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North Dakota woman drives to meet dad in Texas after being separated more than 30 years ago

Angela Barnum1 / 3
John Daniels with his then-baby daughter, Angela Barnum. The photo was taken before they were separated more than 30 years ago, and he has kept it over the years. Submitted photo2 / 3
Angela Barnum3 / 3

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — John Daniels has always kept close a photo of him and his baby daughter, a child he hasn't seen for more than 30 years.

The discolored photo shows the smiling faces of the Texas man and his little girl, cheek to cheek.

"I've only got one," Daniels said when asked if he had a picture of the two together. "I've got about six pictures that I've held onto all of these years of her."

He said his wife moved away with their then-2-year-old daughter from their home in Corpus Christi on the Gulf of Mexico to Grand Forks. He tried to find them multiple times, but he was unsuccessful.

"It was something that happened so long ago, and I just gave up on it," the Texas man said, adding he thought he would never see his daughter again.

Decades later and almost 1,700 miles to the north, 34-year-old Angela Barnum was searching for her father on Facebook. The Rolla, N.D., woman had a name: John Daniels.

"I always longed for my dad," she said. "Every daughter needs her dad."

She sent him a message and he answered. The two had finally found each other and, on Friday, Barnum got in her car with her three children and boyfriend to drive to Texas. Expecting to arrive sometime on Sunday, she made the long trip to her birthplace to meet her dad for the first time in 32 years, just in time for Father's Day.

"I bet you for sure it will be the best Father's Day I've ever had," Daniels said.

'Cut off'

Barnum was too young to remember her father before her mother, Arlene, brought her back to North Dakota. She said she has heard both sides of the story from her parents about what happened when the family was separated in the 1980s.

Daniels admitted that he and his wife, who were in their 20s at the time, weren't getting along, and it was hard to make ends meet in Texas.

"She said, 'Hey, I'm going to catch a plane and go to North Dakota and visit with my mom for a couple of weeks,'" he said.

He recalled dropping them off at a Texas airport. When he called to see when he should expect them to return, he was told his wife and child were never coming back.

"And then they changed their number, and that was the last time I was able to be in contact with them," he said. "It was tough to deal with that that the way it happened and I was completely cut off."

He thought his wife would eventually call or come back, but that never happened. He said he tried looking for them, but he didn't know where to begin.

"Back in the '80s, we didn't have the technology we have today," he said. "There wasn't a whole lot you could do to search for somebody.

"It was reach out with a phone call, and once you struck out there, it's done," he added.

Searching Facebook

Barnum recalled her mother working a lot, but Barnum spent a lot of time with her grandmother, Deloris "Lee" Barnum, who was instrumental in establishing the Fire Hall Theatre. There were times when she was in foster care.

When asked how she felt about her mother after she left her father, Barnum said she loves her mother deeply.

"She did the best she could raising me," Barnum said. "I believe she was looking out for my best interest."

Barnum said she didn't know her father's name until she was 13 years old, but she always wanted to find him. She also saw a picture of him for the first time when she was 21 years old.

The mother of three settled in Rolla in 2009, where she operates Dugan's Bottle Shop.

Barnum's mother died in 2005 and her grandmother died in 2014. She almost lost her father and her chance to ever meet him.

Daniels' kidneys and liver were failing last year. Now 58 years old, he said he was hours away before doctors were going to "call it quits on him" when a donor's organs came in to save his life.

"I told him, 'That was God telling you that you need to meet me first,'" Barnum said.

Barnum didn't know that was unfolding as she searched for her father. In March, she said she got the courage to message a man from Corpus Christi who shared her father's name.

"The next morning, I get this message from him saying, 'Are you who I think you are?'" she said.

Daniels knew the message was from his daughter once he saw the name on the Facebook message matched his daughter's. He was shocked, but in a happy way.

"My wife said I turned as white as a ghost when I read it," he said. "When I saw it, I just sort of froze in time."

'You are my Dad!'

Barnum shared a letter to her father with the Herald expressing mixed emotions, from missing him to being angry with him. She acknowledged that everyone makes mistakes, some that "lead you places you never meant to go." She also recalls her mother telling her to move on.

"But I don't want to do that. I can't do that," she wrote in the letter. "You're not the perfect dad, but you are my dad. It's not too late. We can't change the past. We can't go back in time and fix things, or make things the way we think they should have been. We can't start over. But we can start with the day I found you through Facebook! You are my Dad! And no matter what, I will always have love for you!"

Both said they are nervous but excited to meet each other.

"After 32 years, what do you say?" Daniels said.

At first, Barnum didn't realize they scheduled their first meeting for Father's Day.

"I wanted to get there by Sunday, and then I looked at the calendar and said, 'Oh my God, it is Father's Day,'" she said. "This will be the first time I get to look my dad in the eyes and say, 'Happy Father's Day.'"

Barnum said she has an open mind about where the relationship could go next, but for now, she will have family waiting for her in Texas, including three half siblings she has never met. Daniels will get to meet three grandchildren.

"It's going to be a big reunion," Daniels said.

April Baumgarten

April Baumgarten joined the Grand Forks Herald May 19, 2015, and covers crime and education. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, where her family raises registered Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at Jamestown (N.D.) College, now known as University of Jamestown. During her time at the college, she worked as a reporter and editor-in-chief for the university's newspaper, The Collegian. Baumgarten previously worked for The Dickinson Press as a city government and energy reporter in 2011 before becoming the editor of the Hazen Star and Center Republican. She then returned to The Press as a news editor, where she helped lead an award-winning newsroom in recording the historical oil boom.

Have a story idea? Contact Baumgarten at 701-780-1248.

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