After 61 years, elderly man finally meets son he never knew existed
(ABC) -- For all of his 61 years, Sam Childress never knew his father. But now, that's changed.
After several failed attempts to connect over the decades, Childress met his father, 81-year-old Anthony Trapani, for the first time Sunday at the Michigan assisted living facility where Trapani lives.
"Him and Sam looked at each other and gave each other a hug," Trapani's sister, Arlene Schulte, told ABC News today. "It was kind of emotional."
Childress' daughter, Desiree Nichols, said the story began when her late grandmother, Shirley Childress, left her Tennessee home at the age of 16. She was hitchhiking to Williamsport, Pennsylvania, where her son now lives, when she met 20-year-old Trapani in Michigan.
"They dated briefly, and she was very ashamed when she got pregnant," Nichols said. "So she moved here to Williamsport and didn't contact Anthony for five years until my father was 5 years old.
"She wrote him a letter saying he had fathered a son with her," Nichols added. "Then she wrote him a letter telling him if he wanted any further contact with my father just to write her back and she'll send pictures. But she never heard anything from him. I guess she just decided to raise him on her own."
Nichols said when her father "was a teen, he tried to contact Anthony again. He was able to get his number in Michigan somehow. He called him. Anthony's wife answered and said he didn't want anything to do with him. She intercepted the letter and the phone call.
"Those are the only times he ever reached out to him," Nichols said.
Shirley Childress died in 2006, Nichols said.
Then, last year, Trapani was "cleaning out an old filing cabinet that belonged to his wife and he found the letter stuck in the back," Nichols said.
The letter said: "Dear Tony: I bet you're surprised to hear from me after so many years. I was just thinking about you tonight like so many other nights. I thought I would write you and find out how you're doing."
It continued, "Tony, please don't be angry or surprised to hear this. I have a little boy. He is 5 years old now. He has hazel eyes and black hair and he's beautiful. What I'm trying to say, Tony, is he is your son."
Nichols said, "[Tony Trapani] never saw the letter, he never knew about the phone call."
Just a few weeks ago, "My stepmother [Donna Childress] called me and told me she believed she found my father's birth father. My dad is 61 so I thought [my grandfather] wouldn't still be living. But he's 81. And she told me she got contacted through Facebook by Anthony's sister."
"I had been trying on an off for a year and I was just shocked that she accepted the friend request," Schulte said. "So we [Donna Childress and I] talked on the phone and then she started sending pictures and we sent pictures back."
The father and son first "met" over Skype, Nichols said. "They wanted to meet each other so badly."
"They look so much alike," Nichols said, but added that they are having a paternity test to confirm the relation. "They just want to know for sure."
This week, Sam and Donna Childress went to Michigan for the much-anticipated meeting with Trapani.
Schulte said Trapani and Sam Childress have a lot in common, including a love of hunting, fishing, chocolate cake and donuts.
"My dad said they're so much alike," Nichols said. "It sounds like they're having a really wonderful time."
Nichols said her father is Trapani's only child.
"He never had any children with his wife who died last year," she said. "And she never even came clean about hiding the letter or anything, that he had fathered a child with another woman.
"Anthony said [on a phone call to Childress] that [his wife] couldn't have children. Apparently, Anthony thinks that maybe his wife hid it from him because she herself couldn't have children. We'll never know. She died over a year ago. We'll never know why she did that, but she hid it from her husband."
"He'd never seen a picture of his father," Nichols said. "All I knew about my grandfather was that he was an Italian boxer and his last name. That was all we ever knew. Never had a photo or anything. That's all my dad had to go on his entire life."
Nichols called the fact that her father finally met his dad an "absolute miracle."
"It's been such a blessing," she said "I've always wondered about that side of my family."