Growing up, Kevin Butler’s father liked to tell his son how lucky they were to adopt him, saying, “We got to go and pick the best one.” Butler, along with one of his five siblings, was adopted and always knew it. Yet he never wondered about his birth parents or where he came from. Then a change in a law allowed him to easily find out who his birth parents were — and he discovered he had already known his birth father for years.
A 2015 Ohio law unsealed birth certificates for 400,000 adoptees born between 1964 and 1996. For just $20, these individuals were allowed to access their birth parents’ information. Butler, a law director, told Cleveland.com that he decided to do it, but had no intentions of actually contacting anyone from his birth family. That all changed when he saw a familiar name on his birth certificate.
When the envelope arrived in the mail, he learned a few things he hadn’t known about himself, like the hospital he was born in and his given name at birth. He also saw the name L. Christoper Frey.
“I think I know him,” he said to his wife, Catherine.
Chris Frey, as he is known, was a law director whom Butler had known professionally for years. As law directors, both Frey and Butler would meet once a month at the offices of the Cleveland Bar Association. Butler was shocked, but once reality set in, he realized he looks a lot like his birth father. Despite learning the amazing news, Butler spent two years trying to find the best time to tell Frey that he was his son.
“Every time I went to a law directors’ meeting, I would carry that original birth certificate in my pocket, just in case I could work up the courage to tell him,” he explained. “Sometimes he wasn’t there and sometimes I wasn’t able to make it and sometimes he might’ve been driving other people, so it just never seemed right to me.”
Then when Frey asked Butler to consider hiring his daughter Marie who had recently passed the bar exam, Butler agreed but knew that he couldn’t go through with it — not knowing what he knew. It made him realize that he had to tell Frey the truth sooner than later.
“Our worlds were going to keep colliding,” he said. “And I got this feeling that if he died of a heart attack or I died of a heart attack, I would feel awful for not having first told him.”
Finally, he told Frey after a meeting by simply handing him the birth certificate. Then, he had to leave, walking away from his shocked birth father. But it wasn’t long before Butler would know the entire story behind his birth and adoption.
Frey met Butler’s birth mother Jan Anderson in 1974 and they began dating. Jan became pregnant and had to tell her parents, but Frey never told his. She was 19 and he was 22.
“We were nowhere near committed to each other,” Anderson told Cleveland.com. “And honestly, I felt completely inadequate. I didn’t feel I had anything to offer a baby, other than my love, and at that time, I didn’t think that was enough.”
Her parents sent her to live with family for the last four months of her pregnancy, where she stayed until she gave birth. Frey would visit her. Neither was able to hold their son when he was born.
“I felt incredible grief and I wasn’t allowed to grieve,” Anderson said. “I had to pretend like nothing happened. We didn’t speak of it except to each other.” The experience sealed a bond between the young couple and just over a year later, they were married. They went on to have six more children, whom they had never told about their first-born son.
When Frey learned that Butler was that long-lost son, he knew he had to tell his wife. She immediately searched Butler on the internet to find out everything she could about him. Within days, they told the rest of their children, and Frey’s mother and the rest of the family were eager to meet Butler.
“Chris just stepped aside, and I walked up to my mother and gave her a hug,” said Butler of the moment he met his birth mother. “I was still holding on to the idea that I was meeting them, but I could still be distant to them, like their West Side cousin, but a lot changed in that hug.”
During that hug, his birth mother told him, “They wouldn’t let me hold you in the hospital. I’ve waited 42 years for this moment.”
With his new-found siblings, Butler discovered instant friendships and his daughter found new lifelong friends in her cousins.
Butler’s adoptive mother had died in 2011, and he was nervous to tell his adoptive father about meeting his birth family, but his adoptive father Dennis simply said, “The next time you see them, I want you to thank them for the gift of my son.”
Butler now has 11 siblings and two large families to celebrate life with. Though his birth parents still wrestle with the decision that was made to place him for adoption, they are extremely grateful that he found them… and Frey considers them “darn lucky to have a second chance” — a second chance that never would have been possible without the gift of life.
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