My brother was born in December of 1958. I was born in June, 1962. At age 1-1/2, my parents separated. My father was extremely jealous and occasionally hit my mother. She says the last straw was when the dog, Moe, knocked my brother down a flight of stairs and my father ran for the dog first.
At age 3, their divorce was final. My mother got custody while my father had weekend visitation rights. After one of those visits, I asked my mother, “what if Daddy doesn’t bring us back some Sunday?
She moved to calm my fears by assuring me that he always would – the court had ordered it. Not long after that, of course, we didn’t return to my mom.
My father, brother and I headed due North in his Volkswagen Beetle in March, 1969. We arrived somewhere in Canada, where my brother fondly remembers hockey games with our dad and I vividly remember ice-fishing. Not too long after that, probably in the summer of ’69, we drove across country and landed in Seattle, Washington. We had an apartment there, and Dan and I entered school. Life seemed fairly normal. My recollection is fuzzy about what we were told had happened to our mom. I think at first we were told that we were going on vacation with our dad, and then later, I believe he told us that our mom had died. I do not remember the conversation. I do not remember ever grieving, or maybe not even understanding it, but no one ever tried to contact her. In Seattle, we were joined by my father’s girlfriend, Sally. I do recall her asking us if we wanted to call her “Mom.” That was out of the question, so she remained Sally. My brother and I established friendships, raced the bus to school on some days, and mostly, got wet a lot in the Seattle rain.
Meanwhile, back in Pittsburgh, our poor mother was going crazy trying to find us. She had a job, but worked day and night trying to get us back. She made phone calls, sent thousands of letters, hired private investigators, alerted the police, FBI, media, everyone. She even wrote to J. Edgar Hoover and Pat Nixon. Being a divorcee in the ’60s, official help was hard for her to come by. Most authorities seemed to feel that the “boys were with their father,” and this was a domestic dispute, so there was not a need for their involvement. There were no missing kids on milk cartons in those days. No National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to help her. She did, however, get help from a Pittsburgh policewoman named Teresa Rocco. I think her help and support, along with her family, meant a lot to my mom. They stuffed and mailed fliers to every school in the U.S. and Japan (my father served in the military there).
When the flier first arrived at our school in Seattle, supposedly, the principal didn’t recognize us. But, as fate would have it, several months later in December of 1969, the folder containing our photos was opened, or fell open, in his office while the Assistant Principal was there. He instantly recognized us. They were hesitant about what to do, since they didn’t know who was the good guy or bad guy in this scenario. Fortunately, they phoned my mother and she leaped into action. Since she hadn’t had much support from the authorities up to that point, she decided not to involve them in our recapture and instead, flew to Seattle on the next plane with a Private Investigator. That night she could see us through our apartment window, but the P. I. wisely made her wait until the time was right. She obviously had one more sleepless night. The next morning, my brother and I were waiting with friends at the bus stop when “some guy” called us over to the car. In the back seat I thought I saw my Aunt June, my mother’s twin, inviting us in. Of course, it wasn’t my aunt, but my mother. Now, I realize that I assumed it was my mother’s twin sister because I had been told my mom was dead. We went straight to the airport. My mom took us into the ladies restroom fearing that someone would spot us. I was happy to e reunited with her, but remember wishing it could have happened the next day, because then I would’ve have had the silly figurine with me for “show and tell” that I had saved box tops for several month’s to obtain. She instead bought me a cool red car, which I still cherish.
After our first airplane flight, we landed at the Pittsburgh airport to a heroes’ welcome. Family, friends, some police and press greeted us with more love than I had ever experienced. We probably didn’t understand it all at the time, but we were in the paper, at several dinners and parties and suddenly had a new life and lots of “new” family. My mother chose not to put us through any more trauma and opted not to press charges. She instead got a restraining order against our father. Still, he showed up once, a year later, and called my brother over to the car. Being well trained, Dan ran home. We spent the rest of our childhood living with our working mother in a mobile home (trailer) in Canonsburg, PA (home of Perry Como and Bobby Vinton). My Grandparents and Aunts helped raise us and kept a close watch over us. My brother and I would receive a card from our father on our birthdays – $10 for my tenth birthday, $11 for my eleventh. The cards were mailed from Colorado, and ended on my brother’s sixteenth birthday. That was the last we had ever heard from or about our dad. I grew up determined not to use it as a crutch, but instead became fiercely independent: Senior Patrol Leader of my Boy Scout troop, paperboy at age eleven, captain of the high school soccer team, president of my college Fraternity.
My brother however, has struggled in his life. Poor grades in high school, dropped out of a couple of trade schools, fired from numerous jobs, in trouble with the law. His experience of being abducted was more traumatic than mine. He seemed to bond with our dad and believes he is the “spitting image” of his father, bad traits and all. To this day, he is an avid hockey fan and remembers our time “away” more fondly than I. My brother and I talked occasionally about our time “away with our dad,” but didn’t dwell on it or talk to others much about it. In 1992, I thought perhaps it would help him to talk with our dad again. So he agreed that if I could find the man, Dan would talk with him. I wasn’t sure how to go about finding him, but flew back to my marketing job in California determined to do it. Not long afterwards, I received one of my first-ever “junk” e-mails, or spam. The Internet and e-mail were brand new and I thought it was serendipitous that I received an e-mail entitled, “Trying to locate someone?” I responded to the offer to find anyone for $39.99. The researcher on the phone seemed taken aback when I told him my name, Sam McClain, and the name of the person I was searching for, Sam McClain. Seems these firms were more accustomed to finding bad debtors, rent-due tenants and a few old friends, than reuniting a son with his estranged father. The firm was able to provide me with a “last known address and phone number,” though the house was not owned by my father. We presumed he was renting there and I dialed the number. It was a bit unnerving after 23 years to be asking the gentleman who answered the phone, “is Sam McClain there?” He asked who was calling and seemed stunned when I replied, “his son, Sam McClain.” The voice on the other end of the line instantly perked up and replied, “We tried to find you boys!” It turned out that this was my father’s cousin and Executor of my father’s will. My dad had passed just two years earlier. Lonely, near broke and unhealthy, he died apparently of complications from emphysema and heart failure. His ashes were scattered and there was very little left of his estate. I felt not remorse, but more of a “missed opportunity.” I was curious to speak with my father again, interested in hearing his side of the story and learning how his life turned out. But more importantly, I thought it might help my struggling brother. With not even a grave site to visit, we decided my brother would write out a letter to his father, though it would never be mailed. The letter he wrote is quite revealing of his confused emotions. It starts out with rage over tearing apart a family but ends with love and remorse. Several years later, my brother Dan was diagnosed as Bi-polar with a Borderline personality disorder. He currently resides in Canonsburg, PA near my mother.
In 1997, I received another eerie e-mail with a link entitled, “FindSam.” Of course, I clicked on it and was amazed to find a web site placed by a mother who was looking for her son Sam, who was abducted by his father. I found it rewarding to be able to help her understand a bit more about why her son might not be calling, what he might be going through, and to give her hope and living proof that sometimes, they do come back home and live “happily ever after.” After having been missing the same amount of time as we were, nine months, her son was found and returned to her. She became involved in helping others going through parental abductions and introduced me to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. I was apprehensive but excited about attending their first-ever meeting of adults who were parentally abducted as children in March 2002. Meeting this group helped me to better understand my experience and how it may be impacting my life today. Today, I am 39, single and living in a lake-view home in Orlando, Florida. I’m interested in helping to prevent future abductions, giving hope to those currently experiencing this nightmare and counseling with others who have had a similar experience.