Happy birthday to 2 people who are a big part of me — even though I never met one of them

I’m a little late, but happy heavenly birthday to two enigmatic souls who are a huge part of me: my adoptive mother, whose birthday was Friday, and my biological father, whose birthday was Saturday.

Olga Eneida de Freitas Christlieb, shown on a happy Christmas morning in the early 1970s, raised me and therefore greatly influenced who I am. Her constant struggles, internally and with alcohol, made almost every day a challenge for all of us. But when she died in 2004 after years of strokes, both major and minor, Mom finally found a place where her untreated issues no longer had her, and her family, in their unrelenting grip.

My adoptive mother Olga on Christmas morning in 1973 or ’74. I think she liked this gift, don’t you?

I don’t know how old Mom would’ve turned on her birthday, because she never let on what year she was born. She guarded her driver’s license as if it bore secrets on which her life depended. She was either born in 1930, 1931 — or 1923, which is what one place on the Social Security Death Index on Ancestry says and what some Panama documents we found at Dad’s house after his passing in 2014 make reference to.

A fellow I reached out to in Panama a couple of years ago — whose grandfather had the same name as Olga’s father, but it apparently wasn’t him — was able to get a copy of her birth certificate for me, and it says 1930. (It’s not the original — just a document typed up with her birthdate and parents’ names.)

But whatever year it was, we all wish you a happy birthday and send you our love, Mom.

Orval Bradford Workman — who decided sometime during his youth to rename himself Robert and went by Bob — never laid eyes on me or, as far as we know, even knew about me before his tragic drowning at age 45 in Florida 16 months after I was born in West Virginia in February 1961. I may not look a whit like Bob — facial features or the hair: His was wavy and mine is straight as raw spaghetti … although hopefully not that stiff.

But Bob left an undeniable imprint on me, as anyone whose genes have been passed on to another would. Just as I see my striking resemblance to my birth mother Betty in the many photos my older full siblings have shared with me since I found them, I have come to know how I am like both parents who conceived me little more than a year after their 1959 divorce.

Startling as it seems — at least to me, a guy who’s still in his 50s (barely) — Bob would’ve turned 104 years old Saturday. He was born in 1916, the same year as some really big names you’ll recognize: actors Olivia de Havilland and Kirk Douglas, both of whom died this year at ages 104 and 103; and a slew of other actors/entertainers including Gregory Peck, Glenn Ford, Betty Grable, Jackie Gleason, Van Johnson, Keenan Wynn, Dorothy McGuire, Fernando Lamas and Dinah Shore. Beloved TV journalist Walter Cronkite was also born in 1916, along with world-known British veterinarian/author James Herriot and playwright/screenwriter Horton Foote.

Last but not least, many of you know Ramona and Beezus from her many children’s books, but author Beverly Cleary was also born the same year as my birth father — and she is still alive at 104.

My biological father Bob Workman as a teenager, probably around 1930, with an unknown baby in West Virginia. I would guess it’s a relative.

As for this photo of Bob, I wish I knew its story. It clearly was taken during his youth in West Virginia, probably when he was between 13 and 15, but that’s only a guess. My sister Terry — who was just 5 when Bob faded from Betty’s and my three siblings’ lives for good around the time I was conceived in 1960 — and I have talked about it and have no clue who the baby in the pic is. I would think it’s a relative, though.

Bob grew up an only child: His older brother Lyston died at age 3 in 1913, we assume of scarlet fever or some other childhood illness. Another older sibling (we don’t know if it was a boy or a girl), apparently born in 1912, died either in childbirth or at a very young age.

So, a wondrously happy birthday to you, Olga and Bob. Who knows, maybe you’ve met in heaven and are talking about me right now?!  

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