Two brothers, one birthday 17 years apart, so much in common

Until this week, when Google told me, I didn’t know some of the famous folks who share my Feb. 28 birthday. (Aside: It’s out of control how many, and of what stripe and “talent,” classify as celebrities these days. Gamers, YouTubers, Influencers, TikTok stars. I’ll just sound old if I go down this path. Oh, wait, I guess I am. As of today, one more year till I turn 60 … sigh.)

Many of the “real” names I came across were entertainers: Gavin MacLeod, Charles Durning, Mercedes Ruehl, Bernadette Peters, Jason Aldean, Zero Mostel, Lindsay Lohan (OK, scratch that one). Then there’s mobster Bugsy Siegel, race car driver Mario Andretti, basketball coaching legend Dean Smith, and budding Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic.

But there’s another big name — big to me, anyway — who has a birthday today. I didn’t learn that he did until getting a life-changing call from a remarkable woman (who, sadly, has since passed away) in West Virginia on June 10, 2005. In fact, I didn’t even know he existed.

As I furiously scribbled a steady stream of information on a legal pad, the voice on the phone gave me his name: Crystal Edward Workman, born Feb. 28, 1944, the oldest of three children of Betty Louise Workman.

He, the voice told me with unshakable certainty, was my brother. All three were my siblings.

What a rugged fellow! And look at all that Colorado snow!

Within a month, after numerous hours of getting to know one another by phone and emails, a wonderful first visit in Colorado with Crys, our sister Terry and their families, and a DNA test for the three of us (in the early days of cheek swabs for that kind of detective work), we knew what we were all but certain to be true: Not only was their mother Betty mine, but their dad Bob was also my biological father, as a result of my being conceived a year after their divorce.

The story has sent me on an emotional journey for almost 15 years.

Crys and the oldest of his three amazing children, daughter Lewellyn (Lew).

On the day I was born, Feb. 28, 1961, what was Crys doing besides turning 17?

He was going to school as a junior at Ironton High School in southern Ohio, just across the Ohio River from our birthplace of Huntington, WV. Crys, Terry, our brother Robin and Betty had lived together in a small apartment in Ironton for several months the previous year while Betty was pregnant with me.

Ironton was where Betty and the kids landed after a domestic incident with Bob caused her to flee Huntington out of fear around the time she learned of her pregnancy. They’d been divorced a little over a year and, though we’ll never know the true circumstances that seemingly brought them back together for a time, now the breakup would be permanent. Bob would drown a homeless man in Tampa in July 1962.

Crys tells me times were tough those few months in Ironton, when Betty spent part of her pregnancy working as a waitress and singing with a trio at the Sandbar in the upscale Marting Hotel. He was a basketball player and wanted to play the season with the IHS varsity, always a successful program. So when Betty and her two youngest children moved back to Huntington that fall when she was about six months along with me, Crys stayed in Ironton and lived with the family of little Ellie Lawless, one of whose brothers, Butch, was a manager for the basketball team.

Crys and his mom Betty, my birth mother, in 1988. She died of lung cancer in 1992.

After basketball season ended in March, Crys moved home, ready for track season at Huntington East High. When he got back, he asked Betty:

“What happened to the baby?”

Betty told Crys, with little explanation, that she’d lost the baby. That was the end of it. He assumed the baby had died in childbirth. The subject never came up again. He never thought about it again. But I know Betty did. Constantly.

I remember my reaction to learning I had a brother with my birthday. I was stunned. How could it be that two siblings from the same family — one torn by alcoholism, divorce, a child placed for adoption — could be born 17 years apart to the day?

I excitedly told the lady who had found all the records leading me to my natural family that Feb. 28 was also my birthday. But in that long phone call, she was just getting started unloading her months’ worth of discoveries, so understandably, her reaction wasn’t the same.

There was so much for me to process in that call. The first news I received was the saddest — finding out that meeting Betty, my driving hope in starting the search for my past, would not be possible in this life, because she had died in December 1992.

When Crys and I spoke for the first time the following day, it was a two-hour visit between brothers that felt so easy, like we’d known each other all along, thanks to his calm and kind demeanor and his willing openness. Of course, I told him we had the same birthday, and, like me, he thought it was a crazy coincidence and really cool.

Crys with all three of his children: Daughter Lew and sons Brad and Tim, the youngest. Tim is a police detective in Lakewood, Colo.

But in the nearly 15 years since my siblings and I became a long-overdue-to-be-reunited family, I’ve learned that Crys and I have much more than a birthday as a bond. Although we’d never be mistaken for brothers based on looks (although we’ve both always been tall and lean), we’re much alike — more than even he may realize.

Crys is kind, compassionate, generous and one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. (I’d like to think I’m all of those except for the last one.) We share interests in sports, music (including classical) and other areas. We’re both generally quiet, introverted and pretty passive, and I believe those qualities are where we’re most like each other.

I’ve always considered myself lucky to have grown up with an awesome brother like Isaac, my adoptive bro whom I dearly love. I’ve been infinitely blessed to have added more love to my life in my birth siblings, whose acceptance I felt right away when I reached out to them, a sure sign of the brand of people they are — and, I believe, who our mother Betty was, and in his own way, our father Bob was.

Happy birthday, Crys. I’m thankful and thrilled to have you as a brother, lucky to share a birthday with you, and honored that we have so much in common. Thank you for loving me, believing in me and being proud to call me your Little Brother.  

A cool-looking dude and his cool set of wheels

4 thoughts on “Two brothers, one birthday 17 years apart, so much in common

  1. Frank–thank you for writing this beautiful story. Happy birthday to you and Crys. I’m sorry you never met your birth mother, but what a blessing to now have your three birth siblings in your life. There’s nothing like family!

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    1. Thank you, Donna! It has truly been a blessing. They’re wonderful people, and I hate to think of never having searched and missing out on the chance to have them in my life. We did lose our brother Robin, who passed away in January 2009 at age 61 after he had both a stroke and heart attack the previous month in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., where he and his family had lived for many years. That was about 3 and a half years after I found my sibs, so we’d met and gotten to know each other, but I hate that we lost him so young. It was also sad that Robin and Crys had been estranged for many years. Very, very different people, but Robin was very accepting of me just like Crys and Terry have been.

      Anyway … thanks again for your kind words and birthday wishes! And thanks for reading the post! If you’d like to keep up with the blog, pls send me your personal email and I can send you an invite. I don’t post often — maybe once a month. You’d get an email notification when I post something.

      BTW, I think I told you I’ve been looking at other opportunities the past few mos? I would hate to leave newspapers, but I just think it’s time, with the state of the industry. I just fear we won’t make it long-term. Just between you and me, I’m one of 3 finalists for a position at EY (Ernst & Young), where several friends from the DMN and S-T have gone and love it, so we’ll see what happens. One of those friends (former S-T — I didn’t work with him, but I used to work with his wife at TDMN) is the hiring mgr for the position and would be my boss. So we’ll see. It’s been about a month since my last interview and I’m hearing they might have a decision in the next couple of weeks. I’ll let you know.

      Take care, Donna!
      Frank

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  2. Hi Frank, as you well know, I went to High School with your brother, Crys!! He was very well liked by all of his Classmates and anyone else that had the pleasure of meeting him. He was/is a sharp Cookie!! I am so happy that you all found each other. As a reporter, it is Always Great to learn “the rest of the story!” I also think you are a very neat little brother!! Many Blessings to You, Frank!!

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    1. Dear Karen, you are so kind and sweet to take the time to post this comment on my blog! Thank you so much! I feel fortunate to have had the chance to “meet” you and several of Crys’s friends and classmates at HEHS, who have all been so warm and welcoming to his baby brother. And, like you, they’ve all said he was wonderful, smart, talented and gracious, a leader and a friend to all. I consider myself blessed to have found Crys, Terry and Robin (God rest his soul) when I did almost 15 years ago (this June), because knowing them has added a dimension to my life I never would’ve known if I hadn’t finally decided to search for my roots. Thank you for your kind words.

      Karen, I’m sorry I have not been able to follow your health/cancer journey every step of the way on FB these past months. But I am thinking of and you and hoping/praying for a complete recovery and am moved by your immense courage and towering faith. You are one remarkable lady, and you shine bright in every single post about your life and your ongoing ordeal. Keep the faith, as I know you will no matter what … we are all cheering you on!! Take care and God bless you and your beautiful family!
      Love, Frank, Kay, Will and Lindsay Christlieb, Arlington, TX

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