Randy Waites was watching the local television news two months ago at his home near Sacramento when he saw somebody appear briefly on the screen who shared his last name.
“We usually go to Europe,” Edward Waites said in the four-second clip. “And we said, ‘You know what? Instead of the 14-hour flight, we’ll do the one-hour flight.’ ”
Randy Waites, 55, quickly hit “pause” on the TV and took a photo of the screen. Then he called in his kids, Cambria Waites, 17, and Dalton Waites, 13, who were in the next room.
“Hey, look at this,” Randy said that afternoon, Dec. 22, as he pointed at the television. “We have the same name. It’s probably a coincidence, but I wonder if there’s a family connection.”
Cambria told her dad that she thought the man looked like him, especially around the eyes.
“I said, ‘He has the same squint as you — I’ll bet you’re related,’ ” she recalled saying. “I told him I was going to go look online and see what I could find out about Edward Waites.”
About 15 or 20 minutes later, she returned and said she believed the man on TV was possibly her father’s brother.
“I had to pick my jaw up off the floor,” Randy said.
Randy had never known his father, Donald E. Waites, but he knew the name from his birth certificate. Now his daughter was telling him that her Internet sleuthing showed that Donald E. Waites was also the father of the man on the TV, Edward Waites.
Randy not only never knew his father, but he’d never even seen a photo of him. While doing a search several years ago for him, he learned that his father had died in 2009, not long before the death of his mother. But he didn’t investigate enough to find any other relatives.
Randy was shocked to learn this man could be his brother.
All Randy had known about his father was this: His mother and father were a couple and living in Santa Ana, Calif., but after he was born in 1966, his father left, his mother had told him.
“My dad left my mom when I was a few months old to marry someone else and start a new life,” Randy said. “When I was growing up, I always wondered, ‘Where is my father and what is he like?’ I’d look in the mirror and say, ‘Who am I?’ ”
Because of a short clip he’d seen by chance on the evening news, he was about to be closer to some answers.
Randy’s younger half sister, Nellie Summers, decided to do some detective work. She got help from Cambria and Randy’s wife, Sandi Waites. They tracked down Edward Waites at his home in Anaheim, and Nellie Summers left him a phone message on Jan. 6.
“Nellie said, ‘My brother, Randy Waites, saw you on the television news,’ ” Edward recalled. “Then she said, ‘To make a long story short, you’re related. The two of you are brothers.’ ”
Edward Waites said he was stunned and confused.
“How it all came about is just a miracle,” said Edward Waites, 54. “What are the odds?”
After talking to each other over the phone that day, the men decided to meet. On Feb. 5, at Randy’s home in Lodi, Calif., the brothers compared childhoods.
Edward brought old photos of their father to show Randy. Randy pulled out the only photo he had linking him to the Waites family: a snapshot of him with his grandmother Marjorie Waites when she took him to a park when he was about a year old, something he said happened possibly only one time.
“When I grew older, my mom told me the woman in the photo was my grandmother,” he said. “It’s the only memory I have of my father’s side of the family.”
Edward said he immediately recognized his dad's mother in the photo.
“I knew that smile — it was the same smile she had when she held me,” Edward said. “There was no question it was my grandmother Marjorie.”
He and Randy joked that the photo ensured they didn't need to get DNA tests to prove they were brothers, he added.
“I’ve always wanted an older brother,” said Edward, who works as a general contractor and has two grown children. He noted that he is one year and four days younger than Randy.
“When we talked, it seemed so natural, I felt like I’d known him my whole life,” said Randy, who works as an underground pipeline construction foreman.
“We clicked immediately,” he said.
“We both drive Harley-Davidsons, and we both love sourdough bread and fishing,” he said. “Ed told me that our dad was a fisherman, so I knew it was in my blood.”
The two also found out how different their childhoods had been.
While Edward’s growing up years in San Gabriel Valley were full of fishing and hunting trips with his father, Randy’s childhood was difficult but also full of love, he said.
“My mom was a motel maid and we didn’t have much money — we were always getting evicted,” Randy recalled, noting that much of his youth was spent in Anaheim and Buena Park, Calif., about 30 miles from where Edward grew up and six miles from where he lives now.
“We must have lived in 15 different apartments, but my mom did her best as a single mom,” he said. “Our electricity was shut off sometimes, and I’d take a bath with candles.”
“I knew that I was loved, but it was hard to grow up as a boy without a dad,” he added. “I cried a lot, wondering why he never came back.”
Randy said he dropped out of high school in 10th grade and took a job at a hot dog cafe, earning $3.35 an hour and using his paychecks to help his mom with the bills.
“I worked there for a year, then became a security guard for $6 an hour,” he recalled, adding that he later earned a GED.
“Eventually, I quit worrying about not having a dad and decided to live my own happy life,” he said.
Edward was happy to show him some photos and fill him in on their father. The same news crew that interviewed him in Lake Tahoe captured their first weekend together.
Donald Waites worked as a painting contractor and was a jovial man who loved nothing more than sitting down for a big home-cooked dinner after a day on the lake, Edward said. He died of heart disease in 2009.
“My dad was my hero and was always there for me, so it was hard to learn what Randy had missed,” Edward said. “It’s heartbreaking to know that growing up, he was never able to call anyone ‘Dad.’ ”
“I can’t imagine why my dad never mentioned he had another son,” he added. “Maybe when my mom became pregnant with me, he didn’t want to shake up the family. I told Randy, ‘For what it’s worth, I’d like to apologize for our dad.’ ”
No apology was necessary, Randy assured him.
“I don’t blame anyone — I’m beyond that now,” he said. “I’ve waited my whole life to know someone like Ed. Now I just want to be the best brother I can be. And I know he wants to do the same for me.”
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