By Andrea Arnold
On January 5, 2019, Valemount resident Kiba Dempsey received a birthday phone call from his dad. While this isn’t a big deal to most, it was the first such call that Kiba has received in his 47 years.
Kiba was born in Vancouver, and moved to England with his mother when he was two. As he was growing up, his mother Sarah told him that his father didn’t know he existed. Sarah had married, and while there was a male presence in the home, Kiba never felt that connection that he expected to have with a father figure. He always felt a piece was missing.
His sons Sean and Ben bought him an Ancestry DNA kit for Father’s Day last June and they hoped to find the missing piece. Kiba sent off the saliva test to Ireland for analysis. Several weeks later the results arrived. The database revealed two second cousins and several other distant relatives.
Using this information, Kiba’s wife Alex poured over family trees and contacted the newly located family members in hopes of narrowing down the list and locating Kiba’s father.
“On December 6, 2018, she walked in to where I was working and said ‘I found your dad,’” said Kiba. He was stunned and happy. Alex was able to locate contact information for the individual and Kiba sent him a lengthy and heartfelt e-mail. In this letter, Kiba explained his back story, and the lengths they had gone to locate him. He included the little bits of information he remembered from his late mother such as facts about what city his father had attended school in, and a few first names of some of his friends. Sarah had maintained that she couldn’t remember his name.
The wait for a response was not long. The next morning in Kiba’s inbox was a joyful response from the man, saying the story made sense and that yes, he is Kiba’s father. Ed said he always suspected he had a son out there. He told of bumping into a very-pregnant Sarah and told her that if he was the father, he wanted to be involved in the child’s life. Sarah said that no, he wasn’t, and they parted company. Ed wasn’t convinced, so when a mutual friend mentioned that he had seen Sarah and little Kiba, and that the boy looked just like Ed, he tried to locate the pair. However, Sarah had moved them to the UK, married and changed her last name making the search almost impossible.
Over the years, Ed never gave up the idea that this son existed. He had warned his wife Suzanne that one day there could be a knock on the door. When that knock came in the form of an e-mail, they were both elated and couldn’t wait to meet Kiba and his family. Ed has three more children who are half-siblings to Kiba but none of these three have children, so with the discovery of Kiba, the couple became instant grandparents to his sons, Sean and Ben.
The Marks’ quickly made plans to travel from their home in Ontario to meet the Dempsey’s. On January 8, 2019, the family was united in Jasper. The moment Ed walked through the door, Kiba felt a connection. He was sure that they would bond and get along great. He struggled to put into words the feelings and emotions that charged through him as that missing piece fell into place. “I was happy, and sad,” he finally said. “The sadness was that it had taken so long, and that we have missed out on so much.”
It very quickly became clear that Kiba and his father have much in common. Kiba said they agree on all the important topics including politics, religion and humor. “We really couldn’t find anything we didn’t agree on,” said Kiba. “However, my dad is a gardener. I am not. But maybe I’ll try again.”
The Marks’ visited for just over a week. Kiba wanted to showcase the valley that he has come to love so much, and demonstrate the feeling of community that he feels encompasses the area. In the time between first contact and the Marks’s arrival, Kiba had not been able to contain his excitement; so many individuals in the area knew what was happening. As they toured around the Robson Valley, people greeted them as old friends. Kiba likened it to the scene in the 80s TV show Cheers when Norm walks in and everyone calls out “Norm!”
They were treated to a trip up Mica Mountain with Terry Cinnamon in his snowcat Cariboo Cat Skiing. Although the day was cloudy, the Marks’ were still wowed with the snow and the experience. The group attended the Ukrainian Dinner in Tete Jaune. The Dempsey’s had lived in Tete Jaune for 10 years and many introductions were made. They also travelled to Mount Robson and sampled beverages from Three Ranges Brewing Company.
The time passed quickly, and bonds were formed. Alex has seen a transition in Kiba since they made contact with the Marks’. “I can truly say that finding his dad completed him. And of course, there’s the bonus of lovely new grandparents for Sean and Ben,” she said.
The Dempsey family is making plans to fly east in April where they will meet Kiba’s half siblings; two brothers and a sister, as well as an aunt.
Since this discovery, Kiba has been surprised to hear how many other people in the area have similar stories. Many of these people have given up the search for one reason or another, and he hopes that his success will help motivate these people to give it another shot. “It wasn’t cheap,” he said, “but so worth it.”
Alex did most of the genealogy and Ancestry DNA work, and was really happy to be a part of a positive outcome. “This particular story had the perfect happy ending,” she said. “My only wish should be that it had happened decades sooner.”