The 24-year-old Kennesaw woman last saw her father when she was 7 years old. She hadn’t spoken to him since her parents split 17 years ago and has been missing a father figure ever since.
“My mom had quite a few boyfriends, but they were far from a dad,” she said. “They were never good to me or my brother. That played a part in trying to find my dad for so long.”
She wanted to know her dad, but said her mom convinced her he’d want nothing to do with her or her brother, Victor.
Juana Valadez began searching vigorously for her father when she was 17 years old, seven years ago. She was a freshman in high school and was pregnant with her first daughter.
“I told my mom this was my first child, and I really wanted my dad to be a part of it,” Juana Valadez said. “She gave me her opinion and said I’d be better off without him, and that if I found him it would be hard to hear that my parent didn’t want me.”
She stopped her search, discouraged by getting no information from People Search online, after almost two months. She also didn’t want to upset her mother.
“I knew his name, but I didn’t know his birth date,” Juana Valadez said. “I knew his wife’s name, one of my aunts’ names and my grandfather’s, but none of them showed up in the search either.”
Coming up dry in Chicago
She expected her father to be in Chicago, where her mother had left him and taken her and her brother.
She put the search on hold when her mother had a massive stroke in 2007. It wasn’t until after her mother died in December 2012 that Juana Valadez tried again to find her dad.
“I’d thought about it a few times after she passed, but thought it may be too soon,” Juana Valadez said.
But three weeks ago, she tried again, this time on Facebook. She searched her dad’s wife’s maiden name, found a few matches and began looking at whatever pictures she could find. One photo was of a woman and a Hispanic man, with a photo on the same profile that read, “I’ve loved you for 17 years.”
The timing matched up to when her family split, and her dad was with the same woman at the time.
Juana Valadez wrote the woman a Facebook message inquiring about whether she may be married to her father, but to no avail.
Finally, a ‘connection’
“It had been a week since I sent the message, and she didn’t respond,” Juana Valadez said. “I kept checking my Facebook every few minutes to see if she’d read it, see if she’d read it, see if she’d read it. She never wrote back.”
So Juana Valadez stopped torturing herself waiting and went through the woman’s “friends” list to find people with the same last name.
She connected with Juan Valadez, her first cousin.
“He said I looked familiar and I told him who I was,” she said. “He asked if I had a brother named Victor and if my mother was white. Plenty of times he’d asked his dad what happened to his cousins.”
Juan Valadez contacted his father, Juana Valadez’s uncle, and told him about the conversation. She soon spoke to her uncle, who was living in Fargo, N.D. “He said so many times after my mom and brother and I fell off the face of the planet, the whole family wanted to know what happened to us,” she said. “But I still didn’t know if my dad wanted to hear from me.”
Her uncle called his brother, also living in Fargo, and told him he’d spoken to Juana and asked if he wanted to know his daughter. Immediately Juana’s father told his brother to get the two of them in touch.
“This all happened within two hours of me contacting the guy who ended up being my cousin,” Juana Valadez said. “It was so overwhelming that I had to get my boyfriend to call my dad because I was too nervous.”
She eventually got on the phone with him, and they both started crying.
“When my brother called me, I was so nervous and shaking that my wife had to hold my hand,” said Juana Valadez’s father, Jose Valadez.
‘I didn’t know my kids were in Georgia’
“So many nights I cried and wondered where you were and if you were safe,” Jose Valadez told her.
“I didn’t know my kids were in Georgia,” Jose Valadez said. “When I’d searched their names before, there were hundreds of them. There was no way to figure it out.”
They discussed the basics of why he hadn’t been in her life for 17 years, and he said he wasn’t in love with her mother and her mother didn’t want him around their kids.
“Dads have a lot more rights now than they did back then,” Jose Valadez said. “It was better than coming in and out of their lives.”
Since their initial phone conversation three weeks ago, the father/daughter duo has spoken on the phone every day, she said, and Jose Valadez landed in Georgia for the first time Saturday. The reunited family went to dinner Saturday and is spending today at Stone Mountain. Both were nervous but eager to meet, and Juana Valadez will be introducing her daughters Yuleny, 7, and Anahi, 7 months, to their grandfather. Jose Valadez hopes to soon connect with his son Victor, too.
“My brother was 3 when we left,” Juana Valadez said. “He doesn’t remember anything and holds a lot of animosity and anger. Maybe one day.”
Juana Valadez has also connected with her sisters on her father’s side, Jose Valadez said.
“The first step is to go see her and then maybe she can come up here,” Jose Valadez said. “We’ll figure out ways to stay together.”