One of Michael Riederer’s earliest memories is huddling with four siblings on a Missouri church pew before being ushered to a nearby Catholic orphanage.
It was the last time Riederer, now a 65-year-old Fresno resident, would ever see his baby brother.
Or so he thought.
After watching him being whisked into an infant ward, Riederer was told his brother had died. But that baby was still alive.
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The five children were split into three adoptive families. The youngest, Stephen Farley, 59, of Missouri, didn’t know he had siblings until he was 17. He learned about them when he received his birth certificate so he could apply for a driver’s license.
It would start Farley on a lifelong search to find them. His efforts finally met with success about a month ago.
Farley’s son contacted genealogy researchers, who found Riederer. The Fresno man received a letter in the mail around Christmas, saying that Farley was looking for his siblings and listing the names of Riederer and two other siblings. After speaking to a researcher, Riederer realized that his baby brother was still alive.
“It means a lot,” Riederer said at his Fresno home on Wednesday with Farley sitting across from him. “A guy who was supposed to be dead all my life is alive.”
Farley, who grew up as an only child, said about learning he had a brother: “I was walking on Cloud 9.”
Farley’s children bought him a plane ticket to visit Riederer as a Christmas present. He arrived in Fresno on Sunday and is returning home Saturday.
The brothers were nervous to meet, Farley said. “I never had a brother before so I didn’t know how a brother is supposed to act.”
But soon after meeting, their nerves relaxed. As Riederer’s daughter pointed out, they walked the same, talked the same. Both have beards and timeworn faces.
“I felt like he’s been around all along,” Riederer said of his brother. “He doesn’t feel like a foreign presence in the room. It just feels normal.”
Their meeting was joyful but also heartbreaking for Farley, who learned through Riederer that their sister and two other brothers had died. They plan to visit their eldest brother’s grave Friday in Dixon near Sacramento.
The brothers said they were placed into the orphanage with their three siblings at a young age because their parents were alcoholics. Farley said he heard from an aunt that his parents had two other children after he was born, but he hasn’t been able to confirm that or find them.
Riederer and Farley learned they have a lot in common. Along with serving in the armed forces, enjoying fishing and camping, working odd jobs and overcoming alcohol addictions, both said they felt like the lesser son in the eyes of their adoptive parents.
Farley’s adoptive parents, farmers in northern Missouri, brought him home at age 4 after their other adopted son died of leukemia at age 4. Farley said he felt like the “replacement child” to cheer up his mother, but it never worked.
Riederer, who grew up as the middle child of three, said he felt like a screw-up, especially compared to his older brother, James, who was the “golden child.”
And both said they felt afraid growing up. Farley feared his parents would decide they didn’t want him anymore, and Riederer feared the strict discipline of his father, a manufacturer’s representative in Chicago until the family moved to San Mateo.
The sharing of stories has been therapeutic for the brothers, who were both once labeled by psychiatrists as “problem children.”
They want to visit each other often, but both have medical issues and live on small fixed incomes. Riederer hopes he will be able to buy a plane ticket to visit Farley in Missouri soon, but he might need help to raise the funds.
Farley said he always felt there was something missing in his life, and meeting Riederer gave him the closure he was seeking.
He described their finding each other as a “God thing” — divine intervention had to be at work somehow.
Both brothers have messages to share from their remarkable story:
Said Riederer, “You never know what surprise might pop up in your life.”
Farley added, “Anyone out there in the same situation, don’t give up hope, because I about did.”