For nearly 40 years Creston’s Leonard Laliberte kept with him an article from an Ontario newspaper.
“If these were your family, wouldn’t you be proud and happy? They could be, and so could you,” the article began. “The three are eagerly waiting for parents and a home where they can grow up together.”
Above the story is a photo of three children: a girl, 8, and two boys, 9 and 6. The headline reads, “Young brothers and sister want to remain together.”
The article went on to describe the characteristics of each child.
Last week, two of those children took the first steps in reuniting with their natural father, who gave them up for adoption in 1971, hoping they would have better lives than he could provide.
Laliberte drove to Calgary last Thursday, expecting to meet his eldest son, Albert Tychynski, only weeks after they found each other on Facebook. Laliberte had an even greater surprise when Peter walked out of the airport’s secured area. At his side was Albert’s sister, Rose Fitzgerald, who had told her long-lost father on the phone that she couldn’t get away on such short notice. The pair flew in from their respective homes in Ontario.
“I knew I was coming right away,” she said in the Advance office on Monday. “I wanted to surprise him.”
Also at the airport was a team from Global News. The taped segment was broadcast in Calgary on Thursday night and made the national news on the weekend.
The story of the family’s separation is a sad one. Laliberte left an unhappy marriage and got custody of his three youngsters. He was in the Canadian Navy, though, a job that frequently took him away from his Windsor, Ont., home. The children were boarded out while he was away, but the stress of trying to juggle career and fatherhood became too much. He asked two brothers, whom he says were both millionaires, to take his children in. They refused, and the bitterness still shows in Laliberte’s face when he tells the story.
Finally, he made the gut-wrenching decision to turn his children over to Ontario’s Children’s Aid Society so they could be adopted into a loving home. The article Laliberte has kept all these years was submitted to the newspaper by the society. A family came forward to adopt the children, who soon learned their new parents were abusive alcoholics. Within a year, the adoption was rescinded.
At the agreement of Albert, by then 11 years of age, the kids were put up for adoption separately and eventually went to different homes, losing contact with each other.
“I found Rose when we were about 20 and we stayed in touch for several years, then lost contact again for 15 years,” Tychynski said. “I found her through her ex-husband’s Facebook page three weeks after I found Dad.”
Laliberte had opened a Facebook account on a whim earlier this year.
“I probably typed his name into Facebook a hundred times, and then one day there was a hit,” his son said.
Tychynsky sent Laliberte a message asking if he was from Windsor, Ont., if he had been in the Navy and worked as a chef.
Laliberte replied in the affirmative.
“I’ve found you, Dad,” Tychynski wrote back.
“It was the message I’d always been hoping for,” Laliberte said.
“Are you sure it’s him?” Fitzgerald asked her brother.
“No doubt,” he replied.
“We weren’t unrealistic in our expectations,” she said. “We knew that Dad might not want to meet us, that he might have a wife and family and not want to upset his life.”
“I went into a deep depression after I gave up my kids,” Laliberte said. “The guilt was a terrible thing to live with.”
Laliberte, now 71, spent the rest of his working years as a chef, eventually remarrying and helping to raise a second family. He retired to Creston in 1977.
“I’ve been looking for my dad my whole life,” Fitzgerald said. “But we always thought his last name ended with a y rather than an e.”
“Three years ago I was diagnosed with emphysema and I was ready to die,” Laliberte recalls. “But I found a friend who gave me some hope. For some reason I saved my old papers, including the newspaper article, though I thought of getting rid of everything.”
Because her dad saved those papers, Fitzgerald finally knows her real birthdate. She remembers as a child arguing that her birthday was being celebrated on the wrong day.
“They had the right month, but the day was wrong,” she said. “We found the correct date in dad’s naval documents.”
Fitzgerald and Tychynski agree that Laliberte gave them up for adoption with their best interests at heart.
“We remember what he went through trying to keep us all together,” she said. “We have had no bitterness, just a void. We wanted to know what happened to him. There are so many happy memories — camping, singing, pillow fights. When Daddy came home it was great.”
“As we got older we all understood why he did what he did,” her brother agreed. “Now we have answers to all of our questions.”
Laliberte, who turned to Christianity in recent years, getting baptized in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, sees a commonality with one biblical character.
“I go back to the Bible, to the Book of Job,” he said. “I think, ‘This (the trials of Job) is what I went through.’ And now God has blessed me.”
Tychynski said the search for his father became something of an obsession when he learned to use a computer three years ago. It has given him the opportunity he’s always longed for.
“I wanted to find him to put him at peace,” he says, tears streaming down his cheeks. “I wanted him to know before he died that we understand.”
A future reunion is with the third sibling is planned, and more visits will be arranged. For his part, Laliberte is adamant that he can’t visit Ontario, fearful that the air pollution will affect his emphysema.
“But we have the phone, and Skype and Facebook,” Fitzgerald said. “We won’t lose him again.”
“We all share the same heart,” Laliberte said.