It has been quite a 3 weeks since I published the appeal of a Dutchman trying to locate his biological father, with just a grainy old photograph of a Dubrovnik waiter, a name which was probably not correct, and a few details of a holiday romance on the Adriatic back in 1967 – Looking for My Dad, a 1967 Hotel Bellevue Dubrovnik Waiter.
My inbox was flooded with offers of help – paid and unpaid – and leads to the father in no less than 5 countries. Cometh the hour, cometh the legendica. I asked for help from my partner-in-crime, Laura Siprak from 24Sata, from last year’s story identifying the mystery woman on Krk who had lost her memory.
Laura took over the story completely, and all credit for finding Stefan’s father and uniting them is 100% hers. Here is her story, published earlier in Croatian on 24Sata.
Stefan found his father! ‘I found peace and a piece of family. After a whole 55 years, I hugged my dad!’
It all started with an email that Stefan Brouwers sent to Paul Bradbury on the Total News Croatia portal. He was looking for a father he had never met, and his mother was not comfortable talking about it. He had one blurry picture, the name of the Hotel Bellevue and his name: Gojko Smiljanić.
Bradbury published his email and contacted 24sata reporters to help, based on previous good cooperation. And we helped. After a video call with Stefan and his wife, the two of them packed up and set off from the Netherlands on a 1,500-kilometer journey to Dubrovnik.
At the same time, Bradbury was getting information from people from Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Serbia, and we set about checking directories, asking former hotel drivers who are still alive, looking into old school and military archives, even the first director of the Dubrovnik – Neretva tourist board, Anto Štrbić – Fulina. In his youth, he was a baker in Dubrovnik, and even today he runs a restaurant in Ploče, so he knows most of the restaurateurs from that area. But the number of people named Gojko Smiljanić is higher than expected, so the elimination process took a few days.
In the end, the friend of Gojko we were looking for called and, after the initial uncertainty and cancellation, Stefan managed to find his father.
– I have to thank everyone who called, you who did an excellent job with Paul, and my father’s friend who acted as a mediator and helped us meet. The people in Croatia are truly wonderful, we could not have imagined such a turn of events. It was emotionally draining, but also beautiful. The mediator drove us to the restaurant where we met, introduced us and left after 15 minutes. My father is a warm and gentle person with a great sense of humor. We were both a little nervous at first, but he had a relaxed ‘it happened’ attitude, so it was easier. We spent several hours together, exchanged numbers and will try to stay in touch. We didn’t do a DNA test, but it’s him, the story matches and we look very similar physically – says Stefan.
He is not his only child and after the summer romance with Nettie, Gojko met his wife and built a family, so he will leave the remnants of the meeting and photos for himself. This is a shock to everyone, which is why the meeting was arranged in five days, but the most important thing is that they found each other.
– Emotions were everywhere. For most of my life, I was interested in who my father was. I’ve been looking for him for over 20 years, ever since I had my son, and my mother gave me that blurry photo and told me the basic information. This was my last attempt, to find him where he and my mom met. A month ago, I did not believe that I would find him. When we arrived two weeks ago, I was excited and nervous because it looked like you found it. And it is! At that moment, I could not even imagine that I would meet him. I am glad that he is understanding and accepted me from the moment we met. There were a lot of emotions in me, but happiness is the strongest one. Now I can say that I have found peace and that part of my family that I have been missing all my life – concludes Stefan.
And besides his father, he also got a large family. Life is unusual, so it turned out that some relatives live scattered around the world, some of them very close to Stefan. The unusual search, fortunately, ended in the best way: two families have expanded, and Stefan now knows what interests every person – where we come from.
Croatia, a Survival Kit for Foreigners is now available on Amazon in paperback and on Kindle.