Spencer firefighter finds long-lost dad in Texas
SPENCER, Mass. (AP) — When he traveled to Texas in September hoping to add his long-lost father to his family, Zackery Spencer quickly learned that in the Lone Star State, everything’s bigger.
“I came home with 80 new family members,” the 25-year-old Spencer call firefighter said. “It was pretty cool.”
Zack’s story started when he was 2 months old and his father, Troy Spencer, came home from military deployment to meet his new son. What happened on that visit is unclear. He left his wife, who’d come to live with her parents, and he never saw them again. For years he believed, or perhaps convinced himself, that Zack wasn’t his son.
“My mom built her life here. They filed for divorce and she never pursued anything with him as far as child support or anything,” Zack said. “She’s not like that; she just does things on her own. She did a great job with us.”
As he got older, Zack sometimes wondered if his mysterious father might just call on July 5, his birthday. But the telephone never rang. He lived in Holden and graduated from Quabbin Regional High School in Barre. He moved to Spencer and joined the fire department. And he waited.
“I was always expecting a call, so I’d know I wasn’t alone. But it never came,” Zack said.
His life was full. He had an older brother and sister from his mother’s first marriage, and their father tried to treat him like a son.
“He treated me like I was his kid,” Zack recalled, adding that while he appreciated the effort, “I didn’t feel it.”
His mother’s parents were always there for him. He idolized his older brother and loved his sister.
When he was 20, Zack started asking questions and doing research. His mother provided what little information she had and he finally just called 411, then dialed the number he was given and asked William and Charlotte Spencer if they could give him a number for Troy.
With his father’s telephone number in hand, he waited for the right moment. His 21st birthday, maybe. But no.
Then he came home from work one night that November and made the call.
“I said, ‘I don’t want anything from you. I don’t want money. I don’t want you to buy me a car,’” Zack recalled. “I just wanted my dad.”
What he got was the cold shoulder from a man who didn’t believe he had a son but who added him on Facebook — something Troy had just started using and wasn’t too familiar with.
What Zack didn’t know was that his father’s brother had overheard part of the telephone conversation and shared his suspicions with their sister, Tracye Spencer, a Texan with a heavy drawl, a spicy attitude and no fear of confronting Troy.
“He told me to stay out of it. He said Zack wasn’t his and that the kid was barking up the wrong tree,” Tracye said in a telephone interview.
Still, there was the thought that she might have a nephew, and, more important, that her father might have the male grandson he’d always hoped would carry on the Spencer name.
Her own son carried the name Spencer as his first name, she said.
And nagging at her were the dozens of photographs she pored over on Zack’s Facebook page one night after they “friended” on the social networking site.
“The more I looked, the more he looked like Troy ... I had a rough night,” she said. Then she showed the pictures to Troy, who didn’t see any resemblance at all.
“I said, ‘He looks like you. His body language is identical to yours in some of these,’” Tracye told her brother, who denied what to her was obvious.
She showed the photos to her mother, who thought the boy looked like her son, and then she produced an old picture of a newborn baby. It was Zack.
His mother had sent it to his grandparents.
In her heart, Tracye knew Zack was her kin, but there were plenty of obstacles, including a few more confrontations with her brother and a DNA test that she and her parents said they’d take if Troy wouldn’t.
She promised Troy she’d always be there for him, even if the test proved otherwise. She vowed to help him find his paternal family, even if she wasn’t part of it.
“If it wasn’t for her, there were plenty of times I’d have given up on this,” Zack said. “If I could say anything to someone going through this I’d say not to give up because you might have someone like Tracye who steps up for you.”
Eventually the DNA test came back, a few days after Troy turned 25.
“It was 99.98 percent, and I had an emotional breakdown in the parking lot” after reading the confirmation email,” Tracye said. “I called Zack and he said, ‘We both knew. I love you.’”
Tracye’s parents were thrilled.
“I called my mother, and she yelled to my father, ‘Bill! He’s ours!’” she said.
Troy’s reaction, though, wasn’t what the family had hoped for. He was indifferent and didn’t want to upset his marriage by having to share some things he’d held close to the vest.
Zack took it all in stride, realizing that he’d gained much more than he’d hoped for.
“About halfway through I realized this wasn’t about my dad, this was about my family,” he said.
Tracye was disgusted, unleashed a few choice words on her brother and went about planning for her nephew’s homecoming.
Zack finally felt whole. He had an aunt and paternal grandparents, more cousins and an uncle.
Suddenly the emptiness was filled with the idea that he would someday carry on the family name that meant so much to some people he’d never met but already loved.
“I had a place,” he said. “One of my great-grandfathers invented the Spencer Repeating Rifle. I had a history. I was part of something. I came from men of great character. Before, I had a last name but I had nothing to defend.”
On Sept. 29, Zack and some fellow firefighters went to New York City and retraced the steps of a firefighter killed Sept. 11, 2001.
Then he flew to Dallas, where Aunt Tracye picked him up. Her father, his PaPa, nearly knocked him over with a bear hug, and his Grandma embraced him.
He saw his uncle’s bare feet and suddenly realized his odd-looking toes weren’t so unique.
While he spent a day with his father, that relationship needs work. Zack hopes things will get better.
“It’s not like I need the birds and the bees talk,” he said. “I want a dad.”
Still, the hole left by the lack of response from his father was quickly filled by other family members.
“I text my aunt every day and talk with my PaPa and Grandma once a week,” he said. “I have a cousin in Chicago who’s coming to Boston and we’re going to get together.”
One recent day, Tracye and her son were at a restaurant and he spotted a cute waitress.
The 19-year-old told her he’d try to get the girl’s telephone number for Zack because she seemed like a girl he’d like.
Tracye just laughed. But a family is something Zack wants one day.
“Someday,” Zack said, “I’m going to meet a girl who’s the one and I’ll get to share all these amazing people with her.”