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Dan Wall, adopted bartender

Dan Wall is a free man.

It’s not because he does what he wants, when he pleases, though that helps.

It’s because he knows where he’s from. Many of us take it for granted, and don’t look at how and why we are the way we are. For Dan, it was easy. He knew he was adopted from an early age, and realized growing up that he was different from his parents.

It all started a week before Christmas in 1986, a two-month-old Dan was adopted. His first book, at least that he remembers, was “Why was I adopted?”

“I grew up with it,” he said. “It was, ‘Oh, AND I’m adopted,’ not, ‘My name is Dan, I’m adopted.’”

In high school Dan let loose and it sparked an interest.

“My parents were different,” he said, explaining there were no booze in the house, and that they weren’t interested in music like he is. “Where did these interests come from?”

At 18, Dan was able to receive non-identifying paperwork for his birth parents, but the agent he talked to said it’d be $80. As he felt he shouldn’t have to pay for that information, he didn’t. At the same time, people would ask him why he wanted to know and his adoptive mom was worried she’d be replaced.

“I don’t know what she was worried about. She had sex, had a baby and didn’t want it,” Dan said. “My adoptive mom is my mom.”

But without any leads, he didn’t find his biological parents. So from 18 to 22, Dan did his own thing, which included but was not limited to: crazy drugs, crazy shows and exploring the world without leaving Grand Rapids.

Then he itched again. He called the adoption agency again, this time a friendly worker told him he didn’t have to pay for the papers, which turned out to be like a story and included their first names, hobbies, interests, interviews, health and former addresses.

With the leads, Dan went on a “sleuthing spree,” eventually finding a kid on Facebook with the same name as his dad.

“Have you ever lived in Michigan?”

“No.”

That was that. At least for a few days, before Dan asked about his name and asked a few questions, and then dropped the bomb: “You’re my brother.”

Soon with a phone number in hand outside his old job at Shakedown Street, Dan called his dad.

“Tom?”

“Yea?”

“This is Dan, your son.”

And they spent several hours chatting, catching up in a very friend-like fashion.

“There were no apologies,” he said. “I don’t want that.”

He asked about his mom, but his dad hadn’t seen her in years. But he had seen her sister. So he backtracked to help Dan find his mom.

After a few attempts with no luck, Dan was almost ready to give up. But on Valentine’s Day, outside of Rocky’s Bar in Grand Rapids, getting ready to go home after a night drinking, Dan dialed up her number.

At 1 a.m., she answered.

“Hello?”

“This is your son.”

And he sat outside the bar, talking to his mom for four hours as the bartenders closed up, asking if he was OK. He was, and at 4:30 a.m., still outside the bar, his phone died.

“That conversation was more emotionally-filled than the one with my birth dad,” he said. “This was about everything. With him, it was just old friends catching up.”

He learned a lot in coming weeks about his biological parents, their youthful relationship and the mischief they found themselves in. He suddenly didn’t feel so lost.

“After talking to them, the way I felt about myself, I wasn’t a black sheep anymore,” he said. “The question mark was filled in.”

Still, with those voids filled, Dan wouldn’t have his life any other way. But now that he knows his background, there’s a weight off his back.

“I’m not upset about it,” he said. “I would have had a horrible life if I stayed with them.”

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