Authors: Kara Sundlun
FROM “LOVE CHILD”
Finding Dad: From “Love Child” to Daughter
A Behler Publications Book
Copyright © 2015 by Kara Sundlun
Cover design by Yvonne Parks -
Front cover photo of Kara Sundlun and two interior photos courtesy of Daymon J. Hartley -
Front and back cover photography by Soozie Sundlun EG Photo & Studio
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the written permission of the publisher, except where permitted by law.
Some names have been changed to protect their privacy.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Sundlun, Kara, 1975
Finding Dad : from "love child" to daughter / by Kara Sundlun.
ISBN 978-1-933016-45-0 (paperback) -- ISBN 1-933016-45-0 (paperback) 1. Sundlun, Kara, 1975- 2. Sundlun, Kara, 1975---Childhood and youth. 3. Sundlun, Bruce G., 1920-2011--Family. 4. Fathers and daughters--United States--Biography. 5. Illegitimate children--United States--Biography. 6. Women television journalists--United States--Biography. 7. Governors--Rhode Island--Biography. 8. Paternity--United States. I. Title.
ISBN 13: 978-1-933016-45-0 e-book
Published by Behler Publications, LLC
Manufactured in the United States of America
My good friend, Kara Sundlun, has never been afraid to confront a challenging story, even when it is her own. Just think of what her father would have missed if she hadn’t been brave and tenacious enough to pursue, not just her own identity, but his as well.
~ Mika Brzezinski
on MSBNC, and best-selling author
Kara Sundlun fearlessly shares her story in efforts to help others. Kara’s truth is poured onto each page. We can all take home great messages from this book.
~ Gabrielle Bernstein
New York Times
bestselling author of
Kara’s story reflects a remarkable personal journey of self-discovery and the powerful connection she had with a father she had yet to meet. Kara’s journey takes us through an emotional first meeting with her prominent father to her triumph in nurturing this new relationship for herself and her children.
~ Donna Palomba,
Jane Doe No More
, founder of Jane Doe No More, Inc.
Kara’s journey to find her father is a compelling story of forgiveness. Anyone struggling with an unresolved relationship will see how healing can begin by taking the single brave step of giving someone a chance at redemption.
~ Denise D’Ascenzo
, Emmy Award winning news anchor WFSB-TV
To Mom, for her unwavering love always.
To my husband, Dennis, and children, Helena and Julian
for being my dream come true.
To my father, for making it all better.
Table of Contents
FOREWORD BY MIKA BRZEZINSKI
We are becoming a Fatherless America. It is the epidemic few are talking about, but one that is drastically affecting our homes, health, and yes, our economy. The latest census figures show 43% of American children are living in homes without their fathers. One third of births are now occurring outside of marriage, with many fathers having no connection to their children. President Barack Obama, himself fatherless, started a White House Task Force on Fatherlessness saying, “It is something that leaves a hole in a child’s life that no government can fill
is a call to action. In her riveting memoir, my friend and fellow journalist, Kara Sundlun, addresses one of the most important issues of our time. Kara tells her deeply personal story of the pain caused by not having a father in her life as she grew up in the Midwest with a devoted single mother who, like so many others today, tried to fill the void left by a father who refused to acknowledge his daughter—until Kara forced him to.
Kara’s story is a happy ending. She experienced something powerful—her father’s acceptance—and that helped her become the empowered woman she is today. Kara will tell you she doesn’t believe she could be the successful wife, mother, Emmy award winning television news anchor, and talk show host she is today if she had not been able to connect with her father, whom she calls the “other half of me.”
Kara offers valuable lessons as fathers continue to disappear from the American family landscape. Though Kara’s story became more public than most, it is one that is all too familiar to communities rich and poor across the nation.
shows us fathers can no longer be accessories in the lives of our children if we want a healthy, empowered, and prosperous America.
Kara talks about how the absence of a father left her with a cracked foundation, making her feel less than. In my book,
KNOWING YOUR VALUE
, I urge women to take a stand for what they want, and get what they deserve. But
is a difficult task for a generation of kids who have grown up with one parent refusing to value them at all. Fatherless children are at a dramatically greater risk of drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness, suicide, poor educational performance, teen pregnancy, and criminal behavior, with 85% of youths in prison growing up in a fatherless home, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Kara shows how the entry of a father into her life helped her transform, and she reveals a powerful lesson that it is never too late to heal fractured relationships when we choose to live in the present moment.
speaks to the importance of fathers raising their families, and sends the universal message that it’s never too late to forgive. It can often take a lifetime to find out who you are and what you are made of. Kara started early. She knew her value. Her journey is a fascinating and powerful look at a young woman’s quest to find answers—and herself.
~ Mika Brzezinski
on MSBNC, and best-selling author
“I cannot think of any need in childhood as strong
as the need for a father’s protection.”
~ Sigmund Freud
Election Night, 1988
I was thirteen years old and had never even seen a picture of my father, when suddenly the invisible character of my childhood had a face. I don’t know what woke me up that night, but my eyes popped open with a sense of urgency at the very second a CNN news anchor was announcing the results of the 1988 gubernatorial election in Rhode Island.
“It was a close one in the Ocean State for Bruce Sundlun,” she announced. She talked about how this war hero/business tycoon-turned politician had captured forty-nine percent of the vote…almost beating the incumbent, Governor Edward DiPrete.
Seeing his picture staring back at me on TV, Bruce Sundlun was suddenly real, and not just a faceless man who broke my mother’s heart. I reached over and shook my mother, who was sleeping next to me. “Mom, wake up! Is that him?” I shrieked.
Bleary eyed from the move to a new house which had us spending the night in a hotel, she looked up and answered me in a scratchy, shocked voice, “He must have gone back to Rhode Island, where he’s from.”
She hadn’t laid eyes on Bruce Sundlun, the man she always referred to as my biological father, since 1977 when she was forced to settle her paternity suit out of court after he refused to claim me as his flesh and blood. There was no such thing as a DNA test back then, the blood tests could only show my father and I both had the same “O” blood type. His big-time lawyers argued the evidence was “inconclusive.” Mom eventually caved, and agreed to a $35,000 dollar settlement, and promised to never contact him again, or let me use his surname.
My creators met in the glamorous world of aviation in the 70s when flying was still about the coolest thing you could do on earth. My father was the hot shot CEO of Executive Jet Aviation, a private jet company for the rich and famous in Mom’s hometown of Columbus, Ohio. Today the company is known as Net Jets, owned by Warren Buffett.
Back then, Mom was a young and beautiful stewardess with long thin legs, memorable red hair, and mysterious near-turquoise eyes. He was tall and handsome with dark curly hair and intense brown eyes to match his strong personality, a trait mom said I inherited. As her new boss, her knees shook when he walked on the Learjet she was assigned to and felt like she couldn’t breathe. She “just knew” right then there was something between them.
Bruce Sundlun embodied power. As a young Jewish bomber pilot in World War II, he was the only one in his crew to escape the Nazis when his plane was shot down—the rest were either killed or captured. After the war, he got his undergraduate degree at Williams College before going on to Harvard Law School before becoming a successful federal prosecutor under President Kennedy, and was known for never losing a corruption case. President Kennedy was impressed with his record and later appointed him to lead America’s mission to create an international satellite communications system.
President Kennedy was equally impressed with my father on a personal level and had him help plan the inaugural parade. He and Jackie became good friends, and were both accomplished fox hunters in the prestigious Orange County Hunt in Virginia. His résumé looked like God gave him orders to be first in everything, and never take no for an answer.
Since Mom longed for a different life, and flying was her ticket to another dimension, it was hard for her to deny his charisma and intelligence. “I fell madly in love with him, I have never loved anyone more. And if it were not for him, I wouldn’t have you.”
I had no idea how he really felt about my mother, but I knew we were a problem for him.
Mom had left Executive Jet after leading a strike against my father for higher wages. My father didn’t offer enough at the bargaining table, so they all quit. Mom worked on getting her stockbroker and real estate license, hoping to make a better living, and tried to swear off my tycoon father, affirming she didn’t need that kind of roller coaster love affair anymore. She moved away to Florida and started dating another man, but my father kept calling. He would send her tickets to fly back to Ohio and visit, even offering to get her an apartment and a Porsche to drive, so long as she promised to be there for him when he was in town. Eventually, Mom came back to Ohio, but got an apartment with her sister.
Then Mom discovered something unbelievable had happened in the several months they were apart. A friend read in the newspaper that my father had gotten married to his third wife, Joy Carter Sundlun, a socialite from Washington DC. Mom was furious and crushed, but my father told her nothing had to change between them. In a moment of weakness she let him back into her life for one night, and here I am.
He met me once when I was a baby. He stared at me while I blurbled “da-da-da,” and told Mom I was “going to have personality.” Then he got up and left. She called his son, Peter, who was studying nearby at Denison University, and asked him to come meet his new sister. He didn’t come over because our father told him to “stay out of it.” It became very clear that my father wouldn’t do the right thing unless Mom made him, so she filed a paternity suit. It wasn’t easy in 1975 for a woman to raise babies alone by choice.
Now, thirteen years later, I was here in a hotel room, surrounded by crumpled white sheets and the blue glow of the TV, suddenly awakened in another way, whether I wanted it or not.
I could not deny this man anymore. He was real; the news anchor proved him to me with a picture and a story. The anchor had moved on to other stories, but I desperately wanted to press “rewind,” see it again, and freeze the graphic of his picture.
Was Mom right?
Did I look like him?
All of a sudden he wasn’t just a myth. It’s not that I doubted Mom, but until this moment it had always been more of her story— her fantasy, her pain, her rejection—something I had refused to learn more about. Maybe it was self-protection. If I refused to listen to the stories of how my father didn’t want me, then I could believe he only rejected Mom, and not me. I could fantasize that it was
choice to not have him in my life. I didn’t need a father since I was the smart, strong daughter of a single mom. Besides, you can’t miss what you don’t know, right? Except now that some universal force had awakened me in the middle of the night and shown me who my real father was, I couldn’t help but wonder if my own life would be changed forever. Would I get that happy ending I loved to watch in after school movies?
Since I now knew
was real, I could theoretically go about finding him. What if he had just been waiting for me to call all this time?
I had barely become a teenager and suddenly everything I had ever believed about not needing a dad was flipped on its head. My inner operating system was being rewired with a new impulse to know more about my other half, and a deep desire to create a happy ending that looked more like the life I saw my friends living. Of course, I had Mom’s love, but I craved stability and protection, and wondered if a dad could give it to me.
Growing up, Mom had always told me, “You look and act just like
I’d hated that and would quickly snap back, “No, I look like
Now I wondered if Mom was right. The newsflash happened so quickly that the picture flashing on the screen moments before was starting to go fuzzy in my mind. I tried to go back to sleep, wondering if just the two of us
really enough. I couldn’t help but feel incomplete. Noticing something was missing was the first step on my road to healing.