Desperate to find your birth mother? Pining for your high school boyfriend? Troy Dunn, a.k.a. "The Locator," is your man! His show premiered Saturday, November 6th, at 10PM/9c on WeTV. We got in touch with this father of seven (yes, seven!) and got to know the intensely personal reasons why his job is so important to him.
momlogic: What's the most gratifying thing about doing what you do?
Troy Dunn: I feel like I have what is probably the second greatest job in the world. I'm grateful that people, for whatever reason, have enough faith and trust in me to allow me to enter into a corner of their lives that essentially no other human being will go into. In some cases, their own spouses or close family members haven't been into these corners. Women share the dilemmas of their past, the choices they've made, the unhealed wounds of past relationships ... to be able to be trusted enough to go into that is so gratifying and sometimes stressful, to be honest. All I want to do is pull it off. That I get to sit there like a fly on the wall and witness a miracle is phenomenal, and selfishly, I walk away from every reunion a better man. I really do. It strengthens me as a husband and as a father. It reemphasizes over and over again the power of personal relationships in my own life. I've done this work for 20 years and have reaped the benefits of that ... I've been married for 23 years. We met young -- when we were 20 years old.
TD: We were high school sweethearts. Statically, half of those relationships don't make it. I attribute a lot to the information I gained in rebuilding other people's families.
ml: I'm sure it gives you an appreciation for what you have, too.
TD: If you do something enough times, you begin to see patterns. If you rebuild fractured families 40,000 times, which I've had the pleasure of doing, you begin to see which patterns cause people to drift apart, or which small disagreements turn into arguments that span over 20 years -- things that cause people to lose the people closest to them.
ml: Is there one overarching pattern that sticks out?
TD: I think that if more people would say two words instantaneously in their lives, they'd have a lot less pain, and those two words are "I'm sorry." I get a lot of people who, through their own frustration, personal pride or what have you, walked out of a room. Then a day turned into a week, a week turned into a month, a month turned into a decade. The next thing you know, you haven't talked to the other person in a long time and if you'd just turned back around and said, "I'm sorry," things might be different. I don't think of myself as a locator, I see myself as a facilitator. If I can convince two people on opposite ends of a situation to meet in the center just long enough to hear each other out, they can then turn around and walk away for another 20 years if they choose to. But I believe if I can just get them to do that for a moment, then that moment will be a turning point in their relationship. As soon as I reunite a family, I get out of there. Because at that moment, I believe my work is through. To stay around one moment longer would be looking for additional things, and that's not the point.
ml: You got started helping your own mom find her biological family. What was that like for you?
TD: I'm not adopted, but I grew up in a family with three generations of adoption. My mom grew up knowing that she was adopted and her mom was adopted, so it was a normal term in our house. When I became a teenager, I became even more aware of my mom's desire to locate her biological family for lots of reasons -- emotional and biological. She'd write off letters and letters would come back and she'd stand off and quietly cry because whatever came back wasn't helpful. One day in my early 20s, I met a guy for lunch who'd just located his birth family. I asked him for help. I went to my mom's house and grabbed the shoebox where my mom kept all this information. We spread it out on a table and over the course of five hours, we pieced together enough information to track down her birth family. I found myself holding a piece of paper with her birth mother's phone number on it. I told her, and there was silence on the phone. Then she began to weep in a way I'd never heard her weep. That was a life-changing moment for me. So I turned to the guy who'd helped me and said, "We should do this for other families." That's how it started 23 years ago.
ml: What's it like when you bring people together and it goes awry?
TD: That's the reality of what we do. The worst one I've heard of was my own mother's. After I gave her the number, she didn't think she could call, so she asked me to. I had no idea at the time, but I was being what's called an "intermediary."
ml: I'm sure she was petrified.
TD: Of course! I called the woman. I didn't identify myself as her grandson, but I said, "I'm calling on behalf of the child you gave up for adoption on this date." She wouldn't so much as acknowledge my mom as a human being; she referred to her as "it." She said, "If I knew 'it' was going to call me, I would have aborted 'it.'"
TD: So that was my very first experience. It was devastating!
ml: How could you tell your mother that?
TD: I didn't share the details for many years. I just said I spoke with the woman and she didn't seem like she was in the right place in her life to pursue a relationship, and perhaps we should be patient. So, of course, mom was sad. Over time, I told her that [her biological mother] wasn't a nice person. I called this woman back almost every year to the day when we first located her. And every year, I would say who I was and she'd say, cold as ice, "Nothing's changed here. Goodbye," and hang up. After doing hundreds of these calls as part of my job, I got really good at them. I could keep them on the phone if they were upset, and talk them through the fear. Oftentimes, these women have children that no one else knows about. They marry and have children who have no idea they have another sibling. So I'm careful to slip in and out of people's lives without leaving a trail.
I tried to do all those things with [my biological grandmother] and it just never came to be. The best we got out of it was we found out my mom had two brothers, who she's met and she's become really close to one. They're buddies to this day. He showed up one year and said, "I'm sorry my mom won't come and meet you, but I want you to meet my mom." And they spent hours and hours talking about this woman's life and looking through scrapbooks he'd brought, so my mother would have a sense of knowing who her birth mother was. Even with that harsh rejection, I still stand by my saying that you can't find peace until you find all the pieces. Oftentimes that peace comes from closure. It's still better than having no idea about the lost person. I'm a big fan of birth mothers. I think they are brave women who had to make a difficult choice.
ml: Do your kids have an interest in what you do?
TD: They all help me in different ways. My oldest helped me solve a case using Facebook!
Don't miss "The Locator" this Saturday at 10PM/9c on WeTV.