Kevin Leitch and Michelle Manette are practically strangers, but their blood tells a different story.
“If I knew I had a daughter I would have named her Elizabeth,” says Kevin softly. “I always liked the name.”
Kevin and Michelle sit across from each other in her apartment. She is getting ready in front of a mirror in her kitchen. In a few hours, she will be meeting her biological grandparents for the first time.
“I drove myself crazy since I was 11 years old trying to find him,” says Michelle, her eyes finding Kevin’s on the other side of the room. They are the colour of a dark knot in driftwood. Behind his glasses, Kevin’s eyes are a deep brown; almost perfectly matching hers.
“It always felt like something was missing,” says Michelle.
“I sort of got that feeling growing up like when twins have that sensation that there’s someone else out there,” she says.
Michelle says she was raised by her mother and step-father with little information on who her biological father was.
“I observed my family a lot growing up and I realized I was a lot taller than them, a lot darker,” says Michelle with a thoughtful frown. “I had thick brown hair and everyone had blue eyes and blond hair.”
The only solid information Michelle had on her biological father was the name: “Kevin Leach.”
“I thought it was spelt either L-E-E-C-H or L-E-A-C-H,” says Michelle.
For 15 years, Michelle searched. She tried Myspace, Facebook, Twitter, and even the phone book. But ‘Kevin Leach’ didn’t seem to exist.
Though Michelle was driven to connect with her birth father, she worried about the outcome.
“I put my search on hold because I always wanted to find him but there was a feeling that set me back,” says Michelle. “I didn’t want him to think I was coming to find him for money or child support or, you know, anything that would scare him.”
After many online attempts to find Kevin, Michelle says she started to lose hope.
“I was running out of ideas to do it privately,” she says. “And then I found these ads on Kijiji for long-lost relationships.”
Kijiji is a website for classified ads that is open to the public. Michelle says she discovered many ads written by people seeking their biological parents. She decided to post her own “wanted” ad, and wrote a quick paragraph which included her mother’s name and the name of her biological father, spelt “L-E-A-C-H”.
“My ad went viral, from Kijiji to everybody else’s Facebook pages, which I didn’t even know about,” says Michelle. “Within three days, my ad went from 200 to 10,000 views.”
Michelle’s fiancé Michael MacCaull was astounded by the results; “It was kind of weird at first, I was a little bit concerned,” he says.
On January 8th, Michelle received an e-mail from her Kijiji ad. It read “Hello?” and was sent by the e-mail address: ‘email@example.com’.
She then received an e-mail asking her what her date of birth was and whether she was male or female.
Michelle said she was skeptical about the e-mail. To verify that he was her biological father, Michelle asked Kevin where he might have met her mother for the first time. He replied with a specific address in Dartmouth.
“I had to go outside and have a cigarette, thinking of what I would say, I started pacing, thinking I probably shouldn’t have done this…,” says Michelle. “My biological father had found me.”
“I’ve seen so many movies where adopted children try to find their biological parents and they’re rejected almost instantly,” she says. “I was preparing myself for that for so many years.”
Kevin says he also had uncertainties about meeting Michelle for the first time.
“I didn’t know if she was going to accept me for who I am,” says Kevin as he looks at Michelle across the room. “If she just wanted history and medical information that would have been fine with me…whatever she wanted.”
On January 23rd, Kevin and Michelle meet for the first time at a coffee shop. Kevin arrives first.
“I said ‘Michelle’, and she turned around and she got me,” says Kevin, shaking his head in disbelief. “The second I saw her I knew that I loved her and I knew she was part of me.”
Over the next few hours, Michelle and Kevin talk about the beauty of bagpipe music, the frustration with being unable to carry a tune or play a guitar, and the guilty pleasure of smoking Canadian Classics cigarettes.
“Neither of us wanted to tell each other that we smoke,” says Kevin with a light chuckle. “It was like ‘How can she be so much like me without me having been around?’”
Kevin says he’s devastated that he missed out on so much of Michelle’s life.
“Sometimes I feel disappointed,” he says calmly. “And I wonder what trials and tribulations I missed of hers.”
“But there are still so many things you haven’t missed,” says Michelle as she hops off her chair and carefully removes a picture frame from the wall.
“I don’t think I’ve ever shown you,” says Michelle as she hands a picture of her at her graduation to her father. “The middle dress is the one I wore.”
The room is silent for a moment as Kevin’s dark brown eyes glide over the happy photograph.
“He actually treats me like a newborn daughter,” says Michelle. “He goes around and shows people my pictures.”
“He’s really taken an interest in her, it turned out way better than expected,” says Mike. “I mean from a Kijiji ad what really can you hope for.”
In 26 years, the only time Kevin left Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, was to Calgary for a brief six-month trip.
“There are all these coincidences that drew us together,” says Michelle.
When she was 21, Michelle lived on the same block as Kevin’s aunt; a place Kevin frequently visited.
“Kimmy might have even talked to you,” says Kevin with a playful smile.
But fate kept tempting them to meet.
A few weeks after they met, Kevin took Michelle for a drive. As he rounded the corner onto his street, Michelle was shocked; he was driving down her mother’s street.
“I’ve been down my mom’s street so many times this year,” says Michelle. “They only live a few blocks away from each other.”
Had she run into him before they met, Michelle says she probably wouldn’t have suspected he was related to her.
“My mom told me he had thick long black hair,” she says.
Michelle says she always imagined her father as a lanky 21-year because that’s how her mother remembered him.
Both Michelle and Kevin say the biggest challenge with their new relationship is in how they divide their time between each other and the rest of their families.
“We’re trying to build this huge relationship but we’re also trying to maintain our own relationships,” says Michelle. “You have to remind the rest of your family, ‘I love you’.”
“When you’re a kid, you have all these activities you can do, like go to the zoo, but at 26, the only thing I can really do is just spend more time with him,” she says.
“We haven’t even dealt with the past yet,” says Kevin. “It’s just about what’s going on right now.”
This story was written by Sydney Jones for her Foundations of Journalism course.
While it isn’t about King’s, Syd pitched it and it was too good for us to pass up.
At The Watch, we hope to promote and feature King’s students’ work as much as possible.
If you have an great article that you think King’s students would be interested in reading (online or in print), email: firstname.lastname@example.org