Having lost his father, first to divorce and then to an early death, Joseph Garofalo’s life was transformed when a Fra Noi profile led him to his extended family by his Dad’s second marriage.
During the past year, I was reunited with my long lost family as a result of an article Leonard Amari wrote about me that was published in Fra Noi. The following describes how this happened.
My parents were divorced when I was a baby. My mother and her parents raised me. My father, Denphon (“Danny”) remarried and had three more sons, my half-brothers, Mark, Chris, and John. Due to our father’s premature death at the age of 36, none of us had the chance to know him very well. I was only 13; Mark was 7, Chris was 4 and John was 2. After he passed, we never had the opportunity to know each other. While I always knew my half-brothers existed, I never bothered to find them, not knowing whether they’d want to have a relationship with me. Their mother, Frances, remarried and had another child, Jill Hagl-Kuffner, my stepsister. It’s a good thing she did since Jill is the one who found me and brought me to the attention of her mother and my brothers.
During 2014, I wrote my memoir, “Chicago Law: A Trial Lawyer’s Journey.” In the chapter devoted to my father, I recounted the story about how he remarried and had three more sons I never met. After my memoir was published, it became quite popular among those in the Illinois workers’ compensation community, where I’ve practiced as a defense attorney for 40 years. Leonard Amari became aware of it and wanted to feature my story in Fra Noi. That fateful event led to my stepsister, Jill, finding me. Since that article mentioned my three half-brothers, after reading it, Jill had the impression I was looking for them. After she brought this to the attention of her mother as well as my half-brothers, Mark introduced himself to me in an email and invited me to connect. I picked up the phone and called him at work (he is a mechanical engineer for Sikorsky) the minute I received his message. We have been in constant contact ever since. Mark had the same deep-seated desire to know me that I had to know my brothers.
After getting to know Mark, I met his mother, my stepmother, Frances Hagl. I stopped by her home for a long-awaited visit. The two of us sat at her kitchen table as she told me her life’s story and related as much information as she could remember about my father. We had an enjoyable visit. She needed a lot of strength to survive his death at such a young age and to raise my half-brothers. She knew I was excited about connecting with them and planned a reunion party so that my half-brothers and I would have a chance to know each other.
Chris sponsored our reunion dinner at his house. Chris is a concert pianist and held a charity event at his home the weekend of our reunion. I met John for the first time at our reunion dinner at Chris’ house. John is a pharmacologist at the University of Illinois Hospital. Chris is an excellent cook and made a delicious meal. We drank the wine we brought from Garofalo Family Vineyards. It was quite a celebration to finally have dinner with my half-brothers and stepmother after waiting all those years.
Mark lives in Connecticut and came in for the reunion with his daughter, Julia, her fiancé, Ben George, and Mark’s girlfriend, Shannon Murphy. They came to downtown Chicago to meet me for lunch. Mark and I met for the first time standing on the southwest corner of Wacker Drive and Dearborn. When we met, we looked at, hugged, and kissed each other. We both stood there with our arms around each other laughing our heads off. We kept holding onto each other since we could hardly believe that we were standing next to and talking to our half-brother. Luckily, Shannon caught our moment on camera. I consider the picture to be priceless and suitable for the cover of Time Magazine.
Our reunion occurred near the time of a reunion of the Falcone family. My father’s mother, Marta (Martha), was a Falcone. Martha was the oldest of her siblings. She came to America at the age of 7 in 1910 with her parents, Luca and Francesca (Mirto) Falcone, from Caturano, Italy. After coming here, her parents had four more children, Aida (Edith), Michael, Algea, and Alma. Although all are deceased, we had an opportunity to meet some of their children, and their children’s children, who gathered for the Falcone reunion in October 2016.
We attended the family reunion with Mark and Shannon, who stayed with us that weekend. We had the rare experience of meeting our long lost family members that reunion weekend. After being raised as the only child of a single mother, with my maternal grandparents, who were Swedish and German, the experience of finding myself a member of such a large Italian family was gratifying beyond imagination. An especially touching experience that rainy weekend was when Mark, Chris and I visited our father’s grave. Our visit to the cemetery occurred around the 50th anniversary of his death (July 30, 1966), making it especially meaningful. We all felt that he had been at work bringing us together and was somehow responsible for this happy occurrence.
At the reunion, I was especially grateful to meet my cousins, Marianne Weaver and Rose Kirkland Chambers, as well as many others. Incredibly, our meeting led to a conversation about Healdsburg, Calif., where my wife, Toni, and I have a home. We discovered that they and their families planned to be in Healdsburg during Thanksgiving week when we would be celebrating the holiday. We got together at our home the Friday after Thanksgiving. We had an enjoyable visit together while overlooking the vineyards that surround our property.
I never imagined that writing my memoir would lead to the marvelous discovery of my long lost family. The discovery of my beautiful, loving family is a bonus I never anticipated. I can hardly believe my good fortune to be a part of this gifted, talented group of relatives.
I am thankful to God for bringing us together. For the first time, I know what it’s like to have real brothers, and cousins, with whom I share some of the same blood and DNA. A family is the only place where you can find that.
So that is the story of the miracle of finding my family and the integral role Fra Noi played in making that happen. I became united with what had been lost to me all those years. What appeared to be dead is now alive and well. It is a resurrection of sorts; the end of a long chapter of being alone, and the beginning of a new adventure together with my family. You can’t manufacture this or buy this experience anywhere; it just has to happen, and when it does, you have to go with it.
I see many bright beginnings springing from these developments. It is cause for being optimistic about the future.
The above appeared in the March issue of the print version of Fra Noi. Our gorgeous, monthly magazine contains a veritable feast of news and views, profiles and features, entertainment and culture. To subscribe, click here.