The father and daughter reflect on the one-year anniversary of their reunion.
For Plant City resident Shannon Crosby, one email changed her life.
The 37-year-old woman had been searching for her biological father, Patrick McCarthy, for more than 33 years.
Crosby, who was born in New Hampshire in 1985, hadn’t seen her father since she was four years old. When she was still a baby, her parents, who never married, moved to Massachusetts to start over after her father lost his job. Her mother took an office job in Boston. Her father, a master mechanic, found work too.
The happily-ever-after wasn’t meant to be for the couple. Her mother wanted to settle down and raise a family. Her father, a free spirit who wasn’t ready to give up his rock-n-roll lifestyle, wanted to do both.
It all came to a crescendo in 1989 when her father stormed out of the house after her parents got into a huge argument. “I remember my mom carrying me out of the house and her brother, who was a priest, coming to get us and then my dad was gone,” she said.
Even though she was a young child, she treasures a few episodic memories of happy times with her dad. She remembers her dad laughing and joking at a birthday party held in a large field and a man giving pony rides. She recollects a visit to her dad’s friends in New Hampshire and riding on a snowmobile, her dad sitting behind her and holding her tight as they drove through the woods.
Her mom eventually met a man, got married and relocated to St. Petersburg.
In addition to the memories, she started receiving letters, postcards and little trinkets from Florida where her dad was living at the time. He sent a picture of himself sitting atop his motorcycle, his long shaggy hair beginning to go grey. The cards and letters stopped for awhile but one day in 1994 she received another postcard from her father, who was living in San Diego. “My mom always told me my dad was a drifter,” remarked Crosby. When she and her mother moved to another house in St. Petersburg the letters stopped again.
Time passed, as it always does, but she always had questions that only her father could answer. As soon as the Internet came into existence, her mom purchased a home computer and she spent hours searching with Yahoo for any clues about her father. She created a MySpace account hoping to make a connection with him. She searched jail records and obituaries, Craigslist and genealogy websites.
“My dad was a ghost,” she joked.
What compounded an already difficult task was she didn’t know her father’s exact age because he never gave anyone a straight answer and as a child, he was in the foster care system and bounced around from place to place, making finding extended family almost impossible.
Last year her mom found her baby book and inside, nestled alongside her baby pictures, was her family tree with her father’s name and his actual date of birth, the name of his biological father, Thomas McCarthy and biological mother, Virginia Shaghalion.
Armed with this new information, she began her search anew. A search of her grandmother’s name revealed a Massachusetts obituary that listed a few biological children. She wrote them all letters and received a reply from her great-aunt, but because they were put into the foster system at a young age, she didn’t have any information about her father. Even though she’d discovered family members she didn’t know she had, it was another dead end.
Then an email in November 2021 changed everything.
In a twist of fate befitting a Hallmark Original Movie, it turns out her father had hired a private investigator to search for her. Sitting in her car waiting for her husband to come out of Target, the email popped up with the subject ‘family.’ When she opened it, she learned that the private investigator had been hired by her father to locate her and wanted to know if she’d be interested in speaking with him.
“I was in shock but my immediate thought was it’s a scam,” said Crosby. When her husband came back to the car, she showed him the email and asked if it could could be real. He Googled the man’s name and verified that it was a real private investigations firm.
She called the investigator as soon as she got home. He sent her a photo of her father and she immediately knew it was the man she’d spent the last almost three decades trying to find. She agreed to talk to her father and a phone call was scheduled for the next evening.
When he answered her call, she remarked at his Boston accent that was still thick even after living in California for so many years. He shared his story. He had struggled with alcohol abuse throughout his life but had been sober for almost six years. He had criss-crossed the country, been arrested for disorderly conduct and lived at the Salvation Army. “He told me he hadn’t reached out sooner because he was ashamed and embarrassed but he didn’t know that I wanted to talk to him,” she said.
Five years ago, while working in a shipyard, a boat fell on him, crushing his legs. As he lay alone in the dark for hours waiting for help to arrive, worryied he would die before he got the chance to find out if she’s okay. After his broken body was discovered by coworkers, he endured almost two years of hospital stays, surgeries and physical therapy sessions.
He offered to pay for Crosby and her husband to fly to California for a visit. She readily agreed, eager to meet her father face-to-face. They made the trip in January, landing at San Diego Airport at 2 p.m. By the time they rented a car, checked into the hotel, freshened up and grabbed a bite to eat it was almost dark but undeterred, they set out to meet him in Rainbow, a small town outside of San Diego. It’s pitch black by this time but they see the lights from an ATV heading their way. The car comes to a stop and she rolls down the window. One look at the man riding the vehicle and she knew it was her father. He walked up to her window and reached in to give her a hug. “It was wild and crazy in the best possible way,” said Crosby.
Her dad took them to his home and they spent the time filling each other in on their lives. He told her his plan was always to find her but only after he had made something to show for himself. He was apologetic that he didn’t get his life together sooner. Crosby was sympathetic. “I think he had to go through those hard things to be at a point where he could make a change,” she said.
He showed her one of his prized possessions, a boat he built in the 1990’s but couldn’t part with that he named Miss Shannon. “I teared up when I saw that,” she said.
It’s been a year since the pair were reunited. Her dad still doesn’t use technology but they talk on the phone a few times a week. She’s making plans for another visit in January.
The private investigator also keeps in touch with Crosby. “He tells me he handles so many sad cases that don’t have a happy ending and he wishes he could find another case like mine,” she said.