November 20, 2008 in Voices

Father and child reunion

Search on Internet site MySpace brings dad and daughter together
Cindy Hval Correspondent
 
CHRISTOPHER ANDERSON photo

Bill Ridihalgh kisses his daughter Carol Gibson, left, as her mother, Teresa Gibson, stands at right at Spokane International Airport Nov. 1. Carol Gibson had never met her father until Saturday, after he contacted her through a MySpace page.
(Full-size photo)

Social networking Web sites can get a bad rap. Parents often worry about Internet predators trying to contact their children. But sometimes these sites actually bring families together.

On Nov. 1, Bill Ridihalgh, a disabled Iraqi war veteran, met his daughter, Carol Gibson, for the first time – thanks to MySpace.

Twenty-seven years ago in Alaska, high school sweethearts Teresa Gibson and Bill Ridihalgh ended their relationship – badly. Some months later, Gibson gave birth to their daughter, Carol.

“She was only 2 lbs. 10 oz. when she was born,” Gibson said. Ridihalgh joined the Army without knowing about the child he left behind.

That changed when he was served with child-support papers when Carol Gibson was 12. Ridihalgh said he was shocked to find he had a daughter. He dutifully made his support payments, but because of the misunderstanding surrounding his parting with Teresa Gibson, he held no hope of actually meeting his child.

However, one evening last November, Ridihalgh’s wife, Missy, was scrolling through member profiles on MySpace. “Bill, come here,” she called. “I think I’ve found your daughter.”

He sat down at the computer. “When I read through the profile it stunned me,” he said. Missy Ridihalgh sent Carol Gibson a note with a few questions, to confirm their suspicion. Her answers established what Ridihalgh felt he already knew. He composed an e-mail of his own. It read, “My name is Bill. You may not know me, but I think I may be your dad.”

Gibson, who lives in Spokane Valley, was shocked to receive the note from a Kansas man she’d never met. “I knew I had a dad,” she said. “I kind of wondered about him, but I wasn’t sure about meeting him.”

Her mother verified that Ridihalgh was indeed her father, and after a short time she responded to the e-mail. Ridihalgh sent her his phone number and asked her to call anytime she wanted.

It took awhile, as Carol Gibson adjusted to the idea of having a father in her life, but an only child, she delighted in discovering she had three half-brothers. Finally, she picked up the phone.

“Since my dad found me on MySpace I thought, maybe this time we should go ahead and try to be part of each other’s lives,” she said.

Those first chats were stilted and awkward as together they worked to make sense of the past and to move forward into uncharted territory. Eventually, Ridihalgh said, “We ended up calling each other about every other day.” And those short chats gradually grew into hourlong conversations.

This reunion came at a pivotal time in Ridihalgh’s life. He’d just finished serving back-to-back tours in Iraq. “I got blown out of a tower while I was over there,” he said. He was diagnosed with severe post traumatic stress disorder. Finding his daughter he said, “Gave me more motivation to come back around and start looking forward to life.”

After months of phone calls, father and daughter agreed it was time to meet in person. On Nov. 1, Ridihalgh flew to Spokane and held his 26-year-old daughter in his arms for the first time.

Teresa Gibson said, “It was worth it. To see the look on their faces was amazing.” Because Gibson and Ridihalgh had parted so badly, reconciliation and forgiveness were important to them as well. Teresa Gibson said, “The past is the past. All we have is the future.” She then spoke of the father-daughter bond. “The most important thing is that they have a relationship. Even though it’s just beginning, it’s something that will last.”

Ridihalgh is amazed by her resemblance to his three sons. “Carol is the spitting image of my boys,” he said, but added, “They’re all taller than she is.”

One afternoon the three did something that has been a long time coming – they went to Sears and had family portraits taken.

Both Carol Gibson and her dad say it’s been uncomfortable at times, But they agree the awkwardness has been worth it. And Ridihalgh said, “I’ve always prayed that one day God would cross our paths together.”

Correspondent Cindy Hval can be reached at dchval@juno.com.


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