A Canadian woman says tracking down her biological father was always on her mind until a three-day social media campaign helped identify him as an Elvis impersonator working in Thailand.
Forty-six-year-old Melonie Dodaro said she’d longed to know more about her father and had made many fruitless attempts to find him in the past.
But the social media consultant from Kelowna, B.C., recently decided that it was now or never to put her professional skills to use in the hunt.
Dodaro created a video identifying her dad and started a Twitter campaign using the hashtag #FindCeesDeJong, which was the only name she had for him.
Three days later, Dodaro says she learned that he’d changed his name to Colin Young, spent decades travelling the world as a musician, had made many unsuccessful efforts to connect with her, and had finally settled in Thailand with a wife and two young kids.
Dodaro says plans are in the works for her to travel to meet him and her two step-siblings, aptly named Elvis and Priscilla.
Dodaro was no stranger to the power of social media, but said the experience of solving a decades-long mystery was like nothing she’d ever come across on the job.
“I posted it on Saturday morning just after 10 a.m., and, basically, by Tuesday morning at 10 a.m., I was talking to my dad on the phone,” she said in a telephone interview.
Dodaro’s curiosity about her paternal ancestry dated all the way back to childhood. She said her mother never hid the fact that the man who helped raise her was not a biological relative and willingly shared the few bits of information she had on the man who was.
Dodaro said her mother and father dated for a few months in 1968 while living in Brampton, Ont., but went their separate ways before realizing there was a baby on the way.
By the time Dodaro was born, her mother was engaged to someone else and the man she’d known as Cees DeJong had relocated to Australia.
DeJong received a letter informing him that he had a daughter and soon tried to connect with her, but Dodaro’s mother had now married and changed the family name.
He tried again in 1985, even spending a few days in Toronto to dig through records, but drew a blank.
During that time, Dodaro herself had undertaken her own search armed with only a few scanty details.
She knew both his name and nationality, but said that information proved more of a hindrance than a help.
“His name was the most common Dutch name,” she said. “It was literally the equivalent of John Smith in North America.”
Dodaro eventually resigned herself to life without a connection to her father, but decided to tackle the search one more time at the urging of a friend.
After consulting with her husband and 27-year-old son, she made her sparse knowledge public in a video, a blog post and a tweet that soon went viral.
Before long, a Dutch newspaper had picked up the story and generated a flood of tips. Eventually, Dodaro said a man who was friendly with both the reporter and DeJong himself helped connect the dots and put father and daughter in touch for the first time.
Dodaro described the wait for the phone call as “the longest 10 minutes of my life,” but said the two immediately set about making up for lost time.
Dodaro said she was initially taken aback by her dad’s current career, but said she enjoys knowing that her son’s musical talents were inherited from his grandfather.
She said she and her family are hoping to head to Thailand in August to cap off what she describes as a “truly surreal” experience.
“Part of me is still in shock,” she said. “I wake up and I’m like, ‘was that a dream? Is this real?’ I jump out of bed and I’m checking my phone, checking my emails, checking my Facebook and saying, ‘oh, yes, it is real!'”
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Michelle McQuigge, The Canadian Press