Sunday, July 24, 2005
I have had a short hiatis from writing as we have been supporting our friends and their daughter (who has taken a turn for the better in the last few days, but is still in intensive care) and coaching my daughter's softball team to third place finish in their league (WAY TO GO YANKEES!).
I will be writing again, but I'd like to know what questions you have that you would like me to address. I do plan to finish writing about the New York trip and get back to telling more of my story. However, I would like to know what kind of issues or questions you would like me to address. I have read some good topic starters on some other sites where people have discussed my story, but I would also like to know what you think.
Leave a comment on this post on things you would like to know, and I will address some of those things in future posts. I may want to write a book about this journey someday, and this would help me immensely.
Thanks for reading!
Monday, July 18, 2005
Please continue your prayers for our dear friends- Renee and her family. Also for Katie and her family.
Friday, July 08, 2005
Laura, the kids, and I are very close friends with another family in our neighborhood- Jose and Julia and their children. In fact, they are our closest friends. They have a daughter Aly's age and a son GT's age plus two teenagers. We spend many a weekend on the patio at each others' homes grillin,' talkin,' and laughin'.
Very early Tuesday morning, July 5th, Julia's fifteen year old daughter, Renee was spending the night at a friend's house when some other teens from a few doors down needed to drive some other friends home. We don't know how Renee ended up in the car.
The Minneapolis Star Tribune wrote this story:
Unlicensed teen was apparent driver in SUV crash, police say
by Jim Adams and Matt McKinney, Star Tribune
A 15-year-old girl with only a driver's permit is believed to have been the driver of a sport-utility vehicle that rolled over on Galaxie Avenue in Apple Valley, sending five teens to the hospital, police said. Three other teenagers were not injured.
The apparent driver, Renee Marty, and passenger Kaitlyn Phillippi, 15, both of Eagan, remained in critical condition Wednesday evening at Gillette Children's Specialty Healthcare in St. Paul. Marty, who does not have a driver's license, was thrown from the vehicle and pinned beneath it when it rolled over, according to Apple Valley police.
Bryan Denzer, 16, of Apple Valley; Amanda Decker, 14, of Eagan, and Gregory Reimer, 15, of Eagan, were released Wednesday from Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis.
The three uninjured teens were George Spartak Awada, 16, of Eagan; Alexander Jeffrey Gould, 15, of Apple Valley, and Danielle Paige Lajamba, 15.
The crash remains under investigation, said Apple Valley police Capt. Jon Rechtzigel. The crash reports will be forwarded to the Dakota County attorney's office for possible charges, he added.
A driver using an instruction permit can drive only under the supervision of a licensed driver 21 years or older sitting in the front passenger seat, according to state law. All passengers under age 18 in a vehicle driven by someone with an instruction permit must wear seat belts.
The crash involved several factors that experts say are among the deadliest on the road when combined: an inexperienced driver apparently speeding in a sport-utility vehicle at night, with several unbelted teenage passengers.
State police Lt. Bob Meyerson said those factors make safe driving difficult, even for kids who are otherwise responsible.
"Even the good kids, the responsible kids, you give them enough of the ingredients and it adds up to bad things," he said..
It has been a very difficult several days for our dear friends and their daughter, and this will be a long slow process. Please say a prayer for Renee and her family, and also for Katie and her family.
Tuesday, July 05, 2005
We had been up very late the night before and here it was going on 8:00 when we got to the restaurant Jason had chosen. While we were en route, my sister Mei-Lee called from JFK Airport to let me know that her plane had landed and she and Frances (my other sister from California) were going to try and find our mother. They hadn't taken the same flight but were arriving in New York about the same time at different gates. They would drop their things off at hotel and meet us at the restaurant later.
We walked in Blue Smoke and found Jason and Jordan waiting for us. It was good to know that we would just be able to sit back, relax, and enjoy some good food and good company.
We ordered some drinks and some fresh BBQ Chips with Blue Cheese dipping sauce and their Three-Sausage Sampler for appetizers, plus the waiters gave the kids some unbaked cookie dough cut into shapes and some baking decorations. While we were eating, the chefs would bake their creations for eating with dessert. (Quite the cool idea!) We knew that it would be a while before my mother and sisters would be at the restaurant, so we went ahead and ordered.
I, being a rib guy, ordered the Memphis style baby back ribs while Laura ordered the pan- roasted halibut with some kind of sherry-bacon vinaigrette and served with smokey mashed potatoes. My kids both ordered the same thing- a kid sized order of ribs (GT went Memphis style, Aly did Kansas City style) and macaroni and cheese. I didn't really hear what Jason and Jordan ordered, but I was more concerned with how long it would it take for our late arrivals to get to the restaurant and thinking that I hope get there it o.k.
While I am no restaruant critic, I must say that the food was fabulous. I was a bit skeptical when I found out we were going to a BBQ joint, but getting a taste of those Memphis style baby backs gave me complete respect for the state of New York barbecue. They were seasoned perfectly with no sauce, and were very tender coming right off the bone. A lot of restaurants tend to cook ribs too fast at too high a temperature, which make them tough and too chewy. Not at Blue Smoke. They were as good as if I had made them myself.
Laura was also extremely pleased with her Halibut, and the smokey mashed potatoes (which I tried) were outstanding. My kids weren't as pleased with thier choices- neither really liked the macaroni and cheese (but then again, to them- Kraft is the standard) and while they ate all their ribs, they both said that they were just "O.K."
We spent dinner getting too know more about Jordan and talking about the trip both to Nigeria and New York. Jordan had done the fact checking for the story in GQ, so he knew as much as anyone different aspects of my adventure. It was as if he made the trip with us.
When we were halfway through our main course, I got a call from Mei-Lee who let me know that they had made it to the hotel and would be leaving for the restaurant soon. They arrived just as we we getting done. I was really glad the see them. I hadn't seen my sisters in person for almost two years. Plus, it had been over a year since I had seen my mother. They looked great for people who just got off a six hour flight.
We all made it to "Blue Smoke." (Photo by Laura, of course)
We got in our hugs and they ordered their food. Lots of conversation. Lots of laughs. It was great. A few shared desserts. Then we caught cabs and went back to the hotel. It had been a long day for all of us, and we had an early day scheduled. We had to be at the studio at 7:00 and in make-up by 7:20 to be on Good Morning America.
To Be Continued...
I'm glad the Saint Paul paper had taken an interest, because I was born and baptized in Saint Paul. (Plus, there seems to be only one minor error which is really a misplaced word in my opinion. My father had already given me an Igbo name- it's a title I'll have to wait for until my family goes to Nigeria.)
Monday, July 04, 2005
I think this comes from what I call the "telephone effect." Have you ever played the game when you line up five to ten kids and whisper a sentence to the first kid in line. Then that child whispers the sentence to the next child and so on until the last child hears the sentence. Then that child states the sentence for everbody to hear. Usually the last child's sentence is very different from the original.
This is because regardless of what is said, everybody hears things a little differently based on their own perspective.
I think that happens in media too. Sometimes articles are based on what a prior article says about a subject. I believe that to be the case in the In Touch Weekly story. They got most of their story from previous stories in GQ Magazine, Good Morning America, and the Associated Press. And, while they didn't get every fact exactly right, they wrote a very nice artcle and I appreciate their interest in my story.
Thank you In Touch Weekly!
Saturday, July 02, 2005
NOTE: This article was written mostly from information from other articles and has a few errors. For the most accurate version of this story, read the article from the June 2005 GQ Magazine.
Adopted man finds his royal roots!
One Day, Marty pictured here with his son GT) and his family was
living paycheck to paycheck. The next, they found out that they're
part of a Nigerian dynasty.
When Minnesota mortgage banker Marty Johnson touched down in Aboh, Nigeria, villagers craned their necks to catch a glimpse of the long-limbed American. Children in the village crowed in the streets, "Obiala!" or "He has come!" Upon his arrival, Marty's feet were ceremoniously washed and he was sprayed with champagne by the area's reigning elder.
"It was so emotional when I met
my birth father," explains Marty.
"It made the circle of my life
It was a reception fit for a prince, which, it turns out, Marty is- the long lost son of the village chief, John Ogike. Given up by his unwed mother at birth, Marty, now 41, never knew anything about his biological parents, nor did he think much about being adopted until he late in his teens. "My dad and mom are 5'7" and 5'3", says Marty. "I'm 6'4". Needless to say, the question that popped up whenever people would see my parents was:'How did you get so tall?'"
"Welcome to the Ogike Dynasty." -Marty's long lost father
The mystery began to unfold in 2001, when his birth mother tracked him down. Kathleen O'Connor Wang told Marty she met his father in 1963 while he was a graduate student at Iowa State Teachers College in Cedar Falls. But when she became pregnant, her parents encouraged her to put the baby up for adoption. Since then, she hadn't had any contact with his dad and didn't even know if he was alive.
Thanks to a chance reading of an online posting on his father's old university's message board, Marty eventually heard from his father's realtives. Not only was his dad alive, a newfound sibling revealed thie news to him: "Because of our father's position, you're a prince."
Marty, a father of two in Eagan, Minn., struggling to make ends meet, soon began to embrace his birthright. He took to wearing traditional caftans his relatives sent over as gifts and dreamed of meeting his father and seeing his ancestral home- a wish that came true after his wife Laura, secretly rounded up donations from friends and family.
While Marty loves spending time with his new family, they have not
taken the place of his adoptive parents. "I had a great life growing
up," he says. "My parents are my heroes."
It was a life-altering trip. He and his father both wept upon seeing each other- and since his emotional visit, Marty's been dreaming even bigger. He wants to build a new life in Nigeria- where his father re-christened him Chinenye, or "God gives." He might even start his own import-export business. Marty tell's In Touch with a laugh, "[My wife] always said she wanted to retire someplace warm."
Dear Martin,And I'm glad that you are getting a chance to call me anything! Thanks for finding me!
When I was pregnant with you I had already named you Martin after St Martin De Porres. John knew I picked that name and so did my Mom, Dad and 2 sisters who knew about my pregnancy.
I called you Martin throughout my pregnancy in letters I wrote to family and some close friends who knew about you. My Mom saved all my letters and I just looked at one from December 1963.
I wrote that at one of my exams "they found Martin's heartbeat." I was so sure you were going to be a boy. It absolutely never occured to me you wouldn't be a boy.
When I wrote to John about finding you I used the name Martin because I knew he would know what I was talking about. I don't know if he ever saw the letter I wrote to him after I found you. When you were born I added John's name to your name. That is how you became John Martin O'Connor.
When I found you again it meant a lot to me you still had the name I called you while I was able to be your mother- those 9 months before you were born.
Mom O'Connor Wang
What's in a Name? and What's in a Name, Part II, and Marty's Big Journey Part I- The Real Beginning
Thursday, June 30, 2005
Marty's Big Journey is featured in In Touch Weekly
For those of you following the story of me finding and meeting my family, the latest media coverage comes from In Touch Weekly Magazine. They didn't really interview me or anyone in my family for this story although they did call and ask me to clarify some of the facts. I haven't seen the article yet but I know most of their story is from prior coverage in GQ Magazine, ABC's Good Morning America, and the Associated Press stories that are already out there.
I am glad they called me though- I got the opportunity to make some corrections that the AP and GMA stories had wrong. (GMA fixed some of those on their site.)
I'll have more on this later once I get a chance to read it.
One funny, ironic thing- I had to laugh when I saw Jennifer Anniston on the cover. Remember who was on the cover of GQ?
First Brad. Now Jennifer.
They also give the impression that I am moving and planning on "building a new life in Nigeria." let me just say that I plan on continuing to establish and strengthen my ties to my family and Nigeria- hopefully making regular trips there when I can afford it. As far as ever moving there, I can never say never, but it is not likely anytime in the immediate future. But I would certainly like to go there as often as I can.
I'll post the article as written this weekend. I'll probably throw in a little commentary here and there too.
Wednesday, June 29, 2005
Aunty Christy, my Uncle Chief Okorie, and my cousins Chinwe, Tochi and Madyke- It was absolutely the highlight of my trip coming and meeting you and having that wonderful dinner in your home. Thank you so much- the food was wonderful, the friends that came to greet us were delightful, and it couldn't have been more perfect. I am just sad that we were on such a short schedule while were in New York.
Uncle Chris- it was great to see you and I am so happy you at least got to meet Laura and the kids. next time we're in New York, we'll have to set aside a whole day to go through the museum.
My sisters Frances and Mei-Lee- thanks for coming out to New York and supporting our mother and your big brother. It was great hanging out with you in NYC! (I'm glad you got to see the Black Eyed Peas in Rockerfeller Center.)
Jennifer at Mark Seliger's studio- thanks for the tour and for letting us see some of those new pics of the Rolling Stones Mark took. Very cool!
All the cast and crew of Good Morning America- it was really comfortable being on your show and everyone treated us so well. Thanks for the photos and the tapes of the segment. (I got the tapes yesterday.)
And last but definitely not least- Jason, you wrote this great story that really caught what it was like for me to be where I was, when I was. It has been a catalyst for many of the great things that are going to continue to happen in my life and my family's. Thanks for that and for being a fabulous host while we were in New York. I'm sure it was hard to get any work done while we were around, and I can't thank you enough for being our guide.
Friday, June 24, 2005
If you're here to see me and read my "family stories" and not here for Lindsay, but are wondering why I posted this, click here.
Thankfully, I now have many of you who fit in the latter catagory and I truly appreciate your interest.
P.S. More New York, coming up!!!
Wednesday, June 22, 2005
Thanks for stopping by and let me know you were here!
One of the many sights we squeezed in during our too short trip
The chronicle of our trip to New York City and Good Morning America is just taking me too much time, so I am going to attempt to finish it in the next couple of posts so I can move on to other things.
...CONTINUED FROM HERE.
After lunch, we went back to Millineum Hotel where our room was finally ready. And it was worth the wait!
Our room was on the 50th floor- a two room suite with two flat screen TVs and high speed internet access (a must since I had some work to do), and a beautiful view of the east river and the New York Public Library/Bryant Park.
A Room With a View
Quite a view!
I was expecting a pre-interview call from someone at Good Morning America and also hoped to get a nap in. It was still only a little after 1:30 in the afternoon, so I made a few phone calls and sent some emails for work, plus I called my cousin Chinwe to let her know that we were finally at the hotel and invited her to stop by when she got off work. She agreed and would drop by around 5:00. The kids quickly found some cartoons on the TV and we waited for the call from GMA so Laura could go take a nap (she still hadn't been to sleep from the night before.)
Getting some work done? Sort of.
Thankfully, the pre-interviewer from GMA called soon after we got to our room, so I let Laura talk to her first so she could get a snooze in. I continued to get some work done until it was my turn to talk to her. When I finally talked to her, she pretty much asked me some questions I expected. "How do you pronounce Chinenye Ogike" (chi-nay'-nyeh o-gee'-kay) "How did it feel to meet your father?" "Do you plan on moving to Nigeria?" plus several others. She also linformed me we needed to be at the studio at 7:00 A.M- thankfully it only a half block down and across the street.
After I hung up the phone I realized that I too was tired and we had a couple hours before my cousin was to stop by so I took some time just to chill out for a while and watch TV. As tired as Laura was, she couldn't sleep, so she and Aly decided to wander around Times Square for a while to take some pictures and do a little souvenir shopping. GT didn't want to go so he and I attempted a nap too, to no avail, and waited for them to get back.
The girls came back and just before 5:00 and a few minutes later, we heard a knock on the door- it was my beautiful cousin Chinwe. I was extremely happy to finally see her in person. When I first discoverd my Nigerian family, Chinwe was the second member of the family I actually talked to after my Aunty Christy. We had also corresponded by email sent emails to each other for almost three years. It was wonderful to be able to have her standing right in front of me.
Finally we get to meet Chinwe in person!
We had a very nice visit where I learned about her job at the International Girl Scouts, and seeing pictures of her husband and their traditional wedding. He lives in Boston right now but they will be getting a place of their own in the city (hopefully soon.) We also decided that since Jason was taking my family out to dinner that night, we would come to Aunty Christy's house for dinner the next night. There we would meet more of the family.
After she left, we got ourselves ready to go out to dinner- the car was picking us up at 7:30 and would be taking us to the restaurant. Jason asked me early in the week if I like BBQ joints, which I definitely do. I was however a little wary about what BBQ in New York City would be like. You see, I'm somewhat of a connisseur of barbecue having been to some of the best rib joints in the country- Gates' and Sons in Kansas City, Bandana's just outside of Saint Louis, Corky's in Memphis, Big Daddy's in Des Moines, or even the Famous Dave's in the Linden Hills area of Minneapolis. Everyone of those places have some Killer Q'.
We were going to Blue Smoke on east 17th Street in Manhattan, meeting Jason and Jordan (our friendly fact checker0 for dinner at 8:00 and my mother, Kathleen, and two sisters, Mei-Lee and Francis, would meet us there when their plane got in.
TO BE CONTINUED...
Sunday, June 19, 2005
Me, my nephew Zach, and Dad, 1981
My dad always had ways of letting me know that he was looking out for me and that he was proud to have me as a son. That was most evident when he was introducing me to his friends and aquaintences. He would alway have this beaming smile on his face when he would list some of my accomplishments. Or after I left home for college, whenever I would go home for a visit, we would always have at least one day where we would go and play a round of golf, or go out for breakfast- just me and him. Or sometimes he would call me outside to show me something new he had done to the yard and get my opinion on how it looked.
Dad and Me, 1988
Then there were the times when he would go outside of his realm just to be supportive of me- like year he coached my baseball team.
I was always a pretty good baseball player when I was a kid, but the summer after sixth grade I had one really standout year. In 21 games I hit 15 home runs, made very few fielding errors playing third base and left field, and even pitched four games going 3-1. We didn't keep ERA stats in little league but I was a big kid with one good pitch. My not-so-well-controlled, high velosity fastball scared most kids into whiffing. They never knew exactly where it was going to go, but they knew it would be coming fast. (For that matter- I didn't really know where it was going to go either. I just threw it as hard as I could.) Thus I had a lot of strikeouts and not a lot of runs scored against me.
At the end of each season our league would choose an all-star team that would go and play against the best of all the other different leagues around the Omaha metro area. And although I had some of the better stats of any of the kids in the league, I wasn't chosen for the All-Star team that year. However, several of the other coaches' sons did make the team even though some of their stats weren't even close to matching up with mine.
Let's just say that my dad wasn't too happy about that. So the next year, he signed up to coach baseball. While he was a fan of watching me play baseball, he had never coached it before. His experience was pretty much going to all of my practices for six years and seeing what all the other coaches did. But he did his best, used the experience of his assistants well, and our team came in third place in the final league standings. I still didn't make the All-Star team- with the fence and the pitchers mound moved back in that next higher level, I had a much more average season and other kids deserved their spots more than I did. (Plus- the other kids figured out how to hit my only pitch.) But I really appreciated my dad trying something that wasn't really his "thing" just to help out his kid.
Zach and Dad, 2003
Being retired for over 10 years has mellowed my dad quite a bit. He still spends time working around the yard, making improvements, and he still always asks my opinion when I'm home. I don't get there as often, but when I do, he still always gets me away for a round of golf or takes me out for breakfast or a beer and to show me off to a couple of his friends around town.
I also find myself trying to do things for my kids that he did for me. For example, I try to coach my kids in every sport they participate in- because I remember how much I appreciate him trying it for me that time. I also always try to praise my kids to others- everybody knows how proud of my kids I am.
I don't get to Omaha as much as I'd like to anymore, but I never forget how much I love and appreciate my dad for the things he has done for me in my life.
Thanks Dad and Happy Father's Day!
When I went to Nigeria last year and met my birth-father, Udeh-Ekeh, it was one of those surreal moments in my life where I was speechless. How do you express the feelings you have of meeting someone who is a major part of you but that you have never known? And yet I also felt an immediate, natural pull on my heart in seeing someone whom I looked like, whose blood I shared, and whose history was also mine. While it never diminishes my feelings and bond to the family that I grew up with, this natural pull that I have with my natural family is also unmistakable.
Joyful first meeting with Udeh-Ekeh
From the very first contact by mail, Udeh-Ekeh has welcomed me into the Ogike family as though I had been a part of the family my whole life. Everyone in the village of Aboh-Orlu treated me as their son, someone with all the rights, responsibilities, and privileges of being the first son of their chief. I was family. I was Aboh.
I realize I have much to learn about being my father's son, but there are a few things I already know. My father has been very gracious to me and I wish I could afford to go to Nigeria more often to see him and my family there. I know there are good things coming that may make it easier for me.
I also know that my father has a love for his family and for his home that suprasses every other important thing in his life. He wants the best for his children (including me) and prays often for our well being.
I'd like to think that until last year, there was always a sense in my father, when he looked at his family, something was missing. The picture wasn't complete.
The Ogikes, 1982
But now, I know he can say that it is complete.
The Ogikes, 2004
Happy Father's Day, Udeh-Ekeh!
When you get married you not only gain a soulmate for life, you also gain a whole new set of realtives. I knew after our second date that I would marry Laura. I knew after my first meeting with her father, Tom, that gaining a father-in-law was going to be a really good thing. That initial instinct has never failed me.
I couldn't have been luckier in the father-in-law department had I gone out and searched for the father-in-law first before choosing a mate.
Tom and me
Happy Father's Day Tom! I am so glad to have you in my life!
Thursday, June 16, 2005
What's This Blog About?
The GQ Article
The In Touch Weekly Article
The Saint Paul Pioneer Press Article
Welcome and enjoy the journey with me! Please let me know you dropped by and how you got here or leave comments and questions using the link below this post.
The Big "GQ"
We checked in at security at the Conde' Nast building and rode the elevator up to the ninth floor GQ offices where Jason met us at the door and proceeded to take us on a tour. It's funny how you expect offices of something famous to look so different from anything else you've ever seen, but except for the exceptional photography hanging on the walls of many famous people- it was an office- lot of cubes, offices and computers. However it was the people we were impressed with.
Jason at the office
First Jason took us to meet Jordan- the guy who 'fact checked' the story. It was nice to put a face with the name and voice- I spent a great deal of time with Jordan on the phone making sure that all the factual information in the story was correct. (He has this great, deep radio voice on the phone...) Jason was treating us to dinner that night, and Jordan would be joining us. Great!
We also met Jim Nelson- the Editor in Chief. Jim is the one who supported getting our story in the magazine and was always nice to deal with (the couple of times I talked to him.) I was surprised at how young he looked, being the editor and chief of a major magazine. (But then again, I'm getting older myself- I tend to see a lot more people as young.) He was quitet nice and thanked me for sharing my story with the magazine and the world. I have to say that I thank GQ for taking an interest in the first place.
We then walked around the offices meeting a few people here and there- layout designers, writers, editors. Everyone seemed curious as to who this family walking around their office was although I could tell that a few figured it out and kind of had that sudden "Oh... cool, it's that guyl" look on their faces. Everyone at the magazine was quite nice.
We made a call to the hotel and found that it would be another hour until our room was ready, so, Jason offered to take us to lunch at the Conde'Nast cafeteria down on the fourth floor. We were hungry, so we gratefully said "sure."
Now usually when someone tells you that you're going to eat at the cafeteria, you expect a kind of sterile, white table, lunch line with a choice of meatloaf or chicken and mashed potatoes served out of steaming shallow pans under hot lights by aging ladies in hair nets. Not at Conde'nast.
Aly and GT enjoy lunch at the Conde'nast Cafe
They had this beautifully designed space with several food stations where you could get made-to-order stir fry, freshly made gourmet sandwiches, burgers/ grilled chicken and fries, or made-to-order pasta. Plus they had this beautiful salad bar that rivaled any I had seen at some really great restaruants. (OK, OK- I was really hungry so any food would have looked good, but it was really very nice- especially for a corporate cafeteria.) The dining room was this cool art deco looking area with multi-levels and round pink booths (that of course my kids loved- they chose a table by a window and of course ate hamburgers and fries.)
At lunch, we made our plans for the rest of our couple of days. I had an appointment to talk to one of the producers from Good Morning America on the phone that afternoon who would let me know what to expect on the show and ask me aa few final questions. Plus, my cousin Chinwe, who I had talked to on the phone and exchanged emails with but hadn't met in person yet was going to come by and visit us when she got off work in the city. Jason also told us that he had arranged for a car to pick us up a the hotel to take us out to the restaurant where he would be treating us to dinner- a BBQ joint (in New York City?), and my mother and two sisters would meet us there at the restaurant after their plane got in.
Was I getting nervous yet? No. Not yet. I just wanted to get checked into the hotel and take a short nap. My few hours of sleep was starting to show.
To be continued....
Monday, June 13, 2005
Me and my "little brother."
A couple days ago I got an email from my youngest brother Nnadozie that got me thinking about what I should do about the sudden notoriety that I am receiving from the GQ article and the appearance on Good Morning America. (Most of what follows is from a letter I wrote to my father in Nigeria.)
I really didn't know what to expect to happen from the article about our story, but I knew that I had some things that I considered important and that I wanted it to accomplish. Now that I have lived one of my dreams- going to Nigeria to meet the family I have there- there are some things that I need to make happen.
First, I hoped that this would somehow make it easier for me to bring my family to Nigeria to see where some of their ancestry is from. I think that is so important for my children. We all want to learn more about our family and ancestors and the history of the village, and neighboring villages and all the other surrounding areas. Perhaps "the story" could even help me do more business here at home so that I could afford to make that happen sooner.
Second, I would like to somehow make an impact on the children of Aboh village and the surrounding areas who attend the school founded by our family. I would like to find a way to bring supplies, textbooks, and other items that the school needs. (Perhaps even computers, a generator- or even internet access.) In the big dream category, I would ultimately find a way to put together a scholarship program that would award top students with opportunities to go to college either in Nigeria or perhaps even in the United States.
The common bond between my family I grew up with and the rest of family that I have now is the importance of education. I grew up in a family that was also filled with educators. My great-grandmother was a teacher. Her Daughter, my grandmother, was an award winning teacher in the Omaha Public Schools and was also taught in universities in both the United States and in Liberia. My mom and dad were also career educators in the Omaha Public Schools. Education was also very important in the O'Connor family. And my grandfather, Francis Ogike was the founder of the school in Aboh Village, which my father and his brother ran until the Nigerian government took it over some years ago.
If I accomplish the scholarship idea, I would name it the JHOO Memorial Scholarship. (J-Johnson after my grandfather Frank Johnson who worked very hard to be sure that his four children had the opportunity to go to college, H- Hanger after my grandmother Ione Williams Hanger, the teacher and University Professor, O- O'Connor after my grandfather Thomas O'Connor, and O-Ogike after my grandfather, Francis Ogike who founded the school in the village.)
The other thing that I would like our story to accomplish is to continue to show Nigeria in a positive light. It is unfortunate that so much of the news we get in our world focusses on the negative, so when we get news about Nigeria in the United States, it is rarely anything positive. Most people here think only of Nigeria from the Nigerian 419 email scam letters they see on their computers.
And yet when I traveled to Nigeria I found it a wonderful place to be. I realize that I may have seen it from a perspective that most people will never have, and yet even when we just went around to talk to people- whether in Orlu, or Lagos, or Port Harcourt, I saw great people living their lives the best they could. I saw commerce. I saw progress. I saw creativity. I saw hope for the future of the country. There were so many wonderful people, living their lives in a place where they are free to make the most of their opportunities. I pray that Nigeria continues to be free and that the government can remain and become more stable and democratic.
There was one thing about Nnadozie's email that got me to thinking again about something that has already been in my mind but didn't really have a theme until I was invited to go on Good Morning America.
When the GMA people told me that they wanted me to come on their show, and told me that I would be appearing with my wife and my mother, Kathleen- I was glad that I wouldn't be up there alone. It would have been cool if they would have also called my father and my parents that I grew up with too. It all happened so fast that I really didn't think to mention it. Plus in hindsight, I realize that the segment was only eight minutes- long for GMA- so in a way I understand. You can only fit so many people on the set at a time.
I have always referred to this story as "our story" and while everybody is focussing on me and the "prince" angle of it, I do always have this in the back of my head. The prince part, while it may make it more interesting to people in the United States, is not the reason that this is important to me or our family.
To me, the reunion of family, the gratitude I have for the parents that raised me, and the future opportunities that may come to me and the rest of my family (all three sections) are all much more important to me. I don't really understand the "prince" part so much yet, so it is difficult for me to even think about that. Though it may be sigificant to my Nigerian family and to the people of Aboh-Orlu, it is also the one aspect that, if it were missing, wouldn't change the way I feel about this reunion. I am most happy to have found my family that stretches around the world and I want to focus on that.
Nnadozie has also pointed to the fact that so far our story has been told mostly from my perspective. I can understand that- I am the one who sought out and found this final piece to the puzzle that is me. Plus, GQ is an American magazine and GMA is an American program, and they will focus on the American in the story who made this great journey and found something wonderful.
But I also realize that there are other voices that will be very important in telling the whole story. For example, my parents that raised me have played such an important role in my life and still do- I see them as heroes. If there are other opportunities to show our story, from different perspectives- for example including my parents, or my father in Nigeria, or any of my nine brothers and sisters- it will definitely add a lot to the complete picture.
I especially hope that this can provide opportunities for my realitives in Nigeria. I'd really like to be able to help my "little" brother in his desire to come to the United States for a visit. I truly think the GQ article will play a positive role in making that happen. I am taking it to my congressman (John Kline-R, whose office has been very helpful already) and both Senators (Coleman-R and Dayton-D) to hopefully get letters of recommendation for his visa to be approved.
Friday, June 10, 2005
Like I said before, while I had every good intention of "live blogging" about the trip to New York City for Good Morning America, I quickly came to the realization that there is just way to much to do in New York to fit into three days- two of which were traveling days. So here I sit on the flight with a little too much turbulence, heading back to Saint Paul trying to collect my thoughts.
What an incredible three days!
Aly movin' fast
We arrived in the city just before 11:00 on Wednesday, very excited about everything we were about to do. My daughter was particularly animated, walking at a pace a little quicker than we were accustomed to and had a giddy, radiating smile on her face. And we hadn't even reached baggage claim yet. She was going to meet Diane Sawyer!
"Car for Marty Johnson"
Good Morning America had arranged for a car to take us from the airport to our hotel and we found our driver Daniel waiting for us at the bottom of the escalator. As we waited for our luggage to come on the conveyor, we thought about the things we wanted to squeeze in on this very impromptu (for us at least) trip. I mean Good Morning America was cool and all, but we also had things we wanted and needed to do.
ABC Studios, Times Square
We were fortunate as we rode on the freeways that we were missing rush hour and got into the city pretty quickly. Through the tunnel under the East River past all the all the billboards lining the way into uptown, past the New York Public library and into Times Square. Left at the ABC News studio with the rolling news ticker signs, up a half a block, and we were there.
The good news- we were staying at the Millennium Broadway Hotel in the heart of Manhattan, one half block from the ABC studio in Times Square. Bad News- our room wasn't ready and wouldn't be for another couple of hours. We called our new friend Jason over at GQ and he invited us over to his office for a tour and some lunch in the Conde' Nast cafeteria. (Conde'Nast is the parent company of GQ, as well as Vanity Fair, Glamour, Vogue, and several other publications.)
Not quite ready...
The bell captain stored our luggage until we could check in and we ventured out into the heart of Manhattan. Conde' Nast was one half block down, take a left, two blocks, take another left, and five buildings up. On the way we marveled at where we were. We passed the ABC Studios where we needed to be in the morning. Across the street- MTV. To the right- Broadway. To the left- 42nd Street. subways, dozens of Jumbotrons, street vendors, cabbies, restaurants, stores, lights, and thousands and thousands of people everywhere. And it was surprisingly clean. MUCH different than when I was there in 1986.
In the Heart of the City
Our kids were in total awe as we walked the few short blocks to Jason's office. It was easy to tell we were tourists because we were constantly looking up at the sea of skyscrapers.
UPDATE: To be continued... (Thanks Jackie!)
Wednesday, June 08, 2005
PS. Drop a comment so I know you were here and where you came from.
Saturday, June 04, 2005
Laura and I chat with Diane Sawyer
I had every good intention of blogging about the experience of going on Good Morning America with my wife, Laura and my mother, Kathleen, but we spent so much of our time making the most of our trip to New York City with our children, that sitting at the computer writing about it all just had to wait.
Now that we are back home, I will tell you about it when I have some more time. Right now I'll tell you that the crew, producer, make-up and hair people, and everyone at ABC were wonderful to us and Diane Sawyer was gracious, kind, and put us at ease from the moment we walked onto the set. It was a great experience.
If you saw the piece, let me know. I am interested in hearing what you thought. I'll tell you more once we get some rest!
Wednesday, June 01, 2005
We didn't sleep much in our city last night either. In fact, I don't think Laura slept at all. We did our usual "packing 'til midnight" routine that we always do before traveling. It didn't matter that we had to get up at four in the morning.
Anyone with kids knows that it is practically impossible to get any packing done until before the kids are in bed the night before you leave. Oh, you can have all the clothes picked out and folded, and have the snacks for the plane ready, and the portable DVD player charged up, and the extra batteries for the cameras ready, and toothbrushes and toothpaste set out to pack last.
None of it matters. Not a single stitch of clothing goes in the suitcase until the kids are in bed. Of course, last night the girl had a softball game and the boy had baseball practice so we got an even later start than normal. (Aly's team won 21-14 and she went 4-4.) Plus we had to take "Buck the Dog" over to our dear friend Sara's house. Good thing we packaged his food ahead of time- seven zip lock bags, one serving each. Water dish. Check. Feeding dish. Check. Toiletries. Check. List of phone numbers for work. Yep. The usual stuff you need on a last minute trip to appear on national TV (as if that happens every day.)
You know- as I sit here and think about all that is happening in my life now, it amazes me all the blessings I have. I am wondering how I can use this temporary attention to impact others in a positive way.
Looking back at my life, I realize the impact of giving a child the advantage of having a family. I can't imagine what my life would have been like if my parents (the ones who adopted me) had decided that they would only have wanted an infant instead of giving a home to a four year old child. Who knows? I might have turned out alright.
But then again, I may have been bounced from home to home. Never going to camp. Never playing little league baseball. Never learning to play saxophone. Never taking the vacation to California. Never participating in the schools' summer enrichment programs. Never spending a Saturday morning with my dad chasing a small white ball around several thousand yards of perfectly good land hoping it drops in the hole. Never being pushed to do my very best in school.
It is hard to say how my life would have been shaped without the love and guidance of the parents who raised me. I owe so much to my mom and dad. They took a chance and adopted a four year old kid.
Friday, May 27, 2005
They are bringing us on to talk about my big journey that you can find here in the current issue of GQ Magazine. That's cool and all, but here are a few reasons that I am really phsyched:
- I finally will have a chance to meet some of my Nigerian relatives that live in New York City (Bronx). My Aunty Christy was the first person that I spoke with when my Nigerian family heard from me. I can't wait to meet her.
- I will finally meet my Uncle John, my mother's brother. I met most of my aunts and uncles on my mother's side when I attended my grandfather's 90th birthday back in 2001, but unfortunatly John couldn't make it. I have been waiting to meet him ever since. I'll see Uncle Chris while I'm there too. My mother says that he and I have the same smile.
- Jason, the editor who wrote the story, always tells me that he plays basketball all the time, so hopefully I'll get a chance to get him in a gym and give him a little lesson.... (heh, heh)
- Last, but definitely not least, my daughter Aly will get to meet Diane Sawyer. You see, my daughter is an anchor/reporter for the Rahn (Elementary School) TV News, her school's daily morning newscast for the students. I asked her one time, who she would most like to be like on TV- she said Diane Sawyer. ("I love Diane Sawyer. She's the best. I want to be just like her.") Maybe she'll even get to interview Diane for her schools broadcast. (O.K. That's a stretch, but...)
(Cross Posted at YOU KNOW I'M RIGHT and In Search of Utopia)
The Johnsons, 1967
When I got on the plane in Dubuque, Iowa on that mostly cloudy day in 1968, I didn't realize I wouldn't be returning to the farm that was my foster home. "Lassie", the Bull, the cows, the chickens, and the kittens in the door around the back side of the barn would never see the little brown skinned boy again. I was on my way to Omaha to meet the people who would be my family.
I don't remember arriving in Omaha, as I slept on the flight. From the airport, we traveled by car and went to what seemed to be a huge palace to a kid my size. It was actually a convent. We went to the dining room and got something to eat, and it was time to go to bed for the night. Tomorrow was going to be a big day and I would need my sleep. The nuns set up a mattress with some sheets, a blanket, and a pillow in the hallway. Later I learned that I was probably the only male to ever sleep in that convent.
The next day, I woke up and had some breakfast- corn flakes, I think- and got dressed to head out for the day- not that I knew where we were going. This was the day I would meet my family!
The woman took me to a park and let me go play on the swings while we waited. She called me over as some people approached- a man, a woman, and a small girl. The lady I came with told me who they were but I didn't really catch on. I just wanted to go back and play. The girl saved the day by asking me if I wanted to go swing on the swings. We went over to the playground and proceeded to play while the adults talked.
After what seemed like about 15 minutes, the lady called me and the girl back over to the adults. She said something about me going to live with them, and if that was O.K. with me. I nodded my head. The family walked away, and I was told that I would see them tomorrow.
One more night in the convent, and then off to the little rambler on 38th Street where I would go an live with the Johnsons as one of the family. How was I to know that this wasn't how every kid got a family?
Monday, May 23, 2005
(Update: Welcome, Booker Rising readers. Thanks Molotov!)
From 1968 and up until a few years ago, I only had one sister. Joslen is five years older than me so we weren't the closest that two kids could be growing up. I mean how many sixth grade girls want their little first grade brother hanging around. And that was the only time that we went to the same school.
Plus, she had her friends and I had mine. She tried out for theatrical plays and played her clarinet. I played little league and jumped bikes off ramps with my friends.
About the only thing we did together was go to Lee Valley pool to go swimming. That was our summer entertainment. As many days as we could it was, "Mom- can we go swimming?"
Summers were always the best.
Joslen bears a striking resemblance to our great-grandmother, Elizabeth Juanita Taggart Willams. At least that's what my grandmother always said. (I wouldn't have known, because I had never met my great grandmother.) But it wasn't until I saw these two pictures together that I had a "Separated at Birth" vision:
My Sister Joslen
I think that was another factor as to why I began to show some interest in finding and meeting my biological parents. I always wondered if there was someone out in the world that looked like me.
When my birth mother, Kathleen, found me in 2001, one of the first things she told me was that she had two daughters from her marraige to her college boyfriend back in New Mexico. My sisters Frances and Mei-Lee both grew up and live in California to this day and both have kids- Francis, two girls, and Mei-Lee, three boys.
From the first time I talked on the phone to my newly found sisters, I knew we would be good friends. Frances, just a year and a half younger than me, is the quieter one- introspective and somewhat shy. Mei-Lee is more outgoing and told me that she had always wanted a big brother. ("How's 6'4" and 275 sound?)
Frances and Mei-Lee meet their Big Brother.
We first met at my Grandfather O'Connor's 90th birthday party where I also met several other relatives. It was then that I realized that this wasn't going too be to difficult. They make me feel like I have been a part of their family all along.
Sunday, May 22, 2005
I have read the article in its entirety about three times and each time it brings back so many of the emotions that I had when I was in Nigeria. I laugh, I cry, I do a little dance...
Jason did a wonderful job of capturing the essence of my journey home. But I do have a lot more to tell. There was so much to this story and to this trip that it just wouldn't all fit in a magazine. Laura has been writing a book about it, and I plan to add a lot more here.
One question that people who have already read the story keep asking (after they congratulate me and my family)- "How does it feel?"
A little like this:
Like getting hit by Mike Tyson in his prime. (But in a good way!)
Let's just say that I've spent the last few days in a fog. But now, I think I'm ready to work toward the next goal- getting my business back in order and my family to Nigeria.
Saturday, May 21, 2005
Now that we know the GQ article
In any case, with the chance of having new readers here
UPDATE: 5/18/2005 The article on my story is out. I've updated the link above.
UPDATE: 5/19/2005 Welcome readers of GQ, In Search of Utopia, The Rogue Angel, and Wizbang! Leave a comment somewhere so I know you were here.
UPDATE: 5/20/2005 Welcome Chookooloonks readers. Please let me know that you dropped by leaving a comment somewhere. Also- this weekend, make one of those recipes that Karen throws out every now and then. I'm thinking it's a good weekend in Minnesota for some Pelau in the Johnson house. (I'll have to see if I can find some coconut milk.)
Friday, May 20, 2005
I'm glad that you brought up this topic, Karen, because one of the reasons that I wasn't originally fully comfortable with making a big push to find my natural parents was the loyalty I have to the parents I have, George and Juanita Johnson.
When writing or talking to other people I make a distinction between my two moms by calling my mom, "mom" and my mother, "my mother." Does that make sense? I do however recognize the gratitude that I owe to both of them.
My one challenge is what to call them when we are all together. My mom is "Mom" and my mother is "Kathleen" when we are all in the same place. However, when I'm talking to my sisters on the phone (Kathleen's daughters; not my sister- Mom and Dad's daughter, or my sisters, my father's daughters) I call Kathleen "mom" because it's easier to say that rather than say "YOUR mom", because she is OUR mother....
Wait- I'm confusing myself.
Let's put it this way. My "Mom" is the mom I grew up with and she will always be "Mom". My "Mother" is the mom who gave me a chance through a tough choice in life at a time so different than today. Although I do call her "mom" when I am talking to her or to that corner of my three families, unless of course I have both my mom and my mother together in the same room. Then it's easier to refer to "Mom" and "Kathleen". (Or "Grandma Kathy" which is what my kids call her.)
Does this make sense?
Wednesday, May 18, 2005
I'd like to thank Jason Gay (Senior Editor, GQ Magazine), Mark Seliger (Condenast Photographer for GQ and Vanity Fair) and of course Luke (Mark's former assistant who traveled to Nigeria with us) for taking an interest in my story and putting together such a beautiful piece.
Jason, Luke, and Mark join the family.
(I'm glad you took this one Mark!)
I'll get back to writing soon.
NOTE: Reading the story online doesn't really do the scope of the article justice. Next time you're at the store, pick-up the current issue of GQ and see the photos in their full glory. Heck- BUY a copy. Brad Pitt is on the cover!
Sunday, May 15, 2005
Helen at 5
Today my grandmother, Helen "Weavie" Johnson is 97 years old. She has been living with my parents the last couple of years just to be safe, but she is doing quite well for her age. In fact, she is doing well for for people twenty years younger. I talk to her on the phone now and then, and she still remembers everything we talked about from prior conversations, and she also has her very extensive family history committed to memory.
Laura and Weavie
A few years ago, my wife Laura and I traveled to her former home in Marshalltown, Iowa and spent the day video taping an interview with her about her family stories. My Laura is a genealogy buff and was amazed at how much Weavie knows about her parents, grandparents and more. She also had hundreds of photographs going back to her great grandmother. In fact, the University of Iowa has used my grandmother as a resource for a book on the history of Iowa.
But more on that another time. First things first.
To my grandmother, who from the first day I joined the Johnson family treated me as her own, I wish a very Happy Birthday!
(I better get on the "horn.")
UPDATE: I thought you might be interested in seeing this photo of our children's great, great, great, great, grandmother.
Aly and GT's great, great, great,great grandmother
Eliza Jane Ward Sutor (center) is Weavie's great-grandmother. She is pictured with her grandson- George (front, left), her daughter-in-law and Weavie's grandmother- Margaret Caroline Brown Sutor (back left) , and her granddaughters- Lillian (back, center), Sara Jane (Weavie's mother, back right), and Alice (front, right).
Eliza Jane Ward was born a slave in Kentucky, but, through a twist of fate, was taken away as a young girl to live with "free negroes" near Cincinati, Ohio. It's a great story that will have to wait until another time. (Sorry.)
My first recollections in life take place when I was in the second Foster home in which I had been placed. Of course I didn't know it was a Foster home at the time, but it was home.
I lived on a farm with a family that I remember having several children, all much older than me. For all I know that could mean they were anywhere from five years old to teenagers. I was only three. And- they all had skin much lighter than mine. (They were farmers in Iowa- no surprise.)
I have several distinct memories but here are the most clear to this day:
Me and "Lassie "
1) There was a dog there on the farm that I called Lassie (I think it had a different name, but she looked like Lassie to me.) Also, there was a "jackpot" door around the back side of the barn where the new baby kittens were. Three year olds LOVE kittens. I was no exception. (I'm a dog person now though.)
2) The mother of the home had a rule for me. "Stay away from the fence." Do you know how when someone tells you to do something you are always tempted to do the opposite? One day I found out why the fence area was off limits. As I wandered toward it, I could see that there were several cows on the other side of the fence far down the way in the pasture. As I stared at the cows in the distance, I heard the sound of hooves pounding toward me and this awful heavy breathing, and as I looked to my right I saw this giant lumbering animal coming at me at a high rate of speed with mean looking eyes. I screamed and began to cry. Thankfully there was a fence between me and the bull. (I don't remember ever going near that fence again though.)
3) The farm had dairy cows that spend time in a milking area in one of the barns. For those who have never seen a milking barn, the cows are lined up in rows where they are milked. In some of these barns, there will be a trough cut into the floor where the cows "do their business" during a long milking session. I remember being in the barn one day wadering around, being curious standing near these giant animals looking down at that smelly trough in the floor when someone opened the barn door behind me. As I turned to look to see who it was, my foot got caught and I fell backwards into a small sea of cow manure and urine. As I waked back to the house, crying and my arms out to the side, I knew that the only part of the barn that I ever wanted to see again was where the kittens were.
I also remember the day the nuns came to take me away. I know that they packed a suitcase for me, but it didn't quite click that I wouldn't be coming back. They took me out to eat before we went to the airport and I had ice cream for dessert. The waitress put two cookies in the scoop of vanilla and made eyes out of cherries. I thought it looked like Mickey Mouse. Next stop, the airport. The plane was a big silver one with propellers. I remember getting on, but I think I fell asleep shortly after takeoff. At this point in my life, I wonder how they could afford to fly me to Omaha from Dubuque, but I suppose that there were regional airlines that did that sort of thing back then.
It's funny- I could never remember any names from that family, or even picture what they looked like. But to this day, I feel a sense of gratitude toward them. Maybe someday I'll get the chance to thank them too.
Friday, May 13, 2005
Does anybody think THIS issue will sell?
In five days Brad Pitt will be sharing space in a major magazine with yours truly. If you are walking by a newsstand and see this magazine- pick it up and look for the pictures of my amazing family. Oh- there might be a little story about us in there too.
I mean, sure, Brad as been with her and is now hanging out with her, but he doesn't have this:
Pride and joy.
Dinner with my mom and my mother.
My Irish half.
My African half. Photo courtesy of Mark Seliger
My best half.
You see Brad Pitt may date, marry, divorce, and date more Hollywood starlets and make $20,000,000 per film, but I am truly rich.
Wednesday, May 11, 2005
10 years ago:
I was 31.
I finally left the cult of TGI Fridays.
I watched my daughter walk for the first time.
I drove a mini-van.
I loved my wife.
5 years ago:
I was 36.
I closed shop on my own business and became an employee again.
I was the official Wednesday “Bike Day” mechanic at my kids Montessorri.
My house could have used a coat of paint.
I decided it was time to find my natural parents.
I loved my wife.
3 years ago:
I was 38.
I took my kids to Disneyland.
I met many relatives I never knew about.
I coached my son’s first basketball team.
I loved my wife
1 year ago:
I was 40 on 04/04/04.
My wife and kids kept the secret.
Boy, was I surprised.
I went to Africa to meet my natural father, brothers and sisters.
I was given my Igbo name.
I loved my wife.
My family is featured in a national magazine.
I coach my kids in several sports.
I need to find more business.
My house could use a coat of paint.
I drive a minivan (when it runs.)
I love my wife.
Swiped from Rogue. :0
Tuesday, May 10, 2005
I was adopted at age [four] by a black family in Omaha, Nebraska. From the time of my adoption up until [four] years ago, I knew nothing about my natural parents. In fact, while I had been curious now and then, it wasn't until I got married and had children of my own that I found the motivation and desire to actually take action on the subject. Even then, it took [a lot of] prodding by my wife to become active in an actual search. [AND I THANK HER IN MY HEART EVERY DAY FOR IT!!!]
As luck would have it, just as I began my search, my natural mother found me first. She was living in California (and still is) as do her daughters (even though technically half, they are my sisters to me) and their families. About ten months later I also found my biological father and six more brothers and sisters, living back in his native country, Nigeria. And then there is the "Prince" story.
So what is this about? It's mostly be about my adoption story. I will also keep you up to date on the most recent aspects of my story as well as the progress I make on some of my new goals. These include my quest to take my wife and children to Africa to meet their Nigerian family, and to bring my Nigerian family to the United States to see where I live.
And of course I will be throwing in a few opinions here and there on different issues ranging from adoption, to race realtions, to what makes a family and so on (although I'll keep a separate blog for any overtly political ramblings.)
This past May I went to Nigeria to meet my father and his children (my six brothers and sisters) for the very first time thanks to a wonderful surprise on my birthday (40 on 04/04/04, a numerologist's dream). A writer and photographer from GQ Magazine went with me on my trip and will be publishing a story about my trip and adoption experience that will be on the stands October 25th. More on that later.
I hope you enjoy reading this. Drop a comment here and there to let me know you stopped by!
Also- find out why I am accepting donations.
UPDATE 8/26/2004: Looks like the GQ article won't be out until February 2005.
UPDATE 2/20/2005: Uh... Make that later this year- perhaps April or May 2005.
When the first article about my story came out in the local paper, and was then sent out on the AP wire, I got phone calls from about 20 radio stations all around the country, plus from Canadian Broadcasting [CBC] in Toronto and BBC London- all different programs that wanted to inteview me and ask me questions on the air about my story. It was quite overwhelming, and though it was flattering that they all wanted to hear about my story, I didn't really have a lot of answers for them. I didn't fully understand what it meant to be an Nigerian Igbo (ee-bo) prince, plus it was very difficult to describe how I felt at the time.
The "Prince" idea was cool and all, but I was much more excited about the fact that I had finally come in contact with both sides of my biological family. I had already met my mother along with my two sisters, and many of my aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, etc. on her side. My next big priority was to get to Nigeria to meet my father- preferably with my wife and children going with me so we all could meet my his side of the family.. That is what was really important to me. The thought of that reunion was the truly exciting part of the story for me. However, for the media that contacted me, they were more intrigued about the Prince angle.
In May of , thanks to the grace of God and a little behind the scenes trickery by Laura (a.k.a. The Wife) I finally got the opportunity to travel to Nigeria for the first time to meet my biological father, my six brothers and sisters, and dozens of other relatives living in the village of Aboh Orlu. An editor from a major magazine who had been following my story went with me and brought along a photographer (and his assistant) to document my trip. The article he is writing comes out in their November issue. (I'll tell you which magazine as we get closer to the publish date.)
I am not sure what to expect when the article finally hits the news stands, but because it is going to a very large article in a major magazine, I am sure that I will get another barrage of calls when it comes out. My biggest concern is that it doesn't disrupt my family and my job. While the 15 minutes of fame can be exciting, I also know that I must keep it in perspective.
Now that I have been to Nigeria, the next step for me is to go back again with my wife and children along so that my father can meet his grandchildren. Our goal is to go in December of 2005. It takes a lot of planning and a heck of a lot of money to travel to Nigera- especially with children. Thus we put off going one more year and decided it would make more sense to go in 2005 when we could spend a lot more time saving money to get there.
This has been an incredible turning point in my life that I have chosen to share with other people- especially other adoptees that may have found or are still looking for their biological parents. It is my greatest hope that in the process of getting my second "15 minutes of fame" I will be able to use the opportunity to 1) get my family over to Nigeria, and 2) help as many others reach their own dreams as possible.
UPDATE 8/29/2004: MY wife tells me that it's OK to say the name of the magazine. The November issue of GQ Magazine comes out on October 25th.
Update 5/10/2005: O.K. As you can tell, the original publish date of the GQ article got pushed back. In fact, it got pushed back a couple of times. But it will definitely be coming out at the end of this month (June 2005 issue.)
Sunday, May 08, 2005
Me and my two moms, Juanita (left) and Kathleen (right).
I am one of a select few people who can boast having two actual moms to thank on Mother's Day.
I met Juanita Johnson when I was four years old. I didn't actually understand what was happening at the time- that this woman I was meeting would be my mother. At that age, who knew that wasn't how everybody got a family?
What I do know is Juanita Johnson is the first person that I could call "Mom." She's the one who took me to piano lessons. She is the one who made me brush my teeth every day. She is the one who made sure had my lunch money. She is the one who sat through every baseball game, school play, music concert, and anything else that I was doing at any given time when I was growing up. Though the innate abilities I had came from a place I didn't know (yet), my mom (and my dad) allowed me to explore and nurture every inch of my talents, and always supported me when I was at my best and when I was at my worst.
I met Kathleen O'Connor Wang in March 2001- I was just shy of my 37th birthday. Back in 1964, when she gave me up for adoption, it was a very different time and America was a very different place. I can only imagine what it would have been like for a nice Irish Catholic girl to raise a black child. But that wasn't really the issue for my mother and her family. My mother wasn't ready to raise a child alone and my grandparents already had five other kids in the home and two in college.
So my mother did something selfless that so many others have done. She gave me a chance in life.
And my mom stepped up, gave me a home, and improved those chances at every possible turn.
My life is full of great stories- I've done more things than most people can even dream of. But my best story is that I have two moms who made everything in my life possible.
Mrs. Johnson and Ms. Wang- thank you for the amazing things you have done for me. I owe you a lot. More than anyone could know.
I love you. Happy Mother's Day!
Wednesday, May 04, 2005
Sunday, May 01, 2005
Home of the yearly Fourth of July Party
About 10 years ago, my dad began hosting a yearly Fourth of July party for our extended family and friends in his back yard back in Omaha. Over the years it grew bigger and bigger and as it grew, it became a de facto Family Reunion. It wasn't too hard for a number of our relatives, who live mostly in the midwest, to make it to Omaha for a holiday weekend. In fact, as of a few years ago, even my uncle in California and some cousins from Texas and D.C. would even make it out for the yearly celebration.
However, as of two years ago, with my parents both in their upper 70's, the event was getting too big for my parents to handle and the decided to no longer host the party.
At one of the last "Johnson Family Fourth of July" that Laura, the kids, and I attended and before my parents decided they weren't going to have the annual event any more, I was talking with my mom about a big dream that I have- having a family reunion. But not just any family reunion. This one, I would plan, host, and invite ALL of my family.
That would include my family I grew up with- my parents, my sister, my 96 year old grandmother and her children, grandchildren, great grand children and great, great, grandchildren. Basically all the descendants of Frank and Helen Johnson, my adoptive father's parents, from his older sister and his two brothers on down.
But then, I would also want to have all the descendants of my natural mother's father, Thomas O'Connor. That would include my mother and five living brothers and sisters (one of my uncles passed away several years ago) and all their children and grandchildren- especially my two sisters Mei-Lee and Frances.
Finally I would have my father, his seven living brothers and sisters and all the other living relatives of my Grandfather Ogike. That would include my six brothers and sisters in Nigeria- Chibuzo, Gerald, Amara, Obianuju, Phyllis, and Nnadozie. If you included all my cousins, etc. That alone would be over 140 people.
As I have said before, it would be a logistical nightmare. Besides all of the people traveling and coming from basically all over the U.S. and world (visas would be just part of the problem) finding places for everyone to stay, feeding what would be probably over 300 people, getting people to and from places- WHEW! I would definitely need a great sponsor, an event planner, and a bigger grill.
I know that this is a dream that could probably never happen, but man, would THAT be something?!
It w0uld be an amazing thing if it could happen.