BANGOR, Maine — Joseph Torrey, 23, was feeling a little nervous Wednesday.
The soft-spoken Bangor man was going to board a 5:20 a.m. Thursday Greyhound bus bound for Burlington, Vermont, where on Friday, he would be meeting with his father, Perry Thornley, whom he hasn’t seen in 18 years.
The reunion has been in the making since October 2015, when Miracle Messages, an organization formed in 2014 by San Francisco Bay entrepreneur and sociologist Kevin Adler, offered Thornley the opportunity to record a video message to his grown children, namely his daughter, Eliza Thornley, and Torrey.
Adler, who worked with the Bangor Daily News to get Thornley’s video message out, shared word of the reunion last month.
At the time he recorded the video, Thornley had been homeless for about five months. He wanted his children to know he is alive and that he loves them.
“Joey, Eliza, listen. Sorry I wasn’t there for you. I did a lot of time in prison. I love you both. Don’t forget Dad loves you. That’s all I can say,” Thornley said in his video message.
Torrey was unaware that his father was reaching out to him until he received a call from police in Lewiston, where he was residing at the time.
“I was walking down the road and I got a call from the Police Department telling me that there’s someone by the name of Kevin Adler trying to get in touch with me, and then they said, ‘This is the real deal. It’s something about your father,’ and I’m like, ‘Did he die?’ I didn’t know what to think,” he said.
“It took me 10 or 15 minutes before I tried to call Kevin back. I was going to the library, and I kept saying, ‘Should I go or should I wait?’” Torrey said. “I called, and it took him roughly about half an hour to explain everything.”
Adler then sent Torrey his father’s video message through YouTube.
“I was trying not to cry while watching that video. I was crying when I made my own,” Torrey said.
In his video response, he expressed shock at hearing from his father after nearly two decades, but he also said he wanted his father to be part of his life.
Since then, there have been a few phone calls, including one on Torrey’s birthday in November and another shortly after Thanksgiving.
“He’s homeless, so it’s kind of hard to get in touch with him. I guess he’s doing much better now. He’s staying with a friend who runs a church, so he has some good people on his side, which is good,” said Torrey, who is living with friends in Bangor and looking for work.
“We were supposed to write, but because I just recently moved [to Bangor from Lewiston], I haven’t gotten a chance to give him my address. I’m going to do it when I see him on [Friday],” Torrey said.
Torrey said he doesn’t know where his half-sister, Eliza, is.
“I’ve never met her,” Torrey said. “Kevin told me she has a Facebook [page], but it’s so locked up you can’t even view a lot of her information. I personally don’t know if it’s her or not.”
Torrey said he is looking forward to learning more about his father’s life.
“I don’t know the full story, but I heard he’d recently got married and moved out of state, and I guess it all went downhill. His [problems] got ahold of him. That’s why I said it’s good that he has somebody on his side,” he said.
Among the things that Torrey wants to talk to his father about is how hard it was to grow up not knowing him.
“It’s hard, it was rough growing up without a dad figure. But here I’m glad because I think I’ve managed pretty well. Growing up I didn’t really think about it, so there’s only certain times in my life when I wanted him there, like when I did sports, when I graduated eighth grade, when I graduated high school,” he said.
Torrey hopes that he and his father will continue to stay connected.
“I want to see a relationship to where he’s stable and I’m on my own feet as well. I don’t care if he’s in Vermont or Maine. I just want to have that relationship I never had. You know, it’s better late than never,” Torrey said.
“I mean, everybody asks me if I should be mad at him for a few more years, but I’m just like, ‘Why would I?’ I’ve been waiting for this for a very long time. I guess I might be mad, at the same time, I can see his point of view behind things,” Torrey said.
From what Torrey understands, his father spent some time in jail and while he was serving his sentence, his mother met the man who would become his little sister’s father. When Thornley got out of jail, Torrey already was calling the other man Dad, and Thornley, seeing his son was happy, stepped aside.
“I don’t look at that as abandonment. They didn’t want to confuse me, make more problems for me. I think that if he had sent a picture, I’d have been as confused as hell. I wouldn’t have known what was what. I’m kind of relieved that it happened the way it did, but at the same time, I just wish there wasn’t so much emotional turmoil involved,” said Torrey, who graduated from Sumner High School in Sullivan.
Based on the YouTube video, Torrey said he sees some physical resemblance between him and his father, as well as some personality traits, such as a streak of stubbornness they share and their habit of folding their arms across their chest.
“I remember that my aunt would tell me that if my father were younger, we could be twins,” he said.