Washington Evening Journal
111 North Marion Avenue
Washington, IA 52353
Sashae Alter waited 33 years to meet her father.
When the big day arrived, she had to wait a few more minutes. Her stomach was churning, and on the way to his house she stopped to get Pepto Bismol to calm it.
As Alter pulled up to his Georgia home, he was waiting outside.
She got out of the family van and they embraced. Thirty-three years of wondering, of not knowing, dissolved as they held each other close.
“He walked down the stairs and walked over to the van, and he just hugged me for a long time,” Alter said.
The long hug culminated a search that began when Alter was in high school in Chicago where she was raised. It was a search filled with many dead ends as she tracked down names people suggested.
“It was always in the back of my mind,” Alter said. “I knew I had a father, I just didn’t know who he is.”
“I never met him before,” Alter said. “I only knew a couple of names from my mom.”
There were few clues.
“I remember her telling me he was in the Navy,“ Alter said. “She wasn’t even sure he was the dad.”
Alter turned to 23 and Me, a mail-in program that provides DNA testing. The results returned in February. They showed a possible match with a guy named Calvin Coffee.
“That clicked in my head, because I remember her telling me one of the names was Samuel Coffee.”
She contacted Calvin Coffee through the 23 and Me app.
Calvin said Samuel Coffee sounded familiar, maybe it was his mother’s brother. He had a number for a woman who might be Samuel’s daughter.
“She called me,“ Alter recalled. ”She said I heard you are supposed to be my sister.“
They talked about possible connections. There were three people in the family with the name Samuel Coffee.
“She said, ’I think you may be my brother’s daughter instead of my father’s daughter.’”
She called her brother and 20 minutes later was back on the phone.
“So instead of you being my sister, you are my niece. He definitely remembers your mom.“
Alter sent her newfound aunt pictures.
“She was like, ’Wow, you look just like us. You resemble our family.’”
Alter called her dad.
“I remember your mom. I remember when she was pregnant,” Coffee told her. “But she told him he wasn’t the father.”
Something happened between them, Coffee said.
“He just left it alone, because she kept telling him no.”
Coffee enlisted in the Navy and went on with his life.
Until the phone call from Alter.
“I guess to hear from me was a shock,” Alter said, “especially after 33 years.”
“It was like surreal,” Alter said. “It didn’t really soak in all the way. It was like a dream. It still just didn’t seem real.”
It got more real a month ago, when Alter and her husband, Rusty, packed the family in the minivan and headed to Georgia.
“Even that was like, pinch me, am I dreaming, because I thought I would never ever get to meet him.”
That long hug ended, and the introductions began, including Coffee’s wife.
“She was just really, really nice and accepting and loving and caring.”
Coffee is raising one of his grandsons.
Conversations turned to 33 years ago when Alter’s mom was pregnant with her.
Her father understands why the mother would not tell him the truth.
“So we really don’t know if she really didn’t know or if she just wanted this other guy (to be the father),” Alter said.
Alter cannot turn to her mom for answers to the questions. They have been estranged for years.
She has not talked to her mom since finding her father, but Coffee did. The call did not go well.
“It wasn’t pretty,” Alter said. “She cursed him out and told him don’t talk to her again.”
“She didn’t want to own up to her mistakes,” Alter said.
Alter was raised by her Jamaican grandparents. They were the ones she called when she located her father. The grandparents had always supported her search. They were “really excited” with the news.
“My granddaddy knew how much it meant to me,” Alter said. He had promised that he would help her find her father.
Now that Alter has found him, there are plans for another trip to Georgia this summer.
And her 5-year-old daughter, Jaiya, now has a grandfather.
The family was heading back on the road to return to Iowa when Jaiya said she wanted to see him again.
“She was like, ”Mom, can I go see my new grandpa again?’”