Sunday, January 4, 2009

Dad finds daughter on Facebook

After losing contact, he reaches out to her

Monitor staff

There are six pages on the social networking website Facebook belonging to people named Bonnie Cheney. But Ed Cheney of Concord recognized the one belonging to his daughter nearly immediately. He hadn't seen her in 21 years, but in one profile picture of a woman living in Ocala, Fla., he saw the face of the 6-year-old he knew, now all grown up.

Last month, Ed Cheney, 54, wrote her a message on Facebook, saying that he was fairly certain he was her father and that he had been looking for her. Then the ice storm cut the power at his South End home.

On Dec. 13, it came back on. He had a message in his inbox. He had found her, it said. And she had been looking for him, too.

Cheney met his first wife in 1978, when he worked as a boat patrol officer for the Department of Safety. Her stepfather owned a boathouse. The two dated for a summer, then stayed friends.

Later, when she became pregnant with a daughter from another relationship, Cheney supported her, he said. The two decided to marry. They had Bonnie Lea together in 1981.

But the marriage quickly ended. Bonnie's mother became engaged to another man. Though she and Bonnie continued to live in New Hampshire for several years, Ed Cheney never saw his daughter past age 6. He said his ex-wife didn't allow it.

He never pursued his visitation rights in court. Lawyer friends advised him not to, he said, even though he paid child support.

"I let her down in a lot of ways by not doing that," he said.

Cheney, who works in purchasing at Speare Memorial Hospital in Plymouth, married a second time and divorced. He never had more children.

He found other ways to act as a parental figure. He coached Little League, and he joined a single parents support and social group called Parents Without Partners. He said he liked being a male role model for kids who didn't have fathers in their lives.

"I was also a parent without a child in my life," he said. "I always wanted to remedy that."

When she turned 18, he began looking for her. He learned that she lived in Ocala. He found an address, wrote her a letter and mailed it. He never heard back.

The evolution of the internet brought new avenues to try. He looked for her on the social networking website MySpace, to no avail.

Meanwhile, Bonnie, now 27, had moved with her family to Florida. She and her sister had two younger siblings. Though her memories of her father were "very, very vague," Cheney had thought about trying to find him from time to time since she was a teenager.

"I never wanted to upset the balance with my mom and my stepdad, who essentially raised me from a child," she said. "I was very careful about it."

Though she had dabbled in searching for him on the internet, Cheney decided in December 2007 to begin a search in earnest. She knew little more than that he still lived in New Hampshire.

"I had very, very little that my mom told me about him," she said. "She never really had anything bad to say about him, she just didn't say much."

She found listings for an Ed Cheney and began drafting a letter. It was hard to find the right words, and she never sent it.

She said she never expected her father to be on Facebook, because most of the network's users are of her generation and younger. When she received a message from him, she was shocked. She waited an hour before responding.

"You don't know what to write because you want it to all sound perfect, and it just doesn't," she said.

The two began exchanging long e-mails. Ed Cheney sent an e-mail to his parents group friends saying, "I found Bonnie."

On Christmas Day, the father and daughter talked by phone for the first time.

She discovered that she gets her green eye color and her rosy complexion from him. He told her about her extended family, including the grandmother she remembers feeding her Fruit Loops during weekend breakfasts.

He learned that she lives with her boyfriend and two puppies. Like her father, she works in the medical field as an administrator at an OBGYN office. She hopes to become an ultrasound technician.

They discovered differences, too. He calls her "Bonnie Lea." She goes by "Bonnie." He's emotional. She keeps people at a distance, she said. He wants to apologize, to explain himself. She said she doesn't need that.

"There's no need to apologize or explain. . . . I'm more of a live-in-the-moment kind of person," she said. "That stuff doesn't affect me or matter."

She said her parents were young when they split.

"When you're young, you do things because you're mad at somebody, and then you don't know how to go back and fix things later," she said.

She said she's a private person, so getting to know her father will be difficult. They are working at it slowly. He is going on a cruise in February that leaves from Florida. He plans to go down there a week early. She is still deciding if she is ready to meet him in person. For now, they will keep e-mailing, they said.

Concord Monitor - Dad finds daughter on Facebook

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