Vicky Hill, 39, Boronia, Vic
My heart hammered as I typed the name into Facebook. Scrolling through the long list of profiles, I tried not to get my hopes up. 'This is silly,' I kept telling myself. 'You barely know anything about him.'
I was looking for the father I'd never met. But the only thing I owned that connected me to him was a crumpled old photo my mum Maree had given me years ago. With long curly hair and a kind smile, he was wearing a blue shirt with distinctive red and yellow stripes in the picture. But it had been taken 40 years ago. What hope did I have of recognising him now?
Growing up with Mum and my younger half-sister Catherine, now 29, I never really asked questions about my dad. All I knew was that Mum had dated a 21-year-old man named Norm McIntyre she'd met at a local dance. But their relationship broke down and they lost touch before I was born. Mum made attempts to find Norm but she had no luck.
What hope did I have of recognising him now?
Most of my friends had single parents so I never felt like I was missing out. But when I was 21, I suddenly felt this urge to look for my dad. From what Mum had told me, all I knew was that he had a sister named Heather, drove a Holden Torana and used to live in Ringwood North. So I started looking through the White Pages and calling anyone listed under the name N McIntyre. But after weeks of calling and writing letters I was no closer to finding him. 'Good luck with your search,' the people I contacted always said. But none of them knew my father.
As I ran out of options, I pushed it to the back of my mind. Going on to meet my partner James, 36, we were thinking about starting a family when thoughts of my father started swirling again.
By now I was 33, Facebook was very popular and I hoped it might be the key to finding him. So one afternoon six years ago I started scrolling through profiles. But as I looked at the faces of dozens of men named Norm McIntyre I felt my hopes slipping away. How would I know what he looked like? Then suddenly, one profile caught my eye. Staring at the picture, I saw a man with curly brown hair wearing a blue shirt with red and yellow stripes. I could tell from the fading in the corners that it was an old picture.
Scrambling for the only photo I had of my dad, I held it up next to the screen and felt my stomach lurch. It was the same shirt! The man looked a few years older and had different facial hair, but the similarities were uncanny. Could it really be my dad?
A few days later I finally worked up the courage to send him a friend request. I then checked my phone obsessively until I got a notification to say that he'd accepted. So I nervously sent a message to him.
Did you used to live in Ringwood North and drive a Torana? I wrote, trying to keep my questions general to make sure that I had the right person. While he was naturally hesitant at first, Norm answered my questions.
Are you Maree's daughter? he asked. I knew it!
I think you're my father, I replied. I just want to get to know you.
While Norm was shocked, he was happy I'd found him. As we chatted, he told me he lived in Queensland, was divorced and had two other children, Paul, 28, and Lee, 24. I was thrilled. Not only did I find my father but I discovered I had more siblings too. A week later, we spoke on the phone. I was incredibly nervous but Norm's kind voice put me at ease.
'I think you're my father,' I replied.
'I'm so sorry I wasn't there for you growing up,' he said. I knew that he felt guilty but I didn't want to waste time being angry. I couldn't change anything that happened in the past but I had an opportunity to have a future with my dad.
The more we got to know each other, the more I came to realise just how much we had in common. We shared a love of cars, had the same sense of humour and both loved rock and roll music.
A few months later, Dad flew to Victoria to meet me for the first time. As I heard the knock at the door, I felt my stomach twist with nerves. What if he didn't like me? But as I saw his smiling face, my worries melted away and he pulled me into a tight hug.
'It's so nice to meet you in the flesh,' he told me. We spent hours chatting and catching up on all those lost years. Seeing him in person, I realised just how alike we were. He also wanted to make amends with Mum so we all met for dinner that night. While I was worried things might be awkward, they got along really well and were both happy to leave the past behind them.
It wasn't long before I was booking a trip to Queensland to meet my other siblings. Arranging a day out at Dreamworld on the Gold Coast, I had an amazing time laughing and joking around with Paul and Lee. Then two years ago, I found out I was pregnant and Dad excitedly flew to Victoria to welcome his first grandchild, Mitchell, now two.
James and I have since welcomed a little girl Phoenix, four months, and Dad dotes on her too. Now we're really close and keep in constant contact.
While I wish we'd found each other sooner, I'm so pleased he's part of my life. And I owe it all to a striped T-shirt!
Norm, 62, says:
When I set up my Facebook profile, I used an old photo because I figured it'd make it easier for my old school mates to recognise me. But I had no idea that my favourite shirt would be the key to helping Vicky find me.
When she got in touch, I was completely blown away and thrilled that she wanted to get to know me. I wouldn't have blamed her for being angry and bitter with me but we got along really well. She even laughed at my daggy jokes!
Flying to Victoria, it felt strange meeting my daughter for the first time as a grown woman instead of a baby girl but I was so grateful for the chance to make up for lost time. When she showed me the old photo she had of me in the same T-shirt, I was blown away. If it hadn't been for that, we might never have met.
While I wish we'd found each other earlier, I feel incredibly lucky to have Vicky in my life. I love her dearly and I'll spend the rest of my life being the best father I can.
This story first appeared in that's life! Issue 40, 2015 cover date 8th October, 2015