A familiar stranger


Bailey and Tyler Swanson

Leanne Haas, Co-Editor-in-Chief

Bailey Swanson doesn’t know him – not really, anyways. She wishes she did. So does her twin sister, Tyler. Once upon a time, they had a vague idea of what he looked like – a picture shown to them when they were six.

What they do know, however, is his name; the one that signs every check, which eventually makes its way into their mailbox every month. But he must be a man of some sort of moral, at least. He never misses payments. Ever.

But not much is said or exchanged. Never a “hello” or “wish you well.” Nothing. Just a silent check – the one that much isn’t said about, except for the “it’s here” when it arrives in the mail.

But that didn’t stop the desperate Google searches that became a recurring practice. Just a name and a search engine and a check once a month and a fuzzy memory of a picture of a man Bailey and Tyler wish they knew.

Those are the only clues they’ve had for 16 years.

It’s late July, one month before school starts again. Bailey and Tyler are packing for their trip to A&M for a student publications camp. They pack the cameras that are continuously used throughout the year for Yearbook, along with their clothes and blankets.

It’s photography that they love- next to God and their church community that they treat as family. They are their family, really.

And it’s been that way since they were 11 years old, when life seemed tougher than it orught to be. But they found refuge in the warm smiles, and the friendly pastor who greeted them with open arms.

Seven years later, WoodsEdge church is still Bailey and Tyler’s place of refuge. It’s also where they found, for the first time in their lives, a true father figure. Justin Ulmer, the friendly pastor with the warm smile and bright blue-green eyes.

He’s the artsy guy, the guy who loves photography. He’s the one who really inspired Bailey and Tyler to pursue it. Justin showed them the beauty that could be found through the lens of a camera.

But they took to him because he offered more than just money in an envelope. He’s a role model, the kind of compassionate guy that could give them encouragement and guidance in their life.

It was Justin who was there for Tyler the day she nervously anticipated her driver’s test. “Just be your smart, capable self,” he sent her in a text “You’ll do great.”

And Bailey already knows he’s the man that she wants to walk her down the aisle, like a father giving away his child, when she gets married one day.

Justin was one of the first to be texted the day after Bailey and Tyler found each other staring into a stranger’s eyes through a computer screen the night they were staying in an A&M dorm.

Maybe it’s all in my head.

As twins, they had enough intuition to know that they were both thinking the same thing.

But there’s something about that man. Something in his eyes, his charismatic smile, that they see themselves in him. How odd it must feel, to see such a person for the first time in your life-to see yourself in a stranger’s image.

He looks happy. That’s the first word that comes to mind, upon studying his profile picture. He’s on the chubby side – like a dark-haired Santa Claus. Holding a big mug, his jolly cheeks glow beyond his short, dark brown scruffy beard.

His albums are filled with good-time pictures of his kids. His kids. They look happy, too.

“Is that him?” friends question, their bodies huddled around the laptop screen perched atop a pillow on a mattress placed on the floor.

Bailey and Tyler decide to call their mom. She would know if it was him or not. But it seemed that it had taken forever before they could have closure, as the phone signal was dropped again and again, and nervous texts were abound.

For their mom, the news was only a bit surprising. She knew her daughters had the information they needed to find him. Still, there lay a pit of worry dug inside her mind.

How would he treat her girls, after he gave not so much as a glance their way for 16 years? Does he even want to see them?  She was afraid for them. They are too special.

But she knew she had raised her girls as strong, independent women. No matter the outcome, she had the confidence that they already had all they needed in their life. She made sure of it.

It was 12 a.m.; a hybrid of giggles and screams filtered through the small room and echoed through the dorm hallways at Texas A&M. July 23rd was the day Bailey and Tyler found their biological father on Facebook.

After 20 minutes of intense jitters and continuance of giggles shared between friends and themselves, the group of friends had calmed down long enough that the room began to grow quieter. Bailey and Tyler still had a decision to make.

It was Bailey who decided to message him using her account, after talking it over with her sister – and of course, her mom. This would be the first time at attempting to contact their father. She begins to type:

“Hi, my name is Bailey, and I’m assuming you know who I am…”

Months went by. It felt so strange for the twins to know that their father lived so close all their lives. It’s easy to forget how big Texas really is. Tyler couldn’t help but notice the occasional man in the superstore. That could be him – the beard, the eyes. Ever since seeing that picture, she couldn’t help but wonder. There were many who looked just the same. But for all she knew, she could have passed him by on the street without as much as a glance at each other.


From this experience, Bailey and Tyler didn’t gain a relationship with the father they wish they knew. In fact, he never responded. He chose to block them on Facebook, as he had chosen to block them out of his life. But something was gained, something that has become a stepping stone in their life: Patience.

And Justin was one of the first to remind them of this important virtue; that sometimes people do not come into one’s life because it is not the right time. Bailey and Tyler cannot tell the future. They don’t know if they will ever meet their biological father. But along with patience, they have learned that they already have a family, the one that has been with them all along.