Leslie grew up with a family secret – somewhere out there she had a big brother named Michael, her father’s illegitimate son from before he married her mother.
As a child, Leslie made this mysterious brother her imaginary friend. And as she grew older, she became determined that one day, she would find Michael. Meanwhile, in another part of the country, Michael had struggles of his own.
The man he thought was his father left the family when he was still a baby and married a woman he was having an affair with. Michael grew up fatherless and wondering why.
He had his doubts about the man he thought was his biological father. Then in the early 1990s, as the man he thought was his dad lay dying of cancer, Michael asked him if he was really his father. He didn’t know, so Michael asked him to take a DNA test, even though it upset many people in his family. Michael said he had to know whether the man who left him and his mother, was really his father. It turned out he wasn’t.
“I was glad to know,” he said, “but it left unanswered the question of who was.”
Searching for Scotty
It took years of search by both Michael and Leslie and some help from 23andMe to finally answer those questions. Back when he first learned the man he thought was his father, wasn’t, Michael went to his mother for answers, but she was little help and even tried to stop him from looking. Although Michael had a name on his birth certificate – the surname Scott – his mother had told him that it was just a friend named “Scotty.”
He took what she said at face value, but in retrospect, Michael admits it was obvious she was hiding the truth.
“People don’t casually put their names on birth certificates.”
Michael tried everything to figure out the mystery, but at some point, he said he gave up. He thought he might simply have to accept that he might never find his father.
“I wasn’t at peace with it, but I sort of had to come to terms with it,” he says.
Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Michael someone was looking for him. Leslie was hard at work. She’d found a birth certificate, which gave her a name – Michael Scott – and a birthplace – Houston, Texas.
So tried calling all the Michael Scotts in the phone book. She hired private investigators but got no leads. When she heard about 23andMe, she decided to take a chance.
“I knew it was a long shot, but I was just hoping that he was in the system,” she says.
He wasn’t. So Leslie finally confronted her father as he lay dying after a car accident.
“I told him what I knew,” she said. Her father didn’t remember his illegitimate son’s birth date, but he knew Michael’s mother’s last name. She also learned that her father had only been 23 when he had the affair with Michael’s mother, then a woman of 43. At the time, he said he’d promised her that he would “stay out of their lives,” so he never tried to find his son. Armed with a name, Leslie then decided to search for Michael’s mother instead. What she found was her obituary. Among the survivors, it listed a Michael Dougan living in Seattle, Washington. That was her brother she thought. “I almost threw up,” Leslie said.
Like A Freight Train
It turned out he was an illustrator, and she was able to find a phone number online. She didn’t wait, calling him right then and there.
“I should have tried to calm down a little,” she says, “but I was like a freight train, out of control.”
There was no answer, so she left a breathless message. Michael had heard the phone ring, and didn’t pick up, but when he listened to the message and heard the words “John Lesly Scott,” the name on his birth certificate, his heart skipped a beat. He rushed to pick up.
“I went to grab the phone, and I’m trying to figure out how to answer it, and then the call gets cut off,” he said.
For an agonizing five minutes, he tried to figure out and then realized he could use automatic redial to call back. Leslie picked up the line.
“I was shaking,” Leslie said. “We spoke for probably three hours.”
There was no doubt in her mind that she’d found her long lost brother. But Michael was more skeptical. “She said, ‘you’re my brother.’ And I said, well I think I might not be. I don’t want to get your hopes up because there’s really a chance that we might not be related, and I was always told you were not.’” To confirm their kinship, they agreed that he should take a DNA test through 23andMe, where Leslie already had tested. “I thought, at least I’m going to get a chance to prove another negative,” said Michael, who agreed to get tested. While they waited for the results, Michael and Leslie talked a lot on the phone, they swapped photos and arranged live-video chats.
Leslie saw in Michael’s gestures and expressions her own father. She just knew, she said. Michael wasn’t so sure.
“No matter how many pictures we showed each other, none of them could provide the smoking gun.”
Then it was Leslie who started to lose faith.
“I freaked out,” she recalls. “I started crying and went to bed. I thought if this is not right, I’ve destroyed this guy’s life. I just dropped a nuclear bomb in the middle of his life.”
Michael finally got his results.
“And bingo, it was right there,” he said. “I realized this was it, that it doesn’t get any clearer than this.”
“It’s like finding the other half of me,” Leslie says on reflection. “We have so much that makes us connect.”
He likes spicy food; so does she. He’s an illustrator; she’s artistic. She sings the blues; he plays blues guitar. She’s a chef; he loves to cook. She has olive skin; so does he. Leslie had found her big brother, and Michael found a sister. They both answered questions that had eaten away at them all their lives. Michael said up until the moment the connection was confirmed by 23andMe, his search for his father had been like an unfinished mystery novel.
“You get all the way to the end and the last five pages are missing,” he said. Now he has the ending.
“It’s like finally finding the last five pages of that novel, and feeling, ‘So that’s how it turns out!’”