Channel 2 weatherman Frank Billingsley always knew he was adopted and, deep down, always wondered who his birth parents were. And who he is, even now. But it wasn’t until 2013 that he began digging for his roots and shimmying up his family tree.
One swoosh with a Q-tip inside his cheek put Billingsley on a twisting, wild and often wooly path of self-discovery that he captures in his new book, Swabbed and Found: An Adopted Man’s DNA Journey to Discover His Family Tree ($24.95, Bright Sky Press), available Oct. 1 in bookstores and online – but you can order an autographed copy now by contacting frankbillingsley.com.
For such a gut-wrenching and emotional matter, Billingsley’s easy style makes this a fun read. He’s a TV weatherman, he knows how to pack a lot of information in a small space so you don’t change the channel. Or put his book down.
CultureMap: Why did it take you so long to get this, how you put it, show on the road?
Frank Billingsley: I knew from the beginning that I was adopted, so I have always wondered about it. My mother would read me Our Chosen Child, which is a book that promotes how "special" and "wanted" the adopted child is in the family. So while I asked natural questions about why I was put up for adoption, a happy childhood pretty well kept me from thinking about it too much. I wondered more about what I would have been like if I had been my adoptive parents’ biological son. My mother’s answer was always "Not as good." She’s sweet that way.
Acting on searching for my biological mother and father took a while because of different emotional and realistic roadblocks — the least of which is that I was adopted in Arkansas, a closed records state. What kind of private eye do you hire for such a thing? That alone seemed daunting.
I also felt like I might be "cheating" on my adoptive parents who have always been wonderful to me and I certainly didn’t want to hurt their feelings, as if they weren’t good enough. At the end of the day, it’s good old-fashioned curiosity that took hold of me. And then those first DNA results trickled in, the search became a fever pitch. Once I started to realize that this might really happen, I couldn’t stop. Let’s face it, I’m in my 50s, and if was going to find anyone alive, I needed to get this show on the road.
CM: How has this book left you emotionally?
FB: Complete. I feel like all the questions that I had have been answered and I was lucky to find people who welcomed me. I do honestly wonder if chasing down DNA relatives is always such a good idea, which is why I highly recommend care and compassion. I kind of barged in and while it went well, it could have been just the opposite.
CM: What advice do you give other adoptees?
FB: Be kind and be fair to others if you search for your biological family. You never know who you might find or the reasons you were given up at birth. So while the journey is very emotional, you have to keep your mind open to who is out there. And when you find them, don’t judge them and don’t blame them. Remember that they most likely have a family and friends and a life. They’ve also been on a journey. Know when to hold ‘em and know when to fold ‘em.
CM: Did you ever think about adopting a child?
FB: I would have loved to be a dad. Looking back on life, adopting a child when I was much younger seems like it might have been possible, but it sure didn’t then. Career came first for me. Fortunately, when Kevin (Gilliard) and I got together in 1995, he had a 7-year-old son, Morgan. So I have had the experience of helping raise a child. I don’t think Morgan much remembers a time when I wasn’t a part of his life. I get very nice Father’s Day cards and I’m content in knowing that I was the best stepdad I could be.
Morgan’s mother has since remarried and so Morgan has one dad and two stepdads, so he probably gets way too much fatherly advice! Amazingly, we all get along very well and have fun parties!