COLLINGWOOD, ONT.—Steve Grasby turned a red plastic lighter over and over in his fingers and took a deep breath. A Chicago Blackhawks clock on a shelf in his living room ticked quietly.
In 15 minutes, Grasby would meet, for the first time, the 28-year-old daughter he never knew he had.“We’d better go,” he said Saturday, running a hand through his thinning hair and letting out his breath. “They’re probably there by now.”
In 1989, Grasby was himself 28 years old, a machinist working in Georgetown. His girlfriend at the time was pregnant and the couple was engaged to be married.
But for reasons not entirely clear, his fiancée broke off the engagement. Grasby said he called repeatedly, trying to understand why. Eventually, her father called Grasby.
“‘Don’t worry,’ he said, ‘the baby’s gone. The wedding is off. You don’t need to come around anymore,’” Grasby recalled through tears.
Almost 30 years passed.Lewis is the spitting image of her paternal grandmother, left, Grasby said.
Then, on May 2, Grasby opened his Facebook inbox to see a message from a stranger asking if he’d ever had a relationship with a woman in Georgetown.
Cautiously, he wrote back that he had, that they’d been set to marry but the pregnancy was terminated.
The reply was almost instant. A phone number, and a plea to call.
Waiting on the other end of the line was 28-year-old Melissa Lewis.
“My mom told me when I was about 5 that my dad wasn’t my biological father,” but she wouldn’t offer any more details, Lewis recalled.
For most of her life, Lewis said, she couldn’t get any information about her biological father from anyone in her family, and her mother kept discouraging her from trying to find him.
“I must have asked like 20 different people who he was,” she said. “They all just kept saying, ‘Oh, I don’t remember his name.’”
When her mother died two years ago, Lewis starting thinking seriously about trying to find her biological father. Finally, she pieced together that his first name was Steve, his last name started with the letter G and he’d lived in Georgetown in the late 1980s.
Three weeks ago she began digging in earnest, scouring social media and high school yearbooks and grilling relatives like an investigative reporter. To her file of notes, she added that at one point Steve G drove a ’98 Ford Probe and that he’d hung around a lot with her uncles when he lived in Georgetown. She even tracked down photos of her mother with her biological father.
Eventually, the trail led to Grasby. He said the moment he saw the message asking him to call, despite all the years, he knew who it was.
“That’s when I lost it,” Grasby said. “I cried. I just bawled. My son Kyle found me and thought that my mom had died. I was so messed up.”
And then the phone call. Lewis and Grasby talked for the first time, and they exchanged photos over Facebook. When Grasby saw the first picture of Lewis, he said he saw the spitting image of his own mother.Grasby said the amount of work Lewis put into finding him is incredible. “She even knew about the Chicago stuff,” the longtime Blackhawks fan said Saturday, surrounded by team memorabilia in his living room.
After being told his wedding was off and the pregnancy terminated, Grasby eventually went on with his life. He now has two other children: Kyle, who is 20, and Stephanie, 22. He became a grandfather.
Meanwhile, Lewis grew up. She had a daughter, Gabryela, with her common-law husband, Matthew Goode, an electrician. They live in Oshawa.
As they chatted back and forth, Grasby and Lewis decided to meet for the first time in Collingwood, at Stephanie’s house.
When Grasby arrived, Lewis, Goode and Gabryela, 10, were already inside.
With a deep breath, Grasby pulled open the front door and stepped in. He paused for a moment in the middle of the living room, then wrapped Lewis in a tight embrace.
“If I’d known,” he said, “I would have fought for you.”
“It’s not your fault,” Lewis whispered, tears streaming down both their faces.
After a momentary awkwardness, Lewis hugged her new siblings as well, and Grasby shook his new son-in-law’s hand. Soon everyone was chatting and laughing, and occasionally dashing away tears.
Grasby said there hasn’t been time for a paternity test, but both he and Lewis said there’s no need for one. To them, the family resemblance is obvious.Even so, learning they have a bunch of new family members hasn’t been easy for anyone involved.
Stephanie said she cried for days when she first found out, but she and Kyle are quickly adjusting to having a new, older sibling. They’re planning shopping trips to Oshawa’s outlet mall together.“All of us have so much lost time to make up for,” Stephanie said.
Lewis said her stepfather, Mike, who raised her, holds no grudge and supported her finding her biological father.
Sunday is Mike Lewis’s birthday. Grasby plans to call him.
“I want to say thank you for raising my daughter,” he said.