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Finding his family

    In 1949 Lee Haugen, of Milan, was adopted as an infant by Lloyd and Violet Haugen. He grew up in their loving home which later added another adopted child. Both Lee and his younger sister grew up knowing they were adopted, and Lee remembers when they went to pick his sister up. Their parents had told them if they ever wanted to find their birth parents it was fine with them, but it never seemed to be an issue or something to pursue. After school, Lee joined the Air Force, and it still never became important.

    “Then I got married and our first child was born. I still didn’t really have an interest in finding my parents but felt it could be important for medical reasons. So we talked with the agent from Lutheran Social Services in the cities but didn’t seem to get very far. For some reason I never really understood, dad got nervous about the whole idea, so we left it alone for awhile. There were two or three other adopted kids in Milan, and everything was going OK, so we left it alone. Through the years I kind of felt like a hand with a finger missing. I was fine. Everything was going OK but that hand wasn’t filled,” said Haugen.

  After Lloyd passed away Haugen decided it was time to try again, to push a little harder and not let it fall through, so once more they contacted social services and were assigned a case worker. Things progressed with the case worker doing all the leg work and contacting the Haugens every two weeks.

    “I knew I had been in foster care before my adoption in Elbow Lake, and I was born in Fergus Falls. An old doctor remembered my foster parents but had no records. I learned I was baptized twice, once at one month and again after I was adopted at six months. The social worker had contacted a church to check logs, but the clerk told her the page we needed was missing. She later called back and said she had been wrong, the pages were stuck together,” said Haugen.

    The case worker did her job well and soon located Haugen’s mother only to discover that she was in poor health. Medical history being the original reason for locating her seemed to be more important than ever.

    Haugen’s mother, Doris Johnson Erickson, agreed to meet with her son but requested that their first meeting be with just the two of them. Doris was homebound and fighting diabetes and had difficulty walking.

    “When we were looking for her I wondered how it would go, but I figured the worst thing that could happen was she would say, ‘No.’ She didn’t, she wanted to see me right away. For me that first meeting wasn’t so emotional, but she cried and hugged me and said, ‘I waited 55 years to hug my baby.’  Then we made an appointment to meet the girls, my half sisters. The case worker did a good job. She had talked to the girls and explained everything, and they were ready to pack and see me, all four of them. My sister Jeanne lives on the farm they grew up on so we set a time and met there a couple weeks later. They were all over me, hugs, kisses and tears. All from the heart and it hit me then,” said Haugen.

    “Mom said she knew me the minute I walked in, and I saw the resemblance too. She said I look just like a brother of hers and that I walk like a Johnson. I met all the nieces and nephews, and it was just one big happy family. I learned I had a brother and both he and my sisters’ father died in a house fire. They were both out but went back in after the family dog. My brother died as a young adult. At first it seemed like the girls had set things up because every night one of them would call to talk. As time went on I learned that we knew so many people in common. I grew up in Milan, and my mom was from Donnelly. After mom moved off the farm she moved into a house just four doors from a good friend of mine. I ran into him one day, and he asked where I was going, and I said to see my mom. He asked who, and I said Doris. Boy was he surprised. He had known her all his life. He talked about one time when he and I ate in a diner. He told me my mom had been sitting back to back with me in the next booth.  My sister, Jeanne, knows a man I haven’t met yet, but he carried my brother out of the fire that took his life. We have discovered so many near misses and common friends and places we have been at certain times but it just wasn’t the right time yet,” said Haugen.

    “It is interesting to see the family resemblance, when we are together you can see that Peggy, Jeanne and I all look like our mom, and Shelia and Nancy take after their father,” said Haugen. Haugen and his wife have a daughter in Virginia and a son from Montevideo. They also have three grandkids. Haugen has had a wide variety of jobs that have kept him away from home often, but he is now employed in Granite Falls, and he and his wife are enjoying more time together.

    “All those years and near encounters were strange, but it just wasn’t time yet to find them. People ask about my father, but I felt so complete after meeting mom and the girls that I had no need to look further. I don’t know if he even knew about my birth. I figure it would be pretty hard with no names, background and by now he may be dead. There were reasons my mom never turned to him for help at the time, and I just don’t feel pushed to find out. I am complete now. My mom was so young and scared of what everyone would say. She never got to hold me. Like she said, she waited 55 years to hug me. I don’t know if she ever knew if I was a boy or a girl. My mom had carried the guilt all by herself for all those years. Things were very different then. One of my sisters was really angry with mom until she heard the whole story. It was a great sacrifice to give up a child if you knew you couldn’t provide for them. It took a really great love,” said Haugen.

“I watched a television show once where a mother who was a motorcycle gal and ended up in jail had given her daughter up. The daughter was there and was so angry at her mom; she had hated her for years. But then the mom talked and explained she didn’t think her baby would survive if she kept her, so she felt she had to give her a chance at a good life. It was a very touching show, and I think it is like that for many women from my mom’s generation,” he added.

    “I like to joke and tell people that the hardest part of the whole thing was finding out I am Swede, which explains a lot of things. Mom was so happy to have me back in her life. She always wanted to show me off, and she explained to all her grandkids about becoming pregnant and giving me up, and it has all been great. My sisters all refer to me as their brother, not a half brother but their brother. They say there are no halves when it comes to sisters and brothers. I have gone to family things at Jeanne’s house; she never tore down the old house that had the fire. When I go there I feel so at home, like I have found something and I feel like I belong there and have roots there as well as the other places I lived,” said Haugen

    “Mom has since passed away, but I am so grateful for the time we had and the chance to get to know her. The girls, my sisters, talk about the change they saw in mom after we had been reunited. They say there was a sparkle there that they had never seen before, and they think mom was just hanging on until the time when she had me back, and finally the time was right. Now I have diabetes too, like mom did. So there are some things to be gained in learning medical information, but there is so much more than that. Yes, my missing finger is there, my hand is full and maybe the finger is back and it is missing a fingernail because I never knew my dad, but I am complete now,” said Haugen.

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