Driven apart after a divorce, Clifton father, son reunite 30 years later
So much changes in 30 years. Hairlines recede, waists expand, memories dim. And little boys grow from gangly 9-year-olds to 39-year-old fathers of six.
And so on Feb. 3, his wife at work, his Clifton home relatively quiet, Fred Romero sat down to watch the Ravens play the 49ers in the Super Bowl. A short time before kickoff, the phone rang. Fred grumbled a little, but muted the TV.
“Hello?” he answered.
“Hi, is your name Fred J. Romero?” the voice on the other end asked.
“Yes,” Fred replied.
“Were you born in Colorado?”
“Yessss ...” Fred responded, feeling curious and hesitant.
“Did you work for a company in San Jose, California, driving a bus?”
“Yes,” Fred answered. “May I ask who I’m talking to?”
“Sure,” the voice said. “My name’s David Romero.”
“And I have a cousin named David, so at first I thought it was my cousin in California,” Fred recalled. “So I said, ‘Oh, hey, David, how are you, it’s been a while.’ But then he said, ‘No, I’m David your son.’ ” It had been 30 years.
Every other weekend, for the two years following his 1981 divorce from his ex-wife, Gloria, Fred drove the two hours from San Jose, Calif., to Sacramento to spend the weekend with his only child, son David. David was 7 when the couple divorced.
Then one Friday afternoon, Fred said, he knocked on the apartment door and it was empty. He said he knocked on the other doors in the apartment complex and asked if anyone knew where Gloria and David had gone, but nobody had any clues.
Over the next weeks and months, he said, he called everyone he could think of who might have an idea where his son was. The child support still was coming out of his paycheck, he said, and one day the woman in charge of payroll at Santa Clara County Transit guiltily admitted to him that she knew where Gloria and David were: Watertown, N.Y.
Fred said he asked for time off and got turned down, so he quit his union job as a bus driver and headed east. He lived with his brother in Hyde Park, N.Y., he said, and rented a car on the weekends to drive to Watertown. The address the lady in payroll had given him turned out to be vacant.
Years went by. Fred remarried and had daughter Brianna, now 18, and son Donovan, 16. He and his wife looked into hiring private investigators, he said, but couldn’t afford the fees. A kind-hearted investigator passed along a number for a David Romero that he’d found, Fred said, but the number turned out to be disconnected.
Myspace, Facebook, Google — too many David Romeros, and never the right one.
And on his end, David was having similar experiences. His mother took off when he graduated high school, and since then, through his service in the U.S. Army, through marrying Melissa and eventually becoming the father of six children, he sought Fred Romero.
A cousin gave him a list of possible Fred Romeros, which numbered in the hundreds, so over three years David methodically called them. He endured a lot of disappointment: I wasn’t born in Colorado. I never drove a bus in San Jose. I’m only 35. I was never married to a Gloria.
Finally, David called Santa Clara County Transit and begged for anything they could tell him about Fred J. Romero. A kindly clerk went into the archives and came back with a birthdate, which David passed along to his cousin. She rewarded him with a phone number.
He kept it in his wallet for three days, cringing against the possibility of another disappointment.
Finally, on Super Bowl Sunday, he picked up the phone.
The three hours of their first conversation flew by. Father and son agreed that they’d meet up in San Juan, Puerto Rico — where David is working on assignment for six months — in June.
“But I couldn’t wait that long,” Fred said. “I told my wife, ‘I’ve got to go out there’.”
Conspiring with David’s wife, Melissa — who called it Operation Surprise David — Fred landed in San Juan March 20. He disembarked, got his luggage, and there outside the terminal was David. Grown-up David. A man now. His son. They rushed into a hug and held on tight.
“It was like winning the Lotto and someone giving me a brand new car and paying my mortgage,” Fred said. “From not knowing where my son is to finding out I have six beautiful grandchildren. It’s the most incredible blessing. It’s a miracle.”