Even before they knew their whole story, there was a bond between Avrum Gordon and Chris Dyson. Both conductors for Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. in Calgary, they became pals at work after being recalled from a layoff on the same day in early 2010, and then became Facebook friends.
They came from vastly different backgrounds: Mr. Gordon, now 50, was raised in an observant Jewish family in Winnipeg. Mr. Dyson, 46, although born in Winnipeg, was raised primarily in Calgary by his father, now a devout Christian. Mr. Gordon became a dental technician; Mr. Dyson worked in film. When career changes were on the horizon, the two men relocated to Calgary – Mr. Gordon from Winnipeg, Mr. Dyson from Vancouver. Both began new careers at CP, where they met.
“You know when you have a connection with some people, even though you’re not really close friends with them?” Mr. Dyson says. “There was something I really liked about him and I felt this kinship.”
Two years ago this week, Mr. Gordon, who was adopted, finally learned the identity of his birth father. His name was Jim Dyson, he lived on Vancouver Island, and they spoke for the first time by telephone on July 26, 2011 – Mr. Dyson’s 66th birthday.
“I asked him, ‘Do you know anybody named Chris Dyson? Are you related in any way? Because I work with him,’” Mr. Gordon recalls. “And he goes: ‘Yes, I was going to mention that. He’s your brother.’” Mr. Gordon was stunned. “Wow. Really? My brother? Huh. I was just shocked. I couldn’t speak.”
Mr. Gordon is telling the story in his suburban Calgary living room, along with Chris Dyson and their other brother, Jay Dyson. Since this extraordinary revelation and reunion, the three have become close, with Chris and Avrum in particular in constant contact – which has continued, even though Mr. Gordon recently left his job at CP.
When they get together, they often revisit the details of their remarkable story.
Jim Dyson was 17 and his girlfriend Janet was 15 when she got pregnant in 1962. She went off to a home for pregnant teens in Winnipeg, where they lived, and gave birth to a boy, whom they named Darren and gave up for adoption. “I saw him once [through] the nursery window,” Janet Mann says. “Back then, you weren’t even allowed to hold the child.”
Jim and Janet continued to date through high school; she got pregnant again a few years later. This time she was 19 and he was 21, and they got married. Their son Chris was born in March, 1967. Five years later, another son followed – Jason, or Jay. When Jay was about 1 1/2 years old, their mother left the family, and Jim, Chris and Jay moved back to Winnipeg, then ultimately back to Calgary. Jim remarried and had a daughter with his new wife Marla.
Chris and Jay knew nothing about the baby born to their parents before they came along. Mr. Gordon began looking for his biological family about three years ago. Both of his adoptive parents had died; he was mostly estranged from the rest of his adoptive family, and feeling isolated.
“I wanted to know if I had any family out there,” says Mr. Gordon, who had earlier sought information about his birth family when he experienced some heart problems. This time, it was a different matter of the heart: “That was something that was lacking in my life.”
A reunion required consent from a biological parent, which the Child Protection Branch of Manitoba’s Department of Family Services and Labour ultimately received from Jim Dyson. But first, he asked his biological son to write a letter about himself.
When Mr. Dyson read in that letter where Mr. Gordon worked, he “just knew right away” that the brothers must know each other. “I thought: ‘Well, that’s one hell of a coincidence.’”
Meanwhile, with Mr. Dyson’s approval, the social worker told Mr. Gordon the name of his biological father. “I thought, ‘Hmm, I’ll have to remember to ask him if he knows Chris Dyson,’” Mr. Gordon says.
That’s when Jim Dyson and Avrum Gordon had that first telephone conversation; they spoke for a full hour, until Mr. Dyson’s phone battery died. After that, Mr. Dyson quickly got in touch with Chris and Jay.
“I just couldn’t believe it,” Chris says of learning that his parents had a child before him. “I was absolutely stunned. Because secrets like that don’t stay secrets. Stuff like that comes out; someone spills it at a drunken party or whatever.”
There was more, of course. “He almost immediately told me: ‘It’s actually somebody that you know,’” recalls Chris. When he heard it was Avrum Gordon, he was “gobsmacked,” he says. “It would be like getting a phone call saying that you just won $200-million in the lottery. You’re so happy, but you just can’t even move, you’re so shocked.”
It made sense, though: the connection he had felt, even a resemblance that Mr. Gordon’s wife Leona had noticed when she saw Chris’s Facebook profile picture long before the revelation. (The story, which has become family lore, varies depending on who tells it, but in Chris’s version she said: “You guys could be brothers.”)
Jay Dyson also got a call from his dad that night – only the story was a bit different. As Jay recalls, his father said: “‘I think I may have told you this before, but your mom and I had another son before Chris was born.’ And I said two things: ‘First, no you didn’t. I would have remembered.’ And second, ‘That’s awesome.’”
Shortly thereafter, Mr. Gordon met Jim Dyson in Calgary, and then other Dyson relatives in Winnipeg. They hung up a sign: “Welcome to the family, Avrum.”
“The thing I felt was just this warm embrace. These people just wanted to know me. I could tell that they loved me already,” Mr. Gordon says. He knows this is not always the case: When his adoptive sister contacted her biological mother, the woman asked her never to contact her again.
Mr. Gordon’s biological mother didn’t find out about all of this until months later. When she did, she was upset that the reunion had been kept from her, but that changed to delight after meeting Mr. Gordon.
“I am thrilled,” Ms. Mann says. “You spend almost 50 years wondering where this child is, and what kind of a life they’ve had. It gives me the greatest joy to have him in my life now, and to know that he had a very good life, growing up.”
The family has since learned of a pile of coincidences in their lives. In Winnipeg, Jim Dyson and his sons lived with the Dyson grandparents, a block from where Avrum was growing up. It is entirely possible that they played in the same park – adjacent to the Dysons’ house – at the same time, maybe even with each other. The Dyson boys also played in the parking lot of the synagogue Avrum’s family attended. Avrum went to junior high with his biological mother’s half-brother; they were a grade apart, he believes, maybe two.
In Calgary, Mr. Gordon now lives in Cranston, the next community over from McKenzie Lake, where Jim Dyson and his wife lived until they moved to B.C.
“If the Sobeys would have been open before they moved, you would have shopped at the same grocery store,” Chris says to Avrum on a hot summer afternoon in Mr. Gordon’s home.
These days, they spend a lot of time in that living room – or in a pub, or one of their backyards. Christmas, birthdays: any family occasion, they’re together. When Mr. Gordon turned 50, Chris and Jay showed up at his door with 50 beers.
They’ve discovered things in common. Both Mr. Gordon and Jim Dyson are science-fiction fans, who like to read while they eat. All three brothers love to cook; so does their dad. All three brothers report feeling happier since the reunion.
“It’s a totally new aspect to my life,” Mr. Gordon says. “I used to be a more moody person, and you know what? There was always something missing.”
“It’s been awesome,” Chris Dyson echoes. “I am definitely happy. It’s like, who wouldn’t want to have another brother?”
A previous headline on this story stated that the Avrum Gordon and Chris Dyson discovered they were brothers at ages 50 and 46, which are their current ages. The two brothers discovered their relation two years ago. This online version has been corrected.