it to. My mom did a Google search with his name and started dialing numbers which one happened to be a business he once owed before selling.
“My mom explained she was looking for Ken and why. The lady put her on hold while later we found out she gave Ken a call to see if she could give my mother his number. He said ‘yes please.’ My mother contacted Ken first which we thought would be best just in case he really didn’t want nothing to do with Jason. Ken told everyone that one day He was going to get a call from his son. That day came and Ken couldn’t have been happier.
“They whole family has welcomed Jason and his family with open arms! Jason has an amazing dad, step mother along with a younger sister a younger brother, sister in-law, a two year old niece and another niece or nephew on the way! The brother and sister live out of state. Brother is in the air force and sister attends school. With everyone’s budget being tight we are hoping one day soon we can all get together. Would be amazing to see my husband together with his whole family!”
Smith lives up in Traverse City, and he came down to meet his long-lost son and sleuth daughter-in-law and their three year old child on St. Patrick’s Day of this year for the first time ever.
When he saw the picture in the yearbook that looked just like himself as a sophomore is when Jason got “kindda nervous.”
“It made me think. We’re fifteen years apart. I was nervous because we’re so close to looking like each other. I didn’t know how it was going to feel looking at an older version of myself. …When we met he really was just like me. We’re so much alike. He’s got a few more gray hairs, but I’m getting them too and there ain’t nothin’ wrong with it.”
Like any normal family, things are not story-book perfect. Jason says there is tension with his mother and her side of the family and resentment that he sought his father out.
Jason has now seen his father twice and spoken several times on the phone. Plans are in the works for a family visit up to Traverse City. He still doesn’t know all the details of what happened between the families back in the 1986, and he said he’s not so sure he wants to know either.
“My dad won’t talk about the past much. He doesn’t want me to have too hard feelings against the side of the family I grew up with,” Jason said. “I don’t know if I want to know all the details. There’s so much to get to know about each other, and it’s about moving forward, not dwelling on the past.”
Jason is currently in school to learn how to be an aviation mechanic. His dad “works with his hands,” Jason said, noting that he works on fireplaces and hot tubs and also does , apartment maintenance. The 42-year-old father suffered through a bout with prostate cancer before this unexpected reunion. “He was given two to five years to live. Just this year He received his first clean bill of health. He has beat it and is a cancer survivor,” Kimberly said. “Everything happens for a reason and I believe God gave him a second chance so He could live to meet his son and grandson and grandkids to come!”
The reunion means that years of wondering are over, and Jason can celebrate Fathers’ Day with gratefulness instead of pondering the unanswered questions. “I won’t see him today, but he did come down two weeks ago,” Jason said. “I didn’t get to have him in my life growing up, but I am really lucky that I found him. The odds were really against it.”
Also my husband’s father was diagnosed with prostate cancer I believe it was two years ago Thanksgiving. He was given two to five years to live. just this year He received his first clean bill of health! He has beat it and is a cancer survivor!! Everything happens for a reason and I believe God gave him a second chance so He could live to meet his son and grandson and grandkids to come!